Syracuse Arethusa decadrachm coins offered for sale in ancient coins auction

Regular readers of our coins and banknotes section will recall a particularly beautiful coin which sold right at the start of this year.

This was a decadrachm from Syracuse, owned by a Chicago collector for four decades. The obverse shows a four-horse chariot galloping left,driven by a charioteer whilst above his head, Nike is flying right to crown him. In the foreground are pieces of armour (a cuirass, two greaves, and a Phrygian helmet).

Early Syracuse Arethusa Kimon decadrachm coin
Early Syracuse Arethusa decadrachm coin by Kimon

The reverse shows Arethusa surrounded by dolphins. Arethusa was a Nereid water-nymph, closely associated with Syracuse, as by myth she was transmuted into a fountain on the island of Ortygia there as she fled from the river god Alpheus.

The example from January's auction nearly tripled its estimate of $50,000 to sell for $141,000. Now a full three more silver Syracuse decadrachms of this kind, issued at the end of the 5th century BC, are set to go under the hammer.

Triple signed Syracuse Arethusa Kimon decadrachm coin
Triple signed Syracuse Arethusa decadrachm coin by Kimon

The connotations of victory (Nike crowning the charioteer etc) relate to 405 BC, when the city had prevailed over Carthaginian forces.

In his definitive 1990 book "Ancient Greek Coins", the numismatist G. K. Jenkins describes Syracusan decadrachms of this period as "perhaps the most famous of all ancient coins".

Syracuse Arethusa Euainetos decadrachm coin
Syracuse Arethusa decadrachm coin by Euainetos

Two of the examples to be offered for sale are by the master engraver Kimon whilst the other, which has been described as the finest known decadrachm, is credited to Euainetos (estimate £150-200,000).

Of the former two, one is an exceptional example from his earliest set of dies (estimated at £200-300,000) and the other bears the artist's signature three times (estimate £150-200,000).

These three, and more, will be offered in London on April 23.

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