agrigentum

Rare Human-faced Crab Carapace on a Greek Drachm from Akragas (Sicily), c. 420 BC

The obverse shows two eagles perched on the carcass of a hare. This design may have been inspired by the omen presented to Agamemnon and Menelaus in Aeschylos’ Agamemnon, where two eagles, representing the two kings, devoured a pregnant hare, an allusion to the city of Troy. The reverse shows a crab seen from above with the carapace turned into human face which remarkably resembles the Heikegani Crab, a species native to Japan. Beneath it is a crayfish with a barley-grain and a cicada on either side. It’s an extremely rare and a fascinating small coin of superb style.

Akragas, located midway along Sicily’s southern coast, was once one of the leading Greek cities on the island in antiquity.  It was settled by colonists of Gela circa 580 BC on a rich plateau surrounded by ridges that provided the colonists with natural fortifications.  This excellent position allowed the fledgling colony to grow rapidly into one of the richest of Magna Graecia. Akragas, like most Greek cities of the time, experienced despots and tyrants, this came to an end in the fifth century BC when the tyrant Thrasydaeus was overthrown and a form of democratic government implemented.  The democratic government was to last throughout the Peloponnesian War, during which the city remained neutral, ending in 406 BC when the city was sacked by Himilco a Carthaginian General.

At the time of its sack Akragas had an estimated population of 200,000 and was perhaps the richest city on the island.  As a result of the sack the wealth of the city was carried off to Carthage, many of its inhabitants were slaughtered and its democracy ended.  Akragas though eventually recovering never fully regained its preeminence on the island.  Consequently it frequently found itself within the area of dispute between Carthage and the new power on the island, Rome.  In 261 BC Akragas was captured by the Romans and its population sold into slavery, it was recaptured by the Carthaginians in 255 BC.  Akragas was to continue to suffer throughout the Punic Wars and in 210 BC was captured by the Romans for a second time.  This time Akragas was renamed Agrigentum and found itself incorporated into the Roman world.  In 44 BC Julius Caesar granted the city’s inhabitants full Roman citizenship.

Akragas it probably best known to the numismatist for its stunning fifth century gold silver and bronze coins featuring Eagles and Crabs. More about Akragas’ history and coins…

Sculpture of a a warrior, found at the Temple of Zeus (head) and Temple of Heracles (torso), Agrigento (ancient Akragas/Agrigentum), Sicily.  Artist unknown; ca. 480-475 BCE.  Now in the Museo Archeologico Regionale, Agrigento.  Photo credit: Clemensfranz/Wikimedia Commons.