Gela. Tetradrachm circa 415-405, AR 16.48 g. ΓΕ – ΛΩ – [ΙΩ – Ν] Fast quadriga driven r. by Nike, holding kentron and reins; above eagle flying r. and, in exergue, large pellet. Rev. ΓΕΛΑΣ retrograde Forepart of man-headed bull (the river-god Gela) advancing l. through reeds; ibis and garlanded altar before his mid section. In l. field, fish swimming upwards and above, barley grain. Jenkins O 96 / reverse unlisted.
Of the highest rarity, the finest of only two specimens known. A spectacular reverse
composition, undoubtedly one of the most interesting of the mint of Gela.
Perfectly struck on a full flan. Old cabinet tone and about extremely fine
Ex SBV Zürich 1, 1977, 52 and NAC 9, 1996, 155 sales. From the A.D.M. and Harald Salvesen collections.
In 689/8 BC, Gela was jointly founded by colonists from the Rhodian city of Lindos and a group of Cretans. Despite conflicts with the native Sicanian peoples, Gela prospered and by the early sixth century BC the city was extending its influence into western Sicily by founding Acragas. By the end of the century, however, political discord in the city had permitted Cleander, the son of Pantares, to overthrow the traditional oligarchic government and establish himself as tyrant in 505 BC. Although Cleander was later assassinated by the city’s democratic faction, this did not prevent his son, Hippocrates, from becoming the new tyrant of Gela in 498 BC. Under Hippocrates the power of Gela expanded immensely as his mercenary armies conquered the Greek cities of Callipolis, Leontini, Naxos, and Zankle. Victory over Syracuse also resulted in the addition of Camarina to Hippocrates’ Geloan empire. Although the Geloans still desired a return to constitutional government, after the death of Hippocrates in 491 BC, the tyranny was assumed by Gelon, a former bodyguard of Hippocrates. Gelon not only preserved previous gains but even captured Syracuse, where he became the founder of the city’s Deinomenid dynasty of tyrants. Syracuse became Gelon’s new capital and Gela was left to be administered by his brother, Hieron. When Gelon died in 485 BC, Hieron succeeded to the tyranny at Syracuse and Gela was ruled in turn by his brother, Polyzelos. However, by the mid-fifth century BC the tyranny was abolished and the old oligarchic government was restored at Gela. In the late fifth century BC, Gela was notable as one of the first Sicilian Greek cities to contribute military aid to Syracuse when it became the primary target of the Athenian Sicilian Expedition in 415–413 BC. When the Carthaginians besieged Gela’s old colony, Acragas, in 406 BC, the Geloans also dispatched reinforcements and, after the city fell, provided refuge to the homeless Acragantines. The Geloans faced the same tidal wave of Carthaginian arms in 405 BC, but received little aid from Syracuse and its tyrant, Dionysios I. The city was overwhelmed and destroyed, but the Carthaginians permitted those who had fled to return on the condition that they would not rebuild the fortification walls and pay tribute to Carthage—cold comfort for a people who had once been the preeminent power in Sicily. The present tetradrachm, which is the better of just two known, was struck in the period between the Sicilian Expedition and the Carthaginian conquest probably to finance the numerous military campaigns in which Gela was engaged. The types of quadriga and man-faced bull are traditional at Gela, going back to the early fifth century BC and the age of the great tyrants; however, here they have been updated to keep pace with the artistic developments of Syracusan coinage. Whereas the old quadriga was of the slow variety and driven by a human charioteer crowned by Nike, here Nike drives the chariot herself at what seems to be breakneck speed. Likewise, while the man-faced bull reverse, representing the local river-god, Gela, was a commonplace image on previous Geloan coins, here he is placed in context. The man-faced bull advances out of his comfortable river-bed surrounded by reeds and bulrushes in the company of an ibis to receive the sacrifice made at a nearby altar. This type is remarkable not only for its artistry but also for the way it illustrates the depth of Greek belief in nature deities like river-gods. Gela was considered a real divine presence that, if a worshipper was fortunate, might actually come forth to accept the gifts offered to him.
|Price realized||110'000 CHF|
|Starting price||36'000 CHF|