Back to first page
The post-Demareteion tetradrachms are postulated to begin with those issues bearing a sea monster beneath the obverse chariot. B.V. Head, a pioneering researcher in Sicilian numismatics, interprets this device "to symbolize the vanquished naval power of the Tuscans, just as the lion which appears on Gelon's coins after the battle of Himera [the Demareteion dekadrachms] may symbolize the destruction of the African dominion in Sicily." 13. This is a reference to Hieron's victory over the Etruscans at Cumae in 474 which Diodorus records briefly:
And in this year Hieron, the king of the Syracusans, when ambassadors came to him from Cumae in Italy and asked his aid in the war which the Tyrrhenians, who were at that time masters of the sea, were waging against them, he dispatched to their aid a considerable number of triremes. And after the commanders of this fleet had put in at Cumae, joining with the men of that region they fought a naval battle with the Tyrrhenians, and destroying many of their ships and conquering them in a great sea-fight, they humbled the Tyrrhenians and delivered the Cumaeans from their fears, after which they sailed back to Syracuse. 14.
Attributing the Demareteion dekadrachms, and thus the end of the early tetradrachm series, to 479, and the sea-monster tetradrachms to 474, leaves a gap of five years during which the Syracusans supposedly struck no coins. Given that it was during these five years that they were receiving a 2000 talent indemnity from Carthage, and thus would have been able to strike a considerable number of coins, the hypothesis is untenable. 15. Likewise, Head's willingness to interpret the lion on the dekadrachms as a sign of victory at Himera ought to counsel against blind acceptance of his link between the sea monster and victory at Cumae. This exergual device continued for twenty-five years, inviting speculation as to whether the victory was really worthy of such commemoration. 16. Similar long-term remembrance is unknown in any other classical Greek series, and so I argue that it is irrational to support such a theory here. Therefore, the traditional dates of the two cornerstones of established Syracusan chronology, the Demareteion dekadrachms and the sea monster tetradrachms, have been fundamentally challenged.
The Syracusan tetradrachms of the chariot/Arethusa design may be confidently attributed as the imperial coinage of the tyrant, Gelon. He started striking them shortly after he moved his seat of power from Gela to Syracuse in 485 bc. Their production continued into the democratic period following the death of Gelon's brother and successor, Hieron I, in 466. The coins maintained their fabric and general design types throughout this era, but the evolution of small details such as hairstyle, decorative adornment (jewelry and headbands) and exergual devices allows them to be placed in a relative chronology reflecting the transition of Greek art in general, from the Archaic to Classical periods. Two defining moments in fifth-century Syracusan history took place contemporaneously with the striking of these coins: Gelon and Theron of Akragas' crushing defeat of the invading Carthaginian army under Hamilcar at Himera in 480, and the defeat of the Etruscan fleet at Cumae in 474. Traditionally, these events have served as props on which to brace the entire Syracusan numismatic chronology. Reinterpretations of evidence have undercut their support, and so the dating of the Demareteion dekadrachms must be re-established in light of this information.
An attractively daring suggestion theorizes that the literary tradition has correctly identified the Demareteion as a silver dekadrachm (as opposed to a gold piece), but its association with 479 may be erroneous: the result of a linguistic corruption. 17. Gelon was a priest of Demeter; "pertaining to Demeter" in Greek is "Demetreion" or . The name of his wife, Demarete, is rendered as . Given this similarity, it is not inconceivable that Carthage paid a sum of precious metal into the temple of Demeter, or perhaps Gelon issued a coin commemorating the dedication of Demeter's temple following Himera, and the terminology was adulterated over time into the name of the tyrant's wife. Later historians then scrambled to "explain" the issuance of a large coin in the name of Demarete. Numismatically, this hypothesis allows the dekadrachm issue to be pushed later into the 470s, more in keeping with the general Syracusan chronology than is a date of 479.
I argue that the Demareteion dekadrachms were struck at Syracuse during the decade from 475 to 465, perhaps to commemorate a specific event (maybe even the expulsion of the tyrants in 466), but possibly as a general expression of the city's greatness. A massive coin of such exquisite artistic quality is a fitting tribute to the civic pride and identity which citizens of Syracuse must have felt as their city rose to heights rivalling Athens and the other Eastern Greeks. This would necessarily push the sea monster tetradrachms to a later period as well, circa 470-460. The available evidence, however, is sufficient only to debunk existing theories, and not to prove new ones. The beauty of the science of numismatics is its ever-evolving nature. With every furrow of a Sicilian field, and every sweep of a metal-detector, comes the possibility of uncovering new evidence. Until then, the dekadrachms of the Demareteion Master should be appreciated for what they are: the pinnacle of Greek art in coinage.
About the author
British Museum. Catalogue of Greek Coins: Sicily. Edited by Reginald Stuart Poole. London: The Trustees of the British Museum, 1876.
Cox, Sir George W. Lives of the Greek Statesmen: Solon -- Themistokles. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1885.
Davis, Norman. Greek Coins and Cities. London: Seaby & Son, Ltd., 1967.
Diodorus Siculus. Translated by C.H. Oldfather. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1946, Volumes IV _ VII.
