Coins of mythological interest

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This thread needs to be in the Classical N board...

Dionysos with Kantharos

Here is one of the most common Dionysos depictions: Dionysos standing, holding Thyrsos and Kantharos.

Moesia inferior, Nikopolis ad Istrum, Elagabal, AE 28
struck under the legate Novius Rufus
bust, draped and cuirassed, laureate, r..
Dionysos, stg. l., holding Thyrsos and poring wine from Kantharos
Moushmov 1397. No.2861.
about VF.

About the Thyrsos we have heard that it was made from Narthex. Often it was wrapped with binds or vine-leafs. On top was a knob made of ivy or vine-leafs, sometimes like a pinecone. The Thyrsos was the sign of the participants of the dionysos cult, used as well by the Mainads f.e. to kill Pentheus.

The Kantharos is a jug with high foot and two long handles shaped like loops. This form of jug was developed from preforms of the 2nd Millenium BC and belonged to Dionysos and his cult until the 5th century AD. So it is essential a cult device. Later on it was used with ring-shaped handles as a profane device too. There are other jugs too, f.e. the Oinochoe, a one-handled jug often with a trilobate nozzle as so-called trifoil-jug. But these don't refer to Dionysos!

Ref.: Der kleine Pauly

Best regards

Mount Argaios - the Sacred Mountain  of Cappadocia

I think you have sometimes seen coins of Caesarea with the reverse called 'Mt. Argaios' or 'Mt.Argaeus'. Here are two of them.

1) A Didrachm of Marcus Aurelius from Caesarea Cappadocia.
Marcus Aurelius AD 161-180 
        His bare curly head right
rev. YPA - TOC Gamma
        Mount Argaeus with star above
Sear GIC 1661

2) An AE28 of Elagabal of Caesarea Cappadocia.
Elagabal AD 218-222
         bust, draped and cuirassed, laureate, r.
         ET B in ex.
        Agalma of Mt. Argaios on altar
Sydenham 518 var. (year on altar)
nice naturalistic portrait of the young emperor

The Mount Argaios (or Latin 'Argaeus') is the highest mountain in Asia minor. 3916m high, volcanic and mostly covered with snow on top. Today it's called Erciyes Dagi, and at its foot lays the city of Caesareia, in early days called Mazaka, today Kayseri. The Argaios was a sacred mountain already in the times of the Hattits which have called him 'harara'. It is an very impressive mountain, due to its heighth and its volcanic activities. In 253 BC their should have been a big eruption mentioned on Roman Republican coins, but I couldn't find any example. Mazaka was the capital of the Cappadocian Kings, later the capital of the Roman province Cappadocia.

The pics of the Argaios on coins are rather similar. It is always trigonal and put together by parts which look like rocks. In the midth there is often a circle decorated with dots. The suggestion that this could be a flower seems to be discarded. Most probably it should be a cave perhaps for a cult statue(?). The figure of the Argaios is always rounded by needle-shaped lines or cones. These should be flames as symbols of his volcanic activities as could seen on others types too. The similarity of its pics is an evidence that it probably is the depiction of a real cult picture of the mountain, a so-called Agalma, which could be put in a temple. This theory is approved by the second coin where the cult statue of the Mount Argaios stands on an altar.

On the left frontal rock you can see a jumping deer and on the right rock a tree(?). But wether the Agalma was decorated with small statuettes which were put on the statue is not known.

On some types on the summit of the Argaios is seen a star, a crescent, the radiate Sol, or an eagle. Then there are types where the Argaios is carried by a man in a quadriga (probably Septimius Severus) or a rare type where the Argaios is seen on a chart dragged by two elephants. Then there is known a Tyche turreted with the Argaios and the personification of Cappadocia holding the Argaios.

Interesting is the following fact: Coins with the Argaios were known in the Hellenistic time only in the short periode from 101 BC to AD 17 where an alliance with Rome existed. There are no coins of Greek times even though the cult was known so long before! Not until the 1st century AD coins with references to the Argaios appeared. The explanation could be that the cult was re-introduced by the Romans to lead the Cappadocians to the the Roman Trias Jupiter-Helios-Serapis and to convince them of the Summus-Deus-belief. (P. Weiß). It is known that an Agon took place.
Cappadocia was important already at the times of the Hattits (14th century BC) as central part of their empire. The capital was Hattusa near todays Boghazköi. With Kyros II Cappadocia came under Persian influence, but because of its distance to the centre it remained relative independent. This was true also in the time of Alexander and under the reign of the Antigonids since 303  BC. Under the Romans Archelaos was made king by Marcus Antonius. AD 18/19 under Tiberius it became the Roman province Cappadocia

Other mountain gods:
The sacred mountain Argaios is only one in a series of mountain gods. Another important cult was the cult of Zeus Kasios which could be backtracked to the Hattits  too. It was their sacred mountain Hazzi where the gods descended from heaven. Referring to Ugaritic tradition it was the seat of the storm and thunderbolts god Baal. In Greek-Seleucidian time these two deities were melted together and parallel to Baal the early mountain god was made to the god Zeus Kasios of Seleukeia Pierias.

