Sicily, Syracuse - The Demareteion Tetradrachm

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The series of coins known as the Demareteia are among the most famous and revered of all the ancient coins, being acclaimed as masterpieces of late archaic art. The engraver responsible for the series, the ‘Demareteion Master’ is rightly placed among the first rank of accomplished artists.

The series takes its name from queen Demarete, wife of the Syracusan tyrant Gelon, who Diodoros (XI. 26) reports as having intervened on behalf of the defeated Carthaginians at the peace negotiations following the Battle of Himera: ‘For when the ambassadors who had been dispatched from Carthage came to him and begged him with tears to treat them humanely, he granted them peace, exacting of them the expense he had incurred for the war, two thousand talents of silver, and requiring them further to build two temples in which they should place copies of the treaty. The Carthaginians, having unexpectedly gained their deliverance, not only agreed to all this but also promised to give in addition a gold crown to Demarete, the wife of Gelon. For Demarete at their request had contributed the greatest aid toward the conclusion of the peace, and when she had received the crown of one hundred gold talents from them, she struck a coin which was called from her a Damareteion. This was worth ten Attic drachmas and was called by the Sicilian Greeks, according to its weight, a pentekontalitron.’

The identity of the coin Diodoros mentions has long presented a mystery, fiercely debated, since the crown was said to be of gold and there were no known gold coins of Syracuse until many years later. At various times it has been claimed that Diodoros must have been referring to a gold issue of which no specimens survive, or another silver coin with which we are not familiar. Yet he specifically mentions the denomination and standard of the coin, and the case for the companion dekadrachm of this type being the coin referred to by Diodoros can no longer be seriously disputed. Though we shall not present here arguments relating to the dating of the series, the consensus is that the coin was struck some time after the Battle of Himera, most likely under Hieron, with the date range proposed by Alföldi, E. Boehringer and Arnold-Biucchi of 475-470 seming the most plausible.

The superior style and workmanship of the coin certainly appears to commemorate a victory, noting in particular the extraordinary presence of a laurel wreath adorning Arethusa; yet a purely commemorative nature for this coin is probably a simplistic and naive interpretation. The dekadrachms struck by Dionysios I are now agreed to have been intended to pay for mercenaries; the theory that the Athenian dekadrachms were struck in commemoration of the victory over the Persians at Marathon or Salamis too has been discredited. We should see in the Demareteion series a product of expedience - a means of paying mercenary soldiers - which though presented in a remarkable form is nonetheless an economic solution rather than a commemorative frivolity.

Sicily, Syracuse AR Tetradrachm. Deinomenid Tyranny. Time of Hieron I, circa 475-470 BC. Dies by the Demareteion Master. Charioteer wearing a long chiton and holding a goad in his right hand and the reins in his left, driving a walking quadriga to right; Nike above, flying right to crown the horses; below, lion springing to right in exergue / Head of Arethusa right within linear circle, wearing olive wreath, pendant earring and necklace; her hair waved at the front and tied at the back with a ribbon; ΣVRAKOΣION and four dolphins swimming clockwise around. Boehringer 382 (V196/R269); Rizzo pl. XXXV, 4 var.; SNG ANS -. 17.32g, 26mm, 6h.

Insignificant mark on reverse, otherwise Extremely Fine. Very Rare.

From the Comery Collection.