An owl just arrived, but not the usual kind...

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Only a Poor Old Man, Oct 27, 2020.

  1. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    Oh boy, the week started really nice for me. Yesterday I received that Virgin Mary Follis that I presented in the other thread, and this morning a little owl arrived to say hello! It is a coin with an Athena/Owl combination, but it is not from Athens. It is a Magna Graecia coin and specifically a drachm from the Spartan colony of Taras (Tarentum). Most people associate Tarentum with coins featuring dolphins, horses, and boys riding them. But around the time of the Pyrrhic wars (281 - 272 BC) they issued this lovely design featuring the goddess Athena, helmeted with Skylla decorations on the obverse, and a little owl on the reverse. In rare occasions like in the coin below the owl has open wings and sitting on a thunderbolt.


    It is a lovely little coin with excellent detail. The owl is magnificent (legents are ΔΙΟ - ΣΩΣ) and the Athena is also very beautiful. She came out a bit bright and blurry in the photo, but it is a small coin and difficult to capture properly.


    This is my second coin from Magna Graecia (the first was from Metapontum), and they are easily the most artistic coins in my collection. One could easily focus their collection on the coins of Greek Italy and Sicily but that would only be achievable if one has deep pockets. You will run out very easily of 'affordable' coins. And I used single quotes there as affordable is a relative term. This little drachm cost six times more than the Virgin Mary Follis I got yesterday.

    I am bit baffled about why such an Athenian theme was used for this coin. Even though there is some dispute about Taras being a Spartan colony, it was definitely no friend of Athens and it sided against Athens in the Peloponnesian war. This coin was minted around the time of the Pyrrhic wars were Taras felt threatened by Rome's increased intervention in the affairs of the Greek cities in Italy. The size and weight of the coin indicates that it was adapted to fit in the commerce with Rome, but Taras was quite prepared to antagonize the Romans when they requested the assistance of the Epirot King Pyrrhus. Pyrrhus had to help as Taras had helped him earlier to conquer Corcyra (Corfu). Early in the conflict the city was attacked and plundered by the Romans, but eventually the arrival of the Epirot reinforcements sent the Romans packing. But as we know the conflict was long and 'Pyrrhic' and the reinforcements eventually had to abandon the Tarentines to their fate.. In 272 BC the Romans conquered the city with much looting and destruction. 30,000 Tarantine citizens were sold as slaves.

    Show me your Taras coins or anything else from Magna Graecia or the period of the Pyrrhic intervention.
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  3. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    Taras, Calabria.jpg
    AR Diobol
    OBVERSE: Head of Athena in crested helmet left decorated with Skylla
    REVERSE: Herakles kneeling right, strangling lion
    Struck at Taras 380-334 BC
    1.2g, 11mm
    Vlasto 1316
  4. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Great coin! I love the owls on these and they're still on my want list.
    In the Obolos auction earlier this month, there was a Tarentine drachm of a period later than yours that included a note regarding the types. It's possible, but I'm not sure I'm convinced:
    "The devices - the helmeted head of Athena on the obverse paired with the facing owl of the reverse - were borrowed from the coins of Athens, which at this time were still widely recognized for their weight and purity and thus used in trade. It perhaps seems unusual that a city that claimed descent from Sparta would use Athenian types, but by this time the Peloponnesian Wars were long over and Tarentum was striving to reclaim its former glory as a cultural center. What better way to do this than to claim as her own Athena, the goddess of wisdom, and her beloved all-seeing owl?"
    I haven't come across any other explanation, but note that Herakleia in Lucania, which struck the same Athena/Herakles diobols as Tarentum did, also started issuing drachms using Athena and her owl as types at around the same time (ie., Pyrrhic wars). I wouldn't be surprised at a connection there.
  5. Ignoramus Maximus

    Ignoramus Maximus Nomen non est omen.

    Lovely owl you got there, @Only a Poor Old Man! Congratulations! Needless to say, I would love to own one...
    I have only this reduced nomos, it's from the same period.

    Not the smoothest of surfaces, but good enough for me.
    Tarentum reverse.png Skjermbilde (76).png
    Vlasto 836. SNG ANS 1165

    Note the owl on the reverse.
    I read somewhere (but I can't remember where, so I can't send a link) that the owl was a symbol of the alliance with Pyrrhos, so that might perhaps also help to explain the owls on the Tarentine coins of the period. Interestingly, the only Syracusan coin featuring an owl (and the Syracusans weren't exactly the best of friends of Athens either) also makes its appearance during the time of Pyrrhic alliance. So there may be something to it.
    Syracuse, time of Pyrrhos. 278-276BC. 22 mm. 10,46 gr. 10h.
    Obv: Herakles in lion skin headdress
    Rev: Athena Promachos, shield in left hand, thunderbolt in right; to lower right,
    OWL. CNS 176

    Edit: I found the link
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2020
  6. PlanoSteve

    PlanoSteve Supporter! Supporter

    Wow! While most agree on (& want) the Athens versions for their collections, this one is just spectacular!!! :happy::singing:

    You are correct, beautiful face on Athena, & the owl - fabulous pose. ;) (Having observed owls in the wild, I've always thought it would make a great national symbol - although I'm very happy with the Bald Eagle....thankfully, it's not the turkey!!!...imagine if it was, & it would be illegal to eat one??? :jawdrop: :D:cool:) What's the difference between "illegal" and "against the law" you ask? Well, "against the law" means doing something contrary to the rules; "illegal"..well, that's just a sick bird!!! :p:p:p:joyful::joyful::joyful:

    Great pick up!!! :happy:;):singing:

    Tibor Kercz's photo of an undignified owl

  7. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    I am not a professional numismatist and I only started collecting ancients recently, but I have to say that I find that explanation really unlikely too. The Tarantines started using owls before their downfall while they were still a big power so there was no reason to try to reclaim any glory. And there was no reason to mimic Athens either as Athens had stopped being a power of any sort many decades before with the plague and the Peloponnesian defeat. The explanation of it being some sort of acknowledgement of the increased relations with Pyrrhus and Epirus seems more likely.

    I don't want to sound Victorian, but I actually prefer goose. Nice gamey and juicy taste, and you would have to be a really bad cook for it to turn out dry and overcooked.. :facepalm:
  8. robinjojo

    robinjojo Supporter! Supporter

    That's an absolutely gorgeous coin.

    I believe that is Scylla, the monster who devoured seafarers, on Athena's helmet.

    Nice acquisition!
    Only a Poor Old Man likes this.
  9. rrdenarius

    rrdenarius non omnibus dormio Supporter

    that is a great owl! I like the high relief and variety of details.
    I saw these masked 20200820_113211.jpg owls recently.
    Only a Poor Old Man likes this.
  10. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    It is, and in the full design of the helmet she is supposed to be throwing stones, but that detail is worn out. She was famously featured in Homer's Odyssey of course. According to the myth, she was guarding one side of a narrow straight of water, and another monster called Charybdis guarded the other. Sailors couldn't avoid both as there was only an arrow's distance between them. Odysseus famously chose Scylla as he thought Charybdis would completely destroy them while Scylla would only eat a few men. So I guess that makes her the lesser evil, lol. I wonder if she or her colleague are featured in more coins.
    DonnaML likes this.
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