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Coins of mythological interest

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Excursion: The procession of the Kalathos of Demeter

The following coin is an essential part of the great Demeter theme:

The Coin:
Titus, 79-81 AD
AR - Denar, 3.22g, 18.14mm, 180
        Rome, January - June 79 (as Caesar)
Obv.: T CAESAR IMP VESPASIANUS (from lower rigtht counterclockwise)
         Laureate bust r.
        slow quadriga l., on top of it high, garlands-decorated basket with grain ears
Ref:: RIC II, (Vepasian) 206var (Quadriga r.); CBN (Vespasian) 226-7 and pl. XXXIV; C.336; BMC 256
scarce, good VF, old cabinet tint
ex coll. Lawrence M. Woolslayer, certificate of David Sear, 13.12.2005

"The quadriga with the basket of corn-ears shows the procession of the calathus of Ceres, sung by Callimachus in his hymn; it already had appeared on coins of the moneyers of Augustus in 17 BC. It is unmistakenly derived from Alexandria, and suggests the importance of Egypt as the granary of Rome, even besides any endeavours of the Emperor to revive Italian agriculture."
(Mattingly, BMCR II, p. xIii)

The hymn of Kallimachos:
"[Begin singing], virgins, and sing the chorus, mothers: 'Demeter, cordially welcome, you much nourishing, you many bushelful! And just as the light-haired mares bring the holy basket, four in number, so will the great Goddess come to us, reigning far and wide, bringing a glorious spring, a bright summer and winter, and the autumn, year after year she will shield us.
(Kallimachos, Hymnos VI, 118th translation by me, Kallimachos, Works, 2004 WBG)

Kallimachos of Cyrene (305-240 B.C.,) was a significant Hellenistic poet and scholar.

Best regards

Ahura Mazda - The Wise Lord

I have wanted to write an article on Ahura Mazda for a long time, but have always shied away from it because it seemed like too extensive an undertaking. Now, during my Corona leave, I have decided to finally start. For this article, the subtitle of my mythology book applies especially: "Journey to a distant land"! I have 3 coins in my collection that refer to Ahura Mazda, and they are closely related, as we will see. The coin that is at the beginning of the article I have already presented once in an article about Hormisdas. But that was about the Sassanid Great King. The Sassanid Empire was the second Persian empire after the Achaemenid Empire and declined in the 7th century AD due to the expansion of the Islamic Arabs.

Coin #1
Sassanid Empire, Hormizd II, 309-309 AD.
AR - Drachm, 3.48g, 27.2mm, 90°.
Av.: Legend in Pahlevi, abbreviated and corrupted:
       ly. .KLM n . KLM [ydzmrhw'] y gb n s d [y?]z m
       (= "The worshipper of Mazdah, the divine Hor-.
       mizd, the king of the kings of Iran, who descended from 
      the gods")   
      Bearded bust n.r., crown with eagle r.,
      carrying a pearl in its beak, above Corymbos
       (Göbl crown type I)
Rv.: garlanded fire altar, in the flames of the altar the bearded
       bust of Ahura Mazda l., on the left Hormizd with eagle crown and
       Korymbos r. and on the right a bearded priest with muralcrown             
       standing l., both with harem pants and holding a sword in both              
        hands (Göbl reverse 1a); behind the figures in Pahlevi 'Fire of Hor-   
         mizd', on the base of the altar 3 globuli.
Ref.: cf. Göbl 83; cf. Mitchener
        ACW 867; cf. Paruck 176 (all have only one globule)
almost VF, thin flan break on rev.

