Numismatic and History Discussions > Greek Coins

Who was that I saw riding your horse last night?

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Most collectors of ancient coins are familiar with the didrachms of Taras, with their images of horsemen on one side (usually the obverse) and the famous dolphin rider on the other.
The dolphin rider is usually described as Taras, or Phalanthos the Spartan founder. But who is the horse rider?
Many of the coins feature a passive scene with a young boy simply described as an anonymous "boy" or "jockey" or "naked youth", but I think we can provide a little more clarity to his identity.

Why would a series of coins so rich in symbolism embrace such an ambiguous description, especially from a polis whose identity is so strongly tied to the horse in general and cavalry in particular?
Remembering that Taras was a Dorian colony founded by the Spartans we must also recognize that Poseidon was a god especially venerated at Taras. One of the few architectural sites remaining in the modern city are a pair of Doric columns from the temple of Poseidon. In fact the city's name comes from the eponymous Taras, son of Poseidon and the local nymph Satyra, a nymph whose image we see on many early Tarentine coins, particularly fractional silver, and even on the third century trade didrachms often (and I believe erroneously) referred to as the "Campano-Tarentine" types.

The coiners at Taras frequently placed images of local industry on their coins, images of the fishng industry (scallop shells, etc), the textile industry (the distaff and murex shell, from which a rich purple dye was extracted), and locally made ceramics which were a major export item throughout the Mediterranean (kantharos, rhyton, etc). We also see marshall scenes symbolizing perhaps the most important export from Taras, its famed mercenary cavalry which historically were hired out to some of the greatest kingdoms in the area.

The Tarentines were obviously proud of their city and its great importance to the region, and this pride was put on prominent display throughout their coinage.
Why then would the position of highest honor, the obverses of their capital coins, be left to some unknown "boy", a boy who was occasionally shown wearing a crown? It is unlikely that they would.
So just who is this kid? The coins themselves may be telling us.

There is an amazing gold stater minted at Taras during the middle of the fourth century BC, one of the most impressive coin images ever in my humble opinion, executed by the famed KAL engraver. This coin is listed by Oscar Ravel as "Vlasto1" in his catalog "The Collection of Tarentine Coins Formed By M.P Vlasto" (1947). The obverse is a beautiful depiction of Hera, but it is the reverse of this remarkable coin which concerns us here...

Poseidon wearing himation over lower limbs seated left, and bending forwards towards young Taras standing before him with his hands raised in supplication. Beneath diphros, signed K (KAL). In gront to right star and I-.


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