Prolegomena to a Study of Eros on Roman Provincial Coinage

Francis Jarman / Patricia Lawrence

Note: Francis Jarman and Patricia Lawrence have been corresponding and exchanging images of Eros reverses and related material for several years.  In this web page, the idea is to present complementary studies on the art history, the archaeology, and the coins, separately authored and each exploiting its own strengths and point of view.  We would emphasize, however, that fundamentally we see eye to eye, having discussed the questions for so long, and we have no intention of ‘correcting’ each other.  The present title, Prolegomena, refers to the hope of bringing everything together eventually in a monograph.


(more relevant to numismatics than they may seem)
Patricia Lawrence


Hermes and Cybele are deities.  Love and Retribution and Victory and Soul, Harpies and Angels and Griffins and Gorgons are felt but not seen, actual but not born and logically not mortal, supernatural but not gods.  Experienced but indescribable, they are the creatures of language.  Language can even give a name to the state of non-existence of any things, utter non-differentiation, namelessness: Chaos.  It is the one noun that Greek art never could image, though I have never seen Oneiros (Dream) embodied, either.  Things are prior to mixture.  Darkness implies Light.  Chaos is prior to both; for a Greek thinker, there had to be a noun for that.
Eros was known as a compelling presence and as a principle before being imaged, just a noun for a verb, erao.  Cybele, especially if (not necessarily with the same name) continuous with the goddess of Hacilar and Çatal Hüyük, with her lion or leopard, was first and always a deity, a goddess (the ‘female principle’ belongs to modern thought, not quite what was meant by das Ewig-Weibliche, either).  When a goddess like Aphrodite is spoken of as a goddess of love, Eros as engendered by her, and serving as her agent, is shown in anthropoid form, as she is, as her son.  No form for Eros is suggested in Hesiod’s Theogony.  Eventually, Eros comes very close, thanks to art, to being a deity in his own right, but he has no festival date in calendars, so far as I know; he remains essentially a daimon, supernatural rather than a god.   So do ‘Sleep and his brother Death’, which are supernatural abstractions of ineluctable human experience.
First, the Greeks did not invent the personification of the invisible or abstract.  The fire-breathing sharrapu, which look rather like griffins, appear early in the 2nd millennium BCE, on Babylonian cylinder seals (those above are Middle Assyrian, 13th c. BCE); early Byzantine seraphim (asomatoi par excellence in Byzantine nomenclature) still have fiery-red wings.  And the Egyptian soul birds, which have much the same parts as Greek harpies, have human heads.  The Greeks, once trading recommenced in the seventh century BCE, were avid to adopt, and to adapt, the composite winged figures that they saw from the coast of Syria and what is today Lebanon.  These are true monsters (contrary to nature), rather than simply anthropoid heads on lions, as on the Great Sphinx, or animal heads on anthropoid bodies, as on Horus.  They will figure in stories, not necessarily the same as in their homelands, as the Chimaera does confronting Bellerophon on Pegasus, usually winged as the Chimaera is.  Leaving aside Pegasus, we realize that chimaera, griffin, and soul bird are embodiments but not quite personifications, which, like the personae in the theater (the masks with megaphone mouthpieces, from  personare), are embodiments that play roles, that have, in a word, personality.  Eros acts in a number of roles and personalities.
Yet the Greeks (and the Romans, who absorbed these underlying assumptions) were never unaware that Hermes made invisible by Athena so that he could pass unobserved, and provided with wings on his hat and sometimes on his boots, or even on his bare heels, very seldom on his head (and then late), or Charon ferrying the dead with a winged hat (it is the Etruscan death god that has wings on his back), were deities (Charon perhaps better called a divinity), not personifications of concepts or forces.  And, unlike the ‘genii’ (our word, not theirs) who water a Tree of Life in an Assyrian throne room, the Greek personifications, like the Greek gods, act like human beings, only without human consequences.  Eros and Psyche are destined to unite, but they don’t have babies.  They are so touchingly like us, so vulnerable in their behavior—but they are not vulnerable, at least not literally.  Greek made words personal, because Greeks took words seriously.  Why must Eros mate with Psyche, and why must Psyche make a hard choice?  Remember that Psyche is only part of what Germanic languages mean by Soul, and vice versa.
Not all personified abstractions were always winged, but they usually were.  On Euphronios’ calyx krater and on a cup with the same subject, Hypnos and Thanatos, labeled, bearded warriors with full-size wings, carry the pitifully young Sarpedon, dead, off the battlefield.  No longer bearded or in armor, they do the same on several Athenian white-ground funerary lekythoi of the Classical period.  Even in the intensely rational and philosophical Athens of the Periclean period, Nike, who in Athens of course attends Athena, is usually winged, though Nemesis in the cult statue by one of Phidias’ disciples, Agorakritos of Paros, c. 430 BCE, is not.  But Nemesis is almost two things, the personification of Nemesis, so that she can assume Victory’s wings in Rome, and an Anatolian goddess of Smyrna, even doubled in cult, as real a goddess as Cybele or Artemis.
Now, Hypnos and Thanatos and Pothos and Himeros never had such personal roles as Eros had.  They never leaned in their mother’s lap, as he did.  In the Late Classical period Hypnos as a dreamy boy appeared as a winged youth.  In late Hellenistic art, Thanatos as a languid and melancholy youth, appears leaning on the extinguished life-torch.  Through it all, Eros takes many forms, most naturally as an adolescent (the age of urgency) but also as a mischievous child and eventually, quite late, as an infant (the age of pure instinct?).  Then, too, we see winged infants ornamentally standing for all sorts of things.  We call them erotes, but they are not really explicitly clones of infant Eros.  They take their meaning from context.  In Dionysiac decorative art, they embody all the aspects of intoxication.  On the corners of a sarcophagus, they close their eyes in the context of the death of the flesh, or they weep and lean on snuffed torches, bemoaning the loss of carnal life and desore.  Even that does not make them infant Thanatoi.  They are just infantile embodiments of feelings.  In fact, I cannot think of a certified Thanatos represented younger than as an adolescent.
It is no wonder, therefore, that I am not disposed to accept the identification, from the Age of Romanticism,  of the winged babies with lanterns and garlands and torches as Thanatos, one of the questions that we shall want to investigate.  Note, too, that except for the Assyrian guardians of the Tree of Life, I have assiduously avoided calling the winged figures genii.  That word is too generic, nearly meaningless to moderns.  So, indeed, is ‘personification’ too generic.  We are not dealing here with Tychai or Dikaiosyne or Rivers but rather with the actualities of personal psychology.



Figure A
Our notion in English of the demonic is essentially Biblical, and the Hebrew Bible is not a Greek text!  That is why, for the pre-Christian world,  I spell ‘daemonic’ and call the spiritual entities daimones.  The serpent-lion-bird creature that I was taught belongs to Marduk (and seems identical with those that walk elegantly on all fours on the Ishtar Gate of Babylon about sixteen centuries later) is not an evil thing, however, though powerful.  The nude divine-crowned, talon-legged female holding the emblems of absolute justice, accompanied by implacable large owls, though, makes Nemesis, any Nemesis, seem mild and approachable.  It is little wonder that our grandparents’ or great grandparents’ generation remembered Lilith, the “screech owl” (though that is the name in Jewish rather than Sumerian or Babylonian folklore, and “screech owl” was only an attempt to render her name in Isaiah 34:14).  A Greek lamia could be as fearsome, perhaps.  My point here is that her wings allow her to move as invincibly as the V2 rockets of the London blitz.  Note that like Anatolian goddesses she has a lions vehicle.  But it is her wingedness that interests me here (not her modern fascination!), since it makes her uncanny.  Greek art got wingedness from contacts in the eastern Mediterranean, but just as she used the NW Semitic alphabet for her own language so, too, Greece used wings in her own way.  It is Greek wings that end up on Hallmark greeting cards.



Figure B
The Marlik beaker may date before or after 1,000 BCE, and it shows, at least a millennium later than Gudea’s steatite beaker.  It exhibits, in a rich combination of winged, griffin-headed (but these are still felines), heavy-shouldered, snake-twisted, and eagle-taloned,  a monster, a unisex predator of mountain goats, in one of the cultural crossroads of western Asia, whose literature is unknown to us, whose iconography and style mix Mesopotamia with Iran.  Material at two removes from this metalwork was encountered by Greeks in North Syria, where also they met much of what Assyria had inherited from Old Babylon and Sumer in the art of the Aramaeans (on whom, we recall, the Assyrians descended like a wolf on the fold— but only after centuries of trade).  When we see solid-bodied figures armed with four wings, when we see earrings with several dangles, and dozens of other things, they betoken the cultural continuities of Mesopotamia and Syria.  But the placid seeming Assyrian genii are perfectly benign, and in them we do see wings that mean that they are spiritual, bodiless, and like the stylized tree that they water and guard, not natural.  In this respect, they are like the sirens and sphinxes guarding Greek tombs.

