CALABRIA. Tarentum. Circa 280 BC.
Stater (Gold, 17 mm, 8.59 g, 5 h). Laureate head of Zeus to right; behind neck, monogram of NK. Rev.
[TAPANTINΩN] Eagle with open wings standing right on thunderbolt; in lower right field, helmet; to right, ΑΠΟΛ. BMC 4. Fischer-Bossert G37 (V33/R37). HN Italy 983. Very rare. A beautiful coin of excellent style with a long pedigree. Tiny edge marks and the reverse struck slightly off center, otherwise,
Ex Chaponnière & Firmenich/Hess-Divo 1, 18-19 May 2010, 14, Numismatica Ars Classica 52, 7 October 2009, 23, Rauch 83, 14 November 2008, 15, Hess-Divo 308, 24 October 2007, 3, from the collection of H. Tronnier, Künker 94, 27 September 2004, 109, ex Auctiones AG 29, 12 June 2003, 475, and from the collection of A. D. Moretti, Numismatica Ars Classica L, 18 May 2001, 1045.
This impressive gold stater was likely struck during the early stages of the Pyrrhic War, in which Pyrrhos of Epeiros, with significant help from the other Diadochi, came to the aid of Tarentum and the Greeks of southern Italy in their fight against the expansionism of Rome. The king successfully defeated a large Roman army in the Battle of Herakleia in 280 BC, but the follow-up hard-fought Battle of Asculum in 279 BC was inconclusive and led to the loss of many lives on either side. Plutarch, who claims a costly victory for the Greeks, reports that Pyrrhos replied to the congratulations of his officers with the famous sentence: 'If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined!' (Plut. IX, 21.8).
The adventurous king left southern Italy soon thereafter to combat the Carthaginians in Sicily, but after a series of early victories, he angered the civic pride of the Greeks on the island with his despotic manner. In 275 BC, Pyrrhos hence returned to Italy, where he suffered a decisive defeat by a Roman army under Manius Curius Dentatus near a place called Maleventum, which was subsequently renamed Beneventum by the victors. Pyrrhos retreated to Epeiros and was killed in 272 BC in street fighting in Argos, reportedly after an old woman threw a stone at him from the roof of her house, knocking him out and leaving him exposed to his foes. By this time, the city of Metapontion had already lost its independence to Rome, while Tarentum, where Pyrrhos had left behind a small Epeirote garrison, would fall victim to a Roman siege shortly thereafter. A number of subsequent campaigns by the Romans brought their conquest of southern Italy to an end in the following years, after which they would direct their attention to Sicily, where the monumental First Punic War (264-241 BC) was about to unfold.