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Coins of mythological interest

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Venus Cloacina

Roman Republic, L. Mussidius Longus, gens Mussidia
AR - denarius, 3.73g, 17.5mm
         Rome, 42 BC
obv. Bust of Concordia, veiled and diademed, r.
        behind CONCORDIA
rev. Round platform with balustrade and inscription CLOACIN, on which two femle
       figures are standing (probably Cloacina and Venus), resting with l. hand on
       cippus. Left figure holding branch (probably myrtle) in raised r. hand; a small
       stairway on the left side with porticus.
Ref.: Crawford 494/42a; Sydenham 1093; Mussidia 6b; BMCR 4242
nice VF, bankers mark on obv.

For a long time I have wondered how Venus, goddess of love and beauty, could have this cognomen, which have a special smell. Here I will try an explanation:

The rev. shows the shrine of Venus Cloacina whose fundaments could be seen today on the Forum Romanum in Rome at the South side of the basilica Aemilia. This sanctuary is one of the oldest on the Forum. It is so old that even the Romans didn't understand its real meaning and invented myths to explain it. Cloacina probably is derived from the ancient Latin word 'cluere', meaning 'to purify'.

After the rape of the Sabin women - look at the article in this thread - a war broke out between the Romans and the Sabins. The raped women bravely went between their fathers and their new husbands ans so stopped the slaughter. A reconciliation should have been occured at this very place with an expiation and purification (cluere!) ritual, as Plinius reports in his Roman history (NH X, 119-120). There Myrtles had played an important role. It is said that they were found here and they were used for purification because they should have great purification power. Furthermore they were sacred to Venus, the ancestor of the Romans.

Then at this place Vergina or Virginia, the beautiful daughter of Lucius Virgineus, a plebeian centurio, was killed by him to avoid the shame to become the slave of the tyrannic decemvir Appius Claudius Crassus. Appius Claudius was fallen in love to her and claimed that she was the daughter of a slave who had escaped from him. Due to the rigorous Laws of the Twelve Tables then she too was his property. This murder led to the abolishment of the decemviri (449 BC) and Lucius Virgineus became the first elected tribune. This story probably based on the myth of Lucretia who was raped by the son of king Tarquinius Superbus and because of that commited suicided. This event was the end of the Etruscian kings in Rome and the begin of the Roman Republic. 

The sanctuary of Venus Cloacina marks the place where the Cloaca Maxima reaches the Forum and takes the river Velabro. This river was the frontier between the region of the Romans and the Sabins where now the adversary parties have made peace. The sanctuary - known by its depiction on these coins - was not roofed but made by a round embracing wall and two cult statues. Originally it was probably the shrine of Cloacina (Liv. III. 48). The origin of her cult and the erection of her sanctuary probably belongs to the the first period of the history of the Cloaca Maxima, either of the time of its construction or of the time of an important renovation even though the tradition ascribed it to Titus Tatius (Lact. Inst. I. 20.11). In the course of time Cloacina was identified with Venus and called Venus Cloacina. In doing so the fact could have played a role that the myrtles were sacred to Venus. So this myth, the reconciliation of the Romans and the Sabins, could be the attempt to explain these unknown connection.

Before the Forum Roman became the center of the Roman Empire it was an unsane marsh, full of Malaria mosquitos, only crossed by cattle trails. It could not be populated before it was drained and dewatered by the Cloaca Maxima. The Lacus Curtius reminds on its watery past. The originally open sewer was built by Etruscians the great taskmaster of the Romans. Because of that Cloacina probably was an Etruscian goddess and the Romans - as so often - have absorbed her. So it is explicable that she too is responsible for the wedding bed. The Cloaca Maxima was a great revolutionary invention. It first made Rome habitably. It is not overstated to say 'Rome, that is the Cloaca Maxima'! And to have a goddess for it is well understandable!

The relicts of the shrine were found AD 1899-1901 in front of the Basilica Aemilia. It consists of a round marble base with a diameter of 2.40m, resting on a slab of Travertine and eight courses of various kinds of stone. The character of these courses shows that the foundation was gradually raised as the basilica encroached upon it. The shrine shows two female deities. The left one seems to raise a myrtle branch. This then would be a symbol of purification and of the wedding ritual of passage. The right one seems to be armored and then would be the guardian of the enclosure.

