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The Face of Akragas

CNG 111, Lot: 53. Estimate $2000.
Sold for $6000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

SICILY, Akragas. Circa 488/5-480/78 BC. AR Didrachm (19mm, 8.80 g, 6h). Sea eagle standing left / Crab, with carapace in the form of a human face, within incuse circle. Westermark, Coinage, Period I, Group III, 164 (O68/R111); Jenkins, Gela, Group III; HGC 2, 94; SNG Copenhagen 28 (same dies); SNG Forbat 94 (same dies); SNG Lockett 703 (same dies); Rizzo pl. I, 4 (same dies [only rev. shown]). Good VF, even light gray tone with some iridescence around the devices, a touch of die wear on the obverse.

Ex CNG inventory 156350 (January 2005).

From the earliest issues of the coins of Akragas, there are instances where the engraver of a reverse die appears to have synthesized a human face into the features of the carapace of the crab, as here. In fact, Westermark notes many examples, and agrees with the observations of others that even the likenesses of various animal heads are likewise occasionally engraved in the design. She also agrees that the most likely interpretation is that the human-like face is that of the river god Akragas, displayed within the features of the very emblem that is meant to represent him on the city’s coinage. This phenomenon continued to recur on silver issues of the city throughout the fifth century, culminating in the spectacular issue of rare drachms in the third period of coinage, where the features of the carapace are totally transformed into a stark human face peering out from the reverse (cf. Kraay-Hirmer 183).