Sikyon was located in the northern Peloponnesus and was known in antiquity for its industries, including sculpture, bronze work, and pottery. Its central location meant it was frequently involved in the wars of its neighbors: Thebes, Corinth, Athens, and Sparta. It was the main mint for the anti-Athenian states in the Peloponnesian War and issued a substantial number of coins, most of which were melted down to finance further conquests.
Sikyon was the cradle of western art, credited with originating tragedy in theater, the modern art of painting as it still stands today, and the invention of using multiple instruments arranged orchestrally. The great sculptors Polykleitos and Lysippos both studied at the famous schools in Sikyon.
This coin comes from an issue of staters produced at Sikyon after Alexander the Great’s request for mercenaries from the Peloponnese in 334 BCE. They seemed to have been paid out as a signing bonus and then buried for safe-keeping. Unfortunately, many of these mercenaries never came back, explaining why many coins of this type still exist today and were never melted down.
The stater depicts a chimera, a mythical, fire-breathing monster composed of parts of three animals: a lion with the head of a goat arising from its back and a tail that ends in a snake’s head, walking proudly to the left in an almost heraldic manner. According to Greek mythology, the chimera was slain by Bellerophon with Apollo’s help, and appeared on most of the major coinage of Sikyon.
A dove is shown on the reverse, representing the main emblem of the city and a symbol of spirit. In antiquity, it was well known that doves were kind, peaceful, and honorable animals, mating for life and working together to build nests and raise their young. Greeks and Romans felt that they represented love and devotion, and it was the sacred animal for multiple goddesses, so it would follow that the iconography on this coin was a depiction of “war and peace”.
Ancient Theatre of Sicyon
Sikyon AR Stater. Circa 350-330 BC. Chimaera, with lion’s body and goat forepart rising from back, advancing left, right paw raised, SE below, wreath above / Dove flying left, N below beak; all within laurel wreath BMC Peloponnesus 57-58. ACGC 306. Cf. Traite III 776; SNG Copenhagen 48; BCD 218. 12.25g, 24mm, 2h. Perfectly centered, struck on a large flan, and magnificently toned with exquisite violet highlights. Superb Extremely Fine.
This coin was part of the Jacob K. Stein collection, a wonderful collection of 182 ancient coins displayed at the Cincinnati Art Museum for 14 years from 1994-2008 (coin number 49). Acquired from Harlan J. Berk, July 1988.