I have added two pictures: The first shows a model of the shrine of Cloacina, the other shows the fundament of the shrine how you can see it today on the Forum Romanum. I want to recommend warmly the following link to all interested in Roman history Here you can find a nice 3D view of the Forum and naturally the shrine of Cloacina!

William Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (online)

Best regards

The struggle between Xanthos and Achilleus

Aeolis/Asia Minor, Kyme, pseudo-autonomous, time of Gallienus
AE 21, 4.2g
struck under magistrate Ermeias, AD 253-268
        Youthful bust of Senate, draped, r.
rev. AIL.ER - M[E]
       River-god Xanthos, bearded, wreathed, nude to hips, leaning l., resting l. arm on
       vase from which water flows, holding in r. hand long waterplant.
       KVMA / I in l. field
       in ex. [Y]ANTQO[C] (Y meaning Greek XI)
SNG von Aulock 1648; Franke KZR 204; SLG Prowe III, 724; BMC 13, 114

Looking closer at your coins everytime you can detect very interesting stories. This happened to me looking at this coin. First I was interested in it only because of the named river-god. This it rather rare. But researching more I found the following:

First: It is the Xanthos from Troas not from Lycia! Today it is called Kucukmenderes. The river Xanthos originates from the Ida mountains, runs through the plains of Troy and flows after 97km north of Troy into the Hellespont, today called Dardanelles. Several of its tributaries are river-gods too.

Homer says that only the gods called him Xanthos, yellow (because of the colour of his water), but men called him Skamandros. In Greek mythology he was an Oceanid, a son of Oceanos and Tethys. By Idaea he had a son Teukros.

This river played an important role in the Troyan War. During the siege of Troy the Achaeans had set up their camp near his mouth and most of the battles happened on the great plain of Skamandros. But at the end of the Troyan War Skamandros, the river-god himself, encroached upon the war!

In book XXI of his Iliad - near the end of the war, Achilleus again was engaged - Homer writes
how the Trojan troops flee in panic from Achilles. One portion of the army heads for the city while another group seeks refuge near the River Xanthos. Achilles cuts off the second group and kills many of them as they try to cross the stream. Achilles is pushing the Trojans back killing everyone in his way. He spares no one mercy. All these Trojans fall into the river Xanthos and Achilles follows to kill them. The river-god asks Achilles to stop killing people in his river because the water is getting all bloody. Achilles agrees but then Xanthos turns around and asks Apollo to help the Trojans. This enraged Achilleus so much that he began to fight against the river-god.

The god of the river is antagonized by all this bloodshed in his waters, and so he attacks Achilles with great waves and currents. Achilles begins to falter under this onslaught, but Poseidon and Athena reassure him, while Hera and Hephaistos attack the river with fire. Seeing his water boil away in great, mysterious heat, Xanthos relents.

After this began what is called 'theomachia': The gods also engage in combat, so excited are they by human warfare. Athena defeats Ares and Aphrodite, while Hera drives Artemis from the field. Poseidon challenges Apollo, but the younger god does not accept his uncle’s dare because of deference to his age. Achilles continues to chase the Trojans, and Agenor, a half-brother of Hektor, attempts to fight him in single combat; but Agenor is far inferior to Achilles, and Apollo finally rescues him. This diversion allows most of the retreating troops enough time to take refuge in the city.

A slightly ironic commentary on Achilles eventual death occurs in his battle with the river. The river, rising in flood against Achilles because of all the dead bodies thrown in it, sweeps Achilles away. Achilles, who is often an overpowering natural force against the Trojans, is here thwarted and almost killed by the natural force of the river. Achilles is so alarmed by the river that he becomes fearful of ignominious death by drowning rather than the glorious death in battle that has been prophesied. Only the intervention of Hera through Hephaistos, as God of Fire, saves Achilles. Symbolically, the two great elemental forces of fire and water are in conflict, with Achilles in the middle.

I have attached a map of Troas where you can see Troy and the Skamandros.

(here you find the original text of Homer!)
(the map)

Best regards

The Erymanthian Boar

Herakles fourth labor was to capture the Erymanthian Boar alive.

