A Magnificent Dekadrachm of Syracuse

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Sicily, Syracuse. Circa 400-370 BC. Silver Dekadrachm. 43.30 grams.

The obverse depicts a charioteer driving a galloping quadriga to left in the moment of a dangerous turn, drawing hard on the reins with her left hand to restrain the inner horses and using the goad in her right to drive the outer horses on. Above, Nike flies right, a wreath in her outstretched arms to crown the charioteer. In the exergue, a panoply of arms is set on two steps: a cuirass, two greaves, and a Phrygian helmet.

The reverse shows a head of the nymph Arethusa, wearing a reed wreath, triple drop pendant, and a pearl necklace; four dolphins play around her. Behind, the city ethnikon ΣΥΡΑΚΟΣΙΩΝ; below her chin, a pellet. 

References: Gallatin J V-R XXII (only five examples recorded from this pair of dies); Dewing Coll. 923 (same obverse die). 

Provenance: Ex Rarcoa auction, CICF 1985, lot 10 and coverpiece. Therein, from the estate of a Chicago collector who had owned it for forty years.

The dekadrachms of Syracuse have been called 'the admiration of the ancient and modern world', and 'perhaps the most famous of all ancient coins'; rightly so, for by virtue of not only their impressive size and weight, but more importantly the incredibly detailed artistry of exquisite style which they bear, they represent the zenith of cultural and technological achievement at ancient Syracuse, and are the most beautiful coins ever struck for circulation before or since. 

Produced at the apex of Syracuse's power and glory, the dekadrachm issue began circa 405 BCE, following the election of Dionysios as supreme military commander of Syracuse for his achievements in the war against Carthage, and his subsequent seizure of total power.  Syracuse had only recently defeated an Athenian invasion of Sicily that resulted in the utter destruction of Athens' expeditionary force and ultimately, to the Athenians' defeat at the hands of Sparta in the Peloponnesian War. Then under Dionysios in 405, despite the ruin of great cities such as Akragas and Gela it repulsed a Carthaginian invasion that might have resulted in a complete conquest of the island. Such glory was short-lived however, as the rule of Dionysios’ son and successor was to bring only civil strife that would weaken Syracuse's power. Never again would the city issue coinage on such a grand scale, and with the cessation of tetradrachm production in circa 400 BC, the dekadrachms represent the great flourishing of numismatic art at Syracuse before two centuries of steady decline and eventual conquest at the hands of the Romans. 

This astounding example is struck from the freshest dies with uncommon precision, and has been preserved in near mint state, such that the level of detail is virtually unparalleled. Features such as the delicate folds and pleats in the chiton of the charioteer, her facial details, and the manes of the horses to name but a few are so very rarely encountered with this level of sharpness and clarity. 

A truly stunning and choice specimen of the Euainetos series, bearing the dramatically rendered chariot scene and hauntingly beautiful Arethusa portrait typical of that artist.

£ Price on application.