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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Fine Style

CNG 97, Lot: 6. Estimate $30000.
Sold for $40000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

CALABRIA, Tarentum. Circa 320 BC. AV Stater (15mm, 8.51 g, 10h). Head of Persephone right, wearing a stephanos ornamented with palmettes, a slight veil, and triple-pendant earring; [E to left]; to right, T[APA] and small dolphin swimming downward / Poseidon, seated left on diphros, bow laying in his lap, cradling trident in his left arm and resting his right hand on his knee, looking down upon the child Taras, who stands right, raising both arms toward him; TAPANTINΩN to left; to right, star above |-; [K below diphros]. Fischer-Bossert G5 (V4’/R5); Vlasto 1 = Jameson 137; HN Italy 901; SNG France 1777–8; ACGC 685; Basel 89; Holloway, Art 8; Kraay & Hirmer 315 = Berlin 1 (all from the same dies). VF, minor die rust. Fine style. Very rare, only twelve examples noted by Fisher-Bossert, at least five of which are in museums (Berlin, Florence, London, Paris [2]); only one other than this in CoinArchives (Prospero).

Ex Nomos 6 (8 May 2012), lot 3; Numismatica Ars Classica 48 (21 October 2008), lot 3.

This interesting issue of staters offers a wonderful display of the mythological history and significance of the city of Tarentum. The reverse scene shows the great sea-god, Poseidon, seated on a diphros, leaning forward toward his son Taras, who reaches up to him. Interpretations of this scene have varied based on the datings that numismatists have assigned to this issue. It was clear that the issue belonged to the second half of the fourth century BC, and there has been a traditional thought that gold coinage at that time was often struck for payments made during times of crisis. Most numismatists also agreed that the scene depicted an act of appeal by Tarentum, represented by Taras, to a foreign power, represented by Poseidon. M.P. Vlasto, C.M. Kraay, and G.K. Jenkins thought that Poseidon, the father of Taras, was meant to represent Sparta, the parent city of Tarentum, and thus the issue was related to the intervention of the Spartans at the behest of Tarentum circa 344-338 BC. Other numismatists, most notably, N.K. Rutter, thought that the appeal belonged to the intervention of Alexander the Molossian, circa 334-332 BC. In contrast to these traditional interpretations, W. Fischer-Bossert’s reassessment of the entire coinage at Tarentum has concluded that this lovely issue was struck somewhat later, circa 320 BC, based on his analysis of the hoards containing this type, as well as typological and epigraphical links to various silver issues, whose dates of issue are more certain. While the city lacked a significant crisis during this time, the conditions did not preclude the striking of a gold coinage. We know that Tarentum experienced a time of high prosperity during this period, attested by the colossal statues of Zeus and Herakles that the artist Lysippos of Sikyon made there to symbolize the city’s leadership of the local Greek federation. In such a time of tranquility, then, this issue of gold staters may have played a part in the custom of gift-giving between the city’s leaders and foreign dignitaries. In this light, the reverse scene symbolizes the mythological origin of the city. The obverse type, Persephone, depicts the city’s patron goddess, and also alludes to the source of the city’s great wealth, its grain trade. Chronological considerations aside, this issue of gold staters at Tarentum has long been regarded as being among the finest examples of numismatic art. B.V. Head remarked that the type was “one of the most beautiful in the Tarentine series" (PCG p. 44, 7), Kraay noted that it was "remarkable not only for its artistic quality but also for theme of its reverse type" (ACGC p. 191), Jenkins said that "the composition has considerable charm as a genre scene and is brilliantly engraved" (Ancient Greek Coins, p. 118), and Holloway placed the type among "the most majestic examples of Tarentine gold coinage" (Art and Coinage in Magna Graecia, p. 39).