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Marking a Pyrrhic Victory?

5619070. SOLD $3000

CALABRIA, Tarentum. Circa 280 BC. AR Nomos (19.5mm, 7.90 g, 7h). Warrior, nude but for crested helmet, wearing shield on left arm and holding spear in left hand, on horse prancing left; to left, Nike standing facing, restraining horse with both hands; [ΛYKIΣKOΣ below] / Phalanthos, nude, extending his right arm, wearing shield inscribed E on his left arm and holding two spears in his left hand, astride dolphin left; [TAP]AΣ and ZOP to left, waves below. Vlasto 679–82; HN Italy 963. Underlying luster, minor die wear, a little die rust. Near EF.


This unusual issue differs from the standard Tarentine nomos types by introducing a figure of Nike on the obverse restraining the horse; likewise, the reverse depiction of Phalanthos/Taras stands upright atop the dolphin in a fighting stance, instead of riding seated as usually shown. The new types surely reflect the presence of Pyrrhos of Epiros, who arrived at Tarentum with his army in 280 BC to begin his bloody war against Rome on behalf of the Greek city-states of southern Italy. The Pyrrhic victory at Heraclea the same year likely accounts for the presence of Nike leading the cavalryman. Although he continued to win battles, the term “Pyrrhic victory” would soon take on a very different connotation as the war dragged on.