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Research Coins: Feature Auction


An Extensive Offering of Tarentine Silver

From the First Coinage at Tarentum

CNG 112, Lot: 9. Estimate $15000.
Sold for $19000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

CALABRIA, Tarentum. Circa 510-500 BC. AR Nomos (22.5mm, 8.01 g, 11h). Taras, nude, riding dolphin right, extending left hand, right hand resting on dolphin’s back; TARAS (retrograde) to left, scallop shell below, dot-and-cable border around / Incuse of obverse type; [T]ARA[S] in relief to right, radiate border around. Fischer-Bossert Group 1, – (V7/R8 – an unlisted die combination); Vlasto 68 = Kraay & Hirmer 294 (same obv. die); HN Italy 826; SNG BN 1573–4 (same rev. die); SNG Lloyd 108 (same obv. die). Even light cabinet toning, with iridescence around the devices. VF. The rarest city producing incuse types in Magna Graecia.

From the Antiquarium Group. Ex Gasvoda Collection; Golden Horn Collection (Stack’s, 12 January 2009), lot 2053; Lawrence R. Stack Collection (Stack’s, 14 January 2008), lot 2007.

The city of Tarentum was founded in the late 8th century BC by Spartan colonists on the north coast of the gulf of the same name, on a rocky islet at the entrance to the only secure harbor. It was Sparta's only colony and maintained close relations with the mother city. The official founder of the city was believed to be the Spartan leader Phalanthos. Ancient tradition, however, tells how Taras, the son of Poseidon and a local nymph, Satyra, was miraculously saved from a shipwreck by his father, who sent a dolphin on whose back he was carried to shore, at which spot he founded a city.

Blessed with fertile land, Tarentum became famous for olives and sheep. It possessed a fine harbor, great fisheries and profitable exports of wool, purple, and pottery. It adopted a democratic form of government circa 475 BC, and thereafter became the leading Greek city in southern Italy. Its success led to continual difficulties with its neighbor cities, though, and on four occasions Tarentum required expeditions from Greece to help overcome its aggressors. The last of these expeditions was led by the famed Epeirote, Pyrrhos. Following his withdrawal from the city, Tarentum was occupied by the Romans.

It was not until late in the 6th century that Tarentum felt the need to produce coinage. It did so by copying the broad, thin fabric with incuse reverse type already in use by Metapontum, Sybaris, Poseidonia, Kaulonia, and Kroton. Tarentum quickly grew in power and wealth. As with many cities that began coinage at the time, the types depicted relate to the city's foundation, both in its historical and mythological forms. Taras’ prosperity is exemplified by its vast coinage, which was continuous from circa 510 BC until the end of the Second Punic War.