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Satyrs and Nymphs


Grose, S. Catalogue of the McClean Collection of Greek Coins, Fitzwilliam Museum, Volume II: The Greek mainland, the Aegean islands, Crete. (Cambridge, 1926). PDF
Head, B. V. British Museum Catalogue of Greek Coins, Macedonia, etc. (London, 1879). PDF
Hoover, O. Handbook of Coins of the Islands: Adriatic, Ionian, Thracian, Aegean, and Carpathian Seas (Excluding Crete and Cyprus), 6th to 1st Centuries BC. HGC 6. (Lancaster/London, 2010).
Kraay, C. M. Archaic and Classical Greek Coins. (London, 1976).
Le Rider, G. "Les monnaies Thasiennes" in Guide de Thasos, (Paris, 1968), pp. 185 - 191, pls. I - V.
Mildenberg, L. & S. Hurter, eds. The Dewing Collection of Greek Coins. ACNAC 6. (New York, 1985).
Poole, R.S. ed. A Catalog of the Greek Coins in the British Museum, The Tauric Chersonese, Sarmatia, Dacia, Moesia, Thrace, etc. (London, 1877). PDF
Svoronos, J. L'hellnisme primitif de la Macdoine, prouv par la numismatique et l'or du Pange. (Paris/Athens, 1919). PDF
Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, Denmark, The Royal Collection of Coins and Medals, Danish National Museum, vol. 2 Thrace and Macedonia
. (Copenhagen, 1981).
Waggoner, N. Early Greek Coins from the Collection of Jonathan P. Rosen. ACNAC 5. (New York, 1983)."

See coins of Thasos for Sale in the Forum Shop

Thasos Satyr and Nymph Types

I. Archaic Style

1st Type, c. 525/510 - 500 B.C.

Lumpy thick fabric, heavier than the 2nd type below, crowded flan, archaic style, 1st issue from Thasos, very rare.

Stater, c. 9.76g, Le Rider Thasiennes 1; SNG Cop 1007; BMC Thrace p. 216, 1; Rosen 141; Svoronos HPM p. 95, 1-2 and pl. X, 1-5; Dewing 1311; Boston MFA 850; HGC 6 331; very rare. 87297
     Irregular shape, thick, deep punch: Svoronos HPM p. 95, 1 and pl. X, 1; very rare.
     Regular shape, thick, deep punch: Svoronos HPM p. 95, 1 and pl. X, 2; very rare. 87297
     Slightly flatter, regular shape, shallow punch: Svoronos HPM p. 95, 2 and pl. X, 3-5; very rare

2nd Type, c. 500 - 480 B.C.

Flat fabric, lighter than the 1st type above, archaic style, satyr's and nymph's long hair indicated with dots, satyr's ear covered, nymph's hand usually forming Y shape.

Stater, c. 9.26g, Le Rider Thasiennes 2;
SNG Cop 1008; BMC Thrace p. 216, 2; Asyut 100 - 126; McClean 4195; Svoronos HPM pl. X, 7; Dewing 1312; Boston MFA 851; HGC 6 331. 27181
     Dotted hair, palm facing (transitional): Svoronos HPM pl. X, 12; Dewing 1321; scarce.

Stater plated fourree (ancient counterfeit), BMC Thrace p. 217, 11.

Drachm, c. 3.83g, McClean 4200; SNG Cop 1014; BMC Thrace p. 217, 12; Le Rider Thasiennes 3; Rosen 143; Dewing 1317; HGC 6 332. 08284

Diobol, c. 1.1g, satyr alone, c. 500 - 480 B.C., Dewing 1319, Rosen 144; Svoronos HPM pl. X, 18; HGC 6 333; Le Rider Thasiennes 4; SNG Cop 191 ff. (Lete, Macedonia); BMC Macedonia p. 80, 29 ff. (same). 37272

Trihemiobol, c. 0.85g, satyr alone, c. 500 - 480 B.C.; Dewing 1320; Rosen 145; Le Rider Thasiennes 4; HGC 6 -; SNG Cop -; BMC Thrace -; extremely rare. 58819

3rd Type, c. 480 - 463 B.C.