 Khorsabad, Marlik


Figure C
When we turn to Greek art, in the Early Archaic we see the borrowed winged creatures that, like the lions, are used primarily for sheer delight or for their decorative values (and endlessly recombining borrowed parts), then gradually suggesting figural form for the characters of myth and folklore.  Even in the full-fledged Archaic of the sixth century BCE, although the style is still unlike Classical and Hellenistic styles, the speaking gestures and pleasure in the story for its own sake are present in full force.  As we know, though in less detail than we’d like, this also is the time when empirical thinking developed, not to mention monetization.  From now on, winged figures in Greek art, then in Roman art, will be those that are abstracted from human thought and experience, known but bodiless, as described above. 



Figure D
Thanatos (for which I use the unique and original figure on the Ephesos column drum—not to be attributed to a famous name, as the 19th century wished, but no less remarkable than if it were) and Hypnos, for which I use another unique work, also anonymous, a red-figure lekythos in the Taranto Museum, in Classical art look like Eros, when all three of them are nude and adolescent and winged.
Eros, with the most anecdotal content, has more attributes and may already be infantile in terracotta figurines of c. 300 BCE.  Pothos, lest we forget him, is not winged, so far as I know.  For Hypnos, there are also Late Classical Apulian red-figure vases, different in style but with him on the head of Ariadne as on the Early Classical lekythos in Taranto (see for these, especially the vase in Boston).  The Ephesos Thanatos, as one of my graduate students concluded after close study, is Ionian work and though sadly damaged even more beautiful than the Hermes who follows Alcestis.  Only his realistic sword and the power of his fully adequate wings allude to his implacable character.



Figures E and F
It is not quite true that Eros became steadily younger, but I think it is true that Thanatos is never shown infantile—not any Thanatos that we can name—and the floating Hypnos type (of which I cannot find a photo) in Madrid, for example, has his wings attached to his temples, and also is adolescent.  On the other hand, as soon as Greek art learned to make convincing infants, beyond swaddled infants on the tombstones of women dead in childbirth, Eros may be infantile, as in a tomb at Eretria, or a young child and quite playful, unless something has made him sad or weary.  He may light his way with a lantern or torch and carry pomade in his other hand as he goes about his mother’s business at night, and the infant figures may now (in the 3rd century BC and later) multiply and become erotic or bacchic babies, signifiers rather than personalities; in that case, they lack the specificity of Aphrodite’s son.
Psyche, fragile and feminine, is given butterfly wings—a stroke of genius.





Francis Jarman


Eros was a powerful force in the ancient world. Then as now, Eros could seize you and shake you to the bottom of your being.
The poets associated him with springtime (Theognis), and gave him golden wings and hair (Anacreon). Early in the sixth century B.C., Sappho of Lesbos called him ‘the limb-loosener’, and ‘bitter-sweet’, and described him shaking her heart ‘like a wind falling on oaks on a mountain’. Her near-contemporary Ibycus (here, in the translation by Richmond Lattimore) also felt his power:

Out of the hard bright sky,
A Thracian north wind blowing
With searing rages and hurt—dark,
Pitiless, sent by Aphrodite—Love
Rocks and tosses my heart.

And Anacreon declared, ‘Once again, Love has struck me, like a blacksmith with a huge hammer’.
Who was Eros? There was no full agreement on this among the ancient sources. In his earliest form, he may have been a nature god. In the cosmogenic tradition (e.g. of Hesiod) he was a primal force, appearing in the very beginning along with Gaia (Earth) and Tartaros (the Abyss) out of Chaos (the Void), and necessary for the procreation of things. In Olympian mythology, he was the god of Love as sexual desire, though a late Olympian god, and not present in personified form in Homer. According to the different traditions, he was the son of Aphrodite and Ares (or Zeus, or Hermes), or of Iris (the rainbow) and Zephyr (the west wind), or of Uranus and Gaia. Sometimes he took plural form, as the Erotes, who were attendants and helpers of Aphrodite, along with Himeros (Desire) and Pothos (Yearning) —other followers of the goddess were the Three Charites (Graces) and Peitho (Persuasion). Eros is an incorporeal being, a daimon, who links gods and mortals (Plato, Symposium). Like other spirits who operate between the human and the divine—Nike, Hypnos, Thanatos—he is winged (the messenger Hermes, although a god, also has winged sandals and a winged cap, and sometimes wings on his herald’s staff, the caduceus, and Nemesis is often winged as well).
How was Eros represented? In pre-Hellenistic Greek art he is a youth, not always winged. He pursues lovers with such weapons as a whip, an axe or a sandal, or, slightly later, with his bow and arrows. In the Hellenistic period (3rd-2nd centuries) he more often appears as a playful, irresponsible child, and for the Romans he is Cupid or Amor. He is still sometimes portrayed as an adolescent, when it is necessary to make him plausible as a lover (for instance, in the Cupid and Psyche story). His less interesting brother is Anteros, or Requited Love—the two of them are shown in 5th-century vase-painting as being blond and dark-haired respectively.
There were famous images of him by Praxiteles and Lysippus. His best-known cult centres were at Thespiae in Boeotia (where Eros was worshipped in the form of a baetyl, or sacred stone, perhaps a meteorite, until Praxiteles fashioned the most famous statue of him, in the 4th century) and at Parium in Mysia.
Eros appears as an element in many different reverse types of Roman provincial coins, more than fifty altogether—as a single figure or together with other Erotes, with his ‘girlfriend’ Psyche, in the company of Aphrodite or some other deity, with a favoured animal like a dolphin or lion, or as part of a more complex tableau like the story of Hero and Leander or the so-called Rape of Persephone.
In these provisional notes we’ll be surveying the different types, describing and discussing them. We’ll also try to build up a catalogue to show where and when they were struck, and which issues are commonest. We hope that this will eventually turn into a useful work of reference, perhaps even a book. Some of the Eros reverse types have been the object of controversy or misunderstanding. We shall have something to say on these topics, and we welcome your comments and criticisms.

We need your help!

We will need your help in looking for new and unfamiliar types or previously unknown variants, and in building up a corpus of known specimens of even the commonest types.
If you have an Eros provincial coin in your collection, even if it is badly worn or not fully identified, please send us a description, including the weight in grams (to one or, if possible, two decimal places, e.g. ‘3.7 g’ or even ‘3.72 g’), the widest diameter in millimetres and the die axis (e.g. ‘7 o’clock’), plus digital images of the obverse and reverse sides of the coin. The email address to send this information to is the following:

Please don’t try to send us the coin itself! We will mention you (e.g. ‘J. Smith Coll.’) when we later list your coin in the corpus—unless, of course, you forbid us to—and we won’t use the images without your express permission. Unless otherwise stated, all the coins listed or discussed are Æ. All the coins illustrated are from the collections of the authors, unless otherwise acknowledged.



Very rare type on Roman Provincials, known only from a handful of coins from Ilistra.  A male bust which may represent Eros is on the obverse of a crude lead tessera of uncertain date, probably from Rome, with reverse type of Aphrodite half-clothed and wringing out her hair.

Ilistra in Lycaonia, period of Marcus Aurelius. Bust of Eros l. / Vine-leaf.

This motif is not rare at all on earlier coins, e.g. a bust of Cupid appears on the obverse of Roman Republican denarii of Cn. Egnatius Cn. f. Cn. n. Maxsumus (c. 73 B.C.) and on Roman tesserae. A portrait of Eros can also be found on Æ from Tyndaris in Sicily (3rd cent. B.C.) and from Aphrodisias(-Plarasa) in Caria (1st cent. B.C.), and on Æ of the 2nd cent. B.C. Seleucid kings Antiochus VII (rev.: headdress of Isis, obverse illustrated below), Alexander II (rev.: anchor) and Antiochus IX (rev.: Nike). The coins of Antiochus VII are particularly common.


Portrait of Eros




The types of Eros stringing his bow are probably based on different statues by Lysippus—one (as shown above left, marble copyin the Capitoline Museum in Rome) may have been the famous bronze from Thespiae in Boeotia, the other (as shown right, copy in Venice) may have been Lysippus’s Eros from Myndus in Caria. It has occasionally been suggested that this motif might represent Eros playing with one of the weapons of Heracles, as part of the theme of the ‘mighty warrior tamed by Love’. Some of the following reverse types do indeed refer to this, but here it is most unlikely, since the bow is definitely Eros- rather than Heracles-sized.
These Lysippic types are rare, and were struck only in Philippopolis and Nicaea. Note the expressive differences in pose. The Seleucid head of Eros illustrated above may also be Lysippic.

Philippopolis in Thracia, coins of Septimius Severus (illustration) and Caracalla Caesar (illustration).

At Philippopolis, Eros seems to be leaning into what he is doing, and his right leg is bent outwards; his right wing is also in a higher position than on the Nicaean coins, and his head is turned to look back over his shoulder.


