Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich   |   Auction 96   |   6 October 2016 Sort by Lot-NumberSort by Estimate
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Lot 1003

Estimate: 18'000 CHF   |   Starting price: 14'400 CHF Price realized: 25'000 CHF
Greek Coins
Calabria, Tarentum. Stater circa 276-272 BC, AV 8.58 g.
Description Laureate head of Zeus l.; behind, NK ligate. Rev. TAPANTINWN Eagle with open wings standing r., perched on thunderbolt; before, two amphorae. On top of l. wing, [NIKAP]. References
Vlasto 40
Gulbenkian 41 (these dies)
SNG ANS 1039
Fischer Bossert G42f (this coin)
Historia Numorum Italy 983 Condition
Very rare. A very attractive portrait struck in high relief and a light reddish tone. Extremely fine Provenance
Leu sale 2, 1972, 21
Giessener Münzhandlung sale 42, 1988, 18
Leu sale 72, 1998, 22

Sincona sale 4, 2011, 4003
This very rare gold stater dates to the time of King Pyrrhos of Epiros’ involvement in Tarentine affairs in southern Italy. During the first decades of the third century B.C., Roman power had extended to most of Italy. Attempting to subdue the loose tribal confederation of Lucanians in the southwestern tip of the peninsula who had proven a nuisance to their ambitions, the Romans violated their preexisting treaty with Tarentum when they sent warships into the Tarentine Gulf to blockade the city of Thurium. The Tarentines responded in force, expelling the garrison which the Romans had installed at Thurium. Knowing that this would precipitate an unwanted war with Rome for which they were unprepared, the people of Tarentum called on Pyrrhos for assistance. At the time that this request from Tarentum came, Pyrrhos had just been evicted from his Macedonian possessions by King Lysimachus of Thrace. The previous decades had seen Pyrrhos largely as a pawn in the great games of the warring Diadochs, the successors of Alexander the Great, and their sons. While he had certainly proven to be a capable and dynamic general during these events, at the time Tarentum called on him, having recently lost his kingdom in Macedonia and reduced to only his possessions in Epiros (and that owing substantially to financial and material support from the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt), the prospect of a western campaign offered Pyrrhos an outlet for his energies as well as a chance for expanding his domain and for earning greater glory. While Pyrrhos defeated the Romans decisively in three engagements, he had not counted on Roman tenacity. At this time the Romans controlled an incredibly vast territory and also had the support of a large network of allied states, all of which could provide more troops and materiel. Additionally, his gains were not without cost: in each engagement he lost large numbers of his most experienced officers, which indeed provides some insight into Roman military tactics. According to Plutarch, these losses caused him to quip ”[if] we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined” (Plutarch, Pyrrhus 21.9), which gives us the modern phrase Pyrrhic victory, meaning a success earned at such a heavy toll that any sense of achievement or profit is negated. The gold of Tarentum is all very rare today, but must have originally seen a very large output. In addition to staters, there are halves, thirds, quarters, eighths, tenths, twelfths, and sixteenths. Additionally at this time the silver nomoi were reduced in weight from circa 7.9 g to circa 6.6 g, and were struck in prodigious quantities. This increased productivity simply illustrates the effect of war on a mint, especially of a city like Tarentum needed to hire mercenaries in order to wage war. The gold is often signed, as in the case here with the signature ΝΙΚΑΡ (other signatures that appear are ΣΩΚ and ΑΠΟΛ), and features the portraits of Zeus, Herakles, Apollo and Athena on the obverse, with either their respective animals (the eagle and the owl) or representations of eponymous founder of Tarentum, Taras, either driving a biga of horses or of dolphins, on the reverse.

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