The Korymbos (not the globe!) was a typical hair dress of the Sassanid kings. It consisted of a spherical summary of the hair on the head, which was surrounded with a silk scarf. Each Sassanid king had his own crown, which is how you can tell them apart on coins. Thanks to T.K.Mallon (1956-2014) from for translating the Pahlevi legend

Coin #2:
Nezak Huns, Napki Malka, 475-576
AE 27 (drachm), 3.8g, 27.31mm, 90°
Kapisa (Kabul), so-called Bull crown type
Av.: Bust with winged helmet and buffalo protome, draped
       and with earrings
       r. 'NPK MLK, l. A (all in Pahlevi)
Rv.: altar of fire with one highly stylised servant right
       and left, above each a sun wheel
Ref.: Göbl type 198; Mtchener 1510-12
VF/F+, with pretty green patina, perfectly centred

The Nezak Huns, not to be confused with the White Huns (Hephthalites), were the last of the 5 Hun peoples in the Hindu Kush and ousted the Alchon Huns from Kapisa, today's Kabul. After the defeat of the Sassanid king Peroz I against the Hephthalites in 474, they established an empire in northern Afghanistan until they themselves perished by the hands of the Islamic Arabs. They excelled in extensive coinage. This coin imitates the Sassanidian coins. Some think that Napki Malka, the legend on the obv, is not the name of a king but a title.

Unlike the Sassanid coin, the bust of Ahura Mazda does not appear in the flames of the altar. Perhaps this was a difference to the survanist variant of Zorastrianism of the Sassanids?

The next one is the oldest of the 3 coins. The Sassanids had extended their empire to the Indus. Bactria in what is now northern Afghanistan was also under their control. There they appointed governors, the Kushan Sassanids, who ruled the country for them. They too perished due to the expansion of Islam.

Coin #3:
Kushan-Sassanid, Hormizd I, "Kushanshah", ca. 265-295 AD,
AE 16 (drachm)
Av.: Legend in Pahlevi
         Bearded bust with lion headdress r., above segmented globe;
         behind long ribbons flying from the hair
Rv.: Legend in Pahlevi
        Garland-decorated altar, from which Ahura Mazda
         ascends, in left hand sceptre, in right hand wreath with long ribbons. 
Ref.: Mitchiner ACW 1280-87
F/FF, dark green patina

The figure rising from the altar is regularly called Ahura Mazda., however, calls her "Anahita(?)", an ancient Iranian goddess of water and fertility who later merged with the Semitic Ishtar.

In the 8th century, the name Ahura first appeared in Media, related to the Vedic word "asura" for "Lord". Mazda is related to the Vedic word "medh" for "mind, wisdom". Both terms thus originate from Proto-Indo-Iranian. At first they were used separately, e.g. also under Zarathustra. Only under the Achaemenid Darius I (522-486 BC) were they united to Ahura Mazda, which then means "Wise Lord". This is evident from the Behistun inscription in a large rock relief near Kermanshah. This inscription played a similarly outstanding role for the decipherment of the cuneiform script as the Rosetta Stone did for the decipherment of the hieroglyphs). One can see here how closely etymology is also linked to political history.

When the nomadic culture merged with the farming culture in connection with the settling down, a new religion was also formed. Zoroastrianism probably originated in Bactria (in what is now northern Afghanistan) and had close ties to ancient Indian ideas. Ahura Mazda itself is already known pre-Zoroastrian.

It split into Mazdaism and Parsism, all of which existed side by side in the Achaemenid Empire. In the Sassanid Empire, a Survanist variant also developed. In this form it had a great influence on Judaism, which during the Babylonian captivity adopted from it, for example, the concept of the end times and hell, which was later also adopted by Christianity.

(1) Zarathustra:
Zarathustra (Greek: Zoroaster), 2nd-1st century B.C., was a philosopher and founder of religion in Northeast Iran. His teachings are written down in the Avesta, the holy book of Zoroastrianism, of which only copies still exist, and in commentaries, the Zend. These were written during the Sassanid period. The oldest parts, the Gathas, are said to have been written by Zarathustra himself. When Islam overran the Persian Empire, the Parsees fled to India with the holy books. In 1907, copies were acquired by Sir Aurel Stein and thus made accessible to Western scholarship. 

