Ancient Olympics (Part 2)

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by AncientJoe, Dec 14, 2014.

  1. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Well-Known Member

    This coin follows after my earlier thread, The Ancient Olympics, originating from a later olympiad and depicting Zeus on the obverse, again circulated which indicates that it was acquired and spent at the Olympic games. Post your Olympic coinage!


    As the Olympics became progressively more popular, the city of Elis sought to build a new, larger temple which was worthy of Zeus, the king of the gods. The project to build the Temple of Zeus began in 470 BC and was completed in 456 BC. It was marvelously constructed with quality workmanship and style. Despite these efforts, the temple alone was thought to be too simple and insufficient to please Zeus.

    A statue of the god was commissioned for the interior, with work starting around 450 BC by the artist Phidias. He set up a workshop near the temple and spent the next twelve years completing what would become his finest and most famous work of art, with inspiration drawn from the description of Zeus in Homer’s "Iliad".

    When finished, the statue was more than four storeys tall and twenty-two feet wide, depicting Zeus seated on an elaborate throne, holding a statue of Nike and a scepter supporting an eagle. Even though the temple itself was very large, Zeus’ head nearly touched the ceiling. Some contemporary authors criticized the piece because of its size, but others found the proportions very effective in conveying the power of the god, making the statue seem even larger than it was because it filled nearly all of the available space.

    It was constructed with ivory plates and gold panels over a wooden framework, and the throne was heavily decorated with precious stones. It was deservingly noted as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World by the ancient poet Antipater of Sidon. The Greek orator Dio Chrysostom said that a single glimpse of the statue would make a man forget all of his earthly troubles.

    It was damaged by an earthquake in 170 BC and repaired. Unfortunately, it is believed that the statue was eventually destroyed in a great fire in 425 AD which burned down the entire temple. No copy of the statue was made, and the details of it are only known from written descriptions and its representation on coins from Elis like this one.

    This stater is a great example of the fine workmanship of the Olympic coinage, showing the forceful head of the statue of Zeus on the obverse and a vigilant eagle on the reverse. The eagle was Zeus’ sacred animal, and here it’s shown standing on the tail of a snake which is coiling upwards and striking towards the eagle’s head.

    This coin dates to 332 BC, during the 112th Olympiad. As in our modern games, the popularity and importance of the ancient Olympics bred intense competition and therefore inevitable illegal and scandalous behavior.

    Each Olympiad involved fierce contests between generations-old rivals. A city-state could only raise its ranking relative to another by either defeating it in battle or beating it at the Olympics. Because of the publicity and recognition, the Olympic Games became intensely political, and a victorious citizen was given the highest public honors as he singlehandedly raised the standing of the state.

    With how much was at stake, cheating and bribery were commonplace. If a city-state felt a victory was won unjustly, they would vehemently contest the win.

    One such instance occurred in the Olympiad for which this coin was minted. Callipus of Athens competed in and won the pentathlon, but it was discovered that he bribed his competitors to allow him to win.

    The overseers from Elis condemned Callippus, levying a significant fine on him and his complicit competitors. Athens sent their political leader, Hyperides, to negotiate and try to appeal the judgment, but he was unsuccessful. Athens refused to pay and boycotted the Olympics altogether for the next twenty years. Finally, the Oracle at Delphi persuaded Athens to pay, and the funds went to build six statues to Zeus, engraved with unflattering comments directed at the Athenians.

    The extent to which city-states would go shows the importance of the Olympics as much more than just athletic competitions. The beauty of the coinage produced for the Games provides a stark contrast to all of the misdeeds, offering a unique insight into the complex political landscape of ancient Greece.

    Elis, Olympia Stater, 332 BC. Bearded head of Zeus with laurel wreath Rv nr. FA, eagle with closed wings standing right, before him, a coiled and attacking serpent, between H; in field l thunderbolt. 11.71 g Seltman, TC 22, 204 (stgl.). BCD Olympia 161 (stgl.). rare . Toned. Good VF, Ex. Ch Adams, Darien / CT - Fixed Price List 7/1976, 22
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  3. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Excellent coin, love the writeup!
    Okidoki likes this.
  4. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Fantastic coin! Very entertaining writeup, as usual :D.

    I found a picture of one such statue.


    Gladly! I happen to have a few previously unposted Olympic coins. None match the quality of yours, of course.

