Featured Ancients: Agathokles Tetradrachm

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by AncientJoe, Jun 13, 2014.

  1. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Well-Known Member

    I've had this coin for a while and have posted it before but have never officially "announced" it or given it a proper writeup. Aesthetically, it's one of my favorites, and has a rather interesting history as well. Post any other coins minted by Agathokles if you have them!


    Agathokles was the last of the larger-than-life rulers of Syracuse but he was not merely given the right to the throne. He was born in Thermae in 361 BC to a Greek manufacturer of pottery but he quickly tired of his father’s trade. Upon leaving home and moving to Syracuse, he became an officer within the Syracusan army, establishing himself as a skillful leader.

    In 317 BC, he overthrew the Syracusan rulers, banishing or murdering all of those who opposed him and, with the support of the common people, he inserted himself as dictator.

    He formed a large navy and strengthened his army, significantly expanding the power of Syracuse. This growth caused his territory to bump against that of the Carthaginians, a force which would shape and consume the majority of his life.

    Carthage controlled a large territory in western Sicily and had been enemies of the Sicilian Greeks since the 6th century. Their forces posed a formidable challenge for Agathokles and after a bloody battle, the boundaries were largely unchanged, with a border established along the Halycus River.

    In the summer of 311 BC, the Carthaginians managed to surround Agathokles by land and sea but his quick thinking allowed him to escape when, in August 310 BC, the Carthaginians briefly relaxed their naval blockade. Agathokles immediately sailed from the Syracuse harbor with 60 ships and an army of 13,500 men, set to invade Carthage itself. Although he was successful in the field, defeating the Carthaginian armies in North Africa, he did not capture their capital city. Nonetheless, the strategic attacks were highly successful and widely celebrated.

    Syracuse was maintaining its stronghold against the Carthagainians while Agathokles was at battle in Africa but at the same time, he learned that his other cities in Sicily had claimed independence. This forced him to return to Sicily and leave his African army under the control of his son Archagathus.

    The Carthaginians had split their army into thirds, each controlling a separate area. Archagathus did the same but not quickly enough and several of his factions were destroyed by the Punic forces. By the time Agathokles returned, there wasn’t anything he could do: Archagathus and his brother were killed, and the army was forced to surrender to Carthage.

    Many of his soldiers were either recruited into the Carthaginian army, put to work, or crucified. Agathokles made peace with the Carthaginians in 306 BC by giving up large territories in west Sicily in exchange for a fair amount of gold and grain.

    This truce did not leave him idle. Following in the footsteps of the successors of Alexander the Great, Agathokles adopted the title of sole king of Sicily, although this control only extended across the eastern portion of the island.

    He then extended his power to the Greek areas of south Italy and western mainland Greece, and, in 300 BC, took over Corcyra by driving out the Macedonian king Kassander. Agathokles used Corcyra as a dowry for his daughter Lanassa’s politically influential marriages to Pyrrhus in 295 BC and later to Demetrius Poliorketes in 291 BC.

    However, his hopes of extending his dynasty were brought to an abrupt end when his son was murdered by a jealous relative. Agathokles then occupied his time working to consolidate the control over his empire. In recognizing that he had no formal heir, he restored the Syracusan democracy as he lay dying of jaw cancer at the age of 72 in 289 BC.

    Although he did not accomplish all of his military goals in his lifetime, he did show that it was possible to invade Carthage, leaving the door open for the Romans to be much more successful in the Second Punic War in 202 BC.

    This tetradrachm, from Agathokles’ second series of silver coins, marks the beginning of a series of novel numismatic designs, deviating from the traditional types. By the end of the fourth century BC, the designs of Syracuse tetradrachms and dekadrachms exclusively pictured the local spring nymph Arethusa. The design on this coin is of Persephone, in a complementary style and wearing similar earrings to Arethusa, in an attempt to unite the various Greek factions of Sicily under the new leadership.

    Agathokles did not want to change the coinage too dramatically, considering how recognizable it was, but he still replaced Arethusa with the Sicilian goddess who would now show that he ruled the entire island. Whereas Arethusa was adorned with seaweed, Persephone is crowned with grain, paying homage to Sicily’s fame as the wheat-wealthy island of the Mediterranean. In Greek mythology, Persephone is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter – the goddess of grain and all of the fruits of the earth. Because of the similarities in design, the artists felt it appropriate to differentiate them by specifically engraving the name Kore, the common name of Persephone in Greek, meaning “the maiden”.

    This coin was struck towards the height of Agathokles’ power and the proudly displays his greatest achievements. The reverse shows a gracefully standing, winged figure of Nike - the goddess of victory - putting the finishing touches to a military trophy constructed from the spoils of the war against Carthage, alluding to his successful invasion of Africa. Interestingly, this type is stylistically similar to another issue by Seleukos I, minted at the eastern end of the Greek empire, but it is uncertain which served as the basis of the design for the other.

    This coin was part of the Hunt collection, one of the greatest collections assembled in the twentieth century, and was last available to the market in 1990. It is a delicately and attractively toned example, designed with dies of the finest style, believed by most to be the finest known example.

