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Historical Article

Sicily, Akragas - A Numismatic Masterpiece



From Akragas' first coinage in the late sixth century BC, two symbols predominated on its coins: the eagle and the crab, and the finest master engravers were recruited to create artistic images. In the last quarter of the fifth century BC these traditional types were transformed. The static eagle is now depicted tearing up a dead hare or other victim, and is usually accompanied by its mate. This design may have been inspired by the omen presented to Agamemnon and Menelaus in Aeschylos' Agamemnon, where two eagles, representing the two kings, devoured a pregnant hare, an allusion to the city of Troy. The monster Skylla is portrayed as a beautiful young woman from the waist up. Two dogs emerge from her sides, and the body ends in a long curling, finned tail. She holds up her hand to shield her eyes from the sun, while gazing straight ahead, perhaps patrolling the horizon for enemies of the city. According to the chronology of R. Ross Holloway in "La strutture delle emissioni di Siracusa," AIIN 22 (1975), pg. 45, this coin can be associated with the Athenian expedition of 415-413 BC against Sicily. The Carthaginian destruction of the city in 406 BC cut short this brilliant phase of coinage.

SICILY, Akragas. Circa 414-413 BC. AR Tetradrachm (17.25 gm, 5h). A pair of eagles standing right on the upturned body of a dead hare; the nearer eagle, with closed wings, screaming with its head reared and beak wide open; the further, flapping its wings and lowering its head to tear at the prey / A crab with open claws seen from above; below, Skylla swimming left, her right hand raised to shade her eyes, left arm trailing behind, and her hair streaming in the wind.

C. Seltman, "The Engravers of the Akragantine Decadrachms," NC 1948, pl. I, ii (same dies); SNG ANS -; SNG Copenhagen -; BMC Sicily pg. 12, 61 (same dies); SNG Lloyd 821 (same dies); Rizzo pl. 1, 20 (same dies); Gulbenkian 166 (same dies); Jameson 509 (same dies); Pozzi 389 (same dies); McClean 2043 (same dies); Basel 258 = Kraay & Hirmer pl. 60, 175 (same dies). A masterpiece of the engraver's art. Extremely rare, the finest specimen of approximately a dozen known.