Gold starter from Taras

Gold starter from Taras

Gold starter from Taras

Period: Classical Greece

Country: Greece

Ruler: Nikar…, magistrate

Denomination: Gold stater

Mint: Taras (Calabria)

Weight: 8,55 g

Quality: Choice Very Fine. Boldly struck and perfectly centered

Auction house: Iran & Larry Goldberg Auctioneers

Date: 14-15 February 2017

Starting price: 7.500 euros

Historical context

Taras (current Taranto, which gives the name to the tarantella) was a Greek colony in current Apulia. It went to war against Rome at the beginning of the 3rd Century BC. It was conquered by the Romans in 272 BC as a consequence of the so-called Pyrrhic War. During the Pyrrhic War Taras required the support of professional mercenary armies from the east of the Mediterranean. For this reason during those years Taras minted a large quantity of gold coins with an Eastern style and using the Attic standard. However, few of these gold coins arrived to our days.

Further information about the context where these coins were minted can be found here, here and here. Next I reproduce the explanation attached to the coin in auction.

This stater is part of a larger gold series that includes halves, thirds, quarters, eighths, tenths, twelfths, and sixteenths, featuring the heads of Zeus, Herakles, Apollo, or Athena on the obverse, and their respective associated animals (eagle or owl) or Taras/Phalanthos, the mythological/historical founder of Tarentum on the reverse. The double-amphora symbol associated with the eagle on this coin alludes to Tarentum’s origin as a colony of the half-Spartan Parthenians. In Lakedaimon (Sparta), the Dioskouroi were worshipped in this peculiar aniconic form, which also occurs on some Lakedaimonian coins of the late Hellenistic period.The series to which this stater belongs was struck essentially as a result of Roman expansion in the early third century BC and the somewhat ill-conceived response of the Tarentines. When the Romans broke a treaty with the Tarentines in order to subdue the Lucanian city of Thurium, the Tarentines intervened and forcibly expelled the Roman garrison from Thurium. While it no doubt felt good to the Greek Tarentines kick the barbarian Romans out of a fellow Greek city, the euphoria soon evaporated and they realized that the Romans would be back in great force to seek revenge.Knowing that a great and terrible Roman storm would soon rise upon them, the Tarentines sought the help of mercenaries from mainland Greece and a great military leader in the person of the Epeirote king Pyrrhos. Luckily for the Tarentines, Pyrrhos had just been driven out of the Macedonian part of his kingdom and happened to be in search of new adventure. Thus he led his forces to Tarentum and embarked upon the great Pyrrhic War (280-275 BC) against the Romans. He defeated the Romans in two battles, but because of their network of subject-allies they continued to command vast resources of manpower. Frustrated at his ability to defeat, but not actually crush the Romans, Pyrrhos famously remarked, “[if] we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined” (Plut. Pyrrh. 21.9). This statement gave rise to the expression “Pyrrhic victory,” meaning a victory in which the cost is so high that it negates any sense of triumph.The cost of Pyrrhos victories also weighed heavily on the Tarentines, who needed their gold and silver coinages in large quantities in order to meet the demands of the king and his mercenary army. The cost ultimately proved to be all for nothing since Pyrrhos abandoned the Tarentine project in 278 BC to seek his fortune in Sicily. When he returned in 275 BC, he was defeated by the Romans at Beneventum and withdrew to Epeiros with most of his army. Three years later, Tarentum was besieged and captured by the Romans.


The coin is very rare but we have a recent reference: another coin of the same type was auctioned on October 2016 for 25.000 CHF. That same coin was auctioned on October 2011 for 24.000 CHF. The quality of that other coin is higher than the one that is now in auction, but is not so well centered. We can also take as references other similar gold staters sold from the same city and the same period, like this one ($15.000 in 2010) or this one ($14.000 in 2013). All in all the coin in auction would have an estimated price between $18.000 and $22.000.

Description from the seller

Calabria, Taras. Gold Stater (8.55 g), ca. 276-272 BC. Nikar…, magistrate. Laureate head of Zeus left; behind, NK monogram. Reverse: BAΣIΛIΣΣHΣ KΛEOΠATPAΣ ΘEAΣ KAI BAΣIΛEΩΣ ANTIOΧOY, eagle with wings displayed standing right on thunderbolt; in right field, two amphorae; ti upp left, magistrate’s name: [NI]KAP. Fischer-Bossert G42c (V37/R42; this coin); Vlasto 40; SNG ANS 1039 (same dies); Gulbenkian 41 (same dies); BMC 3 (same dies); HN Italy 983. Very Rare. Boldly struck and perfectly centered. Choice Very Fine. Estimate Value $15,000 – UP
From the Hanbery Collection; Purchased privately from F. Kovacs in 1991. Ex Peus 332 (23 October 1991), 12; Leu 52 (15 May 1991), 3; Superior (10 December 1988), 1703.



  1. TonioxNo Gravatar 12 months ago

    First, I wish you a success in your new project, when one is a professional, everything you do, will become in a excellent results.
    And now, congratulations, your estimates bids ( $18.000 and $22.000) were very correct, hammered at 18500 usd.

  2. Author
    Adolfo Ruiz CallejaNo Gravatar 12 months ago

    Thanks for your comment.

    I just write the price range that I would consider reasonable. Sometimes it is much easier to predict the hammer price. It all depends on how frequent the coin is in auction.

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