Image of the obverse and reverse of the first decadrachm of Syracuse, ca 465 BC.


The Demareteion

Struck in Syracuse, Sicily, around 465 B.C. The first decadrachm type ever issued in the Greek coin series, preparing the way for further special issues of decadrachms from Syracuse, Akragas, and Athens. All of these coins are commemorative in nature and were issued in relatively small numbers. As such, the finest engravers were found to create these miniature masterpieces. There are eighteen specimens known of this particular decadrachm, with examples in the British Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Cabinet des Medailles in Paris.

The obverse (left, above) features a slow quadriga (four horse chariot with walking horses) driven to the right by a male charioteer in a long chiton (a toga-like garment), with Nike (the Greek goddess of victory and the predecessor of the modern angel) flying above about to set a laurel wreath (symbol of victory) on the horses' heads. In the exergue (lower part of the coin design) a lion is running to the right.

The quadriga became an element common to most coins from Sicily, and was later used in many other parts of the Greek world. With the addition of Nike, with or without a wreath, the design is a celebration of victory.

The reverse (right, above) has the head of Artemis-Arethusa facing right with a nimbus, or halo, around. Outside of the nimbus, the Greek inscription, running counterclockwise, reads "SYRAKOSION" and is broken up by dolphins swimming clockwise around the edge.

Artemis-Arethusa was the patron deity of Syracuse and was particularly associated with a fresh water spring on Ortygia, the island-citadel of the city. She became a characteristic element of Syracusan coinage.

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