Among a choice offering of ancients in Goldberg’s Pre-Long Beach sale was a superbly struck example of a rare gold stater from the ancient Greek city state of Taras (Tarentum) in southern Italy, a.k.a.Calabria.
The 8.55 g coin dates from 276-272 B.C.E.. The obverse shows the laureate head of Zeus with the monogram NK behind. On the reverse an eagle with wings displayed perches on a thunderbolt with two amphorae alongside in the lower field. At upper left is the city’s magistrate’s name [NI]KAP.
Given the coin’s perfectly centered strike it had little difficulty in realizing $18,500 in choice VF.
As the catalog eloquently explains, this stater is part of a larger gold series that was struck principally as a result of Roman expansion in the early third century B.C.E. followed by the ill-conceived response of Taras.
When the Romans broke a treaty with Taras to subdue an adjacent Greek city, Taras forcibly expelled the Roman garrison from the captured township. The Romans were not impressed and sought revenge. Taras appealed for help to King Pyrrhos of Epirus in northwestern Greece.
Pyrrhos duly arrived to embark upon the great Pyrrhic War of 280-275 B.C.E. He defeated the Roman armies in two battles but found he could not crush Rome itself.
Further, the two conflicts had delivered Pyrrhos large numbers of irreplaceable casualties. This led him to famously remark, if “we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.” And that is how the expression “Pyrrhic victory” entered the world’s lexicon.
And it all ended in tears. In 278 B.C.E. Pyrrhos took off to Sicily and abandoned Taras to its fate. He did return in 275 B.C.E. for another round with the Roman legions, but this time was soundly defeated and returned to Epirus. Three years later Taras was besieged and the city finally fell to the Romans.
This article was originally printed in World Coin News. >> Subscribe today.
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