Victory issues of Syracuse after 413 B.C

Brett, Agnes Baldwin, 1876-1955
Numismatic Notes and Monographs
American Numismatic Society
New York
Worldcat Works




Open access edition funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Humanities Open Book Program.


Table of Contents




By Agnes Baldwin Brett

The appearance of an Athena head on the coinage of Syracuse (Plate I, 1) soon after the defeat of the Athenian fleet in the Great Harbor and the destruction of the enemy's land forces at the Assinarus in 413 B.C., seems at first sight inexplicable. Why should the mint authorities have commissioned the engraver, Eucleidas, to design an Athena head to take the place of that of Arethusa, the goddess who had hitherto without exception held the position of chief deity on the coins? Since no connection with the Athena Parthenos of the enemy is possible, the type must have local significance and it is therefore obvious that the Syracusans were honoring their own Athena whose massive temple was situated on Ortygia, that is in the heart of the city. 1

In addition to the new, facing Athena type, other types and symbols were employed to commemorate the victories on land and sea. Besides the decadrachms of Euainetos and Kimon well-known as signalizing the defeat of the Athenian forces as they retreated across the Assinarus, and struck probably as prizes for the victors at the Assinarian games, there were issued the tetradrachm (Plate I, 2) by the engraver Euth ..... with the sea-monster, Scylla, in the exergue, and a winged charioteer, and also the tetradrachm by Phrygillos (Frontispiece) with the aphlaston symbol in the hand of Nike who is crowning the charioteer. This latter piece deserves renewed attention as Tudeer has cast doubt upon the interpretation of the emblem as an aphlaston first noted by Salinas, 2 and then adopted by Evans. 3 The coin is in danger of being forgotten as emblematic of naval victory since in his great corpus of the signed tetradrachms 4 Tudeer considered the symbol to be a palm branch. Thus interpreted, the issue is equally symbolic of victory, as the palm is an innovation in the type, a wreath or fillet being usually held by Nike, but merely of military, not specifically naval victory. That the object is an aphlaston, however, is abundantly clear from the enlarged photograph of the well-preserved specimen in the Boston collection (Frontispiece). Another indication of the commemorative character of the coin by Phrygillos is the fact that in place of the male charioteer without attributes, the goddess, Persephone, holding a torch now makes her appearance on the coinage for the first time. This aphlaston issue with Persephone as charioteer is regarded by Tudeer as struck very shortly after the victory. It is not surprising, then, to find that on the issue which Tudeer classifies as the very first after the victory, namely, the coin by Euth...... above cited, a head of Kore, or Persephone, supplants the traditional head of Arethusa. One of these heads, that by Eum 5 . . , is not an entirely new design like the later, long-haired Persephone type, but a mere modification of the old Arethusa head achieved by the addition of ears of barley, poppy-heads, oak-leaves and acorns to the conventional head type. In this way Arethusa is metamorphosed into Kore. As Tudeer points out, the Syracusans expressed their claim to leadership of all Sicily by placing on the new types, the deity in whose common worship all of the cities were united. He cites as evidence for the cult in Sicily, the honorary decree 6 for Dionysius, as "archon of Sicily," erected at Athens in 393 B.C. on which Demeter is the figure representing Sicily. We add for the cult at Syracuse, Gelon's construction of temples to Demeter and Kore 7 out of the Carthaginian spoils after the battle of Himera in 480 B.C.; Pindar's VI Olympic Ode, 11. 92–96 in praise of Hieron and Syracuse in which purple-footed Damater and her daughter are mentioned; and the frequent occurrences of Demeter or Kore heads on later Syracusan issues. Holm regards the dual cult of these deities as indigenous in Sicily, and the original site of the rape of Persephone was said to be at the town of Enna in the interior.

After first honoring their great national deity, the Syracusans introduced the facing head of Athena as the reverse type of a coin having Persephone as charioteer, and her attribute, an ear of barley in the exergue. This symbol is continued as an exergual device on several later issues, one of which 8 has the new, long-haired head of Kore with a single, large barley ear in her hair.