    Sicily, Syracuse. Agathokles. 317-289 BC. Silver Tetradrachm (16.90g). Struck ca. 310/08-306/5 BC. Wreathed head of Kore right, wearing single-pendant earring and necklace. Reverse: Nike standing right, and erecting trophy; to left, triskeles; between Nike and trophy, monogram. Ierardi 98 (O20/R59); Gulbenkian 334 (same rev. die); Kraay-Hirmer 137 (same rev. die); SNG Munich 1267 (same obv. die); SNG Manchester 508 (same obv. die). Superb Extremely Fine. Ex Nelson Bunker Hunt Collection, part II (Sotheby's, 21-22 June 1990), 286.
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  3. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana

    This piece is my favorite of all those you've shown here. A true work of art. Thanks for the excellent write up!
  4. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana

    Apparently I like it so much I had to say it 4 times. Sorry for the multiple posts... :oops::oops:
  5. spirityoda

    spirityoda Coin Junky

    in 1 word... wow. :jawdrop:
  6. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    One of the nicest coins posted here! Wow.
  7. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

    I had to pass up one like yours for a nicer coin ;)

    Beautiful coin!
    Collect89 likes this.
  8. stevex6

    stevex6 Random Mayhem

    Absolutely amazing, as always ... congrats AJ!!

    Ummm, "tough act to follow" is certainly an understatement, eh? ...

    => oh well, here goes:

    Sicily, Syracuse: Agathokles Æ24
    317-289 BC
    Diameter: 23.9mm
    Weight: 9.26gm
    Obverse: Diademed head of the young Herakles left, ΣΥΡΑΚΟΣΙΩΝ before
    Reverse: The Nemean lion striding right, club above, ΣΩ in exergue
    Reference: Calciati II, p290, 150, R1 7; c.f. SNG ANS 733ff
    Other: superior portrait with sculpted features usually represented by simpler forms

    syracuse lion.jpg
    Jwt708, Johndakerftw, TIF and 6 others like this.
  9. RaceBannon

    RaceBannon Member

    That coin is a true work of art AJ. Nice write up as usual.
  10. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    Stunning coin AJ. You're killing us with all these beauties you own. Congratulations (I'm jealous, but glad these coins have found a proper home).
  11. YOC

    YOC Well-Known Member

    drool......! beautiful.
  12. scottishmoney

    scottishmoney Buh bye

    I am sorry, but seriously I am perilously in betwixt of either congratulating you for your great acquisition or, in contrast cursing you for owning something that has thus far eluded my clutches. I had an opportunity to purchase one of these about a dozen or so years ago and foolishly let it slip. It was just slightly less appreciable than this example. And certainly without any qualms, it has haunted me the since.

    And yes, I do collect Syracuse - I really do believe without any doubt that they produced the very finest of all ancient coins - a mini-Renaissance of superior design couple with amazingly skilled engravers that coalesced to mint small works of artistry unparalleled even by the Athenians, and Asia Minor.
  13. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    I believe my AE22 was a litra. How many litra were in a tetradrachm? 20? Mine is unevenly struck losing the last part of Agathocles' name on the reverse but still has a decent face on Artemis. These are common coins but perfect ones are expensive.
    Note the last one on the above list went for $1400. Mine was $38 in 1988 from a dealer known for being high priced.
    Jwt708, Johndakerftw, TIF and 5 others like this.
  14. chrsmat71

    chrsmat71 I LIKE TURTLES!

    man oh man....

    i rate that coin 11 beavers on a 10 beaver scale.

    :beaver::beaver::beaver::beaver::beaver::beaver::beaver::beaver::beaver::beaver: :beaver:

    does anyone else get a little bit excited when they see ancient joe has a new post.
    zumbly likes this.
  15. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana

    Only a little more excited than when I see Steve's fortnightly Wednesday posts.
    stevex6 and chrsmat71 like this.
  16. TIF

    TIF Always learning.

    Man I love that coin! Thanks for the thorough write-up... it saves me some homework. :D

    Here's my Agathokles, with AncientJoe's backdrop.

    ArethusaLarge copy.jpg
    SICILY, Syracuse. Agathokles (317-289 BC)
    310-305 BC

    AR tetradrachm, 17.40 g, 24 mm
    Obv: head of the nymph Arethusa left, wearing grain wreath, earring and necklace; around, three dolphins; under, monogram (NK?)
    Rev: ΣYPAKOΣIΩN, fast chariot charioteer leads to left, holding reins and kentron; above, triskeles; in exergue, monogram
    Ref: Ierardi 9; SNG Copenhagen 573 var., SNG ANS 637

    The minting date range for mine is the same as for AJ's coin. Given the information in his write-up, I wonder about the dates. Was mine minted earlier? Were the two styles minted concurrently? I haven't looked up the cited references for my coin.
    Jwt708, Johndakerftw, Okidoki and 8 others like this.
  17. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Well-Known Member

    Thanks everyone!
  18. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Well-Known Member

    I meant to comment on this earlier - yours was indeed minted earlier (310-305BC) and mine sometime between 304-289BC (probably actually 304-295BC). It seems as if auction houses just give the full range of the emperor's reign in many cases, rather than being more specific about it.
    TIF likes this.
  19. vlaha

    vlaha Respect. The. Hat.

    Wow...just wow...

    On an unrelated note...STUPID LARGE TEXT!
  20. Teddydogno1

    Teddydogno1 Well-Known Member

    Wow! That's so nice it looks fake. Made yesterday, was it? :jawdrop:

  21. Marc Aceton

    Marc Aceton Active Member

    Fantastic coins!
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