Æ 18, 12 h, 3.45 g. Obv. AV • K • ? • C • CEVHPOC. Laureate, cuirassed bust of Septimius Severus r. Rev. ???????????????. Eros standing l., head facing, stringing his bow; quiver upright on the ground in front of him.  Varbanov 1291.


Æ 19, 2 h, 3.48 g. Obv. M • AV • KAI  ANT?N… Bare-headed, draped bust of Caracalla Caesar r. Rev. ???????????????. Eros standing l., head facing, stringing his bow; quiver (barely visible) upright on the ground in front of him. Varbanov 1603.

Nicea in Bithynia, coins of Commodus and Geta Caesar (illustration).

At Nicaea, Eros is leaning back from the bow, holding it almost at arm’s length, with his weight on his left leg and his right leg tucked inwards, as in the Roman copy of the statue in the Capitoline Museum in Rome and other similar copies. There is no quiver as on the coins from Philippopolis. Note the attention to detail which the engraver of the die for this tiny coin has devoted to Eros’s right wing, awkwardly situated behind his arms and the bow.


Æ 17, 6 h, 2.98 g. Obv. …• CE?TI • ?ETAC… Bare head of Geta Caesar r. Rev. NIKAI-[E?N]. Eros standing facing, head l., stringing his bow. Unpublished?



Eros standing facing, head r., holding out his bow and taking an arrow from his quiver, which is on the ground behind him.
This very rare type is known only from a coin of Commodus in Nicopolis ad Istrum.

Nicopolis ad Istrum in Moesia, coins of Commodus (illustration).


Æ 19, 1 h, 3.37 g. Obv. ???? M A… MO??C. Laureate head of Commodus r. Rev. NEIKO?? ?POC EICTON (sic). As described above. Unpublished?


Eros standing r. or l. with his bow drawn and ready to shoot an arrow or actually shooting.
This type is known from fairly common coins of Aphrodisias, but also from rare or very rare coins of Marcianopolis , Parium, Tralles, and Apameia (Phrygia)

Marcianopolis in Moesia, coins of Septimius Severuss (Illustrations)


Æ 18. Obv. AV K ? … CEVHPOC. Laureate head of Septimius Severus r. Rev. MARKIAN?? ???????. Eros standing l., about to shoot an arrow. Blançon List 41, 130; Varbanov 736 (this coin illustrated, but with an erroneous description) (Photos courtesy of Antike Numismatik Gilles Blançon. Note: This coin has unfortunately disappeared since being prepared for inclusion in the dealer’s sales list).

Similar, Æ 16, 7 h. 2.8g (Photos courtesy of William Peters)


Parium in Mysia, coins of Gallienus.

Aphrodisias in Caria, c.209-220, obv.: Bust of Boulé (illustration).


Æ 20 (half assarion), 7 h, 5.14 g. Obv. IEPA • [BOY?H]. Bust of  Boulé veiled and draped r. Rev. A????ICIE?N. Eros standing r., holding his drawn bow at the ready. Macdonald, The Coinage of Aphrodisias, type 122; SNG Copenhagen 91.

Tralles in Lydia, coins of Caracalla.

Apameia in Phrygia, c.180-268, obv.: Bust of Demos.



Francis Jarman

Passion was associated with fire, just as it still is today. The poet Oenomaus writes of a drinking cup decorated with a figure of Eros, and asks, ‘Why should Love be on the bowl? Surely it is enough for the heart to be set on fire by wine!’ The image of Eros inspiring love by firing his arrows into his victim’s heart—Meleager of Gadara (1st century B.C.) writes of ‘murderous Love’ shooting ‘arrows that breathe fire’—has remained popular, but Eros’s other main attribute (and weapon), his torch, is less immediately familiar to us, although common enough in post-Renaissance art. Here, for instance, in a detail from Veronese’s Rape of Europa (c.1575), one of the numerous Cupids assisting in the seduction is shown accompanying Jove (in the form of a bull) and his victim on their journey and brandishing a rather phallic torch.


The Hellenistic poet Moschus of Syracuse has Aphrodite describe her son as follows (here in the translation by Andrew Lang): ‘The body of Love is naked, but well is his spirit hidden, and winged like a bird he flits and descends, now here, now there, upon men and women, and nestles in their inmost hearts. He hath a little bow, and an arrow always on the string, tiny is the shaft, but it carries as high as heaven. A golden quiver on his back he bears, and within it his bitter arrows, wherewith full many a time he wounds even me. Cruel are all these instruments of his, but more cruel by far the little torch, his very own, wherewith he lights up the sun himself’.

The torch of passion is wielded both by Eros personified and by the person for whom you become inflamed. Meleager, many (though not all) of whose poems are homosexual in theme, mourns the passing of the attractiveness of Apollodotus, ‘once gleaming like fire, but now already a burnt-out torch’, and in another poem declares, ‘Unhappy he who has received a torch from the eyes of [Heraclitus]’. Overwhelmed, the poet tells Eros: ‘if thou set thy torch to my heart, thou shalt no longer burn it; already it is all ash’. But there is no respite from Love. One of Meleager’s most charming poems is about a girl, Phanion, whose name means ‘little torch’: ‘I made haste to escape from Love; but he, lighting a little torch from the ashes, found me in hiding. He bent not his bow, but the tips of his thumb and finger, and breaking off a pinch of fire secretly threw it at me. And from thence the flames rose about me on all sides. O Phanion, little light that set ablaze in my heart a great fire’.

More straightforwardly, torches were naturally also there to light the way, and were associated with feasting and revelry. Flushed with wine and still wearing the wreaths they had worn at dinner, young men might go in a rowdy torch-lit procession (k?mos) to the house of a mistress (or of a beautiful boy) to serenade or otherwise disturb the object of their passion. Torches were an essential part of wedding festivities, too: Dioscorides, a poet of the late third century B.C., has ‘Hymen, God of Weddings, holding his bright torch’. Eros was often linked with the Dionysiac (for obvious reasons). Anacreon (sixth century B.C.) offers a prayer to Dionysus, who plays with ‘Love the subduer… and radiant Aphrodite’, and Meleager addresses the god of wine: ‘lead on, begin the revel; thou art a god; govern a mortal heart. Born in the flame, thou lovest the flame love hath, and again leadest me, thy suppliant, in bonds’.

The torch lights the way in a more special sense, too—Eros carries a torch to guide your heart. Meleager describes how, newly landed from a sea voyage, ‘Love drags me here by force, and as if bearing a torch in front of me, turns me to look on the loveliness of a boy’, and an anonymous poet of the Greek Anthology writes that ‘it is the dead of night and dark, but for me Themison is a great torch’. Eros on these coins is on his way somewhere, and with business of his mother’s to take care of.



Eros standing facing, head turned r. and holding to r. a long torch crossways with both hands (on some coins the type is reversed). This type can be found on reasonably common coins from Aphrodisias in Caria. The coin of Gordian III from Heracleia Pontica in Bithynia supposedly with Eros holding a torch with both hands (SNG v. Aulock 423, also LIMC 375) actually shows the infant Heracles with club and lionskin, and is correctly described as such—despite being ‘non revue’—in Waddington’s Recueil général (p.379, footnote 1). The illustration above is of a Hadrianic-Antonine sarcophagus in Rome on which a variety of Erotes may be seen, including two torchbearers.

Aphrodisias in Caria, c.209-220, obv.: Bust of Boulé (illustrations).


Æ 19 (half assarion), 6 h, 3.98 g. Obv. IEPA BOY?H. Bust of Boulé veiled and draped r. Rev. A???? EICIE?N. Eros standing facing, head turned r. and holding to r. a long torch crossways with both hands. MacDonald, The Coinage of Aphrodisias, type 119.

Similar, Æ 20 (Photos of this coin courtesy of Emporium Hamburg).




What we might call the ‘normal type’ is that of Eros standing l., with his weight on his l. leg and his r. leg bent forward slightly, holding an unlit torch upright in his extended r. hand and with his l. hand tucked behind his back.

The peculiar position of the l. hand is surely a cheeky reference to the famous statue of the ‘Weary Heracles’ by Lysippus, often known as the Heracles Farnese (after the copy probably made by Glycon of Athens for the Baths of Caracalla and now in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples). This shows Heracles resting after his many Labours, leaning on his club, which is covered by the skin of the Nemean Lion, and holding behind his back the Apples of the Hesperides. ‘Weary Heracles’ appears on many Roman and Roman Provincial coins, and there is an online catalogue of this numismatic type on the website of the museum in Kassel, Germany ( The coin shown below is the extremely common VIRTVTI AVGVSTI antoninianus of Gordian III:


and here is the same type seen from behind, on a rare coin of Gordian III from Anchialus in Thracia (photos of this coin courtesy of H. D. Rauch):



References to Heracles occur in a number of statuary and numismatic types of Eros. The famous hero was the embodiment of strength and invincibility, but ‘Love conquers all’. This attractive type is known from coins of Septimius Severus and his young son Caracalla struck in Nicopolis ad Istrum and in Philippopolis. Despite the ‘Weary Heracles’ gesture, this Eros, especially the jaunty-looking figure on the Nicopolitan coins, seems far from weary. The fact that in Nicopolis the torch seems to be unlit might, in the context of the double issue of this type for father and son, have dynastic connotations, in the sense that the boy prince is seen as almost (but not quite) sexually mature—Eros is about to set off on his journey, but the torch is not yet lit. The Philippopolis coins are all scarce. The coins of Severus from Nicopolis are also scarce, but those of Caracalla comparatively common.


