Sicily, Agrigentum. Tetradrachm circa 407, AR 17.22 g. Prancing quadriga driven l. by Nike holding kentron and reins; beneath the further horse loose bridle. Above, tablet inscribed ΑΚΡΑΓ / ИO – ИITИA (ON off tablet) and, in exergue, long thin club. Rev. Two eagles, one raising head and screaming, the other with head lowered, both perched on dead hare which lies upon a rock; in l. field, bull’s protome. Rizzo pl. III, 5 (these dies). Seltman, NC 1948, 15 and pl. II, Jv.
Estimate: 60'000 CHF
Starting price: 48'000 CHF
Price realized: 130'000 CHF
Of the highest rarity, very few specimens known. A masterpiece of Sicilian art,
work of a very skilled master-engraver. Struck in high relief on exceptionally
fresh metal, reverse slightly off-centre, otherwise good extremely fine
Ex NAC 9, 1996, 126 and NAC 23, 2002, 1077 sales. From the A.D.M. collection.
This stunning tetradrachm belongs to a dark time in the history of Greek Sicily. Although Punic forces had not pressed their advantage in their war against Silenos and Himera in 410-409 BC. They mounted a major punitive expedition in 407 BC in response to the attacks of the rogue Syracusan mercenary commander Hermokrates. Realizing that Hermokrates’ operations in western Sicily would provoke such a Punic response, Akragas immediately prepared for it by hiring a mercenary army led by the Spartan commander Dexippos and by repairing the walls of the city. All of this required money and Akragas responded to this requirement by striking tetradrachms like the present coin. When the Punic assault came things initially went badly for Akragas. By 406 BC, the city found itself under close siege by the Punic army. The Akragantines within the walls (some 200,000 people) would have faced certain starvation if not for the outbreak of a plague in the Punic camp and the timely arrival of a Greek relieving force from Syracuse.
The obverse type follows the old Sicilian Greek tradition of depicting victorious chariots. It was a fitting allegory for the constant jockeying for position of the Greek cities of Sicily. Here Nike whips her team into a fury as the quadriga hurtles towards certain victory in the race. Although Akragas was a frequent enemy of Syracuse, this dynamic obverse type reflects similar types employed at Syracuse in the same period. This is not entirely surprising since some of the same great artists are known to have cut dies for both cities in the fifth century BC. A further nice touch here is the placement of the city ethnic on a tablet hanging on a hook. This treatment illustrates the artistic experimentation of Sicilian engravers during this period. However, on this die the engraver has misjudged the space for the ethnic, forcing him to include the last two letters outside the frame of the tablet.
The dramatic depiction of the eagles on the reverse is a vivid reminder of the close relationship between human beings and the natural world in classical antiquity — something that it is not always so easily appreciated in modern times. The die engraver has captured a moment in time, almost like a photograph. Although the two eagles with their prey was an oft repeated badge of the city, the skill of the engraver here is so great that one gets the impression that he must have witnessed the scene himself outside or watching from the window of his workshop. Otherwise it seems impossible that he could have imbued the eagles with such life and detail. One can almost hear the ululating cry of the triumphant eagle in the foreground as his partner leans forward to begin tearing at the hapless hare below. It is truly a masterpiece of Greek numismatic art.