Thursday, 3 December 2015

The silver coins of Taras: part twelve

Taras, 470-450 BC, drachm
photo: Classical Numismatic Group Inc.
While the very small silver denominations of Taras are a good choice for collectors with a limited budget and that can include some rare types, the drachms are a large enough denomination to interest most collectors but they are not often seen. This means that they are usually more costly than the staters.

The identity of the female head on the first coin is uncertain, perhaps a Nereid such as Amphitrite, perhaps Aphrodite. Like devices on most of the coins of Taras, both are connected with the sea. The obverse continues the nautical themes with its hippocamp and shell. There are some later drachms of the same type as the staters, but I cannot find one to illustrate and even Vlasto had only a few.

Taras, 280-272 BC, drachm
photo: Classical Numismatic Group Inc.

The late fourth to early third century drachms, like the diobols, have little reference to the sea at all and a novice seeing one might well think the drachm was an issue of Athens. Evans explains:

"It is probable that the Tarentine drachms with these Athenian types were originally struck not for internal circulation so much as a part of the federal currency of the Italiote League, and it is noteworthy that a considerable proportion of the diobols belonging to this same federal series, presenting on one side the head of Pallas and on the other Herakles strangling the lion, which, to judge from their fabric, belong to the same approximate date as these early drachms, were struck on the same reduced standard."
There is a connection to the sea on this coin, and it can be also be found on the coins of some other Italian city states and that is the helmet decoration with Skylla hurling a stone. Skylla was a sea monster and the link provides you with not only her story, but all of the classical references, too. But none of them explain why she is hurling a stone. Neither Evans nor Graves offers an explanation, either. From personal experience, though, I think that she is throwing it at a dolphin or dogfish that wants to steal a fish from her. Some things never change.

Tomorrow, the conclusion to this series.

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