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Olympics At Pergamum


MYSIA, Pergamum. Valerian I. AD 253-260. Æ Medallion (40mm, 27.79 g, 6h). Olympic Games issue. Aur(elios) Damas, Asiarch. Struck AD 253 or 257. AYT · K · Π · ΛIK · OY AΛЄPIANOC ·, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right / ЄΠI C AYP · ΔAMA ·/A ΠЄPΓA(MH)NΩN, · ΠΡΩTΩN · Γ ·/ NЄΩKOPΩ/N, wreath with OΛ/YMΠ/IΛ in three lines, flanked by two prize crowns, each containing a palm frond; all set on prize table; below, urn, flanked on either side by a purse and whip. Von Fritze, Pergamon, p. 81 and cf. pl. IX, 4; cf. SNG BN 2293 (same dies); SNG Leypold –; SNG von Aulock 7518 (same dies). Red-brown and green patina, some minor smoothing. Good VF. Very rare and exceptional for issue.

By the mid second century BC, Pergamum had become the the most important center of sport and physical education in the Hellenistic east. Its Nikephoria games, held every three years, had nearly the prestige and appeal of great Panhellenic games, including the Olympics, upon which they were modeled. By the second century AD, the Olympic name had even been “franchised,” in a manner still poorly understood, for use at sporting contests far removed from the original quadrennial festival still held at the ancestral home of Elis, Olympia. The contests at Pergamum now honored the Roman emperors and bore the name Olympic, as attested by the reverse of this remarkable medallion, which shows the prizes awarded to the victors in the various athletic, equestrian and artistic contests, all arrayed on and around a table. The laurel wreath enclosing the name “Olympia” was likely for the winner of the premier event of the games, possibly the “stadion” foot race.