Flat fabric, archaic style, satyr's and nymph's long hair indicated with lines, satyr sometimes with with horse ear, nymph's hand with palm facing and five fingers clear, sometimes with Θ below on obverse.

Stater, c. 8.94g; Le Rider Thasiennes 5; SNG Cop 1010; Rosen 142; McClean 419; Svoronos HPM p. 96, 9 and pl. X, 13-17; Dewing 1323; HGC 6 331. 20830

Stater, Θ below: SNG Cop 1013; Svoronos HPM p. 97, 12, pl. X, 21; McClean 4198; Franke-Hirmer 436; BMC Thasos p. 218, 28; Boston MFA 854; HGC 6 331; rare. 87298

Drachm, c. 3.83g, McClean 4201; Le Rider Thasiennes 3; Rosen 143; HGC 6 332; BMC Thasos -; SNG Cop -; very rare.

II. Fine Classical Style

4th Type, c. 435 - 411 B.C.

Flat fabric, fine classical style, satyr balding, her hair in a bun at the back, her right arm is behind his back, sometimes with control symbol or control letter obverse right, swastika or mill-sail punch reverse.

Stater, c. 8.47g, no control: McClean 4199, HGC 6 334 (R1), scarce.
Stater, A right: Le Rider Thasiennes 6 BMC Thrace p. 218, 29; Svoronos HPM p. 98, 21, and pl. X, 27; SNG Cop supp. 103; Boston MFA 855; rare.
Stater, A right, tiny ΦΙΩ or ΘΙΩ above: Svoronos HPM p. 98, 22, and pl. X, 28; BMC Thrace -; SNG Cop -; very rare.
Stater, Φ right: Svoronos HPM p. 99, 24; HGC 6 334 (R1); BMC Thrace -; SNG Cop -; extremely rare.
Stater, Σ right: Svoronos HPM p. 99, 23; HGC 6 334 (R1); BMC Thrace -; extremely rare.

Stater, dolphin right: SNG Cop 1017; BMC Thrace p. 219, 31; Svoronos HPM pl. X, 23; Dewing 1324; Le Rider Thasiennes -; HGC 6 -; rare. 87349

Drachm, 3.76g; Le Rider Thasiennes 7; SNG Cop 1018; BMC Thrace p. 219, 32; Svoronos HPM pl. X, 30; Dewing 1325; HGC 6 335 (S); rare. 87296
     Θ: Svoronos HPM pl. X, 29; BMC Thrace -; SNG Cop -; very rare.
     Ivy leaf obverse left: SNG Cop 1019; BMC Thrace -; very rare.

5th Type, c. 412 - 404 B.C.

Flat fabric, fine classical style, satyr balding and crowned with ivy wreath, her hair is is rolled, her right arm is behind his back, pebbled quadripartite punch reverse.

Drachm, c. 3.55g, Le Rider Thasiennes 8, Boston MFA 858, HGC 6 336 (R1); Svoronos HPM -; SNG Cop -; rare. 87191

Satyrs and Nymphs

by Gary Anderson

One of the most interesting themes on ancient Greek coins is that of an "ithyphallic" (sexually aroused) Satyr running off with a Nymph in his arms. These coins were made famous by the island of Thasos, who copied them from the issues of several Macedonian clans. The Orreskioi, Zaielioi, Pernaioi, Dionysioi and Laiai were all tribes that occupied the area of northern Greece called Macedonia. From around 550 480 B.C. they issued a series of coins that depicted Centaurs and Satyrs carrying off Nymphs. The depiction of the Satyrs and Centaurs often varies, but the pose of the Nymph is nearly identical from coin to coin: a Nymph in a long chiton is held by a Satyr with one arm around her knees and the other around her back, just above the waist. The Nymph has her left arm hanging down and her right arm raised up, with the hand in an open position. On some of these coins the Nymph is smiling or has a neutral expression, while on others her face shows clear signs of distress. The latter gives rise to the common description of the Satyr abducting the Nymph, who holds her hand up in protest.