A rare variant in Philippopolis has Eros advancing l. with upright, burning torch and an uncertain object (a wreath or bow?) in his l. hand.

Another variant type, known only from rare coins of Marcus Aurelius in Prusias ad Hypium (Mysia), shows Eros standing with legs crossed.

Eros with upright torch and bow appears on fairly common coins of Aphrodisias (Caria), and on a very rare coin of Boeae (Laconia).

There is a well-known coin from Corduba in Spain, a quadrans struck in the name of Cnaeus Julius (ca. 50 B.C.?), with Venus on the obverse and a figure of Eros with upright torch and cornucopiae on the reverse (illustration).



Although quite common, these are usually of naive style and encountered in very poor condition. We have not added them systematically to our database because, like the Roman Republican denarii with Cupid motifs, they were issued before the era of Roman provincial coinage that we are concerned with. The Corduban coins circulated locally at the other end of the Roman world and will scarcely have influenced later provincial issues in the Balkans or Asian Minor. The types refer to Venus, patroness of the Julii (and so, indirectly, to Julius Caesar).

Nicopolis ad Istrum in Moesia, coins of Septimius Severus (illustration) and Caracalla (illustrations).


Æ 17, 7 h, 3.17 g. Obv. AV ?AI [?] C?V???C. Laureate bust of Septimius Severus r. Rev. ???????? ???C ?C??. Eros standing l., his l. hand held behind his rump and an unlit torch held upwards in his r. hand (the ‘normal type’). Unpublished?


Æ 18, 8 h, 2.92 g. Obv. AV ? ? ?? ???????. Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Caracalla r. Rev. ???????? ???C [?C??]. Normal type. Pick (AMNG) 1591,Taf. XVI, 5.


Similar, Æ 17, 8 h, 2.84 g.


Philippopolis in Thracia, coins of Septimius Severus (illustrations) and Caracalla Caesar (illustration).


Æ 19, 7 h, 5.02 g. Obv. AV ? • ? • C • C?V???C. Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Septimius Severus r. Rev. ????????-???????. Normal type. Auctiones AG, 29, 246 (identical dies).


Æ 17, 7 h, 3.56 g. Obv. AV ? ? C C?V???C. Laureate bust of Septimius Severus r. Rev. ???????-???????. Eros advancing l., with a burning torch held upwards in his r. hand and an uncertain object (a bow? a wreath?) in his l. hand. Wildwinds (this coin).


Æ 18, 7 h, 4.45 g. Obv. M AV KAI ?????E??OC. Bare-headed, draped bust of Caracalla Caesar r. Rev. ????????-???????. Normal type. Varbanov 1559 (but wrong obverse legend given).

Boeae in Laconia, coins of Caracalla. Eros is advancing l., holding a bow in his l. hand and a torch in his r. hand.

Prusias ad Hypium in Mysia, coins of Marcus Aurelius (Eros with legs crossed).

Aphrodisias in Caria, c.200-235, obv.: Bust of Roma. Eros is standing to front, head l., holding a torch, bow and chlamys.



Francis Jarman

How is it that the type of Eros with torch reversed, a common reverse motif on third-century provincial coins, has come to be identified so narrowly as ‘Thanatos’, ‘the genius of Death’, ‘the winged god of Death’, ‘the angel of Death’, etc. by modern numismatists? This applies not only to collectors and dealers—the question has unsettled many scholars as well. For example, David MacDonald’s The Coinage of Aphrodisias has ‘Eros as Thanatos’, and in the most recent volume in the Roman Provincial Coinage series the editor, Marguerite Spoerri Butcher, acknowledging that the matter is ‘assez controversée’, chooses to describe the type as ‘Éros/Thanatos’. Even the great Behrendt Pick referred in AMNG to a ‘winged Eros (as Genius of Death)’. Why should the identification of this figure as Death have persisted so stubbornly, especially considering that, on the coins at least, there is no apparent funerary connection?
To explain how this misunderstanding came about, we need to go back to the German Hellenists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with their aestheticism, humanism and admiration for the Greek rather than the Christian. E. M. Butler (1935) has traced the ‘exaggeration, the excess which is discernible in the attitude to Greece of one great German after another from Winckelmann onwards’. Reverence was expressed for ‘masterpieces’—the Laocoön, or the Belvedere Apollo (for Winckelmann, the ‘highest ideal of art’ amongst the surviving works of antiquity)—that were actually Hellenistic works or Roman copies. The calmness and grandeur that the German Hellenists perceived in Greek art, the seeming delight in the naked male body, the purity of the supposedly white statues—all this has been criticised and questioned, not least by those concerned with the ‘Dionysian’ rather than ‘Apollonian’ strain in Greek culture (most famously, by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy). The Hellenist agenda, which included substantial elements of Rousseauism (there was something ‘natural’ and ‘unspoiled’ about the Greeks) and a yearning after sexual and political freedom (projected uncritically onto the ancients), had a great deal to do with the cultural and ideological needs of that time and far less with the ancient Greeks themselves. As Henry Hatfield (1964) puts it, ‘Winckelmann’s absolute subordination of religious to aesthetic matters… would doubtless have shocked Pericles or Sophocles’. And: Greece was an idea—none of the great German Hellenists, Winckelmann, Lessing, Herder, Goethe, Schiller, Hölderlin, ever went there, although both Winckelmann and Goethe were offered (and refused) the opportunity.

The Eros-Thanatos confusion started with a squabble among eighteenth-century German scholars. Winckelmann claimed (in Attempt at an Allegory, particularly for Art, 1766) that there were barely any ancient representations of skeletons on funerary monuments, and had already hinted, ten years earlier, at what he felt was a certain euphemising tendency of the Greeks to beautify the unpleasant and to avoid the frightening. He described (in Attempt) a gravestone showing Sleep as a young man with down-turned torch, accompanied by his brother Death. (The source for the idea of Sleep and Death as twin brothers is the scene of the removal of the dead body of Sarpedon in Homer’s Iliad,Book XVI; Virgil confirms their close relationship in Book VI of the Aeneid.)
In his Laokoon, published in the same year as Winckelmann’s Attempt, Lessing asserted that the ancients didn’t represent Death as a skeleton. This statement was criticised by the Halle professor (and pedant) Christian Adolf Klotz, to whom Lessing then replied in How the Ancients represented Death (1769). The skeletons that were occasionally portrayed by the ancients did not have to represent Death, Lessing argued. Why could they not simply be skeletons? Or something else altogether? He claimed that they represented Larvae, the ghosts of evil people, and were a reminder of what remains of a human being after death and therefore (as in the famous scene with the skeleton at Trimalchio’s feast in Petronius’s Satyricon) an exhortation to make more of life. However: ‘Because the ancients were reminded of Death by the sight of a skeleton, did that make a skeleton the accepted representation of Death?’ The figure that did stand for Death was that of the beautiful winged youth, the brother of Sleep and ‘an equally gentle Genius’.
Whereas Winckelmann had been inconsistent in his descriptions of the winged torch-bearer, allowing that he might be ‘L’Amour’ or a ‘Love-god’ as a symbol of Death or Mourning—a psychologically difficult concept!—, Lessing for his part was not sympathetic to the idea that this figure could be Eros. He rejected forcefully the interpretation by Giovanni Pietro Bellori (1615-96) of the so-called Prometheus Sarcophagus (third century A.D., in the Capitoline Museum in Rome), in which Bellori explains the winged being as Eros extinguishing the torch of the feelings of the deceased on his dead body. (Notice incidentally how the soul, a bee with butterfly wings, slips away.)


‘And I say: This figure is Death! Not every winged boy, or youth, has to be an Eros, and he and the army of his brothers had this quality in common with many other spirits. How many of the race of the Genii were represented as boys! And was there anything without its Genius? Every place, every human being, every social relationship, every human activity, from the lowest to the highest, yes, I would go so far as to say that every inanimate object whose preservation was of concern to someone had its Genius.’
Lessing makes fun of Klotz, imagining him poring through books of engravings to assemble a ‘sugary-sweet’ compendium of examples of Erotes and shouting out ‘Amor! Amor!’ every time he comes across a naked little lad.
But the figure on the Prometheus Sarcophagus can only be Eros, because on the left side of the sarcophagus the little winged god is shown embracing Psyche.