I have added a pic of today's Erciyes Dagi

(Here you can find more references!)
(From this site is the pic of the Erciyes Dagi!)

Best regards

Some notes on the Roman god Liber

Because we have spoken about Dionysos in this thread some time before it is necessary to add informations about the Roman Liber too. He is often mixed up with Dionysos/Bacchus but this is not correct!

Liber is an old Roman deity and together with Libera a genuine Italic pair of gods. His name and his meaning are not sure until now.
1. The ancient interpretations tend in its majority to an origin of 'liberare', to free. Either because he admitted the wine pleasure in vast quantities and thus frees from worries, or because he admitted men to release their sperm (or in the case of Libera to deliver a child).
2. Today it is accepted that the origin of his name is probably *leudh, to sprout, to germinate. So these two deities are old fertility gods. Therefore they were worshipped together with Ceres. Already the dictator A. Postumus has dedicated to this trias a combined temple at the Circus Flaminius in 496 BC which was renewed by Augustus.

When Dionysos became familiar in Latium in the 5th century BC Liber was quickly equated with him which unfortunately darkens his origins. One of the oldest ceremonies recorded in the calendars belonged to Liber and Libera: the Liberalia on March 17. At this day old women presented cakes for sacrificing which then they sacrificed on a portable cooker for the buyer (this probably also pseudo-etymologically to 'libum', = cake for sacrificing). This day often was used for applying the toga virilis too, after which the young Roman was accepted as adult. More original as this seem to be phallic processions. Wether Liber was really related to wine in the earliest day is unsure but it would have make it easier to fulfill the equalization with Dionysos. In historic times the equilization was already done. Liber wears all attributes of Dionysos as you can see on the attached coin for Septimius Severus: Thyrsos, panther and ivy wreath.

Cicero however (in De Nat. Deor. II, 24) has differentiated sharply between the Latin Liber and the Greek Dionysos. The Senate f.e. had forbidden in 186 BC the Dionysos cult and the Bacchanalies but not the ceremonies of the Liberalia! It was Caesar who then allowed the cult again.

The coin is from a friend: RIC 99; C.304. Rev. LIBERO PATRI

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The Aegis - the wondershield of  Zeus

The definition of the Aegis is a bit disturbing at least I was a bit confused. Now I'm better informed and I hope I can enlighten you too!

The first coin of Crispus from Trier RIC 347 shows on the obv. Crispus holding a phantastic shield! It shows the head of Medusa whose look will turn into stone everybody who is looking at it. Medusa, first as Gorgo a sole horror-being with snake hairs, in the later mythology was one of the three Gorgons, three terrible sisters. They were immortal except Medusa. Instead her look turned into stone. Perseus succeeded in killing her with the assistance of Athena by looking at her only through a mirror. From the cut head of Medusa sprung the winged horse Pegasos. The head of Medusa Perseus donated to Athena who wears it on her shield, the so-called Aegis. The head of Medusa is called 'Gorgoneion'!

Referring to others Athena herself killed the Gorgo. Anyway the Aegis was a wondershield of Zeus which was created by Hephaistos and decorated with golden tassels and pictures. Sometimes he borrowed it to Apollo and particularly to Athena. He used the shield everytime when he want to do perform same actions on earth which the other Olympic gods especially his wife Hera shouldn't not realize. The he tossed the Aegis high in the air and the Olymp mountain was wrapped in clouds and storm. So the Aegis was a kind of weather-shield.

The confusion began after Homer. Posthomeric the derivation of the word Aegis (greek Aigos) from Aix = goat, goat-skin became common. This was referring to the goat Amalthea which is said having nursed the young Zeus in his cave on Crete. This goat-skin shaped Aegis we see from the time of  Nero on often on coins worn on the left shoulder as the sign of power. I have chosen an antoninian of Probus to show the typical goat-skin Aegis. It is RIC 157 with an interesting bust depiction: the breastplate is decorated with an Aegis which bears in its midth a winged Gorgoneion. We see clearly the two wings r. and l. of the head. Additionally the emperor bears a second Aegis across his left shoulder according to the motto 'The more the better!'.

The third coin is an exceptional AE27 of Gordian III from Nikopolis ad Istrum Varbanov3328. The emperor has a Gorgoneion on the breastplate and then an Aegis with mounted Gorgoneion on his left shoulder. You see the erected snakes!

Mythological background:
The depiction of the killing of Gorgo by Athena is much older than the myth of Perseus. Formerly the scholars tend to the opinion, that Gorgo and Athena were the two sides of the same divinity in which then when Athena was changed to an Olympic goddess (which were regarded as bright and clear - rationalistic and human-like - in contrast to the old divinities), the horrible-daemonic part was removed from her and confronted as an adversary power.

This opinion today has changed. Now it is assumed that Athena has had an Aegean predecessor of chthonic character which she overcome and from which she has won some of the destructive power of the evil eyes.

Source: Der kleine Pauly

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