It was Thasos, an island off the coast of Thrace in present-day northern Greece that made these coins famous. Thasos was important in wine trade and also controlled rich silver mines on the mainland. Thasos struck coins of unusually high denomination, indicating that they were meant primarily for export. Hoards of these coins are common in areas once controlled by the Persian Empire, and they have also been found in present-day Bulgaria, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Iran.

Thasos first started issuing staters and drachms of the satyr and nymph probably sometime between 525 to 510 B.C. These were close copies of the Macedonian coins mentioned above, and featured a naked ithyphallic satyr kneeling or running and holding a nymph clad in a long chiton. The reverse of the coins had an incuse square that was quartered, sometimes appearing as a mill-sale pattern or a swastika. A subtle change in the depiction of the Satyr occurred over time. The original coins showed a horned Satyr with horse or goat legs. Eventually, the Satyrs were shown with human legs.

Thasos began to issue the Nymph and Satyr series as an independent state, and continued to strike these coins after being conquered by Persia. After the defeat of the Persians at Marathon by the Athenians, Thasos became an ally of Athens. Coins issued from 455 B.C. onward begin to show the influence of Attic art. In 450 B.C., Athens forbade its allies from issuing coins, and Thasos did not begin reissuing the Satyr and Nymph series until it revolted from Athens in about 411 B.C. The new coins reflected the full classical style, with much finer artwork. The nymph no longer raised her hand, but now placed it around the back of the Satyr. In the 4th century B.C., Thasos adopted the Rhodian standard and began issuing coins with different themes.

As with many Greek myths, stories of the origin of the Satyroi are jumbled and sometimes contradictory. The earliest accounts trace their origin through Phoroneus, who according to some accounts was the first man on earth. Phoroneus had five granddaughters who generated the Satyroi with an unknown father, possibly Hermes. According to some accounts, the mountain Nymphai come from these same five women, making them siblings of the Satyroi. On one point the myths are unanimous: the Satyroi are worthless creatures not suited to doing useful work of any kind.

A second group that is often confused with the Satyroi is the Silenoi, a band of creatures originally depicted as having equine ears, tail and hind legs. The origins of the Silenoi are lost to history, but over time they've become merged with the Satyroi. As such, later depictions of these creatures show beings with human legs and a horsetail. By 450 B.C., legends indicate that the Satyroi are led by a creature called "Silenos," who is their father. Typically, they are shown either pursuing women or accompanying Dionysus, the god of wine and vegetation. Their activities include flute playing, drinking, dancing, and erotic efforts directed toward young women or, in some cases, a donkey.

There are several types of Nymphs in Greek mythology. In common language, the word is used to mean a young bride or girl of marriageable age. Elsewhere, the word refers to nature spirits such as the river and mountain Nymphs. These are typically the daughters of Zeus or other gods with human mothers. The Nymphai are long-lived creatures, but, unlike the Satyroi, are not immortal. Legend has it that when a Nymph is born, an oak or fir tree sprouts in the forest. When that tree dies, so does the Nymph associated with it. The Nymphaiare said to have nursed Dionysus when he was a child and to have followed him when he grew older. The Nymphs depicted on the Thasos series are the ones that consort with Dionysus and his other companions, the Satyroi.

To understand the Nymphai and Satyroi, one must look to Dionysus. Although he is often referred to as the god of wine, in reality he is much more than this. Homer described Dionysus as a god who is mad, while Zeus is said to have given Dionysus to mankind as a gift so that we could forget our troubles. The Greeks considered the natural, primordial state of the universe to be chaotic, and Dionysus was the god who represented this primordial state. Civilization, in the form of cities, built order out of chaos. The great Greek city-states were just being built when these legends arose, and the people of these cities were well aware of the destruction that befell their predecessors, the Myceneans. Chaos was something to be respected, feared and guarded against. Women especially were thought to be susceptible to falling into an animalistic state of madness. It was up to men to protect them from their natural instincts.

The Satyroi represent the ideal of the animal-like worthless man who performs no useful tasks and is only interested in following his baser instincts. The Satyr and Nymph coins can be thought of as both a model to be guarded against and an erotic celebration of the natural state of the universe.

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