Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The silver coins of Taras: part one

Italy, Calabria, Taras, Stater, ca. 510-500 BC Vlasto 68.
Obverse: Phalanthos riding dolphin, scallop shell below
Reverse: the same, incuse and reversed.
(click to enlarge)
I recently obtained The Collection of Tarentine Coins Formed By M. P. Vlasto, Compiled by Oscar E. Ravel, 2nd edition, 1977, Chicago. This is the standard reference for the coins of this city.

Michel P. Vlasto was a Greek collector and Taras (now Taranto, Italy) was the Greek Spartan colony founded in 706 BC.

Before the WWW, printed books were almost our only source for ancient coin images and modern publications had coin images on a 1:1 scale printed by the half-tone process which reduced the image to small dots. This combination often makes the identification of the exact dies very difficult and sometimes impossible (with very small coins).

A diobol (11 mm) similar to the one I bought as a child
photo: Classical Numismatic Group Inc.
A diobol of Taras showing the head of Athena and Herakles wrestling the Nemean lion was one of the very first Greek coins I bought as a child. Something similar would cost me more than $200 today, but they were fairly inexpensive back then.

The figure riding the dolphin on the featured coin, and the first stater type of the city, is sometimes identified as Philanthos, the Spartan (Pausanias), or as Taras (Aristotle). In either case, he was the legendary founder of the city who was rescued by a dolphin after his ship was wrecked near Delphi, and he founded the city where he made land.

Taras on the Gundestrup cauldron 

He also shows up again on the Gundestrup cauldron as the Celts (including the Ambiani) served in Pyrrhos' army during his Italian campaigns. One of these was defending the city of Taras. The Gundestrup cauldron has two other icons of these campaigns, and the earliest coin of the Ambiani is copied from a coin of Taras. They are extremely rare and no images can be found on the web.

Tomorrow, the rarest of the early Taras staters (Vlasto had three of them).

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