The Portland Vase, £5.00
Diameter: 35.000 mm
Coins and Medals
Greek, around 411 BC
From Akragas (modern Agrigento, Sicily)
A masterpiece of coin engraving from the ancient Greek world
Greek colonists began founding cities on the island of Sicily as early as the eighth century BC. They were among the earliest of Greek communities to take up the production and use of silver coinage, in the sixth century BC. Powerful Sicilian cities such as Syracuse and Akragas produced some of the most beautiful Greek coins ever made.
This remarkable large denomination coin of Akragas, a decadrachm, or ten drachma piece, was far too valuable for use in everyday monetary transactions. Modern scholars speculate that such large coins were produced for commemorative purposes, or as medals. This example may have been produced to celebrate the victory of Exainetos, an Akragantine, in the Olympic Games of 411 BC. Such victories were a source of considerable local pride. However, we do not know the precise circumstances of the issue.
The sun-god Helios is shown on the obverse (front), travelling in his chariot between the sky, symbolized by an eagle, and the sea, symbolized by a crab. The Greek legend reads 'Akragas'. The reverse shows two eagles standing upon the body of a hare lying on a rock. One eagle is about to tear at the body, the other raises its head to swallow. The grasshopper is probably a mint control mark.
G.K. Jenkins, Ancient Greek coins (London, Seaby, 1990)
G.K. Jenkins, Coins of Greek Sicily (London, The British Museum Press, 1976)
I.A. Carradice, Greek coins (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)
C.M. Kraay, Archaic and Classical Greek co (London, Methuen, 1976)
C.T. Seltman, 'The engravers of the Akragantine decadrachms', Numismatic Chronicle-6 (1948)
I.A. Carradice and M.J. Price, Coinage in the Greek world (London, Seaby, 1988)