On the small gold coins struck around 410 B.C., Athena is again represented (with her Gorgoneion as reverse). This coin (Plate I, 3) is of lower denomination, equivalent to 12½ silver litrae, and slightly later than the first gold coin of Syracuse, the 20-litrae piece bearing the head of Heracles in the lion's scalp (Plate I, 4). To the period, 410 to 390 B.C., belong the 100-litrae coins having as obverse, heads of Arethusa by Euainetes and Kimon, and as reverse, Heracles wrestling with the Nemean lion (Plate I, 5). Here there arises the question of the significance of the introduction of types relating to Heracles on these issues following the victory over the Athenians. No explanation has, to the writer's knowledge, ever been suggested. Yet the reason why these types were used is available from certain passages in Plutarch 9 and Thucydides 10 which have escaped the notice of investigators of the Syracusan coins. From these sources we learn that there was a particular motive which led to the choice of these Heraclean types. Just before the final struggle for mastery of the harbor, the Athenians were forced to abandon their encampment and fortifications on the shore, after the occupation of the promontory of Plemmyrium by Gylippus. Now, this first Athenian camp was adjacent to the sanctuary of Heracles, and the Syracusans, prevented for a long time from sacrificing to the god, went up just before the battle, both priests and generals, to do so. Even while the galleys were being manned, the diviners predicted victory to them if they would not take the offensive but, like Heracles, defend themselves only when attacked. After the decisive naval contest ending in disaster to the Athenians, the land forces and those rescued from the ships decided to retreat that very night. The Syracusan generals, though informed of the plan, were unable to rally their men to pursue the enemy, since these had not rested, and furthermore there was a festival or celebration as they were offering a sacrifice to Heracles that very day. Heracles then was regarded by the Syracusans as the god who gave them victory, and for this reason they devised the Heraclean types for the principal denominations of the two gold issues. The type of Heracles wrestling with the lion is symbolic of victory just as Heracles strangling the serpents on the Symmachia coinage 11 struck after Konon's victory off Knidos and his reestablishment of democracy, is indicative of a successful struggle.

All of the above innovations in the stereotyped pattern of the Syracusan coinage which had existed for a century, namely, the Persephone figure as charioteer, Nike holding the aphlaston, the Perse- phone, Heracles and Athena 12 heads, are the expression of the homage paid by Syracuse to her principal deities in the moment of her exultation over the defeat of the Athenians whose naval supremacy had been unchallenged since Salamis. Our literary sources tell us that a wave of nationalistic ardor swept over the citizens inspiring them to demand a democratic constitution. This accent on victory displaced temporarily the long familiar Arethusa head on the coinage as the people gave vent to their joy by giving thanks to the gods of their polis. Arethusa, the strictly local deity associated with the fountain, was not forgotten however, for a new type was designed for her by Kimon, the wonderful facing head with her beautiful name APE0OSA above it, (Plate I, 6) and it is interesting to observe that this is the last of the special, new types created at Syracuse as a result of the victory.

End Notes

1 A Doric temple on the site of which stands the modern Cathedral.
2 Notizie degli Scavi, 1888, p. 309.
3 Num. Chron. 1890, p. 302, and 1891, p. 335.
4 Zeit. f. Num. 30, 1913, p. 279.
5 Zeit. f. Num. 30, 1913, P1. II, 28 (Coin No. 46).
6 Hicks and Hill, Greek Historical Inscriptions, No. 91.
7 Diodorus XI. 26.7. Their temples were probably located in the district called Temenites, later named Neapolis.
8 Zeit. f. Num. 30, 1913, PI. IV, 23 + 44, Coin no. 66.
9 Nicias, chs. XXIV to XXVI.
10 Bk. VII. lxxiii, 2.
11 Amer. Journ. Num. LIII. 3. P1. IV 8–10.
12 On the change of type from Arethusa to Athena, Tudeer, l. c., p. 158, commented as follows: "Why the artist abandoned the time-honored goddess, cannot be stated, and perhaps we shall never be able to give the true reason with certainty."





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