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Saturday, 1 November 2014

155) Coinage of Greece: (Part II): Some ancient Greek coins from Antiquity portraying Greek Mythology & History:

155) Coinage of Greece: (Part II): Some ancient Greek coins from Antiquity portraying  Greek Mythology & History:

(This post is in continuation of the previous post:(Coinage of Greece: Ancient coinage & the 4 Ages of Ancient Greek Numismatics)

The engravers of ancient Greek coinage drew heavily from religion and mythological traditions of the city-states. The ancient Greeks had immense faith in the Olympian Gods, as such the patron God of the City-State figured on most of their coins. Legends, Myths, champions, Kings etc. all figure on these beautiful coins of antiquity, some of which have survived to the present day.

The Phanes Stater:

 Electrum Stater of Phanes (Ephesus/Ionia), minted to the Milesian Standard (625-600 BC). On the Obverse, it bears the inscription “Phanos emi Seima” (meaning “I am the badge of Phanes”) inscribed above a grazing deer while on the Reverse are two rectangular incuse designs with decussate lines.

Another Phanes Electrum Stater minted to the Milesian Standard (625-600 BC). On the Obverse, it bears the inscription “Phanos emi Seima” (meaning “I am the badge of Phanes”) inscribed above a grazing deer while on the Reverse are three rectangular incuse designs with decussate lines.

The Phanes Stater is a numismatic icon today.

Electrum Trite of Phanes (Ephesos/Ionai), minted to the Milesian standard (625-600 BC). On the obverse, it bears the inscription (meaning “of Phanes”) above a grazing deer. On the reverse are two rectangular incuse designs with decussate lines.

The person who Phanes was is shrouded in the obscurity of history. Phanes is not recorded as a great King, some scholars believe that he could be a trader, while others surmise that these coins were produced to pay mercenary soldiers. Another interpretation is that Phanes could have been a rich tradesman with his own badge to vouch for the quality assurance of the coins minted in his name. One scholar interprets the word “Phanes” as “Phannos” or “Phaneos” which according to legend referred to a goddess called “Phano” or a place name “Phane/Phanai”. However all this is merely in the realm of speculation with no definite conclusion regarding the origins of the coin. One of the great mysteries of the Greek coinage of antiquity.

The Colts of Corinth:


 This elegant stater of Corinth (500-485 BC) on the obverse, shows Pegasus with curved wings, flying while on the reverse is seen a small quadripartite incuse. The coins depicting Pegasus were nicknamed the “colts” of Corinth.

The winged horse was the symbol of Corinth and represented a belief among Corinthians that the Pegasus was a sybbol of heavenly benevolence that was given to the citizens of Corinth. His taming by Bellerophon was closely connected to both the important deities of Corinth – Athena Chalinitis and Poseidon Danaios. While Athena was the patron goddess of Corinth who brought them prosperity through ideas that promoted the progress in civilisation and guided the clever craftsmen, Posiedon apart from being the God of the sea who watched over the Corinthian sea-farers, was also credited with  natural phenomena like earthquakes and towering waves, much like the untamed prancing of the stallion Pegasus.

Legend has it that Bellerophon, the hero pf the Corinthians was a son of Posiedon. He saw Pegasus one day and expressed a desire to possess the stallion, but he had no way to do so. One night the goddess Athena appeared to him in a vision and gave him a golden bridle to tame and ride Pegasus. This was the first time that horse-riding was made possible by man through the intervention of the goddess. She advised him to make a sacrifice to his father Posiedon to thank him for this beautiful horse. She also wanted to be honoured for her help through a shrine. Thus, Bellerophon who represented the city of Corinth was granted a favour from two deities and he expressed his gratitude by starting their worship in the city of Corinth.

Pegasus was thus a reminder to every Corinthian that Athena and Posiedon would protect their city as long as they performed their worship just as Bellerophon had done.

The Delian League and Athenian money:


An Athenian Tetradrachm (454-406 BC), The obverse shows the Head of Athena facing right wearing an Athenian helmet engraved with three leaves of olive and tendril and wearing a necklace, while on the reverse is seen an owl standing and facing right, behind which is a twig with two leaves and fruit.

In 479 BC, the Greeks defeated the Persians at Plataiai. The Persian King was known to raise huge mercenary armies every year to attack and plunder the wealthy city states. This defeat raised fears that he would now raise a vast army to capture and plunder the whole of Greece. As such, the Delian league was formed by 140 to 180 city-states to pool in men and material resources to build ships, raise city defences and recruit soldies for their defence against Persian invasions. The money raised for this purpose was kept in a treasury in the temple of Apollon at Delos. The Athenians soon rose to a prominent position and became a dominant force in the Delian League and by 454 BC prevailed on the league to transfer the Treasury to Athens. Most Athenian coins featured Athena on one side and the owl on the reverse. Such tetradrachms as above were minted to finance the buildings of the Acropolis, to pay suppliers who delivered rations to the Armies and naval forces. Ithese coins were nicknamed “owls”, which gave rise to a proverb “carrying owls to Athens”.