Lessing may have been wrong, but his immense moral and intellectual authority helped to ensure that the identification of the Eros with down-turned torch with Death became widely accepted. At the time, the controversy could scarcely be resolved satisfactorily on the basis of the evidence that was available. Winckelmann, Klotz and Lessing had access to a limited number of ancient artefacts—often in the form of casts or engravings—that could form the basis for generalisations, though these in their turn could be refuted by the discovery of other items by antiquaries. Yet starting long before and independently of the scholarly debate, artists had in any case been copying the motif from Roman funerary art for their own purposes, here for example in figures from two Roman churches, left, an Eros from the tomb of Cardinal Lunati (c.1500) in the church of S. Maria del Popolo, and, right, a sad little baroque Cupid from the church of S. Luigi dei Francesi.


The little winged figure also appears in such purely Christian contexts as paintings of the Crucifixion—here, portrayed at the base of the Cross, with St. Dominic and St. Catherine of Siena, in a detail from a work by van Dyck (c.1629).


None of these representations invite direct identification with ‘Death’, however. The artists of the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque had had recourse to a surprisingly wide range of images representing Death, but these were generally easily recognisable as such—and that brings us to the true significance of the scholarly debate, which was the cultural and ideological context of the Lessing-Klotz controversy. The representation of Death as a skeletal figure or skeleton in Christian art was perceived by the European Enlightenment as ugly, especially in the light of the fact that the ancients had supposedly envisioned Death as the brother of Sleep, and pictured them as attractive twins. Writing in retrospect, Goethe described in Poetry and Truth the effect that Lessing’s Laocoon had had on his generation, and how they had seen ‘the triumph of beauty’ in the ancients’ depiction of the handsome twins, ‘formed alike [by the Greeks] to the point of mistaking them for each other, as is proper with twins’. It was not the core message of Christianity, as revealed in the teachings of Jesus, which was here under attack so much as the forms that Christianity had taken on in the Middle Ages. From the perspective of his own belief in a rational, enlightened Christianity, Lessing asserted that, since the godly have nothing to fear from death, it is ‘misunderstood religion’ that leads us away from the more beautiful representation: ‘Even Scripture speaks of an angel of Death; and what artist would not rather mould an angel than a skeleton? Only misunderstood religion can estrange us from beauty, and it is a token that religion is true, and rightly understood, if it everywhere leads us back to the beautiful’ (transl. Helen Zimmern).
Herder, another major intellectual figure of the time, emphasised the allegorical nature of the phenomenon, pointing out that the figure of the handsome youth was a metaphorical ‘euphemism’ that ‘should not represent Death, but far more prevent one from thinking of him’. He refers in surprisingly modern terms to a ‘euphemism of art’ ‘repressing’ the idea of death. The youth is not truly Death, but a representation of the ending of life: ‘…the youth on the funerary monuments is not a separate being [Death], but “lifes’s end, last sleep!”… this Genius was therefore not a god, he was the personified life of the corpse, in the way that everything has its Genius. And, when you think about it clearly, what is Death other than “life’s end!”’
And, even more poetically: ‘Our last friend is therefore not a horrifying spectre but an ender of life, the lovely youth who puts out the torch and calms the surging sea’.
Death and Sleep are beautiful twins, the former granting a sleep that is permanent—‘Can there be a more beautiful conception of dying than this kiss from a gently sad youth, from this peaceful Sleep?’—permanent, at least, until the Day of Judgement, when the Sleep of the Dead will end. Far from being pagan, Herder’s conception of Death is actually thoroughly Christian. (Here, Herder develops a line of thought that Lessing had chosen not to follow.) 
Herder goes even further. Not only is Death associated with Sleep, but with Love too. In a poem, Death: A Conversation at Lessing’s Grave (1785), Herder has Love claim that he is called Death by mortals, for it is his duty to free the soul from the body and guide it upwards, and he concludes his principal essay on the subject of the representation of Death by the ancients with references to the story of Eros and Psyche.
Herder was immensely learned, and well aware that there were instances where the youth with reversed torch need not have been intended to represent Death, but should be interpreted in the context of the whole composition. One example that he gives is the description, by the Roman author Philostratus the Younger (c. 300 A.D.), of a painting of the meeting of Jason and Medea in Colchis which includes just such a figure. Philostratus explains it as follows: ‘Eros is claiming this situation as his own, and he stands leaning on his bow with his legs crossed, turning his torch towards the earth, inasmuch as the work of love is as yet hardly begun’ (transl. Arthur Fairbanks).
Equally interesting for our purposes is the description by Philostratus’s grandfather, Philostratus the Elder (early 2nd century A.D.), of a painting showing Evadne throwing herself onto the funeral pyre of her husband Capaneus. In this unmistakably funerary scene, ‘the Cupids, making this task their own, kindle the pyre with their torches and claim that they do not defile their [own] fire, but that they will find it sweeter and more pure, when they have used it in the burial of those who have dealt so well with love’ (transl. Arthur Fairbanks).
Notice how the ancient writer calls them Cupids, not ‘gods’ or ‘Genii of Death’, and how the fire from their torches is in its essence explicitly linked with Love, not Death.
A Roman painting which has survived and in which Eros must be interpreted in the context of the whole composition is the 1st century A.D. fresco of Narcissus from Pompeii (here in an illustration taken from a Swedish family encyclopaedia, 1904-26).  

Narkissos Line Drawing

Although he will eventually die, Narcissus in this picture is far from dead. The lovely youth is gazing in adoration at his own image, a foolish and wasteful activity—and Eros, whose task it is to enflame passion between lovers, not self-love, is understandably disappointed (‘This will lead nowhere!’). Another Pompeii fresco from the same period (photo © Stefano Bolognini) shows Narcissus turning away from the nymph Echo (whose love for him is completely in vain) to admire his own reflection, with an agitated Eros (without torch) in the foreground.


Others were less sophisticated than Herder in the way that they approached the little figure with the torch. Goethe, trapped in the ‘Genius of Death’ mindset, saw Philostratus the Younger’s Eros-figure simply as a harbinger of the dreadful outcome of the story of Jason and Medea (and would probably have explained the torch-bearing Pompeii Eros in similar terms). Schiller, in his play Cabal and Love (1784), has Louise more or less echo Lessing by saying: ‘Only a howling sinner could have called Death a skeleton; it is a fine, pretty lad, in the bloom of life, the way they paint the God of Love, but not so mischievous—a quiet, helpful Genius’, but in his famous poem The Gods of Greece (1788), which contrasts the ugliness of the modern (Christian) world with the beauty of the classical (pagan) past, there is a direct comparison between the skeleton and the ‘Genius’ with a down-turned torch as alternative versions of Death (here, in the somewhat free translation by E. M. Butler):

Then no grisly skeleton to the dying
Hideously appeared. The final breath
Was taken by a kiss from lips scarce sighing,
A torch extinguished by the god of death.

Admittedly, by 1796 Schiller had become rather more cynical when he wrote:

Sure, he looks sweet with his extinguished torch,
But Death—believe me, gentlemen—is not really that aesthetic.

Many other writers, especially, though not only in Germany, bought into the imagery of the ‘Genius of Death’. The poet Novalis in his Fifth Hymn to Night (1800) evokes the figure of Death the handsome extinguisher of the torch of life (‘A gentle youth puts out his torch and sleeps’), but returns to the more conventional theme of the Risen Christ as the true salvation of mankind. In several poems by Eichendorff the boy with the torch is ‘christianised’—he turns his torch downwards, offering his companions the chance to come ‘home’ (i.e., to die and go to Heaven). Shelley’s poem Queen Mab (1813) begins: ‘How wonderful is Death, Death, and his brother Sleep!’, though Heine’s poem about the twin brothers, Morphine (c.1851), strikes a much harsher note: ‘Sleep is good, Death better—but best would be never to have been born’. In Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde (1865), Isolde signals to her lover to come to her by taking the torch from beside her door and extinguishing it by throwing it to the ground, an action that leads to both love and death. The poem The Marble Boy (1882) by Conrad Ferdinand Meyer is an ironic treatment of the Liebestod. An ancient statue is dug up in the vineyard of the Capulets, and little Julia recognises it by its torch and wings as Love, but she is corrected by the learned Master Simon who tells her that, since the torch is being extinguished, the figure must represent Death. The statue thus foretells both the fates that await Julia. In Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice (1911), the beautiful boy Tadzio becomes ‘the pale and lovely Summoner’ who beckons to the dying Gustav von Aschenbach.


