By Robin Eaglen
AR drachm, c.
Obv. Head of the
fountain nymph, Larissa, three-quarters facing l., with freely
flowing tresses of hair bound with a fillet above her forehead,
Rev. Grazing horse
r., with a long tail; left foreleg raised, possibly as a prelude to
rolling over. ..A...... above horse and AION below line
representing the ground. 6.10g ( 17/19 mm). Die axis 315.
Author's collection. Ex Spink,
NCirc, February 2011, GK3024 . Lorber Phase L - II style bust,
Plate 3, 311.
Among the master engravers towards
the end of the fifth century BC who were allowed to sign their
dies, none surpassed Kimon. His output of Syracusan tetradrachms
bearing the almost facing head of Arethusa is widely recognised as
the peak of his artistry.2 The goddess-nymph Arethusa is shown
beneath the water, her hair in elegant suspension amidst playful
dolphins. Her gaze attracts the observer, quite unlike a head shown
in profile. The eyes, often a problem in sculpture, emit a palpable
wistfulness. The nose is long and graceful and the full lips are
refined yet sensual. The overall impression created is of a
superior being, radiating an other-worldly but not disdainful
Two obverse dies are known from his
hand. Both bear the name Arethusa (APE ÈOÈÈ) in a curve above her
portrait and the signature KIMÈN on the ampyx or fillet binding her
hair. The dies were used with two different reverses, only one of
which was signed by Kimon between a double line exergue. Both
obverses are illustrated, at Figures C and D. It is widely agreed
that the die used to strike the coin at Figure C (Tudeer O.28) is
superior to that used at Figure D (Tudeer O.29).3
The face in Figure C is a better
shape and more expressive and the more prominent dolphins play an
important role in balancing the posture of the neck and offset
necklace. Of the two companion reverses, showing a quadriga and
Nike, the one signed by Kimo (Tudeer die R.53) is altogether more
accomplished and spirited than the other (R.54), raising doubts if
he engraved both dies..
The facing head appears suddenly at
Syracuse from about 413 BC4 where Eucleidas also engraved fine
examples of Athena,5 and at Catania where Heracleidas produced a
splendid representation of Apollo.6 Since the dies were a
short-lived break from the tradition of profile portraiture at
Syracuse, they were possibly issued to mark a special purpose or
occasion. From the practical point of view, the three dimensional
effect created by the depth of the engraving exposed the nose in
particular to disfiguring wear if the coins circu-lated to any
extent. Despite this drawback, the facing head design spread
quickly to other centres, doubtless kindled by the sheer virtuosity
of the tetradrachms from Syracuse. Notably Rhodes so portrayed the
sun god, Helios, partnered by the rose (ÈÈÈÈÈ) as the longstanding
hallmarks of its coinage.7 Fine examples also emanated from Ainos,8
where Hermes appears in his broad-brimmed hat (petasus) and from
Amphipolis and Clazomenae,
with their own introspective renderings of Apollo.9 Others
followed. No centre, however, was more faithful to Kimon's design
than Larissa. The dolphins have vanished because the fountain nymph
Larissa is depicted10 and the flans are smaller because the
denominations are didrachms and the far more plentiful drachms,
rather than tetradrachms. But the debt is obvious and amongst the
surviving dies of widely variable quality are a number of very fine
portraits. As testimony, an enlargement of the obverse illustrated
at Figure A is set alongside a representation of Kimon's finer
obverse (Figure C), with a matching diameter:
Kimon's tetradrachms with the
signed facing busts are very rare and greatly prized. Most
recently, an example in extremely fine condition of the least
desirable die combination Tudeer O.29 with R.54) was sold for a
hammer price of $575000.11 H.J.Berk, in his 100 Greatest Ancient
Coins, published in 2008, predicted that an average example of
Figure D (Tudeer O.29) might fetch $25,000, whereas the 'best
example' of Figure C (Tudeer O.28) would exceed $400,000. Only
extremely wealthy collectors could afford to buy such a piece. For
less fortunate mortals a Larissan drachm of fine style is the poor
man's Kimon, and to be had for as little as a few hundred pounds.
