Messana, Sicily (Italy)Silver Tetradrachm, 470-466 BCE
weight: 16.3g, width: 2.66cm
OBV.: Seated charioteer, bent forward with long arms, driving an apene, a race chariot drawn by two mules, to the right. Large laurel leave in exergue; all set in dotted border.
REV.: In dotted border, hare jumping right. Inscription "MESSE-N-ION" (of the Messenians) with small Omikron.
HFMA nr. 2006.010.016. Ref.: SNG ANS 317; Caltabiano Series IV, cf. obverse of Nr. 145 (D 89).
The city of Messana (today Messina) in Sicily, across from the tip of the Italian peninsula (map), was originally named Zancle (“Sickle”), a reference to the shape of its harbor. Its name was changed to Messana when Anaxilas (died 476 BCE), the tyrant of Rhegium, a city on the Italic peninsula just across the strait from Messana, conquered Zankle in the early 5th century BCE and settled Messenian exiles there (Messana is the Doric dialect version of Messene, a region on the Peloponnese that was dominated by Sparta).
The charioteer on the obverse sits on a low chariot drawn by two mules, a so-called apene. Apene races were first held at the Olympic Games in 500 BCE, but abolished as early as 444 BCE because they were considered not dignified enough. Anaxilas, however, was so proud of his Olympic victory with the apene that he commemorated it with this coin type, first struck in 480 BCE. The design became so firmly associated with Messana that the Messenians kept it even after Anaxilas’ death in 476 BCE and the expulsion of his successors in 461 BCE.
The olive leaf in the exergue, the area below the chariot, represents the olive crown that was awarded to victors at the Olympic Games (1).
The hare on the reverse may symbolize the speed of Anaxilas’ chariot, or it may haven been chosen for its association with fertility and abundance (2). Aristotle (quoted by Pollux, Onomasticon 5.75) also claims that Anaxilas introduced the hare to Sicily, probably because hare hunts were a favorite aristocratic pastime.
(1) Caccamo Caltabiano (1993: 35-36) interprets the leaf as a laurel leaf, sacred to Apollo and takes it as a sign that the charioteer represents a deity of solar character, since Phoibos Apollo is (albeit in later times) often identified with the sun. Some of the leaves on the Messana coins, however, clearly have a berry attached, and that would support their identification as olive leaves.
(2) Caccamo Caltabiano (1993: 39-40) prefers the latter interpretation, but she also mentions that there are other ancient representations in which a hare appears between the feet of chariot horses to symbolize their speed.
Caccamo Caltabiano, Maria, La monetazione di Messana (Antike Münzen und geschnittene Steine, 13). Berlin: DeGruyter, 1993.