Coin of the Month

November 2023: From War to Sport

The Coin of this Month is presented by Andrea Gorys

Armed with helmet and shield, he stands there, his knees slightly bent, upper body leaning forward, right arm outstretched, gaze fixed straight ahead. He is ready to start: the weapon runner on the electrum coins of Kyzikos.

The race of the hoplites (hoplitodromos) was a competition that had its origins in the military field. In the 7th century BC, as combat techniques in Greece evolved from individual combatants to disciplined hoplite phalanxes, every free citizen was required to acquire his own weapons and fight side by side with his fellow citizens in times of war. He was trained for this in the gymnasium. The success of this training was evident in the Battle of Marathon, as the heavily armed Athenian phalanx "rushed against the enemies," as reported by Herodotus, and thus avoided the Persian hail of projectiles (Hdt. 6.112).

As an Olympic discipline, the weapon race has been documented since 520 BC. One to two decades earlier, it had already found its established place in the program of the Panathenaia, the main religious festival of the city of Athens. In addition, weapon races have been attested since 498 BC at the Pythian Games in Delphi and at many other festival locations in Greece. The weapon race of Plataiai became particularly famous. Established in 479 BC after the victorious battle of the Greeks against the Persians in honour of Zeus Eleutherios, it covered a distance of 15 stadia (about 2700 m). Whoever won here received the highest prize for this competition and the honorary title "Best among the Greeks". Originally, the weapon race was conducted in full armour, but later only with a shield.

The level of exertion in such a race is demonstrated by the fundamental study of the University of Erfurt, which reconstructed the hoplite race within the framework of the project "Ancient Sports in Experiment" in 2011. Four students ran barefoot on sandy ground over a distance of two Olympic stadia (about 385 m) with a weight of approximately 9 kg (helmet, greaves, and shield) on various days. It was concluded that the physical strain was perceived as very high by all participants, whether trained or untrained.

Our electrum coin from Kyzikos depicts a weapon runner at the starting line. Both feet are approximately parallel on a small base. In the coinage of Kyzikos, this motif appears on two different denominations: a stater and a hekte.

In his study of the electrum coinage of Kyzikos, D. Mannsperger points out that this coin type could well be related to the statuary model of the Epicharinos dedication on the Athenian acropolis, a work by Kritios. On this, Pausanias notes: "Of the statues that have their place after the horse ..., Kritias made the image of Epicharinos, who practiced in the weapon race." (Paus. I.23.9). The original base of this dedication was found on the acropolis, at its likely original location. Kritios is also known for sculpturing the figure of Harmodios, one of the two Tyrannicides, whose statue group was erected in 477/6 BC on the Athenian Agora.

The Athenian statue of the weapon runner Epicharinos may embody not only purely athletic but also political and military merits. Perhaps this is the same Epicharinos who is listed as fallen in 464 BC during a campaign in Thrace. As a symbol of Athens' military prowess, the statue of a weapon runner could provide the background for its depiction on the coins of Kyzikos. Based on his study of coin dies, Mannsperger assumes that an original stock of about 100.000 electrum staters of this type must be reckoned with. This magnitude and the existence of another contemporary coin type of Kyzikos with the motif of the tyrant slayers, again a quotation of a public monument, made him to assume "that in these two types of coins, we have the money with which Pericles' fleet demonstration could be financed and propagandistically secured" (Mannsperger, 1977, 91).


Mannsperger D. Das Motiv des Waffenläufers auf den Elektronmünzen von Kyzikos. In: U. Hausmann (Hrsg.), Der Tübinger Waffenläufer (Tübinger Studien zur Archäologie und Kunstgeschichte, 4). Tübingen 1977, 75-96.

Loosch E., Brodersen K., Mosebach U. Antiker Sport im Experiment. Bericht zum Studium Fundamentale an der Universität Erfurt im Sommersemester 2011. In: Jahrbuch der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Geschichte der Sportwissenschaft e.V., 2010 (2012), 119-136.

Mannsperger D. Der „nackende Soldat“ – ein lange verkanntes athletisches Schema, Numismatisches Nachrichtenblatt, März 2013, 93-97.

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