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The Demareteion Master
The Demareteion [dem-ah-re-tay-on] Master is the name that has been given by modern numismatists to an artist who is believed to have executed the dies for the Demareteion itself and for the closely related series of tetradrachms from Syracuse and Leontinoi. These coins are linked by the common element of the running lion that appears on each of them and by certain artistic similarities, such as the distinctive treatment of the eye and mouth on the figures of Arethusa and Apollo.
The Demareteion Master was the first of a series of master engravers who took numismatic art from the strict formality of the Greek archaic period into the full expression and beauty of the classical age, exemplified by the signed masterpieces of engravers such as Euainetos and Cimon, whose works are considered to be among the most beautiful coins ever struck. In common with his successors, the Demareteion Master is presumed to have been trained at Athens, where art in general was in the midst of one of the greatest periods of flowering achievement and change in history, traces of which appear on his work. This was the time of the Persian wars, of great developments in Greek thought and politics, as well as art, that introduced the age of Perikles and the Parthenon, when Athens became the cultural capital of the Greek world.
This set of coins represents the whole of the extremely rare Demareteion series, among the most renowned in terms of originality and artistic quality of the early Greek coins. The identification of the decadrachm [dec-a-dra-hem] as the "Demareteion" mentioned by Diodorus was first made in the early nineteenth century by the French Duke de Luynes. This identification formed a benchmark date from which the rest of the coinage of Syracuse has been dated. The fact that modern scholarship now doubts the original identification of the decadrachm has not diminished in the least the important place that it, and the rest of the series, hold as masterpieces of numismatic art, marking the beginning of one of the greatest series of coins ever minted.
The Demareteion has been famous since ancient times. Diodorus Siculus wrote of it, and it was included in ancient Roman encyclopedias.
Queen Demarete [de-ma-ree-tee] was the wife of Gelon, tyrant (absolute ruler) of Syracuse from 487 to 478 B.C. In 480 B.C., Gelon defeated a Carthaginian attempt to dominate Sicily at the battle of Himera, thus laying the foundation for Syracusan preeminence on the island. According to legend, the Queen interceded on behalf of the Carthaginians and secured a relatively lenient peace agreement. In gratitude, the Carthaginians presented her with a golden crown of 100 talents (an ancient measure of weight). The Queen used the proceeds from this gift to produce a special series of silver decadrachms to commemorate the victory. The coins were nicknamed "Demareteions" in her honor.
This legendary attribution would place thecreation date for the decadrachm at or near 480 B.C., a date that has been challenged in recent years. The currently accepted date for this coin is about 465 B.C., which throws into doubt the whole Demarete connection to these coins, and would suggest that the Demareteion was created in commemoration of some other event, possibly the expulsion of the tyrants in 465 B.C., or one of several possible victories during the 460s B.C.
Another possible connection to Demarete is the device of the lion, the presence of which has remained enigmatic, particularly in conjunction with Syracuse. The lion is associated with Apollo, the patron divinity of Leontinoi, as well as being a pun on the city name and thus was used as a traditional symbol there. However, the lion is unknown at Syracuse before and after its' use on these coins. One view is that the lion, a symbol for Carthage, is shown running to symbolize the Carthaginian defeat. Another suggests that the lion was the family crest of the Emmenid clan, which traced its roots back to the hero Polyneikes of Thebes, and of which Demarete was a member. We will never know for sure.
The Demareteion is a masterpiece for the quality of its engraving, composition, and style which mark it as a cut above coins being produced at the same time elsewhere in the Greek world. Examples of coins produced at about the same time as the Demareteion include the early "Owls" of Athens and the "Colts" of Corinth. These coins, while technically well executed, fall well below the standard set by the Demareteion and its related coins. The best way to tell the difference in the artistic quality of these coins is to compare them. "What Makes a Masterpiece" will allow you to compare the coins of the Demareteion series with coins from around the time of their issue and to a Syracusan decadrachm created by the master engraver Euainetos [yu-a-nee-tose] around 405 B.C. This coin is considered to be one of the greatest numismatic masterpieces ever created.