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Sikyon Dove

Sikyon Dove

While most Westerners can easily name the ancient Greek cities of Athens and Sparta, Corinth and perhaps a few others, not many have ever heard of Sikyon (also spelled Sicyon) - yet she was to artists what Athens was to statesmen and philosophers, and what Sparta was to athletes and soldiers. Sikyon, under her various names, was the cradle of Western art. Sikyon has been credited with originating tragedy in theater, painting in its present form, and the use of multiple instruments in an orchestral arrangement. She is perhaps best known now for her coinage, the Sikyon doves that bear the main emblem of the city of Sikyon.

This shouldn't be surprising. While Sikyon was not the first of the Greek city states to mint coins, she was one of the most productive. From c. 500 B.C. till about 150 B.C., the time of the Roman conquest, Sikyon minted thousands of coins each year, in silver, bronze and gold. Nearly all of these bore the symbol of the dove, the main emblem of the city of Sikyon. Most often, they bore a chimera on the other side, though there were variations and other symbols that were used both with and without the chimera.

The most common dove is the Silver stater, which was minted throughout the history of Sikyon. The dove is on the front, and on the reverse is the chimera, the fire-breathing monster with the lion's body, snake's tail and goat's head. The chimera was slain by Bellerophon with the aid of Apollo, the main deity of Sikyon. A stater was a fairly large denomination coin, and is one of those most likely to be found in excellent condition.

Smaller denominations of silver coins were also minted. Among them, the silver obols that were minted between 430 B.C. and 400 B.C. and the silver drachmas, from about the same time period, were unique in that they bore the image of the dove on both the reverse and the obverse. Other denominations included the hemidrachm, worth approximately six drachmas.

At various times throughout the city's history, the dove on the coin might be flying within a wreath of laurels, or perched on an olive branch. The head of Apollo often appeared on the coins of Sikyon, sometimes as the main image on the front or back of the coin, and other times as a small symbol beneath the dove, or beneath the chimera.

About 280 B.C., Sikyon joined forces with other Greek city states in the Achean League, a political alliance of twelve city states that flourished under the leadership of Aratus, leader of Sikyon. The cities of the Achaean League agreed to a standard of coinage - coins which bear on the front the head of Zeus wearing an olive wreath, and on the reverse, the symbol of the Achaean League with the symbol of the city which minted the coins beneath it. Sikyon's coins of that time, of course, bore the dove.

After the Achaean League, the coins of Sikyon never regained their chimera. Instead, most coins in all denominations carried the Sikyon Dove on the front, and the monogram %2211 (Sigma), for Sykyon on the reverse.