Lessing’s version of Eros has also had a powerful (and sentimentalising) influence on funerary art, from the late 18th century right up until modern times. The figure with the down-turned torch has featured in countless examples of popular cemetery art, but also in works by major artists, such as J. G. Schadow’s grave of Count Alexander von der Mark (1788-90) in Berlin, Thorvaldsen’s memorial to Auguste Böhmer (c.1812) in Copenhagen, or Canova’s monument (1817-19) to the Stuart Pretenders (‘James III’, ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ and his brother, Henry, Cardinal York) in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Increasingly, the boy with the torch became a decorative element rather than a powerful symbol. In Gustave Moreau’s The Young Man and Death (1865), there is a little Eros wearily allowing his torch to tilt in one corner of the painting (detail), but Death itself is represented as a sinister female figure. Generally speaking, serious modern taste has now largely abandoned the family of Cupids, except in kitsch. 


Despite its popularity post-Lessing, there is no good reason to believe that the ‘Thanatos’ type had the same significance for the ancients or was used in the same way. There is no significant textual or convincing archaeological evidence to support such an assumption. Erotes are actually shown on funerary art of the Roman period doing all kinds of things—playing typical children’s games, hunting, fighting, riding, dancing, harvesting and pressing grapes to make wine, representing aspects of the four seasons, or working in an armoury. Sometimes the motifs can be seen to relate directly to the deceased person—a child, or a Roman centurion—but they obviously cannot all of them represent Death, and if they allude to anything it must be connected with the life and not the death of the deceased. The type of the sad or pensive Eros with down-turned torch, also commonly found on Roman sarcophagi, is surely not Death itself, but rather an expression of sadness for the loss of sensual pleasure, in much the way that Ovid  in the Amores portrays Cupid as being distraught at the death of the poet Tibullus: ‘Tibullus… is but a lifeless corpse that the flames of the pyre will soon consume. See how Venus’ son goes with his quiver reversed, with broken bow and extinguished torch. Look you how sadly he fares, with drooping wings; and how with cruel hand he strikes his naked breast. The tear-drops fall amid his floating hair; his mouth gives forth the sound of broken sobs’ (transl. J. L. May).
How much more improbable it is, then, that on the coins—where there is no obvious funerary connection—Eros should be a symbol, let alone a personification, of Death. The coins under consideration were struck almost exclusively in the names of young emperors, young princes or their fathers (among the tiny handful of exceptions are very rare coins of Domna in Callatis, Mamaea in Deultum, Maesa in Prusa ad Olympum and Tranquillina in Cius). The reverse types, if it is assumed that they have some connection, however obscure, with the figures portrayed on the obverse of the coins—a possible though not necessary supposition—, are more likely to be hinting at dynastic expectations and the coming of sexual maturity, ideas which could certainly be expressed by means of the figure of Eros with the torch.
On the coins, the down-turned torch is often still burning, which is hardly appropriate for a symbol of death! Is the torch supposed to be understood as being in the process of being extinguished (which would make the motif a symbol of the act of dying rather than of the condition of death)? Eros’s posture and expression are often taken to suggest sadness or pensiveness, but these feelings may be interpreted as post-coital rather than funerary. Possibly Eros is simply tired, after a hard night’s work. In one of the paintings discussed by Philostratus the Elder, Comus, the torch-bearing personification of revelry, a figure whose iconography and functions for obvious reasons overlap with those of Eros, is described as being ‘asleep under the influence of drink. As he sleeps the face falls forward on the breast so that the throat is not visible, and he holds his left hand up to his ear. The hand itself, which has apparently grasped the ear, is relaxed and limp, as is usual at the beginning of slumber, when sleep gently invites us and the mind passes over into forgetfulness of its thoughts; and for the same reason the torch seems to be falling from his right hand as sleep relaxes it. And for fear lest the flames of the torch come too near his leg, Comus bends his lower left leg over towards the right and holds the torch out on his left side, keeping his right hand at a distance by means of the projecting knee in order that he may avoid the breath of the torch’ (transl. Arthur Fairbanks).
Eros’s torch on the coins is also being held downwards (and often outwards), sometimes resting on an altar, a pile of stones, or some indistinct object, or just on the ground, perhaps merely because it is not needed at that moment or because he is actually asleep. Alternatively, it could even be that the torch held on an altar is being re-lit rather than extinguished—the editors of the publication of the Leypold Collection have gone so far as to suggest this in their description of a coin of Diadumenian Caesar from Cius in Bithynia (SNG Austria, I, no.130).
Maybe it is wrong to try to squeeze so much meaning out of what may simply have been a popular sentimental motif and statuary type, akin to the sleeping Erotes used in Roman times as garden decoration, or the figures of tired little slave boys leaning on their lanterns. Be that as it may, the ‘Thanatos’ interpretation of the coins can now safely be put to one side. There are virtually no unequivocal representations of Thanatos on provincial coins (the most likely one that springs to mind being the coin of Elagabalus from Berytus in Phoenicia, posted on FORVM recently and at, with a winged figure with a harpa—Thanatos?—facing what looks like Hermes with a caduceus). There is no good reason for continuing the ‘Thanatos obsession’ of the German Hellenists, and the time has come to reassert that it is Eros who is shown on these coins.



This is far and away the commonest Eros motif on provincial coins, appearing on issues of Callatis, Marcianopolis, Nicopolis ad Istrum and Tomis in Moesia; Anchialus, Augusta Trajana, Bizya, Deultum, Hadrianopolis, Pautalia, Philippopolis, Plotinopolis, Serdica, Topirus and Trajanopolis in Thracia; Bithynium-Claudiopolis, Cius, Nicaea, Prusa ad Olympum and Prusias ad Hypium in Bithynia; Aphrodisias in Caria; Tripolis in Lydia; and Dorylaeum in Phrygia. The ‘normal type’ shows Eros standing to r., legs crossed, leaning on a burning torch held downwards on an altar and resting his head on his left hand. However, there are many variations. Sometimes Eros is facing left, and sometimes the torch is held against a pile of stones, an unidentified object, or the ground instead of the altar. Eros varies in appearance from plump cherub to slim youth, and also in his pose (especially the position of his arms) and the direction of his gaze. He has often been described as looking pensive or sad, but sometimes he seems to be resting or even sleeping, and on a few coins from Deultum he is stepping or walking with legs uncrossed. Sometimes he holds a wreath.

• Callatis in Moesia, coins of Commodus (illustration) and Julia Domna. The Commodus coins are common, with an anatomically unconvincing figure of Eros, cross-legged, with head sunk to r., the l. arm held downwards alongside the torch (?), with what may be a wreath held in his l. hand, and the burning torch resting either on the ground or on a small, unidentified object. There are several obverse types, with plain laureate head (Varbanov 257) or with a more elaborate bust (Varbanov 258). The coins of Julia Domna (Varbanov 303) are much rarer, despite the identical rarity rating (R6) given by Varbanov.


Æ 19, 6 h, 3.80 g. Obv. AV • ? • ? • ?? • ??????C •. Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Commodus r. Rev. ???????????. As described above. Varbanov 258 (Photos courtesy of FORVM,


Marcianopolis in Moesia, coins of Septimius Severus, Caracalla, Geta Caesar, Diadumenian Caesar and Elagabalus. The Severan issues can be put in a tentative order—first, the coins of Septimius Severus and Geta Caesar with similar reverse types to r., and Eros holding a wreath (illustrations); then, a little later, coins of Geta Caesar with a rather squat-looking Eros with round face to l., without the wreath (illustrations); finally, coins of Caracalla with a similar clumsy-looking figure, but to r. (illustration). The Geta Caesar coins with Eros to l. are fairly common, as are the coins of Diadumenian Caesar with Eros as a handsome youth (illustration). The other coins are scarcer, and those of Elagabalus with Eros facing to r. (Moushmov 619) very rare.


Æ 16, 2 h, 2.76 g. Obv. AV K ? C?? CEVHP... Laureate, draped (?) bust of Septimius Severus r. Rev. ???????????????. Eros standing r. with legs crossed, leaning on a torch placed downwards on an altar and holding a wreath with his r. hand.  Unpublished?


Æ 16, 2 h, 2.09 g. Obv. ? C?? ????C ?. Bare-headed, draped and cuirassed bust of Geta Caesar r. Rev. ???????????????. Same reverse type. Varbanov 1113.


Æ 17 6h 2.99g. Obv. ? C???? ????C ?. Bare-headed, draped and cuirassed bust of Geta Caesar r. Rev. ????????-???????. Eros, round, baby face staring to the front, standing l. with legs crossed, leaning on a burning torch placed downwards on an altar and holding his l. hand to his r. cheek. Pick (AMNG) 699.


Æ 17, 1 h, 2.32 g. Obv. ? C???? ????C ?. Bare-headed, older bust of Geta Caesar r. Rev. ????????-???????. Same reverse type. Varbanov 3233 (wrongly given to Nicopolis ad Istrum).


Small Æ. Obv. ??? ? ? ????? ?????... Laureate bust of Caracalla r. Rev. ???????????????. Eros standing r. with legs crossed, leaning on a burning torch placed downwards on an altar and resting his head on his l. hand. Pick (AMNG) 633 (Photos courtesy of Compagnie Générale de Bourse, France).


