A Bank Vault full of Priceless Treasure in Siracusa

I first visited Siracusa two summers ago. The highlight of my trip was visiting the Medagliere (numismatics treasury) in the Archaeological Museum and getting to know its charming curator, Rosalba Riccioli.

Blonde and vivacious, Rosalba’s passion for the 2,500-year-old gold coins and jewellery in her care – and the intriguing stories behind them – is truly infectious.

She has written a guest article for Times of Sicily to introduce the Medagliere, which I have translated from her Italian: any errors are all my fault!

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Arethusa, patron of the city of Siracusa, on coins from the 5th Centrury B.C.

The mint in Ancient Siracusa consisted of special buildings with workshops, and with the collaboration of large numbers of workers. Accountants issued receipts for the precious metals, received as raw materials, and calculated the number of coins that should be minted to make sure there were no thefts! Flautarii were the workers who melted the metal and prepared the blank discs. Signatores carved the images in the dies used to stamp the impression into the coins. In Siracusa, these men were master artists and their coins were regarded in ancient times, as nowadays, as exquisite works of art in miniature. The Medagliere has coins by the leading artists of the day. Malliatores beat the dies into the metal coin blanks with hammer blows to create the embossed images on the coins. There were lots of Officinatores who were unskilled workers.

This is information about the ancient Siracusa mint and its workers is not written on the information panels in the museum, but are notes I took from a visiting professor.

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Once a solid, filthy lump

An extraordinary treasure of Greek Republican coins was found in 1963 during construction of a building in Via Tevere in Syracuse, and this is now displayed in the Medagliere. This treasure was most likely hidden in early 80 B.C. The owner had probably hidden these coins in a wooden container which then rotted and crumbled away, and these silver coins were all oxidized with each other into a solid lump. People usually did this if they felt they had nobody to trust to look after their wealth safely, and they always intended to dig it up shortly afterwards. The hoard consisted of 1,107 coins. The coins have now been separated and are all displayed, shiny as new, in the Medagliere.

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This eagle pendant with gold granulation work is from the first half of the 2nd century B.C. provenance Niscemi
This eagle pendant with gold granulation work is from the first half of the 2nd century B.C. provenance Niscemi

Greek women liked to wear make-up made from natural substances. Too much, very showy make-up was considered vulgar. Greek women were particularly fussy about hair care and were experts in using dyes and bleach as well as natural conditioners. They loved highly elaborate hairstyles and never left their hair loose, instead either gathering it in a bun called a krobylos at the nape of the neck or in a beaded, fancy net called a sakkos. Both of these styles can be seen on many of the coins in the Medagliere, particularly the beautiful coins engraved by the master engraver Kimon Euainetos.

The chiton, the long robe worn by Greek women, was often held at the shoulders by fibulae, large elaborate brooches which are frequently found in archaeological excavations. The fibulae were more than just utility objects and really served more for beautification. We also find shoes in excavations, sometimes embellished with semi-precious stones.

Medieval gold necklace
Medieval gold necklace

In the Medagliere there is a set of jewels found in an ancient grave excavated by Paolo Orsi in Syracuse. He was a prestigious archaeologist and founder of the Archaeological Museum of Siracusa. This particular hoard consists of a necklace, a ring and earrings, and it is thought that they belonged to a young girl because of the small size of the ring.

Paolo Orsi spent his life excavating ancient sites in Italy and creating museums. The Archaeological Museum of Siracusa bears his name in honour of the work he did for it.

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MUSEO ARCHAEOLOGICO REGIONALE PAOLO ORSI, SIRACUSA, SICILY

Official Website

Viale Teocrito, 66 – 96100 – Siracusa – ITALY
Phone: +39 0931 489511 – Fax: +39 0931 489532

Opening times:
From Tuesday to Saturday 09.00 -18.00
Sundays and holidays 09.00 – 13.00
Closed on Mondays

Il Medagliere:
Tues – Thurs – Fri – Sat 09.30 – 13.30
Wed – 09.30 -17.30
Closed on Mondays

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front coverAn English woman takes on parenthood, the Mafia and a Sicilian mother-in-law, all at once.

Find out more about Veronica Di Grigoli’s new comedy novel in the Times of Sicily book review or reviews on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

Veronica Di Grigolihttp://siciliangodmother.wordpress.com/
Veronica Di Grigoli is the author of “Sicilian Card Games: An Easy-to-Follow Guide” and the comedy novel “The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife.” Her blog of the same name has a large and devoted following because of its hilariously insightful accounts of life in Sicily, its inspiring ideas for things to do on holidays in Sicily, and its entertaining presentation of the history of the island. Di Grigoli studied Classical History at Cambridge University and fell in love with all things Italian... including one man in particular! She now lives with her Sicilian husband and son in a fishing village close to Palermo.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I study reincarnation and past lifetimes over many millennia, I can remember at least 200+ past lives over the last one million years or more. I can recall several earlier past lives’ in Italy, and at least one about 400 BC/BCE, this was during the wars between Athens and King Dionysius I of Sicily. In about 400 BC/BCE Athens sent an army to try and reconquer Sicily which had been a colony of Athens. The army of Athens was defeated and large numbers of Greek Hoplites were captured by our Sicilian army. I can still remember seeing the beautiful golden bronze helmets taken from the Greeks, and their other captured equipment. I don’t know what happened to the Greek POWs, they may have been ransomed for silver Drachmas of Athens(?). I also was a soldier in the Roman Army who was sent on a rescue mission to help the people of Pompeii and Herculaneum in Sept. of 79 AD/CE. after the great eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Aug. 79 AD/CE. I can also recall two lives in the 15th-16th Century Renaissance, and think I may have been in the naval battle of Lepanto in October of 1571 AD. Was also a Minoan Cretan four millennia ago. If people study reincarnation and their earlier past lifetime memories, the data and information they can remember might have much value in Archaeological Research into the world of earlier civilizations and peoples.

  2. Dear Veronica, unfortunately the museum bored the socks off of me. The coins are the only visitable area.

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