Interestingly, Berk also included a drachm of Larissa in his
hundred greatest coins, although not everyone might agree with his
choice of obverse die, Larissa's hair looking as if it had been
cropped and permed.
Larissa is where the hero Perseus
is said to have fulfilled the prophecy of an oracle in unwittingly
killing his grandfather with a discus when competing in funerary
games.12 Located on the right bank of the River Peneus, Larissa was
the most important town in Thessaly.13 It took its name from the
eponymous nymph depicted on its coinage during the fourth century
BC. Before then, Larissa had been one of the earliest centres to
strike coins in that part of the world14 and its die cutters had
already demonstrated their competence.15
The quality of the coins with the
nymph's head on the obverse and 'grazing' horse on the reverse, led
Hermann16 to place the issue earlier than recent research by
Lorber, who dates the best examples between 356 and 346 BC or
possibly slightly later.17 The beginning of this period appears to
correspond with the time when Philip of Macedon made Larissa his
main bulwark in Thessaly,18 having been invited late in 357 by the
ruling Aleuad house - to which he was related19 - to rebuff the
threat posed by nearby Pherae.20
The horse on the reverse may
reflect Thessaly's reputation for fine cavalry men and horse
breeding. The oligarchic aristocrats in each of the states were
also renowned for owning fine horses.21
1 C. Lorber 'A Hoard of Facing Head
Larissa Drachms', SNR 79 (2000), pp.7-15 and Plates 1-5.
2 See, for example, D. R. Sear, Greek Coins and
their Values, I-II (GCV) (London, 1978-9), p.100.
3 The coin at Figure C is in the Paolo Orsi Regional
Archaeological Museum,Syracuse, from the Pennisi Collection and
Figure D appears in B. V. Head, A Guide to the Principal Coins of
the Greeks (London, 1932), Plate 17, 68 (=BMC 208).For Tudeer
references, see L.O.Th.Tudeer, Die Tetradrachmenprägung von Syrakus
in der signierenden Künstler (Berlin,1913), pp. 55,57 and Plate IV.
On the relative merits of the two obverse dies, see C.Seltman,
Masterpieces of Greek Coinage (Oxford,1949),p. 98 and
H.J.Berk, 100 Greatest Ancient Coins (Atlanta,2008), p. 38 .
4 Facing busts are occasionally encountered earlier,for example
on a drachma of
Stratus between 450-400 BC (see GCV 2299, p.218).
5 See C. M. Kraay and Max Hirmer, Greek Coins (K+H) (New York),
Plate IV, 111,112 R.
6 K+H, Plate III, 44 and Plate 15, 43 O; GCV771, p.81.
7 K+H, Plates 188, 644 and 189, 645 O, 646, 647 O, 648;
8 K+H, Plate 137, 424 O; GCV1568, p.158.
9 K+H, Plates 134-5, 414-6 O, 417, 418 O; GCV1379,p.141
(Amphipolis) and K+H Plate 181, 608 O;GCV4315, p.397
10 B.V.Head, Historia Numorum (Oxford, 1911), p.299.
11 CNG,Triton XI sale, 8-9 January 2011,61.
12 Apollodorus ii, 4.4.
13 A Dictionary of Ancient Greek Civilisation (London, 1966),
14 GCV, p.203.
15 GCV 2106 and 2111, p.203.
16 F. Hermann,'Die Silbemünzen von Larissa in Thessalien', ZfN
35 (Berlin, 1925), pp.1-69; see Plate V, 4 -14.
17 Lorber, 'Facing Head Larissa Drachms', pp.11-12.
18 The Oxford Classical Dictionary, edited by S. Hornblower and
A. Spawforth, 3rd edn revised (Oxford, 2003) , p.816.
19 N. Hammond,Philip of Macedon (London, 1994), pp.1, 29,
20 N. G. L. Hammond, A History of Greece to 322 BC, 3rd edn
(Oxford, 1986), p.539.
21 Hammond, Philip of Macedon, p.29.