Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich   |   Auction 106 Part I   |   9 - 10 May 2018 Sort by Lot-NumberSort by Estimate
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Lot 177

Estimate: 15'000 CHF   |   Starting price: 12'000 CHF Price realized: 18'000 CHF
Gela. Litra circa 406, AV 0.87 g. Forepart of bridled horse r. Rev. [ΣΟΣΙΠΟΛΙΣ] Head of nymph l., wearing ampyx and necklace. Rizzo pl. XIX, 9. Jameson 590 (these dies). SNG Lloyd 980 (these dies). Jenkins 491.
Exceedingly rare, only six specimens known of which this is possibly the finest
known. Perfectly struck and centred on a full flan. Good extremely fine

Ex Leu 18, 1977, 55; M&M 64, 1984, 27; CNG XXVI, 1993, 22; CNG XXVIII, 1993, 29 and Leu 83, 2002, 56 sales. From the G. & R. Stevenson and the Harald Salvesen collections.
Despite the rising power of Syracuse as the fifth century progressed, Gela still retained much influence among the Greek cities of Sicily. In 415 B.C., a congress at Gela established an alliance that thwarted Athenian attempts to conquer the island and ultimately led to the destruction of the Athenians at the siege of Syracuse in 413 B.C. Thanks to Gela, the Greek cities of Sicily had weathered the storm and remained independent of the faltering Athenian Empire. Unfortunately, a new menace loomed on the horizon in the form of the Carthaginians. When a great Punic army marched against Akragas and destroyed it in 406 B.C., the Geloans gave refuge to the survivors. Knowing that their wealthy city would be the next target, the Geloans begged for assistance from Dionysios I, the ruling tyrant of Syracuse. The Carthaginians lay siege to Gela in 405 B.C. and probably would have taken the poorly fortified city immediately if not for the bravery of the defenders. The Geloans managed to hold out until Dionysios I arrived with an army, but when this was defeated they were forced to surrender the city to plunder and destruction by the Carthaginians, escaping with their families to Leontini. This gold litra was struck as an emergency issue in the dark days as the Punic noose began to tighten around Gela. The reverse depicts an obscure local goddess known as Sosipolis (”Savior of the City”), who has been variously treated in the scholarly literature as a local water nymph or a form of Tyche, Nike, and Demeter. She first appears on coins of Gela in the 440s B.C., crowning a man-faced bull representing the river-god Gelas. Here, however, there is no allusion to the victorious aspect of Sosipolis. Instead, one gets the distinct impression that the goddess is invoked on the coin out of dread and with the hope that she would live up to her name and save the city from the overwhelming forces of the Carthaginians. Alas, the prayers of the Geloans, even the ones made tangible in beautiful gold, ultimately fell on deaf ears and no salvation was forthcoming. It is unclear whether the Greek goddess lacked jurisdiction over non-Greek enemies, was too busy with other matters, or just wasn’t in the mood to listen to the desperate Geloans. Whatever the case, Gela was doomed.

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