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Audio guide: Ten drachma piece

Audio guide stop: 2114

Crowdsourced transcription of the audio file

Ten drachma piece - missing image
Ten drachma piece - missing image
Creative Commons Licence

This is a ten-drachma piece issued by the Sicilian city of Syracuse in around 400 BCE. It's a real masterpiece of Greek coinage, probably the work of Euinatos one of the few die-engravers in the ancient world who signed their work. On one side a female charioteer holds a goad over her galloping steeds while a winged figure of Victory flies above poised to crown her with a wreath.

Beneath the chariot are items of armour – a helmet, a spear, a breastplate, greaves. On better-preserved examples of the same coin, these are labelled 'athla', the Greek word for prizes.

It's unclear exactly what their prizes might be – one theory relates them to the unsuccessful siege of Syracuse by the Athenians, which was abandoned in 413 BCE.

Here's Greek coin specialist Evi Markou:

'There is a probability that these coins were issued after the departure of the Athenians and the end of the siege, and that the arms depicted at the bottom part of the coin were actually the arms taken from the Athenians and offered as prizes at games to commemorate this event.'

The female head on the other side, showing on your screens, surrounded by tiny dolphins, is Arethusa, a nymph who attracted the unwanted attentions of the river god Alpheus in the Peloponnese on mainland Greece.

As Arethusa fled him, the chaste Artemis turned her into a stream which flowed under the sea and emerged at the spot on Sicily where Syracuse would be founded.

She thus became a suitable patron deity for the Greeks, who had left their homeland and settled on these heads which would originally have been attached to bodies were found in a sanctuary at Salamis on the eastern coast of Cyprus they date from around 600 BC the the middle of what is known as the Cypro-archaic period in Ancient Cypriot history, a period when the island was dominated first by Assyrians, then by Egyptians and Persians.

These heads, while being distinctly Cypriot, also suggest this foreign influence. Here's Greek-Cypriot archaeologist, Evie Markou:

'So these are mould made heads, male heads are very proper to the island of Cyprus even though they bear influences from the Eastern world.

Their rich, thick eyebrows and their close-fitting caps are characteristics of that style. Many of these objects have been found in Cyprus, and the Eastern influences can also be proved by the fact that one of these figures, even though male, bears earrings, it's really amazing."

Co-production of this resource

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The transcription of the audio file for this stop was enabled by the AHRC funded crowd-sourcing platform MicroPasts. The below generously gave their time to transcribe the file.

Elena Doran, Jennifer Palling and Adi Levin

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