A silver decadrachm from Akragas, Sicily, one of 12 known examples,
will appear at auction Jan. 4 in a sale conducted jointly by Classical
Numismatic Group and Nomos AG.
The coin has an opening bid of $2.5 million.
Silver decadrachms of ancient Greece are among the most coveted
and rare of ancient coins, with the example coming up at auction in
January considered especially notable. The circa 409 to 406 B.C.
silver decadrachm from Akragas is “one of the most artistically
exciting of all ancient Greek coins,” according to CNG.
“A masterpiece of late 5th century engraving,” the coin is also
expected to be the most expensive coin of ancient Greece ever sold,
according to CNG.
The auction, of “Masterpieces of Ancient Greek Coinage: Selections
from Cabinet W,” will be held during the New York International
The coin weighs 43.31 grams and measures 35.5 millimeters in
diameter (slightly smaller than a Morgan silver dollar but heavier).
It is among a class of commemorative issues struck in the late fifth
century B.C. by several of the wealthy cities of Sicily.
A left-galloping chariot appears on the obverse, soaring upward in
the sky and driven by a youthful male recorded as Helios in the
chariot of the sun, while the reverse shows “the classic badge of the
city,” two eagles perched on a dead hare in triumph.
Decadrachms are unusually large in size and face value compared to
all the other coins minted in Sicily, and the best artists were
employed to engrave the dies used to strike these coins. The designs
for this Akragas issue are attributed to the engravers Myron (the side
with the chariot) and Polykrates (the side with the eagles).
The examples from Akragas were reportedly struck to celebrate a
single event: the victory of Exainetos, a citizen from Akragas who won
the chariot race at Olympia in 412 B.C.
While some decadrachms circulated, most, including the issues of
Akragas, were commemorative in nature. The first silver decadrachm
emerged in Syracuse in the 460s; the coins apparently circulated in
Syracuse for a long period of time, according to the catalog.
In Good Extremely Fine condition, the coin in the Jan. 4 auction
is only the third example offered at auction in some 31 years.
A “dreadful example” was offered by CNG in a 1998 Triton auction.
A piece in better condition was part of the famous Nelson Bunker Hunt
Collection sold in 1990. The Hunt example realized what was then a
record price for a Greek coin, $572,000, and the Hunt example “is no
match for the quality of the present piece,” according to CNG.
Of the 12 examples known, six are in museums. The other six
include the offered piece, the Hunt and Triton coins, two other
examples privately held in the United States, and one “apparently in Switzerland.”
The example being offered has been in unnamed collections in the
United States and Switzerland after being part of an English
collection in London in the 1960s.
The coins are rare today because their issue was likely limited,
based on die evidence that points to the coins being struck using only
two obverse and three reverse dies. The coins would have been issued
for only a short period of time before the Carthaginians captured and
destroyed Akragas in 406.
The record-holder for any ancient Greek coin is the $902,766
realized in a 2008 auction for a circa 407/6 B.C. gold stater of
Athens, one of only four known staters of the emergency issue at the
end of the Peloponnesian War. ■