Under Darius I, the first ruler of the Achaemenids, Zoroastrianism became the state religion. The creator god Ahura Mazda (therefore often called Mazdaism) or Ormuzd, also the creator of the moral order, whose focus was on truth, was at the centre. Subordinate to him were the two dualistic spirit beings Spenta Manju (high-bringing god) and Angra Manju (evil spirit), called Ahriman in Middle Persian texts. Among the Sassanids, the variant of Survanism developed, in which Survan, the personification of time, was the father of the two. This gave rise to the dualistic idea of the eternal struggle of good against evil. This actually contradicted the doctrine of Ahura Mazda, which was monotheistic at its core. But under the Sassanids, all religious variants coexisted peacefully. According to the teachings of Mazdaism and Parsism, Ahura Mazda destroys Ahriman at the end of time. A world judgement takes place, the wicked are punished and the good are rewarded with eternal life in the realm of Ahura Mazda. Basically, this religion is not dualistic at the end, as is often claimed.

(2) Mani
Mani (216-276) was a Persian founder of religion under the Sassanids who invented the syncretic religion of Manichaeism as a religion of revelation. It was composed of oriental, Hellenistic and Christian elements, and in particular of gnosis. It was now completely focused on the eternal struggle of the 2 dualistic powers Ormuzd (of good) and Ahriman (of evil). Man has a share in both.  He can only be redeemed by bringing his light parts into the kingdom of light, while the dark, material parts are abandoned to darkness. At the end of time, evil perishes by fire (ekpyrosis, which was already known to Heraclitus). Mani was opposed by the Zoroastrian priests, who succeeded in having him thrown into prison under Bahram I, where he died. Manichaeism was vehemently opposed by Christianity because of its duality, but also had great influence on it, e.g. on Augustine with his doctrine of the two kingdoms.

Zoroastrianism today:
There are still followers of Zoroastrianism today. 150,000 Zoroastrians live in India, Iran, the USA and Canada, of which 10,000 live in the Iranian desert city of Yazd alone, but they all differ considerably.

Famous followers were the Achaemenid 'Xerxes I (519-465 BC) and the Sassanid Shapur I the Great (died around 270 BC). Zoroastrians in the present day were, for example, Feroze Gandhi, the husband of Indira Ganhi, and the rock musician Freddie Mercury of the Queens.

History of Art:
(1) Ahura Mazda was a spiritual entity rather than a physical god, unlike, for example, Mithras, Thus, according to Herodotus, there were no images of him in ancient Iran. His symbol was fire. Thus the well-known Faravahar does not represent Ahura Mazda either! He is a symbol for the 3 Zoroastrian principles of Good Thinking, Good Speaking and Good Doing. Because of its great significance, it became a national emblem in the Achaemenid Empire, carved into palaces and monuments. The picture shows the Faravahar relief in Persepolis.

(2) After iconoclasm under the Parthians, Ahura Mazda was allowed to be depicted again under the Sassanids. The relief from Naqsh-e Rajab, 3rd century AD, shows Ahura Mazda presenting the ring of power (Cydaris) to Ardashir I, the founder of the Sassanid dynasty. However, this scene is also interpreted differently: Ardashir I, receives the ruling ring from the spirit of Darius I of the Achaemenid dynasty. Under Ardashir's horse lies Artabanus, the last Parthian king, and under Darius I's horse lies the magician Gautama, a usurper.

(1)  Regenbogen/Meyer,  Wörterbuch  der  philosophischen  Begriffe,  WBG  1998
(2)  Friedrich  Nietzsche,  Also  sprach  Zarathustra
(3)  Wikipedia

Best regards

Excursion: Nietzsche, Thus spoke Zarathustra

Nietzsche's "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" absolutely belongs in this context. This powerful work by Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was unfortunately misused by the Nazis. And this shadow still hovers over Nietzsche, but especially over this work. But first it must be said that Nietzsche's Zarathustra has nothing in common with the historical Zarathustra from the previous article, apart from the name.

