Dekadrachm of Syracuse / One of the thirty pieces of silver

Dekadrachm of Syracuse | Silver in a gold frame | 4th century BC | The Hunt Collection | PD MG 034

The Greek city of Syracuse produced some of the finest coins of antiquity. Several of the die engravers were so distinguished that their names appear on the coins, though not on this particular example. The main commercial coin of Syracuse was the Tetradracm or four drachma pieces. This ten drachma coin is a special minting and may celebrate the victory of the Syracusans over the Athenians in 413 BC or over the Carthaginians in 405 BC. The reverse depicts the nymph Arethusa, the presiding deity of the city’s chief spring, surrounded by Dolphins (she has come underwater from Greece and her spring was on the shore). The obverse shows a chariot with galloping horses. A Victory is placing a wreath on the head of the charioteer. 

This traditional design, modified in the late fifth century to give added movement to the houses, is an expression of the aristocratic nature of the Syracuse government with its depiction of chariot racing, the sport of the rich: Gelon, the ruler of Syracuse, had won an Olympic victory in 485BC. The cuirass, helmet and greaves, below, symbolise military victory. The frame, which probably belongs to the Middle Ages, carries a quotation from St Matthew, ‘Quit premium sanguines est’ (Because it is the price of blood), indicating that it was thought to be one of the 30 pieces of silver given from Christ’s betrayal.