    From the 87th Olympiad, an apparently unpublished hemidrachm:

    ELIS, Olympia. 87th Olympiad, 432 BCE.
    AR hemidrachm, 16 mm, 2.7 gm

    Obv: eagle, with wings displayed above, flying left, holding hare by its back and tearing at it with his beak
    Rev: thunderbolt, with wings above and volutes below, within circular incuse; to right, A.
    Ref: BCD Olympia -; BCD Peloponnesos -; SNG Copenhagen -; BMC -; Traité -; SNG Delepierre -; Pozzi -; Weber -; McClean -. The obverse type, combined with the form of the thunderbolt, with its broad, splayed wings, and the A on the reverse, is most similar to the stater of BCD 50.
    ex Frank James Collection
    ex Classical Numismatic Group Mail Bid Sale 81, 20 May 2009, lot 2216
    ex BCD Collection (not in LHS or Leu sales)
    ex Spink 90, 16 March 1992, lot 761 (part of)

    From the 95th Olympiad:

    ELIS, Olympia. 95th Olympiad, 400 BCE.
    AR hemidrachm, 16 mm, 2.6 gm

    Obv: head and neck of eagle right; F below
    Rev: thunderbolt, volutes above, wings below, F-A across fields
    Ref: BCD Olympia 85/84 (same dies); SNG Copenhagen 372
    ex Frank James Collection
    ex Classical Numismatic Group Mail Bid Sale 82, 16 September 2009, lot 2225

    From the 103rd Olympiad:

    ELIS, Olympia. 103rd Olympiad, 368 BCE
    AR drachm, 21 mm, 5.7 gm

    Obv: head of Hera right, wearing pendant earring and stephane ornamented with palmettes with H-R-A inscribed between them, [F-A across fields]
    Rev: eagle with spread wings standing left, head reverted
    Ref: Pozzi 1846 (same dies); Jameson 1240 = Seltman pl. xii, 8 (same dies); BMC 91 (same dies); BCD Olympia 113 (same dies)
    ex Frank James Collection

    From the 107th-108th Olympiad:

    ELIS, Olympia. 107th-108th Olympiad, 352-348 BCE.
    AR hemidrachm, 14 mm, 2.4 gm

    Obv: laureate head of Zeus right
    Rev: eagle standing right, olive leaf before, F-A across fields
    Ref: BCD Olympia 143-44; SNG Copenhagen 420; BMC 84; Dewing 1896; McClean 6637; SNG Delepierre 2158
    ex Frank James Collection
  5. stevex6

    stevex6 Random Mayhem

    Wow!! => those are amazing coins!! (you guys rock!!)

    TIF, I'm surprised you had so many unposted-misc-Olympic coins merely jingling loose in your pockets (hmmm, you must have a quite a few coins still waiting in the wings, if those are randomly shown during another member's thread! ... very impressive)

    AJ ... well, as per usual, your new coin and your silver-tongued description is top-drawer (I'm always jealous after reading one of your cool threads)

    Sadly, unless the sellers neglected to mention whether their coins were from the Olympics, I'm fairly sure that I don't have any examples to add (I don't have any coins from Elis).
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2014
    TIF likes this.
  6. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    :D Yes, I'm very behind in posting coins. I still have some from August's WFOM yet to be posted.

    Since AJ had a ready-made stellar writeup, I took the lazy way out and just tacked my Olympic coins to his thread.
    stevex6 likes this.
  7. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

  8. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Gorgeous coin, love the eagle mostly.
  9. chrsmat71

    chrsmat71 I LIKE TURTLES! Supporter

    spectacular again AJ...and cool TIF, didn't know you had a hord of olymic coins!
  10. Aidan_()

    Aidan_() Numismatic Contributor

    Dah! Where's the like button? Okay, found it! ;)
  11. RaceBannon

    RaceBannon Member

    Nice coin AJ. Does this count as Olympic coinage?

    Or is it 2400 years too late to qualify? After all, to my kids 1972 seems ancient. :D

    DSC03007.JPG DSC03008.JPG
    stevex6 likes this.
  12. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter

    Fabulous coin as usual, AJ! When it comes to the Olympics I have nothing but moderns, mostly fished out of junk bins...

    stevex6 likes this.
  13. Whizb4ng


    An ancient Olympic coin is on my 'will have one day' list rather than the 'might have one day if the price is right and I am feeling spontaneous enough to impulse buy this coin' list.

    They are just so dang cool.
  14. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

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