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From the Collection of Sheik Saud al-Thani
Ex Patrick Tan and the Millenia Collections


BRUTTIUM, Rhegion. Circa 356-351 BC. AR Tetradrachm (24.5mm, 17.39 g, 2h). Head of Apollo left, with long hair, wearing laurel wreath; [P]HΓINOΣ upward to right / Facing lion’s head. Herzfelder 115bis (D71/R97a); HN Italy 2501; SNG ANS 676 (same obv. die); SNG Lloyd 700 (same dies); BMC 36 (same dies); Basel 229 (same obv. die); Jameson 460A (same dies); Ira & Larry Goldberg, Money of the World (Atlanta, 2007), p. 18-19, no. 14 (this coin illustrated). Superb EF, faint golden toning around devices.

From the Collection of Sheik Saud al-Thani. Ex Patrick Tan Collection (Gemini VII, 9 January 2011), lot 73 (hammer $130,000); Millenia Collection (Part I, Goldberg, 28 May 2008), lot 6.

Dionysios I, after concluding a peace with the Carthaginians, went about securing his power in the island of Sicily. His troops, however, rebelled against him and sought help from, among others, the city of Rhegion (Diod. Sic. 14.8.2). In the ensuing campaigns, Dionyios I proceeded to enslave the citizens of Naxos and Katane, with whom the Rhegians shared a common history and identity (Diod. Sic. 14.40.1). This association was a source of anger and fear for the inhabitants of Rhegion. The Syracusan exiles living there also encouraged the Rhegians to go to war with Syracuse (Diod. Sic. 14.40.3). The overarching strategy of Dionysios I included extending his power into Italy by using Rhegion as a stepping stone to the rest of the peninsula. In 387 BC, after a siege that lasted eleven months, the Rhegians, on the brink of starvation, surrendered to Dionysus. Indeed, we are told that by the end of the siege, a medimnos of wheat cost about five minai (Diod. Sic. 14.111.2). Strabo remarks that, following Dionysios' capture of the city, the Syracusan “destroyed the illustrious city” (Strabo 6.1.6).

The next decade or so of the history of Rhegion is unclear, but sometime during his reign, Dionysios II, who succeeded his father in 367 BC, rebuilt the city, giving it the new name of Phoibia (Strabo 6.1.6). Herzfelder argues that this issue was struck by Dionysios II of Syracuse after he rebuilt the city, and dates it to the period that Dionysios II is thought to have lived in the city. Due to civil strife at Syracuse, Dionysios II was forced to garrison Region, but was ejected from the city by two of his rivals circa 351 BC (Diod. Sic. 16.45.9).

The coin types of Rhegion, founded as a colony of Chalcis, are related to its founding mythology. Some of the earliest tetradrachms of the city, from the mid-5th century BC, depict a lion’s head on the obverse, and a seated figure on the reverse. J.P. Six (in NC 1898, pp. 281-5) identified the figure as Iokastos, the oikistes (founder) of Rhegion (Diod. Sic. 5.8.1; Callimachus fr. 202). Head (in HN), suggested Aristaios, son of Apollo. Iokastos was one of six sons of Aiolos, ruler of the Aeolian Islands. All of the sons of Aiolos secured their own realms in Italy and Sicily, with Iokastos taking the region around Rhegion. Aristaios, born in Libya, discovered the silphium plant, and was the patron of beekeepers (mentioned by Virgil), shepherds, vintners, and olive growers. He also protected Dionysos as a child, and was the lover of Eurydike. The replacement of the seated figure type with the head of Apollo circa 420 BC also suggests the figure could be Aristaios. An anecdote from the first-century BC geographer Strabo (6.1.6 and 6.1.9), which connects Rhegion’s founding to the orders of the Delphic Oracle and Apollo, as the reason for the advent of the new type could be simply serendipitous.

Different theories exist for the lion’s head on the coins of Rhegion. The lion’s head (or mask as it is sometimes described) first appeared on the coinage of Rhegion at the start of the reign of Anaxilas, in about 494 BC. E.S.G. Robinson, in his article “Rhegion, Zankle-Messana and the Samians” (JHS vol. 66, 1946) argues that the lion was a symbol of Apollo. He makes a comparison to the coinage of the nearby city of Kaulonia, “At Kaulonia Apollo’s animal was the deer; if at Rhegion it was the lion, the early appearance and persistence of that type is explained. The lion is a certain, though infrequent, associate of Apollo at all periods.” The link, he suggests, is that the lion was associated with the sun, as was Apollo himself.

The lion’s head could also relate to the exploits of Herakles, who had some significance for the city. The extant sources tell us that Herakles stopped at southern Italy near Rhegion on his return with the cattle of Geryon (Diod. Sic. 4.22.5). It was here that supposedly a bull broke away from the rest of the herd and swam to Sicily (Apollod. 2.5.10). Though but a passing reference in Apollodorus, it is very possible that the Rhegians venerated Herakles. Indeed, Herakles was a very important figure throughout the entire area. Dionysios of Halicarnassus says that “in many other places also in Italy [besides Rome] precincts are dedicated to this god [Herakles] and altars erected to him, both in cities and along highways; and one could scarcely find any place in Italy in which the god is not honoured” (I.40.6). As the skin of the Nemean Lion was one of the main attributes of Herakles, the lion’s head may refer to him through metonymic association.

These tetradrachms of Rhegion exemplify the high aesthetic standard of the Classical Period that is common to the coins of Magna Graecia at this time. The facing lion head is rendered in a bold, detailed manner, as is the head of Apollo, carefully depicted as a serene deity. What separates these coins from their contemporaries is the depth of the relief, which was extraordinarily high. The effect is particularly striking on the reverse, where the lion head has an exceptional, unsurpassed three-dimensional quality.