". . . now that animal ravaged Psophis, sallying from a mountain which they call Erymanthus. So passing through Pholoe he was entertained by the centaur Pholus, a son of Silenus by a Melian nymph. He set roast meat before Herakles , while he himself ate his meat raw. When Herakles called for wine, he said he feared to open the jar which belonged to the centaurs in common. But Herakles , bidding him be of good courage, opened it, and not long afterwards, scenting the smell, the centaurs arrived at the cave of Pholus, armed with rocks and firs. The first who dared to enter, Anchius and Agrius, were repelled by Herakles with a shower of brands, and the rest of them he shot and pursued as far as Malea, Thence they took refuge with Chiron, who, driven by the Lapiths from Mount Pelion, took up his abode at Malea. As the centaurs cowered about Chiron, Herakles shot an arrow at them, which passing through the arm of Elatus, stuck in the knee of Chiron. Distressed at this, Herakles ran up to him, drew out the shaft, and applied a medicine which Chiron gave him. But the hurt proved incurable, Chiron retired to the cave and there he wished to die, but he could not, for he was immortal. However, Prometheus offered himself to Zeus to be immortal in his stead, and so Chiron died. The rest of the centaurs fled in different directions, and some came to Mount Malea, and Eurytion to Pholoe, and Nessus to the river Evenus. The rest of them Poseidon recieved at Eleusis and hid them in a mountain. But Pholus, drawing the arrow from a corpse, wondered that so little a thing could kill such big fellows; howbeit, it slipped from his hand and ligting on his foot killed him on the spot. So when Herakles returned to Pholoe, he beheld Pholus dead; and he buried him and proceded to the boar-hunt. And when he had chased the boar with shouts from a certain thicket, he drove the exhausted animal into deep snow, trapped it, and brought it to Mycenae."
SOURCE: Loeb Apollodorus, translated by Sir James G. Frazer, 1921.

The following coin:
ROMAN REPUBLIC: M. Volteius M.f. Ca. 78 BC. AR denarius (3.68 gm). Rome mint. Head of young Hercules right, wearing lion´s skin /Erymanthian boar running right, [M.] VOLTEI M.F. in exergue. Crawford 385/2. Sydenham 775. RSC Volteia 2.

The sculpture:
Berlin-Tiergarten, Lützowplatz – "Herkules und der erymantische Eber", Bronzeplastik, 1904 von Louis Tuaillon / "Hercules and the Erymanthian Boar" 1904, by Louis Tuaillon.

Herakles and the giant Antaios

Cilicia, Tarsos, Philip I, AD 244-249
AE 37, 19.96g
        bust, draped and cuirassed, radiate, r.
        P-P l. and r. in field
       Herakles stg. facing, head l., leaning l., wrestling Antaios; he lifts Antaios up
       into the air by the waist while Antaios tries to break his grip;
       B to left, A/M/K/G to right
SNG Levante 1153 (same dies); Hunter S.556, 59, pl. LX, 18 (rev. same die); Voegtli 17h
good F, usual roughness

Antaios, lat. Antaeus, son of Poseidon and Gaia, was a huge giant, who is said to have a length of 60 Greek cubits. He was king and ruler of Libya and forced all strangers who entered his empire to wrestle with him. Beause of his immense force it was easy for him to strangle all combattants. Their skulls he used to built a temple for his father Poseidon. He for himself lived in a gruesome cave under a big rock in which he slept on the bare ground because he got stronger and stronger by the power he gained from his mother Earth. His usual food were lions wich he catched alive. In doing so his land was stripped by people because he didn't save the life of his people more than the life
of the strangers. Otherwise he should be the founder of the city of Tingis.

When Herakles was on the way to capture the cattle of Geryon for Euristheus he came to Libya and came into conflict with Antaios. Both dropped their lion's skins which they wore, Herakles applied oil to his skin as the Greek did, Antaios threw sand over his body to double his strength. Then the fight began. Both were astonished about the strength of his combattant. But Antaios tired first and Herakles could threw him to the ground. But touching the earth Antaios recovered again and the fight moved on. Exhausted again Antaios dropped to the earth himself to get new power. There Herakles recognized the earth as source of his strength. He embraced him and lifted him up into the air and struggled him to death.

