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Sicily Syracuse 8 Litrai


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SICILY, Syracuse. Reign of Agathokles, c. 317-289 BC. AR 8-Litrai (6.85g).

Head of Athena wearing Corinthian helmet left / Pegasus flying left, triskeles below. SNG ANS 684. A fascinating aspect of this coin is it's remarkable similarity to the well known Corinthian Staters from the same era. Like their modern descendants, ancient minters knew a good thing when they saw on it, and if they could improve upon the design all the better. What distinguishes this piece from the Corinth issues is the presence of the Sicilian "Triskeles" on the reverse of the piece under Pegasus. This "Triskeles" is symbolic of the island of Sicily.

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Corinthian staters are identifiable by their having the greek letter `qoppa' (usually depicted as looking like a modern day stick lollipop) underneath Pegasus. It was tilted so that it was recognisable as a `q', that being the initial letter of the city state of `Corinth'. Unless i'm mistaken that is the only fundamental difference between your coin and a Corinthian stater of the exact same time period.

 

So, why did Syracuse end up using the Corinthian `colt' design given its previous proud numismatic heritage? Basically, you have to look at the history of the region in the form of its colonisation/ political alliances and economic development for that answer. Corinth had considerable status in Magna Graecia having helped colonise considerable swathes of it in the first place and having helped defend it from Athenian encroachments in the area. Her geographic location at the gulf of Corinth and (most importantly) her supplies of silver ensured her domination of trade to the west of Greece. All this ensured that the Corinthian monetary standard, and coinage dominated the region as a whole. Goods flowed from Magna Graecia to Greece via Corinth, and payment came (amongst other things) in the form of much needed silver coinage (ie Corinthian staters / aka `colts').

 

The Corinthian colonies and client states all used the Corinthian style coinage but had different letters or symbols to differentiate the region where they were intended for use or where they were minted. For example, Astakos has the letters alpha and sigma under Pegasus. Anaktorion has the letters AN. Dyrrachium has DYR around Athena on the obverse. Leukas had the letter lambda under Pegasus....and so on. Other city states minted the `colts' for trading purposes (and for the use of other city states) much the same way that the Athenian owl was minted in Phoenicia, Persia and Egypt. Some of these `colts' have symbols on them like the swastika or dolphin or triskeles...etc. Some designs have Athena facing to the right or Pegasus to the right (or both) as opposed to facing to the left.

 

Some city states added their full name on the obverse, some didn't. Some (like Syracuse) apparently liked keeping people guessing but in the main added `Syracuse' around Athena on the obverse. However, Syracuse was certainly not alone in Sicily in using the Corinthian `colt' coinage. Leontini for example after its defeat at the hands of Timoleon changed to using the Corinthian coin but with `Leontinoi' (in greek) around Athena on the obverse.

 

It is interesting to note that Corinth continued to produce `colts' for domestic use and trade in the region right through to its eventual destruction by Rome in 146 bc. Thats quite a significant tranche of time for an ancient coinage type to remain in use basically unaltered in design. Other states had long since ceased to use it as domestic coinage, their having fallen under different patronage / influence.

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