Dunbabin, T.J. The Western Greeks: The History of Sicily and South Italy from the Foundation of the Greek Colonies to 480 bc. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1948.
Evans, Arthur J. Syracusan Medallions" and their Engravers in the Light of Recent Finds. London: Bernard Quartich, 1892.
Gallatin, Albert. Syracusan Dekadrachms of the Euainetos Type. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1930.
Head, Barclay V. History of the Coinage of Syracuse. London: John Russell Smith, 1874.
Herodotus. The Histories. Translated by Aubrey de Selincourt. New York: Penguin, 1972.
Hill, G.F. Coins of Ancient Sicily. London: Archibald Constable, 1903.
Holloway, R. Ross. Art and Coinage in Magna Graecia. Bellinzona, Italy: Edizioni Arte e Moneta, 1972.
Howgego, Christopher. Ancient History from Coins. New York: Routledge, 1995.
Kraay, Colin M. Greek Coins. New York: Henry N. Abrams, Inc., 1972.
Kraay, Colin M. Greek Coins and History. London: Methuen, 1969.
Kraay, Colin M. The Demareteion Reconsidered: A Reply" Numismatic Chronicle 1972. London: Royal Numismatic Society, 1972, 13-24.
Mildenberg, Leo and Sylvia Hurter, Editors. The Arthur S. Dewing Collection of Greek Coins. Ancient Coins in North American Collections, Number 6. New York: American Numismatic Society, 1985.
Pindar. Odes. Translated by Sir John Sandys. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1915.
Sear, David. Greek Coins & Their Values, Vol. I: Europe. London: Seaby, 1978.
Stack's Galleries, Public Auction Sale: The Michael F. Price Collection of Ancient Greek and Roman Coins, Closing December 3, 1996. New York: Stack's Galleries, 1996.
Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War. Translated by Rex Warner. New York: Penguin, 1972.
Williams, R.T. The Demareteion Reconsidered" Numismatic Chronicle 1972. London: Royal Numismatic Society, 1972, 1-11.
1. G.K. Jenkins, Ancient Greek Coins, (London: Seaby, 1990), 1.
2. Stack's Galleries. The Michael F. Price Collection of Ancient Greek and Roman Coins. December 3, 1996. Lot #18. Price's example, though corroded, is the finest to come on the public market in nearly 25 years. Its pre-sale estimate is $80,000 - $100,000.
3. Jenkins, Greek Coins, 93.
4. Diodorus, XI, 25, 3. Page 193 in Oldfather's translation. A similar story is related by Pollux (IX, 85), who says that Demarete collected women's jewelry and had it melted and struck as coin when Gelon needed money for the war against Carthage.
5. Sir Arthur Evans, "Syracusan Medallions" and their Engravers in the Light of Recent Finds, (London: Bernard Quaritch, 1892), 123. The Duc de Luynes' observation appeared in the Annali dell' Istituto for 1830, pp. 81 ff.
6. Colin M. Kraay, Greek Coins and History, (London: Methuen, 1969), 21. Chapter II of this slim volume is entitled The Demareteion and Sicilian Chronology" and serves as the basis for later papers in the 1972 Numismatic Chronicle of the Royal Numismatic Society.
7. Evans, Syracusan "Medallions", 124-25.
8. The best place to visually trace this development of style is in the photographic plates (34-44) of the Arthur S. Dewing Collection of Greek Coins, published by the American Numismatic Society as Volume 6 of their Ancient Coins in North American Collections series, and edited by Sylvia Hurter and Leo Mildenberg (a professional numismatist at Bank Leu in Switzerland). This reference was published in 1985 and contains more recent dating information than almost any other readily-available source.
9. R.T. Williams, "The Demareteion Reconsidered" and C.M. Kraay, "The Demareteion Reconsidered -- A Reply," both in Numismatic Chronicle (London: Royal Numismatic Society, 1972), 1-24. Kraay maintains that the contents of this hoard provide evidence for abolishing the " traditional" view of the beginning of Syracusan "dolphins around" tetradrachms as ca. 510, and reattributing them as Gelon's imperial coinage initiated at his new capital, Syracuse, only after 485. The argument is based on the fact that the mint of the city of Leontini made use of Syracusan design elements, and that it was already at work immediately after the burial of the Gela hoard, judging from the observation that Syracusan pieces chronologically subsequent to those in the hoard make use of an obverse die borrowed from Leontini. Only after 485 were both cities in Gelon's control, thereby establishing the burial of the hoard as having occurred ca. 485-84.
10. Kraay, Greek Coins and History, 25. A credible die life study is presented by D.G. Sellwood in the 1963 Numismatic Chronicle, pp. 226 ff.
11. Kraay, Greek Coins and History, 25-26.
12. Kraay, Greek Coins and History, 26.
13. B.V. Head, History of the Coinage of Syracuse, 10.
14. Diodorus, IX, 51, 1. Page 257 in Oldfather's translation.
15. Diodorus, XI, 25, 26. Page 193 in Oldfather's translation.
16. Kraay, Greek Coins and History, 24, note.
17. Williams, "The Demareteion Reconsidered," 10-11.