Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich   |   Auction 106 Part I   |   9 - 10 May 2018 Sort by Lot-NumberSort by Estimate
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Lot 205

Estimate: 10'000 CHF   |   Starting price: 8'000 CHF Price realized: 9'000 CHF
Syracuse. 32 Litrae, circa 250-216, AR 27.44 g. Diademed head of Hieron l.; bucranium in r. field. Rev. BAΣIΛEOΣ / IEPΩNOΣ Nike driving slow quadriga r.; in r. field [K]. Gulbenkian 353 = Jameson 1931 (these dies). Caroccio 12 D4/R6 (this coin cited). Pozzi 654 (this coin).
Extremely rare, apparently one of the four specimens known. A bold portrait struck on a
very broad flan and old cabinet tone. Traces of overstriking, otherwise good very fine

Ex Ars Classica 4 April 1921, Pozzi, 654; Sotheby's 9 September 1983, Brand, 39 sales.

It was claimed that Hieron II, the future tyrant of Syracuse (ca. 275-269/265 B.C.) and king of Sicily (269/265-215 B.C.) was exposed as an infant, but a swarm of bees miraculously kept him alive by feeding him honey until he was rescued. As an adult, he became a general in the Syracusan army and used the forces at his command to take control of the government at Syracuse and become tyrant. Despite the negative connotations of tyranny, Hieron II is said to have been a good ruler and an able administrator. He spent much of the 260s B.C. waging war against the Mamertines, a large band of Campanian mercenaries who terrorized the cities of eastern Sicily from a base at Messana. By 264 B.C., Hieron II had Messana under siege, but was prevented from capturing the city and completely eradicating the Mamertines by the arrival of a Carthaginian garrison. When he returned to Syracuse he was acclaimed king in recognition of his successes in freeing Sicily from the Campanian scourge. However, things began to get out of hand when he resumed the offensive against Messana the following year. By this time, the Mamertines had entered into an alliance with the Romans and ejected the Carthaginians with the help of the consul Appius Claudius Caudex. Hieron II again besieged Messana, this time with the help of the Carthaginians. Their failure to desist when Caudex ordered them to stop ignited the First Punic War (264-241 B.C.). Hieron II was forced to withdraw to Syracuse and face a Roman siege in 263 B.C. Realizing that the odds were against him, the king quickly came to terms with the Romans, thereby preserving much of his Sicilian kingdom in exchange for accepting the status of a subordinate Roman ally and the payment of an indemnity of 100 talents. However, his absolute loyalty as the First Punic War progressed earned him great respect at Rome. In gratitude, the Romans revisited the peace treaty with Syracuse in 248 B.C., cancelling the outstanding indemnity payments and according Hieron II the status of an equal ally. Following the elevation of his position vis-à-vis the Romans, the king of Syracuse worked hard to present himself to the rest of the Greek world as a Hellenistic king, comparable in grandeur to the rulers of the great dynasties of the Antigonids, Seleukids, and Ptolemies. He beautified Syracuse with new building programs, contributed large gifts of money and grain to Rhodes after the devastating earthquake of 227 BC. He also instituted new tax laws that were considered so equitable that they were ultimately adopted by the Romans as the basis for tribute payments from subject cities of Sicily. Hieron II remained a staunch ally of Rome at the outbreak of the Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.), warning the Roman administration in Sicily of impending Carthaginian attacks and sending support to Rome in the aftermath of the disastrous battles of Lake Trasimene (217 B.C.) and Cannae (216 B.C.). The aged and respected king died in 215 B.C., leaving his kingdom to his grandson, Hieronymos, who was not nearly as wise as his grandfather. This extremely rare 32-litra multiple was certainly struck after 265 B.C., when Hieron II assumed the royal title, and possibly as late as the period 225-215 B.C. if his system of litra multiples was intended to be exchangeable with the Roman quadrigatus didrachm, as is sometimes suggested. The obverse portrait type depicts Hieron II as a Hellenistic king in the manner of the contemporary monarchs of Macedon, Egypt, and Syria. He wears a diadem — the universal symbol of Hellenistic kingship — and has a slightly elevated gaze, both of which are common features of other royal portraits of the period. The reverse type, however, looks to the old civic coinage of Syracuse, which had featured quadrigae and Nike (usually flying above) since the early fifth century B.C. The novelty here is that on Hieron’s 32-litra piece, Nike actually drives the chariot herself. If there was an intended relationship between the litra multiples and the quadrigatus then it may be that Nike driving the chariot is derived from the quadrigatus reverse type, which depicts Victory driving a chariot for Jupiter.

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