It is said that he was borrowed in Tingis. It is told that Sertorius has opened his grave and has found bones 60 cubits long. Horrified he sarificed and then closed the grave again. It had the shape of a laying man and it is told that everytime someone took earth from it raining starts and didn't stop earlier before this earth is put to the grave again.

Originally Antaios, referring to his name ('encounter'), was a spook, a ghost, compare 'Antaia', a spook from the circle around Hekate, finally Hekate herself. Naturally the spook wants to return to its habitation, the earth; not earlier than in hellenistic time it
was changed into the symbolical streams of power of the earth.

The oldest trace of the myth points to Irasa near Kyrene; there Antaios forced the suitors of his daughter Barke on a footrace, a motive known from other myths too. During the continuing discovery of North-Africa the Greek colonists pushed this legendary figure always farther to the West until it got a definite place in Tingis (Mauetania). At the same time in connection with the growing antagonism between Greeks and Libyans it got a pronounced evil character. As shown on vase paintings of the 5th century BC (f.e. the crater of Euphronios in the Louvre) the fight between Herakles and Antaios was interpreted as triumph of the scholastic Greek athletics over the barbarian power of nature.

In hellenistic time Antaios was identified with an Upper-Egyptian god and the city of Antaiupolis was named according to him. His tomb was worshipped in Tingis. The future ruler of Mauretania led back their origin to Sophax, son of Herakles with the widow of Antaios.

I have added two pics.
1) The pic of the famous crater of Euphronios showing the fight bewteen Herakles and
    Antaios; Attica, c.510 BC, toda in the Louvre/Paris.
2) The pic of the oil painting 'Hercules and Antaeus' of Antonio Pollaiuolo, AD 1460,
     today in the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence. During the Renaissance this theme
     was very popular.

Der kleine Pauly
Benjamin Hederich, Gründliches mythologisches Lexikon

Best regards

Anna Perenna

Roman Republic, Annius T. f. T. n., gens Annia, and L. Fabius L. f. Hispaniensis
AR - denarius, 3.76g
         mint in Spain or North-Italy, 82-81 BC
        Bust of Anna Perenna, diademed and draped, r., caduceus behind, scales before,
        T beneath bust
rev. Victoria in biga r., Q above
       in ex L.FABI.L.F.HISP.
Crawford 366/1a; BMC Spain 1-12; Sydenham 748; Annia 2a
nice EF

This type belongs to an imperatorial coinage struck for the war against Sertorius in Spain. Sertorius became a supporter of Marius and fought against Sulla. 83 BC he was sent as Praetor to Spain and here for some years he erected a government in exile. 72 BC he was murdered in a complot. The Quaestor Fabius, named on this denarius, switched to Sertorius some time later and perished together with him.
The Ides of March, March 15., not only are the well-known day of death of Caesar but the Festival of Anna Perenna too! But who is Anna Perenna?

An older myth tells that Anna Perenna was an old woman from the city of Bollivae in Latium. In 494 BC the Plebeians moved out to the Mons sacer, c.3km north-east of Rome, because they denied to pay tax and to be conscripted to the army without having a vote in the Roman Senate. They even planned to separate frome Rome. As is generally known they were convinced to come back because they got the institution of the Tribunus plebis who should represent the vital interests of the Plebeians and defend their freedom against the Patricians. The myth tells that Anna Perenna brought bread and cakes to the Plebeians and so she saved them from starving. This is why she was popular on the common people and considered as goddes after her death.

