Agathokles (317-289 BCE), Bronze Litra, Period 4, ca. 295 BCE
weight: 8.3g, width: 1.97cm; die axis: 10h

Agathokles OBVAgathokles REV

Head of Artemis, in profile facing right, hair bound in a ponytail-cum-bun, with triple-pendant earring and necklace, quiver over shoulder. On the right, corroded inscription SWTEIRA (Soteira = "the (female) savior").
REV.: Fulmen (winged thunderbolt of Zeus) in center. Inscription on top: "AGAQOKLEOS" (Agathokleos = "of Agathokles"), on bottom: "BASILEW(S)" (basileos = "of the king").

HFMA nr. 2006.010.030. Ref.: BMC 422; SNG ANS 708; SNG Cop 779; Calciati II, p. 277, nr. 142.

Agathokles (361-289 BCE), the son of a wealthy manufacturer of ceramics, made himself king of Syracuse and ruled at some point over much of East Sicily and parts of the Italian mainland.

Agathokles showed his military talent early on under Timoleon, who led the Syracusan army against the Carthaginians in West Sicily, and later, when he had been forced into exile by Syracuse's oligarchs, as a mercenary general in the service of Greek Italiot cities.

Around 322 BCE, a new democratic regime in Syracuse recalled him, and Agathokles was elected General and Protector of the Peace. In 317, he staged a coup d'état and made himself tyrant of Syracuse. When he tried to extend his rule over other Greek cities in Sicily, they persuaded the Sicilian Carthaginians to lay siege to Syracuse. In a bold move, Agathokles set over to North Africa and attacked Carthage itself while his brother, Antandros, managed to repel the Carthaginian army from the gates of Syracuse. Yet when Agathokles tried to bring his army back from Africa, the mercenaries dispersed, and he finally had to agree to the peace treaty of 306 BCE that reconfirmed the river Halykos, the previous border, as the limit of Greek influence.

In 304, Agathokles proclaimed himself king (basileus), but when his son and intended successor, also named Agathokles, was assassinated in 289, shortly before his own death from illness, he tried to restore the Syracusan democracy.

The obverse of the coin declares Artemis, the patron goddess of Syracuse, who had an ancient temple on the island of Ortygia in Syracuse's harbor, the savior from the Carthaginian siege. Artemis is characterized as the virgin goddess of the hunt by means of the quiver on her shoulder and through her hairdo, a ponytail-cum-bun, which was typically worn by virgins (1). The reverse shows the thunderbolt of Zeus, a symbol of kingship.


(1) Neils 2004: 75.

Calciati, Romolo. Corpus Nummorum Siculorum. La Monetazione di Bronzo: Vol. 2 (Area IV) Syracuse, Milan: Mortara, 1986.

Consolo Langher, Sebastiana Nerina, "Il messaggio monarchico sulle monete di Agatocle." In: Actes of the 11th International Congress of Numismatics 1991 in Brussels. Louvain-la-Neuve, 1993, v. 1, pp. 79-81.

Lehmler, Caroline, Syrakus unter Agathokles und Hieron II. Die Verbindung von Kultur und Macht in einer hellenistischen Metropole. Frankfurt am Main: Verlag Antike, 2005 (BMCR review).

Neils, Jenifer, "Hera, Paestum, and the Cleveland Painter," in: Clemente Marconi (ed.), Greek Vases: Images, Contexts and Controversies. Proceedings of the Conference Sponsored by the Center for the Ancient Mediterranean at Columbia University, 23-24 March 2002, Brill: Leiden, 2004, 73-85.

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