After living as a hermit for 10 years, Zarathustra decides to preach his acquired wisdom to the people. In a village whose inhabitants are waiting for a tightrope walker to perform, he begins to preach about the "Übermench (Beyond-man)": "Man is something that is to be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?"

Rebuffed by the derisive laughter of the villagers, he decides to no longer speak to the people, but only to outstanding personalities. He continues his journey and begins a long series of sermons, chants and lyrical soliloquies with which he reveals his teachings to the reader. No area of life is left without criticism: church, state, science and the arts. His rhetoric is powerful, he uses all stylistic elements and means of expression. The eternal return of the same ends in nihilism. Only the will to power can overcome it. The decadent perish, only the truly strong accept their fate (amor fati). Thus, the strength of man can only be measured by his apostasy from the traditional and his love of existence.

Zarathustra constantly vacillates between his desire for hermitism, which could give him the opportunity for fulfilling thought, and his sense of mission. But when he sees his disciples spreading his doctrine of the superman, he retreats to his cave.

In the end, he is haunted there by a final seduction. "Higher men", who know about the decadence of the world, ask him for pity, as they lack the strength to overcome it. Zarathustra, however, recognises their temptation in compassion, rejects it and thus takes the last step towards the perfection of the Übermensch. Zarsthustra's "great noon" has come. He leaves his cave "glowing and strong, like a morning sun coming out of dark mountains."

Nietzsche and the Nazis
"Thus Spoke Zarathustra" was laid down next to Hitler's "Mein Kampf" and Rosenberg's "The Myth of the 20th Century" in the burial vault of the Tannenberg monument. Nietzsche's sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche in particular had an affinity with the Nazis. Hitler himself appeared at the funeral service at her burial. And of course the "Übermensch" was understood as the "Herrenmensch" in the Nazi sense. But even among the Nazis, opinion was not unanimous. In part, his philosophy was seen as incompatible with National Socialism. Thus Nietzsche had been an opponent of socialism, an opponent of nationalism and an opponent of racial thought. If he had abandoned these ideas, an article in one newspaper said, he might have become a good National Socialist. He was also reproached for his friendliness towards Jews and for never having had any understanding of the workers' question. So there was a clear contradiction between the Nazi institutions' veneration of Nietzsche and the individual reception of his philosophy.

In today's research, it was especially Marxists and left-liberals who consider Nietzsche to be partly responsible for National Socialism. Some conservatives also hold this view. The Germans as a whole had a hard time with Nietzsche after 1945. In France and Italy, on the other hand, he was rehabilitated. Important philosophers, e.g. Deleuze or Montinari, made a strong case for him and saw a falsification by National Socialism (Wikipedia)

Meanwhile, he is the philosopher on whom most works are published today.  Current Nietzsche research in Germany now also assumes almost unanimously that Nietzsche was abused. An abuse that continues with today's right-wing extremists!

I have added a pic of the painting Edvard Munnch, Friedrich Nietzsche, 1906

(1) Friedrich Nietzsche, Also sprach Zarathustra
(3) Wikipedia

Best regards

The Family of Maiandros

Coin #1:
Phrygia, Apameia, pseudo-autonomous, 2nd-3rd century BC
AE 15, 3.76g, 14.6mm, 180°
Obv.: AΠAME - ΩN
         Bust of Athena, wearing Corinthian helmet, draped and with aegis, r.
Rev.: AΠAME - ΩN
         River god in hip dress leaning l., holding in extended right hand long waterplant
         and in l. arm cornucopiae; resting with l. elbow on overturned vase from which
         water is flowing l.
Ref.: BMC 116; Imhoof Phrygia 115; Prowe III, 1643; SNG München 132-133; not in
Rare, VF, remains of sand patina

Apameia, also called Apameia Kibotos in contrast to other cities with the same name, was founded by the Seleucid king Antiochos I Soter (324-261 BC) on the site of the older residence Kelainai, and named after his mother Apame. Apameia was situated at the sources of the Maiandros and the Marsyas.