A later tradition from the time of the myth of Aeneas made Anna the sister of Dido, queen of Carthage. After Dido has committed suicide Carthage was conquered by indigenes under Iarbas and Anna had to fly. First she found shelter by the king of Melite, a small island in front of the African coast. But when Pygmalion, the king of Syria, demanded her to hand over to him, she fled from the island. A heavy storm throw her to the coast of Latium. At this time Aeneas was the ruler of Laurentum, exactly where she was landed. Aeneas and his companion Achates went to the beach and he recognized her. Aeneas began crying when he welcomed her remembering the sad fate of Dido, and took her to his palace. But Lavinia the wife of Aeneas was not amused about that. In a dream Anna was warned to be alarmed at the traps that Lavinia would set for her and at the dead of night she fled from the palace.       
While she was wandering she met Numicius, the god of a nearby stream who carried her off to his bed. The servants of Aeneas searched for Anna and followed her tracks to the river bank, and, while they wondered where to go next a shape rose from the water and revealed to them that Anna, once an exile, had become a water nymph, whose new name, Perenna, signified eternity. Aeneas' servants in their joy scattered among the fields and passed the day in feasting and festivities, which became established as an annual celebration of the festival of Anna Perenna.
There is another opinion too that she committed suicide by drowning in the river Numicius because of her desperation.
In another myth she was an old woman again. Mars, god of war, was fallen in love to Minerva, goddess of war and art and a sworn virgin. Mars asked Anna Perenna for interceding on his behalf. But instead of this - knowing about the impossibility of his wishes - she dressed herself like Minerva and came to Mars veiled. When he tried to kiss her she lifted her veil, break out in laughter and mocked Mars. Minerva's main festival, the Quinquatrus, was celebrated 4 days after the festival of Anna Perenna so this could be reason of this story.

You see that the exact identity of Anna Perenna is unexplained. Even the ancients didn't know it! Possible is the derivation from 'anus = old woman'. The etymology from  annus (lat. year) and the interpretation as goddess of the ring of years is too even to be correct! Also her festival in March, the 1st month of the Roman calendar, is not sufficient because Mars, after whom the March is named, nevertheless was a god of the year! According to Aulus Gellius (in Noctes Atticae) Varro wrote 'Anna et Perenna', as if there were two persons! Ovid knows of together six variations but all are objected. For sure she is connected to earth and fertility but she is no  indigitation of Ceres!

The river Numicius was regarded as sacred to Anna Perenna. At his origin a temple was built for Aeneas as Jupiter Indiges, a title, which usually was given to deified mortals. At his mouth the city of Lavinium was situated, a name which is said to originate from Lavinia, wife of Aeneas, who was an old local deity too. So Anna Perenna and Lavinia could well be two aspects of one and the same deity. Lavinia is said to have prophetic abilities too, an attribute which usually was connected to water-nymphs. Her father was a certain Anius, the eponym (giver of the name) of the river Anio whose name sounds like Anna too. Furthermore you have to cross the river Anio to go from Rome to the Mons sacer!

But every etymology would be invalid if Anna Perenna has not a Latin, but an Etruscian or pre-indoeuropean origin! Then Anna could be a 'Lallname' (babble name), which later became a proper name.

What we know for safe is the following: The Festival of Anna Perenna was celebrated on the 15th of March and was beloved by the common people, though it was also an officially recognized holiday. We know from Ovid (Fasti, III. 523 foll.) how it was celebrated. On the evening of the 15th, people would gather at the 1st milestone on the Via Flaminia in her sacred grove of fruit trees (in bloom at that time of year) by the banks of the Tiber, and camp out, some bringing tents, others making little shelters from leafy tree branches. There they picnicked merrily into the night, feasting, dancing, singing, and celebrating with much wine, toasting to health and long life. It was believed that one would live as many years as the cups of wine one could drink, and so it was of course traditional therefore to get very, very drunk. The songs were full of obscenities. This festival connected the old and the new; it is interesting to note that the Via Flaminia was famous for its tombs and cemeteries. We know by Macrobius (Sat. I. 12.6) that sarifices were done in her name 'ut annare perannareque commode liceat', i.e. that the ring of years may should close happily.

In AD 1999 a fountain was unearthed in Rome which was devoted to Anna Perenna. He was found at the corner of the Piazza Euclide with the Via G.Dal Monte in the northern part of Rome. The fountain is originated from the 1st century BC and was used until the 6th century AD. A great number of magic objects were found in it: plates with formulas of conjuration, lead-boxes with anthropomorphic figures, innumerous coins and a copper-kettle. They all now could be seen in the National Museum and the Diokletian Museum. 

I have attached a photo of the archaeological place of the fountain, 10-13m under the street level.

Ovid, Fasti 3, 517ff.
Macrob. Sat. 1, 12, 6
Der kleine Pauly

Best regards


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