FORVM`s Classical Numismatics Discussion Board

Numism => Reading For the Advanced Collector => Topic started by: slokind on May 08, 2007, 08:53:13 pm

Title: Isis
Post by: slokind on May 08, 2007, 08:53:13 pm
Though Antoninus Pius has plenty of Isis reverses of all sorts at Alexandria, his aren't numerous elsewhere that I know of.  Today I received in the mail one that I have coveted for a long time.  Not only is it Isis but it is signed by Zeno, so dates from early in Antoninus's reign and must count among the earliest coins with Imperial portraits at Nicopolis, but in checking up on it I learned that, like the Zeno Apollo Sauroktonos for Antoninus Pius, this type also exists in an unsigned edition.  My interest in such parallel issues also extends to the term in office of Auspex, early in Septimius's reign.
Anyhow, the Isis coin is, in my opinion, as pretty as a coin can be, and here she is (followed by the CoinArchives image of the unsigned parallel one).
• 08 05 07 Æ24  11,07g  axis 6:30h  Nicopolis ad Istrum.  Issued by Zeno.  Antoninus Pius, bareheaded, head to r.  AVT AI ADRIA  |  ANTÔNEINOS.  Rev., Isis stg., to l. in traditional crown, holding sistrum (with clapper rendered) and ritual situla.  Still unlisted, so far as I know.  NEIKOPOL PROS  |  IST ÊGE ZÊNÔNOS.  One WITHOUT THE SIGNATURE OF ZENO sold by Lanz in 2001 (Aukt.  102, no. 597).  That one, too, was thought to be unlisted in 2001.
Possibly in Varbanov (English) I.
Pat L.

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: David Atherton on May 08, 2007, 09:20:39 pm
Nice obverse die match.

A beautiful coin with a rich, dark patina. Artistically engraved as well.

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: moonmoth on May 08, 2007, 11:46:53 pm
A very nice coin.  The signature is fascinating.  As usual, the detailed description throws up a number of questions and answers ..

I looked up "situla" .. So, the item which so many attributions of Isis Faria call a "basket" is actually more of a bucket. "Basket" does not imply the ability to carry water; "situla" does. 

What does "clapper rendered" mean?  The sistrum I see on coins is a sort of loop with bells or rattlers attached, with a handle at the base. 


Title: Re: Isis
Post by: gallienus1 on May 09, 2007, 05:18:10 am
Love this one. The most noble of emperors has been given the reverence he deserves and the reverse is both charming and graceful at the same time. (Let us in on your secret Pat, where do you FIND these coins?)


Title: Re: Isis
Post by: slokind on May 09, 2007, 02:28:26 pm
A sistrum is an Egyptian noisemaker, which worked like a clapper used to scare crows from the cornfield or like the Hallowe'en clappers we used to get as children.  I guess that, like bells which scared the diabolic influences away from churches, they are basically sonic purifiers or perhaps beckoners.  But that's what I don't know, though I do know that they have a hieroglypph of their own.  They are very old and very Egyptian. 

K.S.=Kathleen Schlesinger, an historical musicologist, who contributed a number of articles to the EB 11th of 1910.  She was editor of Portfolio of Musical Archaeology and author of The Instruments of the Orchestra.

P.S. The Lanz coin aslo is Varbanov I (English) no. 2124, and I got mine from the dealer friend from whom I bought my very first ancient coin.  And I may have been wrong that the thing that shows at the top is its clapper (real ones exist, not just pictures of them).   P.L.
In RPC Ant on line, search Antoninus Pius Isis and go to p. 24/24, where you will find the only comparanda to the N ad I coin, from Argos and Corinth, the latter BCD Corinth no. 676.  But most interesting of all is one from an unknown mint:

These three refer, I should think, to a standard but not Alexandrian statuary type, a Greek one, that was the prototype also for the Nicopolis coins.  They are the only ones there (in RPC on line) that are comparable to the Nicopolis Isis.  I'd better submit mine, I think.
There's  an Alexandria with a sistrum reverse in RPC, and here's the Isis from an unknown mint.

