Sicily, Thermai Himerensis - Only Didrachm in Private Hands

Article Image

Thermai was founded in the wake of the utter destruction of Himera and the slaughter of the majority of its citizens by the Carthaginian general Hannibal Mago, when the survivors of this devastation relocated to the nearby hot springs whose original discovery lay in myth associated with the wanderings of the hero Herakles (Diodorus Siculus iv. 23, v. 3). Though the site had long been inhabited, it was now swelled by the displaced Himerans, and the newly enlarged town was thereafter considered to be the successor to the old city of Himera, and in time appears to have become a sizeable settlement, though now subject to Carthaginian rule.

The first series of coinage at Thermai appear to have been tetradrachms in Punic style produced in the first half of the fourth century, in all likelihood created by engravers imported from one of the other Punic dominated cities, probably Panormos. These issues, which are today very rare, bear the distinctive sharp features associated with the contemporary work of that mint. It is probable that the didrachm issue which is known from only one set of dies, was an item of some prestige that was closely associated with the later and much greater issue of litrai in the mid fourth century. Greek in style, both denominations display an image of a youthful Herakles that appears to bear distinct resemblance to the seated figure of Pan on the staters of the Arkadian League (Jameson 1276), struck circa 363/2 BC, and to the staters of Kroton (Jameson 429) struck circa 420 BC). While it is certainly possible that this reverse type was independently devised without external influence, it is tempting to see in the positioning of Herakles a close parallel with the Arkadian reverse, especially given that the two issues should be considered contemporary to each other. The head of Hera meanwhile finds its closest parallels in the coinage of Argos, circa 370-350 BC, notably Jameson 1255 (drachm) and BMC 38 (stater).

Whatever the reason or occasion for the issue of this superb type, it and its accompanying litrai represent the period of finest numismatic art at Thermai, which never again issued silver coinage of such artistic merit.

Sicily, Thermai Himerensis AR Didrachm. Circa 365-350 BC. Head of Hera right, wearing stephane ornamented with foreparts of three griffins to right; dolphin behind, ΘERMITAN around / Youthful Herakles seated nude to left on rock covered with lion's skin, holding club downwards in right hand and resting left on rock; behind, strung bow and quiver with strap. Jenkins, Punic, pl.22, 7; BMC 1; de Luynes 983; Regling, Die Antike Münze Als Kunstwerk, 733. 8.51g, 24mm, 8h.

Extremely Fine. Reverse double-struck. Extremely Rare, the fourth known example and the only one in private hands.

From a private German collection, purchased in Munich, October 2008.