SICILY, Syracuse. Agathokles (317-289 BCE)

310-305 BCE

AR tetradrachm, 17.40 g, 24 mm

Obv:  head of the nymph Arethusa left, wearing grain wreath, earring and necklace; around, three dolphins; under, monogram (NK?)

Rev:  ΣYPAKOΣIΩN, fast chariot charioteer leads to left, holding reins and kentron; above, triskeles; in exergue, monogram

Ref:  Ierardi 12 (O2-R8); SNG Copenhagen 573 var., SNG ANS 637

ArtCoinsRoma, auction 8, Feb. 2014

The story of its acquisition is here.

Agathokles is described as a 'tyrant of Syracuse' and he certainly was aggressive and murderous in his earlier years. When things calmed down he proclaimed himself king of Syracuse. During his reign things were apparently more peaceful and history regards him more kindly.

 

Arethusa was a water nymph who was transformed into an underground stream emerging as a freshwater spring on the Sicilian island of Ortygia, the future site of Syracuse. Ovid wrote of her in Metamorphoses (AD 8). English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote a lovely poem about her in his 1820 composition, Arethusa. Roman poet Virgil also wrote of her in book III of his 19 BC epic, The Aeneid.

 

The quadrigia on these coins are shown in a 3/4 perspective. One writer indicated that this shows the chariot as it is turning left during a race. You can see the turned heads and bunched-up legs of the near horses as their gait shortens to enter the turn, with the far horses still in near-full gallop. Whether this was done to fit the whole scene on a limited canvas or through artistic intent, I don't know.

 

The triskeles symbol is interesting. Its earliest use is seen three millennia before appearing on Syracuse coins. Initially a religious symbol of the sun, likely representing Baal. Agathokles adopted it as his emblem, in theory because the triangular shape resembles the shape of Sicily. For an in-depth review, see The Triskeles on Ancient Greek Coins, an article by John Voukelatos, 2011. Later Sicilian depictions include a gorgon face in the center and that emblem is featured on the flag of Sicily.