Mythology of Maiandros
Maiandros as river god was already known by Hesiod. Like all great rivers, he was considered the son of Okeanos and Thetys. There was a multifaceted family mythology around him. One of his daughters, the Naiads, was the nymph Kyanee, and Kalamos (Nonn. Dion.) and Marsyas are mentioned as his sons.

Kyanee, the daughter of Maiandros, was the nymph of a spring or well near Miletos. She was the wife of Miletos, the founder of the city of Miletos. Miletos was a son of Apollo and Aireia in Crete. Minos, Rhadamanthys and Sarpedon had fallen in love with him and fought over him. When he chose Sarpedon, he was driven out of Crete by Minos, sailed with Sarpedon to Karia and founded the city of Miletos (Apollodor) there. Kyanee gave birth to the twins Byblis and Kaunos.

Byblis and Kaunos:
The story of Byblis is the story of her incestuous love for her twin brother Kaunos. There are different versions of this mythology:

(1) The beautiful Byblis was desired by many noble Carians. But she rejected them all and began to love her twin brother Kaunos. But she kept this a secret, which weighed so heavily on her that in her hopeless love she decided to kill herself to shorten her suffering, and she threw herself from a high cliff. But the nymphs took pity on her and caught her. Then they sank her into a deep sleep and made her one of their companions as a hamadryad (tree nymph) and immortal (Nicander).

(2) Ovid tells us that she actually confessed her forbidden love to her brother through a messenger. Horrified, he fled from her into a foreign land, where he founded the city of Kaunos.  Byblis then set off in search of him and wandered through Caria, Lycia and other countries as if out of her mind, until she finally fell to the ground exhausted and no nymphs could help her. She dissolved into tears and was transformed into a fountain (Ovid. Metam. IX, v.452). This fountain bore her name and was known for a long time at the foot of an oak tree in Miletos (Strabon).

(3) Others say that after her brother fled from her to the land of the Lelegen (neighbours of the Carians), she hanged herself in despair from an oak tree with a belt. From her tears, however, the Byblis fountain was formed (Aristokritos).

(4) There is also the version that Kaunos fell in love with her, but since this love was impossible, he fled her and went far away in despair. Byblis, however, set out to look for him. When she could not find him, she hanged herself from a walnut tree (Conon. Narr.).

The Byblis myth is probably related to the traditions of the cult of Aphrodite near Miletos and was genealogically linked to Minos by the Cretan colonists of this city (Roscher). According to Stephanos of Byzantium, the city of Byblos in Phoenicia is said to have been named after Byblis.

Kalamos, the son of Maiandros, had a companion Karpos, a son of Zephyr and a Hore (goddess of Season), whom he loved above all things. When he was thrown back by a vicious gust during a swimming race in the Maiandros and drowned, he no longer wanted to live and begged Zeus to allow him to die too, so that he could be reunited with his beloved. Zeus took pity on him and transformed him into a reed (calamus). It is said that the sound of the rustling reed was the lamentation of Kalamus over the death of his beloved. Karpos became a crop. This story is told by Eros to Dionysus to comfort him over the loss of his lover Ampelos (Nonn. Dion.).

The Maiandros (Meander, also Great Meander), today Büyük Menderes, is the longest river in southwestern Asia Minor. It rises near Kelainai and after a short course takes in the Marsyas. In a strongly winding course it flows into the Icarian Sea in ancient times near Priene through a wide alluvial plain. The Μαιανδρου Πεδιον , the valley through which the Maiandros flows, was famous for its fertility. There is also the Small Meander (Kücük Menderes), which was called Kaystros in ancient times. It should not be confused with the Mainandros. The Maiandros was known early on. Homer already mentions it in his Iliad (II, 869), when he reports at the end of the catalogue of ships that Nastes led the Carians, a people of barbarian dialect, who inhabited Miletos and the floods of the Maiandros.

