Nearly 60 generations have passed since Agathocles, the Tyrant of Syracuse promoted the striking of silver coin in the beautiful style of his Greek predecessor, Dionysius from a century before.


The original design is well-known today by serious collectors through the magnificent renditions by Euainetos and Kimon on tetradrachms and dekadrachms from 405 to 367 BC, invoking visions of the staged chariot race between Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd in the 1959 film, Ben-Hur. A team of four spirited horses pulling a manned two-wheeled chariot, arm outstretched with an extended whip in hand grace the obverse. Relacing the original winged angel presenting a crowning wreath to the winner is now a triscelion, three conjoined legs that formed the shape of the island of its birth, Sicily. The back of the coin is adorned with the stately head of Arathusa, a mythological nymph who, frantically fleeing the insistent romantic inclinations of the river god, Altheus, became a cloud, then a stream, and finally a lovely fountain in Syracuse, framed by three playful dolphins.  
 
Agathocles Tetradrachm
Arathusa (reverse)
     
The intricate designs were impeccably carved, in some cases by renowned artists onto hardened bronze die punches. The obverse die is fitted into a post while the reverse die is placed into a depression in an anvil for the hammering process. Wielding a large hammer and a strong grip, 6,000 to 7,000 coins could be struck per day on a single die, which by the evening would be well worn and discarded for a new one (though some might last significantly longer, depending on the complexity of the design).

The silver tetradrachm, or four drachms, was equivalent to approximately 192 copper pieces, which were more commonly used in daily purchases of food, utensils and cloth. A skilled worker might earn a tetradrachm for two to three weeks' labor.

 
 
Agathocles Tetradrachm
Quadriga (obverse)
     

   
Agathocles Tetradrachm
Date: 317-298 B.C.
Location: Syracuse, Sicily
Dimensions: 17.02 gms
Provenance: Tom Cederlind - ANA, 2005 - Direct purchase
   
     

References: Ancient Greek Coins and their Values - Sear - 1979

 
         
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