Æ 16, 12 h, 3.05 g. Obv. ? ????[???C ?????]????C. Bare-headed, draped and cuirassed bust of Diadumenian Caesar r. Rev. ????????-????????. ‘Pensive’ Eros standing l. with legs crossed, leaning with both arms on a burning torch placed downwards on an altar and resting his head on his r. hand. Pick (AMNG) 796.


Nicopolis ad Istrum in Moesia, coins of Commodus, Septimius Severus, Caracalla Caesar, Geta Caesar, Caracalla, Geta, Diadumenian Caesar and Elagabalus, normally with Eros to r.

The issue for Septimius Severus is easily the largest for any Eros motif, and these coins, encompassing several different reverse designs and many variations of obverse type and obverse and reverse legend may safely be described as being ‘extremely common’ (see Varbanov, though the insufficient number of photographs in his book and the frequent mistakes in description of the coins mean that his arrangement by reverse legend is far from user-friendly). There are some coins with Eros to l. (Pick, AMNG, 1367). The issues for Geta Caesar and Diadumenian Caesar are reasonably common, those for Caracalla (as Caesar or Augustus) and Commodus much scarcer, and the unusual coin for Geta as Augustus (with the simple legend ???????????) very rare. Nicopolis also struck this type under Elagabalus on a large module; these rare coins name the governor Novius Rufus.


Æ 17, 2 h, 2.9 g. Obv. … ????…Laureate head of Commodus r. Rev. ???????????? ???C ?C?… Eros standing r. with legs crossed, holding a burning torch downwards (on an altar?). Cf. Pick (AMNG) 1241 (Photos courtesy of William Peters).


Æ 15, 8 h, 2.93 g. Obv. ?? ?… C?????C. Laureate head of Septimius Severus r. Rev. [??????]??-? ???C ?C?… Eros as a plump, cross-legged cherub with little bat-wings, his head cocked slightly to one side, both hands resting on the torch, and a small, tapered altar. Varbanov 2412.


Æ 18, 3.20 g. Obv. ?? ? C?????C. Laureate head of Septimius Severus r. Rev. [??????]?-? ???C ?C. Similar to the previous coin, but Eros is a spindlier figure, his head is inclined forward and seen in profile, only the right wing is visible, and the ‘altar’ is less clearly distinguishable (if at all present). Varbanov 2267 (where the illustration is wrong, showing a different reverse legend) (Photos courtesy of Compagnie Générale de Bourse, France).

NadIErosR-wings spread

Æ 17, 8 h, 3.00 g. Obv. ? ???… ???????... Bare-headed bust of Caracalla Caesar r. Rev. ???????? ???C ?C… Eros standing r. with legs crossed, leaning with both arms on a burning torch placed downwards on a large, garlanded altar. Unpublished?


Æ 17, 7 h, 2.54 g. Obv. ? • C ???... Bare-headed, draped and cuirassed bust of Geta Caesar r. Rev. ?????… ?C ?C… Similar type. This variant unpublished?


Similar. Obv. Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Caracalla as Augustus r. Rev. ???????? ?… Similar type. Varbanov 2930.


Æ 22, 7 h, 4.90 g. Obv. ?? ? ? C?-? ????C. Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Geta as Augustus r. Rev. ??????-?????. Similar type. Cf. Varbanov 3210 (Photos courtesy of Kurt Ellenberger).



Æ 19. Obv. K ? ???? ???????????. Bare-headed and draped bust of Diadumenian Caesar r. Rev. ?????????-?? ???C. Similar, but an awkward design. Varbanov 3601 (Photos courtesy of Malcolm Megaw).


Æ 27, 7 h, 11.15 g. Obv. ??? ? ? ? ????… ???… Laureate bust, draped and cuirassed r.of Elagabalus.  Rev. ?? ?????? ?????? ???[???]????? ???C, ?C?-??/? in field. Similar type, but Eros is gazing into the distance, and the altar is very small. Moushmov 1390.


Tomis in Moesia, coins of Caracalla (illustration) and Geta (Pick/Regling 3044), also some with the legendary founder of the city, Tomos, on the obverse (illustration). The specimens examined so far have clumsily designed reverses. All the coins are rare.


Æ 18, 7 h, 3.03 g. Obv. ?? ? ? ?? ???????... Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Caracalla r. Rev. ???-??C. Normal type: Eros standing r. with legs crossed, leaning on a burning torch placed downwards on an altar (the details are unclear, however) and resting his head on his hand. Pick/Regling (AMNG) 2940.


Æ 16, 1.50 g. Obv. KTICTIC TOMOC. Head of Tomos, the Founder, r. Rev. ???-??C. Similar type, though Eros is staring into the distance. Moushmov 1781; Pick/Regling (AMNG) 2567 (Photos courtesy of Lars Rutten).


Anchialus in Thracia, scarce coins of Commodus and Geta Caesar (illustrations), both with Eros to r., and a rare coin of Maximinus I (illustration) with Eros to l. On all the coins, Eros is staring outwards, his head rested against his l. hand (on the types to r.) and with the torch held against an altar.

AnchKommodEros r.

Æ 17, 2 h, 3.71 g. Obv. ?? • ?? ?? ??????C. Laureate, draped bust of Commodus r. Rev. ?????-????. As described above. Münzen & Medaillen, 15 (J.-P. Righetti Coll.), 61 (this coin).


2.99 g. Obv. ? C??? ????C K. Bare-headed, draped and cuirassed bust of Geta Caesar r. Rev. [??]???-????. As described above. Numismatik Lanz (Auction 102, 2001), 781 = Varbanov 439 (this coin) (Numismatik Lanz, photos courtesy of Lübke & Wiedemann KG).

AnchMaximIEros l.

Æ 17, 6 h, 2.50 g. Obv. … ?C ??C? ???. Laureate head of Maximinus I r. Rev. ?????-????. Similar, but Eros to l. (Photos courtesy of Kurt Ellenberger).


Augusta Trajana in Thracia, coins of Septimius Severus (Varbanov 982), Caracalla (illustration), Geta Caesar and Geta as Augustus, mostly with Eros to r., although there is a very rare coin of Caracalla with Eros standing to l. and with his l. hand on his hip. On the Caracalla coins, Eros is holding the torch away from his body almost at arm’s length, while on the coins of Geta, which are much commoner, the types are similar to those of Anchialus. Eros’s wings vary in size and position. The coins are often well-executed, at least in comparison with those of some of the other Thracian cities.


Æ 19, 2 h, 3.42 g. Obv. ? C???? ????C ?. Draped and cuirassed bust of Geta Caesar r. Rev. ??? ???-????C. Normal type. Varbanov 1267.


4.07 g. Obv. ?? ? • ???? • ????????C. Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Caracalla r. Rev. ?????C??C ???????C. Similar, but with the torch held away from Eros’s body. Numismatik Lanz (Auction 102, 2001), 742 = Varbanov 1148 (this coin) (Numismatik Lanz, photos courtesy of Lübke & Wiedemann KG).

AugTraiCaraAdultEros L.

3.48 g. Obv. ??? ? ? ??? C?H ?????????C. Laureate head of Caracalla r. Rev. ?????C??C ???????C. Variant type, with Eros to l., his l. hand on his hip. Numismatik Lanz (Auction 102, 2001), 741 = Varbanov 1150 (this coin, though illustrated in V. as 1149) (Numismatik Lanz, photos courtesy of Lübke & Wiedemann KG).


Æ 18, 1 h, 3.73 g. Obv. ??? ? ? C?-??? ????C. Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Geta r. Rev. ?????C?? ??????? (NH in ligature). Eros, cross-legged, gazing outwards, his torch held downwards on a large, garlanded altar and his head rested against his l. hand. Varbanov 1266.


Bizya in Thracia, fairly common coins of Philip II Caesar with Eros to l., leaning on a torch held against either an altar (illustration) or, more often, a mound of stones (Varbanov 1604).


Æ 18, 6 h, 3.54 g. Obv. ? ???? ???????C ???C.... Bare-headed bust of Philip II Caesar r. Rev. ????-????. Eros to l., cross-legged, with his torch held downwards on an altar and his head rested against his hand. Moushmov 3519.


Deultum in Thracia, with Latin legends: (A) rare coins of Philip I with Eros to l., leaning, cross-legged, on a torch held against what looks like a small altar (illustration); (B) common coins of Philip II Caesar with Eros standing, legs uncrossed, or even stepping onto a pile of rocks, with the torch held downwards against either more rocks or a small altar (illustration), there may also be a coin of Philip I with this reverse type (see Varbanov 3049, if this is an accurate description); (C) a rare coin of Julia Mamaea in Sofia with Eros leaning on his torch to r. (Jurukova 170), with a second, most peculiar, specimen, struck on a square flan, illustrated at


Æ 18, 1 h, 2.78 g. Obv. IMP M IVL PHILIPPVS AVG. Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Philip I r. Rev. CFPD. Reverse type A. Unpublished?

