Mint21 spotlights the legendary Spartan warriors with a stunning new silver coin

If you’re going to start producing coins and compete with the high quality that permeates through the modern commemorative coin market, it’s probably best to pick a subject that isn’t populated with the best in the industry. Mint XXI, however, obviously thought that wasn’t necessary, and after a couple of excellent debut coins, they’ve released one of our favourite coins of the year to date, and in the hotly contested genre of the ancient world.

Sparta stands alongside the Romans as one of the most recognisable peoples of the ancient world. Said to have been founded by Lacedaemon, a son of Zeus, Sparta was a key combatant in the Trojan War, the Persian War, and several wars against many of their fellow Greek city-states, particularly Athens, Corinth and Thebes. Key to that were the hoplites, a heavily armed foot soldier, of which Sparta was unique in employing them as a permanent army.  Armed with a 2.5 metre long ash wood spear (doru) and a short sword (xiphos) of less than 60 cm, they protected themselves with a large circular shield (hoplon or aspis) around 80 cm across and weighing up to 8 kg, and bronze armour around the chest, ankles and arms. They dominated for centuries.

The coin gets straight to the point and there’s no confusing what is being depicted here. A Spartan warrior, gilded xiphos in one hand, shield in the other, is charging what is obviously a formation of archers. In the background at the bottom, suitably highlighted with a splash of red colour, is a full on melee. Surrounding all this is a Greek style patterned border. The coin is quite stunning. Beautifully detailed, an incredibly dynamic depiction, even an impact point where an arrow has hit the coin border, this is an epic coin. It evokes the imagery of Zack Snyder’s hit movie, 300.

The obverse is simple, yet elegant. The emblem of Cameroon is realised in a very classy way, as you can see in the close-up image further down. This is the first of what will be at least three coins, and it will have a mintage capped at 500 pieces. A bit bigger than the usual at three-ounces, it’s good to see the extra weight utilised to increase the diameter rather than the thickness, thus giving us a bigger canvas to admire. Neatly boxed and with a certificate of authenticity, it should be available to pre-order shortly from distributor Top World Coins, and shipping should start in September. If you hadn’t figured it out yet, we love this one, and in a genre filled with quite incredible examples of numismatic art, that’s as fine a recommendation as we can give.

SPARTA AND THE HOPLITES

Sparta was one of the most important Greek city-states throughout the Archaic and Classical periods and was famous for its military prowess. The professional and well-trained Spartan hoplites with their distinctive red cloaks, long hair, and lambda-emblazoned shields were probably the best and most feared fighters in Greece, fighting with distinction at such key battles as Thermopylae and Plataea in the early 5th century BCE. The city was also in constant rivalry with the other major Greek cities of Athens and Corinth and became involved in two protracted and hugely damaging conflicts, the Peloponnesian Wars of the mid- to late 5th century BCE and the Corinthian Wars of in the early 4th century BCE.

For all Spartan citizens there was a strong emphasis on military training and frugal living in communal mess halls where simple food such as barley meal, cheese, figs and wine were the norm. From the age of seven, males had a militaristic upbringing known as the agōgē where they were separated into age groups and lived in barracks. These youths pursued rigorous athletic and military training which became even more demanding from the age of 20, when they joined common mess halls (syssition) where they often formed homoerotic relations with older, more experienced citizens. This tough training resulted in a professional hoplite army capable of relatively sophisticated battle manoeuvres and made them feared throughout Greece, a fact perhaps evidenced by Sparta’s notable lack of fortifications for most of its history.

A peculiar feature of the Spartans and their military was the great importance given to matters of religion. As Herodotus put it, they ‘considered the things of the gods more weighty than the things of men’. Pre- and post-battle sacrifices were a common feature of Greek warfare in general but the Spartan army took things one step further and sacrificed before crossing rivers, for example, and even withheld from mobilising the army if an important religious festival was ongoing. Famous episodes where the Spartans put religion above warfare and even national crisis were Marathon and Thermopylae during the Persian Wars. In the former battle they arrived too late to participate and in the latter mobilised only a token force as they felt compelled to first celebrate the Karneia festival in honour of Apollo.

The Spartan hoplite army, however, showed the rest of Greece the way forward towards a greater military professionalism and considering the iconic image of fearless and disciplined hoplites with red cloaks and lambda-emblazoned shields, for the Greeks, admiring Romans and even 21st century film-goers, this is Sparta.

Cartwright, M. (2013, May 28). Sparta. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/sparta/

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SPECIFICATION
DENOMINATION 3,000 Francs CFA (Cameroon)
COMPOSITION 0.999 silver
WEIGHT 93.3 grams (3 t/oz)
DIMENSIONS 55.0 mm
FINISH Antique
MODIFICATIONS High-relief, gilding, colour
MINTAGE 500
BOX / COA Yes / Yes