The most striking feature of the Maiandros is its meandering course, which has given the name meandering to the similar behaviour of other rivers. In the case of the river loops, a distinction is made between the impinging slope and the sliding slope, whereby over time the impinging slopes of two loops come closer and closer together until a breakthrough occurs. Then the river takes the shorter path and the old loop becomes an oxbow lake or silts up completely. If there was an elevation in the middle of the loop, a circulating hill was formed, popular as a site for a castle.

Art history:
The meander pattern has been known since the Neolithic period. It was used as an ornament in the borders of garments, on clay vessels, as a relief or frieze in architecture. The meander also exists rounded as a so-called running dog or as a double meander consisting of 2 meanders running in opposite directions, e.g. in the Pompeian wall painting of the Villa dei Misteri.

Originally, however, it is a characteristic of Greek art. In antiquity it stood for the attainment of eternity through repetition. It is an allusion to the eternally young god Eros and the eternally renewing cosmos. The meander pattern was the distinguishing feature of several cities on the Meander. Thus it is often found as an ethnicon on coins.

Coin #2:
Phrygia, Apameia, cs. 88-40 BC.
AE 25, 7.88g, 180°.
struck under the magistrate Andronikos, son of Alkios
Av.: Bust of Athena with Corinthian helmet, draped and wearing aegis, .r.
Rv.: above AΠAMEΩ[N].
        below in 2 lines ANΔPONIKO[V] / AΛKIOV.
        Eagle rising from a meandering pattern r., behind its head an 8-pointed
        star, on both sides the pileus of a dioscuri with an 8-pointed star above
Ref.: SNG Copenhagen 163; SNG Tübingen 3955-2956; SNG Munich 109; SNG
         Lewis 1010; Weber 7024; Hunter 3; Walcher 2474; BMC 37-39; HGC 7, 670;
VF, de-patinated

Note: These coins are among the first to have been struck in brass (Tatjana N. Smekalova, 2009).

Authors cited by Hederich:
(1) Aristokritos, from Milet(?), 1st century BC (at least before Parthenios from Nikaia, d. 73 BC), wrote a book "Peri Miletou".

(2) Konon, around 30 BC, wrote "Diegeseis", 50 mythological tales, known only through Photius' "Myriobiblon".

(3) Nikander from Kolophon, 197-133 B.C. 2 didactic poems on remedies and poisons have survived. Not preserved are his "Metamorphoses", which Ovid used, and the "Georgika", which Virgil used.
(4) Stephanos of Byzantium, a late ancient Greek grammarian from the early period of Justinian I, worked at the University of Constantinople. Wrote 50-60 books of "Ethnika". The quality of his works is rather variable, nevertheless his excerpts represent a not unimportant source (Wikipedia).

I have added the following Pictures:
(1) Byblis. Painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905).

(2) Map of river Maiandros in ancient times
(3)The photo shows the circulating hill at the Neckarburg/Germany in the upper Neckar valley. The Neckar once flowed in the flat loop around the hill. Now it takes a shortcut in the background of the photo.

(1) Homer, Ilias
(2) Apollodor, Bibliotheke
(3) Hesiod, Theogonia
(4) Strabon, Geographika
(5) Nonnos, Dionysiaka
(6) Plinius, Naturalis historiae
(7) Ovid, Metamorphoses

(1) Benjamin Hederich, Gründliches mythologisches Lexikon
(2) Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher, Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und    
      römischen Mythologie
(3) Der Kleine Pauly
(4) Robert von Ranke-Graves, Römische Mythologie
(5) Westermanns Atlas zur Weltgeschichte

Online Sources:
(1) Wikipedia

Best regards


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