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: moonmoth on May 09, 2007, 03:43:35 pm
Thanks, Pat.  That definition of a sistrum is excellent, full of detail.  I can now visualise it against the actual coins it appears in.  I see that what I was taking for bells or rattlers must be the ends of the rods, or maybe the leaf-shaped stops or cotter pins that stop the loose rods from falling out. 

(I took "clapper" to mean the thing that makes bells ring.  But you meant a noisemaker in a more generic sense.  Webster (on line) says: a : the tongue of a bell b : a mechanical device that makes noise especially by the banging of one part against another.  I would have used the word "rattle" for this sort of noisemaker - for crows, you'd use something like this one: . Semantics - always needs watching!)

This is my Isis Faria, on a rather more mundane coin of Claudius II.  Egg-shaped sistrum, with rods; and she is carrying her ceremonial bucket.

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: slokind on May 09, 2007, 05:01:16 pm
That's our statuary type, all right, on the Claudius II antoninianus.  I found it also in Sear III, no. 11370, illustrated.  I was having trouble reading what looked like N for an S and, for some odd reason, didn't think of using Isis as a Salus type.  I don't have RIC so late as this.  And Sear (or RIC) doesn't know that 'basket' is not an option for Isis, but, on the other hand, perhaps neither did Claudius II's mint.  But it does raise a question: Isis Pharia, in my experience (and I just went through 24 web pages of Alexandria for Ant Pius, where I saw dozens of Isis Pharia as also she does appear on Rome silver, I think), as the Isis of ships benefiting by the presence of the famous Pharos, she has that big sail.  I can see no excuse for calling this stg. Isis, with her most traditonal attributes, the Isis crown, the sistrum, and the situla (and doubtless the Isis knot of her dress), 'Pharia'.   I looked in Sear just to see whether he said 'Pharia': he doesn't.
I had rather suspected that this standard temple statue Isis might be the type seen in Rome; I haven't even checked BMCRE yet for Antonine sestertii.  In that case, I wouldn't be surprised if such a statue type stood in temples, for instance, at Delos or anywhere in Greece where they had a Hellenistic Serapeion--most urban places, actually.  It looks like a Greek statue of, say, the 3cBC.
What it is not, is plain from RPC: anywhere but Alexandria and anything but Pharia.  I'll go to LIMC tomorrow.
BTW: I thought of 'rattle' as onomatopoea, the noise made by pebbles or beans or gravel inside a container, a gourd or one made of clay (like the little Geometric bird rattle from the Athens Kerameikos cemetery, from an infant grave).  A 'clapper', I thought, makes a sharp, high, impact noise, as, yes, a bell's or (as you found) other metal on metal.  I didn't know the construction of the crow-dispelling one, which I probably ran across reading Hardy or some other Victorian, but, though vernacularly it may be a rattle, it...well, it doesn't rattle; it goes clackity-snappity, like a stick on a picket fence or a stiff card inserted to make noise as the spokes of a bicycle wheel passes over it.  The Hallowe'en toys have a metal pellet on the end of a bit of spring steel, which, when shaken, makes quite a racket by rapidly hitting a tin panel.  The crow-dispeller makes a racket, but not a rattle, too.  Enough!  Pat
I think, having only the Shorter at home, I'd better check the big OED tomorrow, too.  A corner of my brain thrives on these things for desserts or appetizers.

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: slokind on May 09, 2007, 05:15:21 pm
(a) I knew I'd seen one in Rome.  Her Vase in her l. hand is wholly restored.  Actually, all extremities, probably, are restored.
• Rome, Museo Capitolino. The Dying Gaul, copy of a bronze, part of a monument set up by Attalos I of Pergamon, probably by the 220s BC, commemorating his victory over invading Gauls in 235.  The torque and singed hair, as well as his very un-Greek facial structure, were of great interest to the sculptor.  He sits on a Celtic (Gaulish) shield, with a short sword, and a great round Celtic trumpet curls around his feet.  To a Greek, or other Mediterranean person, his long torso (which looks perfectly ordinary to us) is as novel an ethnic trait as the way his hair (not least his mustache) grows.
The statue in the background is easily identified as Isis by the way her drapery is knotted in front (although her sistrum is doubtless modern).
(b) Here is a Trajanic funerary relief with the family of a priestess of Isis with a sistrum beside her.
• Rome, MNR (Terme, cloister)  Funerary portraits
These people have, I think, later names; as usual some of the names are Greek (Hermodorus, Demaris).  The woman (center) is designated Prima Sac[erdos = First Priestess; her hairstyle and the sistrum beside her head suggest that she was a priestess of Isis (I think...).  Rabirius wears an himation (orator, educated).  Hermodorus has a patera beside his head, also suggesting priestly functions.
Pat L.