DeultPhilip2Eros L.

Æ 21, 8 h, 3.44 g. Obv. M IVL PHILIPPVS [CAESAR]. Laureate bust of Philip II Caesar r. Rev. CFPD. Reverse type B. Jurukova 504.


Hadrianopolis in Thracia, coins of Caracalla, with Eros leaning to r. (illustration) or to l. (Jurukova 383), on a torch held against an altar, and of Geta Caesar (illustration), with a similar reverse type but Eros sometimes standing at a slightly more precarious angle.


Æ 17, 1 h, 3.42 g. Obv. ??? ? ? ??? [C??] A????E???C. Laureate head of Caracalla r. Rev. ????????O-[?E????]. Normal type. Jurukova 390.


Æ 18, 7 h, 4.63 g. Obv. ? C???? ???A ??[?]. Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Geta Caesar r. Rev. ????????-O?????. Similar, but Eros is balanced more precariously. Unpublished with this obverse legend? Note: There is a similar coin, wrongly described, at



Pautalia in Thracia, coins of Septimius Severus (Ruzicka 411), Caracalla (illustration) and Geta Caesar (illustration), with the normal type of Eros standing r. with legs crossed, leaning on a burning torch placed downwards on an altar or on the ground and resting his head on his l. hand. On the coins of Geta, Eros’s wings are shorter but he has longer hair.


Æ 19, 3.71 g. Obv. ?? ? M ??? ????????C. Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Caracalla r. Rev. ?????-??????. As described above, with the torch placed on an altar. Ruzicka 728 = Varbanov 5277 (Numismatik Lanz, photos courtesy of Lübke & Wiedemann KG).


Æ 19, 1 h, 3.68 g. Obv. ? C???? ???AC ?. Draped and cuirassed bust of Geta Caesar r. Rev. ?????-?I????. Similar, but no altar. Ruzicka 828 = Varbanov 5466 (Photos courtesy of H. D. Rauch).


Philippopolis in Thracia, coins with Eros to l. of Marcus Aurelius (Moushmov 5134 = Varbanov 835), Commodus (Varbanov 1050) and Caracalla (Varbanov 1558); coins with Eros to r. of Lucius Verus (illustration), Commodus (illustration), Septimius Severus (illustration), Geta (illustrations) and Elagabalus (illustration). The coins of Commodus with Eros to r. are common, all the other coins are rare or very rare


Æ 18, 1 h, 3.63 g. Obv. ...??? ? ???.... Laureate, draped bust of Lucius Verus r. Rev. ????[???????????]. Eros standing r. with legs crossed, leaning on a burning torch placed downwards (no altar) and resting his head on his l. hand. Major striking error on the reverse (double-struck?). Cf. Moushmov (online version) 5172A. Note: The attribution of both this and the Moushmov specimen to Lucius Verus rather than Commodus is provisional, pending the discovery of a coin in better condition that enables the obverse legend to be read with greater certainty.


Æ 19, 4.14 g. Obv. ??? ??? ? ??? ??????C. Bare-headed, draped bust of Commodus r. Rev. ???????-????????. Normal type, but of clumsy style. Varbanov 1053. (Photos courtesy of H. D. Rauch). Note the clumsiness of the lettering, disturbing the design on the reverse, where the huge final N has forced the rudimentary altar upwards from the baseline.


Æ 19, 3.99 g. Obv. ... C?????C. Laureate head of Septimius Severus r. Rev. ???????-????????. Similar, but from artistically superior dies. Varbanov 1355 (illustrated with this coin). (Numismatik Lanz, photos courtesy of Lübke & Wiedemann KG).


Æ 18, 11 h, 3.5 g. Obv. ??? ? ? C?-??? ???AC. Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Geta r. Rev. ??????…. Similar, but without altar (?). Unpublished? (Photos courtesy of Kurt Ellenberger).


Æ 17, 12 h, 3.45 g. Similar.


Æ 21, 8 h, 4.76 g, coin double-struck. Obv. ??? ? ? ???... [?????(?)??]?C. Laureate head of Elagabalus r. Rev. ???????????[????]. Similar, but with altar. Unpublished?


Plotinopolis in Thracia, coins with Eros to r. of Caracalla (illustration).


Æ 17, 7 h, 3.44 g. Obv. ?? ? M ??? ?????E??. Laureate head of Caracalla r. Rev. ????????-????????. Normal type. Cf. Varbanov 1853 (different obverse legend – perhaps wrongly transcribed?).


Serdica in Thracia, coins with Eros to r. of Septimius Severus (illustration), Caracalla (illustration) and Geta Caesar (illustration), and with large-module coins of Caracalla and smaller coins of Geta Caesar with Eros to l. Only the smaller coins of Caracalla are common.


Æ 15/18 6h 4.72 g. Obv. …C?????C…. Laureate head of Septimius Severus r. Rev. C??-???. Normal type of Eros standing r. with legs crossed, leaning on a torch placed downwards on an altar (?) and resting his head on his l. hand; uncertain object to l. (Varbanov 1927).


Obv. ?? ? M ??? C?? ?????E???C. Laureate head of Caracalla r. Rev. C??-???. Similar, but no altar (?). Cf. Varbanov 2086 (different obverse legend). (Photos courtesy of Lars Rutten).


Æ 18, 7 h, 2.73 g. Obv. ? C???? ???AC ?. Bare-headed, draped and cuirassed bust of Geta Caesar r. Rev. ?[?????C] C?????. Normal type. Unpublished? Cf. Varbanov 2540 (Eros to l.).


Topirus in Thracia, rare coins with Eros to r. of Caracalla (Varbanov 2688-89, BMC 7).


Trajanopolis in Thracia, coins with Eros to r. of Septimius Severus (Riggauer, p.28) and Caracalla (illustration), and with Eros to l. of Caracalla (Varbanov 2819) and Elagabalus (Varbanov 2879). Only the coins of Caracalla to r. are relatively common.


Æ 16, 1 h, 3.19 g. Obv. ...M ??? C? ?????E?[??C]. Laureate head of Caracalla r. Rev. ???????-????????. Normal type, but without the altar (?). Cf. Varbanov 2867 (different obverse and reverse legends).


Bithynium-Claudiopolis in Bithynia, a very rare coin dated by Waddington to the period of Elagabalus, with obverse type of the head of young Heracles in a lion-skin, on the reverse Eros to r., legs crossed, leaning on a burning torch placed downwards on an undefined object and resting his head on his l. hand (Waddington, Recueil général, 59).


Cius in Bithynia, rare coins of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus (these coins with the unusual reverse type of Eros to r., with his r. hand behind his back, in the ‘weary Heracles’ pose, and his l. arm resting on the torch), of Commodus (doubtful, only in Mionnet and possibly a misreading of the type of Eros leaning on a tree-trunk, see Type 10 below), Caracalla, Diadumenian Caesar, Maximus Caesar, Gordian III (illustration) and Tranquillina, all with Eros to r., and of Philip II Caesar, with Eros to l.


Æ 20, 1 h, 2.50 g. Obv. ? ??? ????????C ???. Radiate, draped bust of Gordian III r. Rev. ??[?]???]. Normal type. Unpublished?


Nicaea in Bithynia, rare coins of Geta Caesar, with Eros to l., legs crossed, leaning with his r. on a burning torch placed downwards on an altar and holding an uncertain object (a wreath?) behind him (illustrations).


Æ 15, 2 h, 2.39 g. Obv. ? C???? ????C ???. Head of Geta Caesar r. Rev. ????-????. As described above. Waddington (Recueil général) 507; Münzen & Medaillen (Auction 15, 2004, J.-P. Righetti Coll.), 365 (this coin).


Æ 18, 2 h, 3.30 g. Similar.


Prusa ad Olympum in Bithynia, scarce coins of Caracalla, with Eros to r. (Waddington, Recueil général, 99), and rare coins of Julia Maesa (Waddington 132) and Philip I (illustration), with Eros to l.


Obv. ? ??????C ???????C ??. Laureate, draped bust of Philip I r. Rev. ????-C????. Eros to l., cross-legged, with his torch held downwards and his head rested against his r. hand. Unpublished? (Private collection).


Prusias ad Hypium in Bithynia, rare coins of Geta Caesar (illustration) and Diadumenian Caesar (Waddington, Recueil général, 61, but incorrectly described), with Eros to r.


Æ 16, 1 h, 2.83 g. Obv. ... [??]-??C ???C. Bare head of Geta Caesar r. Rev. ????C???-? ???C ????]. Normal type. Unpublished?

Aphrodisias in Caria, c.209-220, obv.: Bust of Boulé, rev.: Eros to r. (MacDonald type 120).

Tripolis in Lydia, Caracalla, known only from the description of a coin in Mionnet (III, p.394, 527

Dorylaeum in Phrygia, rare coins of Gordian III with Eros to r. and to l. (RPC VII, 1, 761) and of Philip I with Eros to r. (BMC 19).