1 Decadrachm, Syracuse, about 400 B.C.E.

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Among the most alluring coins of antiquity was the Syracuse dekadrachm. Its artistry (designed by Kimon and Euinatos, among others)and incredibly high relief have captivated coin lovers for two and a half millennia. How did the Greeks, who worked only by hand, achieve such levels of beauty?
One of those attracted by coins such as this was a dynamic American president, Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt's record as a political reformer is well known. What is less recognized is his role in reforming American money. When the President compared contemporary American coins to Classical masterpieces such as this dekadrachm, he became indignant. Why, he wondered, did the powerful, young nation he was leading tolerate its pedestrian gold and silver coinage? Why couldn't American money be more artistic? Why couldn't it be as beautiful as ancient coinage? Why couldn't it feature dramatic relief, so that every facet of its design was clear for all to see? Roosevelt acted on his thought by enlisting sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to design what many regard as the most beautiful American coin ever produced, the 1907 twenty-dollar gold piece.
Currently not on view
Credit Line
Abraham A. Rosen
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Work and Industry: National Numismatic Collection
Legendary Coins
Coins, Currency and Medals
late 5th century BCE
late 5th century BCE
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Zoomable Image and Details
Glossary of Coins and Currency Terms
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place made
Italy: Sicily, Sicily
Physical Description
silver (overall material)
overall: 34.3 mm; 1 11/32 in
National Museum of American History
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