Portraits/Busts of Kings of Macedonia on Greek coins:    

The participation of Philip II, king of Macedonia, in the “holy war” waged by the “Delphic Amphictyonic League” (359-336 BC) helped the Amphictyony defeat the Phocians (in 336 BC) who wanted to capture the Oracle of Delphi (where the God Apollo, proclaimed the will of the Gods to the people) which had a great wealth at its disposal. Philip’s intervention saved the Oracle of Delphi from the Phocians. Dominating the Amphicytony with a sizeable number of votes and keeping his soldiers at captured Phocian forts, Alexander III made the most of his victory and was the dominant ruler of Delphi keeping a large mercenary army at his disposal to protect the wealth of Delphi. He brought out a new coin featuring on its obverse the image of the patron of Delphi – Apollo, whose head proclaimed that Philip had fought against the impious Phocians and that the Gods had helped him and the just cause to victory. This coin was so popular throughout the ancient world that it continued to be minted even by Philip’s son and successor Alexander III (Alexander the Great).
 A gold stater in the style of Philip II’s coins minted between 300 and 100 BC, long after Philip’s lifetime as these coins were very popular.
 A gold stater of Alexander III, King of Macedonia (336-323 BC)  of the type introduced by his father, Philip II (359-336).

A gold stater of Artemis:


The above is an image of an Abydos gold stater (around 330 BC) on the obverse showing the portrait of the goddess Artemis wearing a wreath above a polus adorned with acanthus leaves, long earrings and pearl necklace, while on the reverse is shown an eagle standing in front of a wine branch laden with grapes.

This coin was believed to have been minted after Alexander the Great went through Abydos to the Persian Empire. The city was free again and this coin was brought out as a commemoration. This coin represents the high standards of numismatic art that were the hallmark of Greek coin engravers/die cutters.

The legend of the infant Herakles or Hercules, son of Zeus, strangling two snakes sent by the Goddess Hera to kill him & his half-brother on Ancient Greek coins:

A Tridrachm of Samos (405 BC), showing on the Obverse the infant Herakles strangling the two serpents sent to kill him and his half-brother, while on the reverse is seen a frontal lion’s mask. Tridrachms bearing this image from Byzantium, Cnidus, Ephesus, Iasus, Lampsacus, Rhodes and Samos are part of the SYN-alliance series.

An Electrum stater from Cyzicus (405 BC) representing the same scene on the obverse however with the addition of tunny fish swimming, representing the naval defeats of Athens and the naval prowess of Sparta. On the reverse is a Quadripartite incuse square.

Herakles or Hercules was a son of Zeus by Alkmene who bore twins, the other being Iphikles, son of her real husband King amphitryon of Thebes.. Hera, Zeus’ wife was jealous and sent two snakes into the room where the infants were sleeping to kill them. By the time Alkemene & Amphitryon on responding to Heracle’s half-brother’s cries, Heracles had crushed both the snakes. This killing of the snakes was symbolic of the Spartan Armies under Lysander crushing the Athenian Fleet at Notium in 407 BC and then again defeated resurgent Athenian forces at Aegospotamoi, giving the Spartans supremacy in the Aegean. All the cities which minted coins with this depiction were freed by Lysander from political suppression by Athens.

Denarius of Brutus:

A Denarius of M. Junius Brutus minted in a mobile field mint in Asia Minor or Greece in 42 BC on the Obverse depicts the head of Brutus, while on the Reverse it shows a liberty cap and a dagger each on both sides of the cap. The famous inscription “EID MAR” (The “Ides of March”) is inscribed on this face.  

This liberty cap usually carried on a pole became a symbol of all early European Republics. It is found on coins of the Netherlands and as the Phrygian cap on the coins of the French revolution. The words “EID MAR” and the two daggers, perhaps symbolise the day Julius Ceasar was assassinated with daggers and the liberty cap may represent the liberation from Ceaser’s reign following his death.


  1. Ramchandra Lalingkar has commented:
    "Very interesting to see the coins with pictures of Birds, animals etc."

    1. Yes, the Ancient Greek States associated animals & birds with their Gods & Goddesses, as such they figured on their coins. Flowers and trees formed several of the city state badges/emblems. All this translated into protecting these animals/plant life etc. which in other words was synonymous with Nature conservation.