SICILY. Gela. Circa 406-405 BC.
1 1/3 Litra or Tetradrachm (Gold, 11 mm, 1.15 g, 3 h). ΓEΛAΣ Forepart of the river-god Gelas, in the form of a man-headed bull, to left. Rev.
ΣΩΣIΠΟΛIΣ Head of Sosipolis to right, her hair in ampyx and sphendone and wearing pendant necklace. Basel 293 (this coin
). Jenkins, Gela, 494.7 (this coin
, O103/R201). Rizzo pl. XIX, 7 (same dies
). SNG ANS 104 (same dies
). Extremely rare, one of a very few known examples. A beautiful piece of great historical interest with a splendid pedigree. The usual die break on the reverse, otherwise,
about extremely fine.
Ex Leu 10, 24 October 2021, 2013, from the Kleinkunst Collection, Leu 6, 23 October 2020, 60 and the collection of A.D. Moretti, Numismatica Ars Classica 13, 8 October 1998, 293, ex Glendining & Seaby 2, 15-17 July 1929, 193, from the collection of the Grand-Duc Alexandre Michailovitch, Naville IV, 17 & 19 June 1922, 247, ex Merzbacher, 15 November 1910, 215 and Merzbacher, 2 November 1909, 2487, and from the collection of Prof. Carlo Stiavelli, Santamaria, 6 April 1908, 148.
Sosipolis, whose name literally translates as 'saving the city', appears only twice on the coinage of Gela. She is usually identified as a nymph, but her aptronym clearly expresses a plea to the gods for help in a time of crisis. Jenkins connects the earlier issue of tetradrachms, where Sosipolis crowns the river-god Gelas with a wreath (Jenkins, Gela, 371), with the ultimately successful Greek campaigns against the native Sikeliotes in the 440s BC. The second type, however, which we have here, was struck some decades later: it has been identified as a 1 1/3 litra, which would be the equivalent of a silver tetradrachm at the usual exchange rate from gold to silver of 1:15.
Unlike the earlier victory tetradrachms, the 1 1/3 litra was clearly an emergency issue struck in great haste at a time of peril. Only a handful examples are known, many of which show significant die wear and die breaks. The choice of gold - very rare in Sicily - hints at an exceptional time of crisis, which perhaps involved melting down gold treasures from the temples of the city. Jenkins plausibly connects the issue with the destruction of Akragas in 406 BC and the upcoming siege of Gela by the Carthaginians in 405 BC, in the course of which the city was ultimately sacked and destroyed. Although the surviving inhabitants were later allowed to resettle in the ruins of their once mighty town, Gela was prohibited from rebuilding its fortifications and never fully recovered from the blow.