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: slokind on May 09, 2007, 06:13:13 pm
How to learn:  One never really registers what one sees until one has had to correct onself on its account.  Here is a nearly lifesize statue of Isis in Alexandria, from Alexandria, holding the situla (bail handle) and with her r. hand missing but OK to hold a sistrum.  And J.M.C. Toynbee in the medallions book says that Isis and Serapis never made it into the official rota of festivals in Rome (to explain paucity of medallions with Isis).
Anyway, coins notwithstanding, Alexandria did have this kind of statue.  I did not, however, find it in Antonine BMCRE except in a note re a problematic one of Faustina II on p. 245, and I didn't find this kind at all in BMCRE V, Severan.
Pat L.
P.S. For more Claudius Gothicus specimens, a real sistrum in BM and a rather slender situla, and more inexplicable calling of a plain Isis an "Isis Faria" (with no source evidence such as mention in an ancient author of a shrine of Isis IN the Pharos, describing a statue like the ones in the Capitoline (grayscale photo of her, without the Dying Gaul in front, posted by Congius, provided, and even the museum to be deduced from my old color slide), see:

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: moonmoth on May 09, 2007, 11:08:35 pm
Complete illumination will surely follow upon Pat looking into a subject!

I have misread The Dictionary of Ancient Coins.  Under "Isis Faria" (and not in the longer section on "Isis") it shows a drawing of the actual Isis Faria but also gives a quotation as follows:

Respecting the sistrum and the situla in the hands of Isis, Servius, as quoted by Eckhel, says, "Isis is the genius of Egypt, who by the movement of her sistrum, which she carries in her right hand, signifies the access and recess (or the rising and falling) of the Nile; and by the situla, or bucket, which she holds in her left hand, she shows the filling of all lacunae, that is all of the ditches and furrows into which the stagnant water of the Nile is received." See Pharia Isis.

Misleading to have this under "Isis Faria."  But an interesting quote.

That clip is available in Numiswiki.  You can also find there this clip:

ALEXANDRIA.  On the reverse of a silver Hadrian (engraved in Oiselius, TAB. xxxiv. p. 149), the type of a female standing clothed in a tunic [supposed to represent the genius of Egypt].  She holds in her right hand the sistrum, in connexion with the worship of Isis [the movement of that instrument signifying the rise of the Nile.]  In her left hand she holds a bucket or waterpot (situla) by which is indicated the flow of canals or watercourses.--Rasche.

Here's "Aegyptos" from Coin Archives:

Reclining, but with the same attributes: headdress, sistrum, situlum (looking like a basket this time) and this time with an ibis on a column nearby.  Obviously not from the same statue; perhaps a variation on the theme.

Moving on to rattles .. The OED gives two primary definitions of "rattle". The first is "a case of some hard material containing small bodies which rattle when the object is shaken."  The second is "an instrument having a vibrating tongue fixed in a frame, which slips over the teeth of a ratchet-wheel with a loud noise when the object is whirled round. (Formerly used by watchmen and others to give an alarm.)"  Somewhat different types of noisemaker, but both with the same name.

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: slokind on May 10, 2007, 02:44:30 am
That is great!  I don't want the last word, but that is a great Hadrian aureus.  And Eckhel's Servius can't help being somewhat Hadrianic both in his style (granted it's in translation) and in his content.  Eckhel, like Winckelmann, was an 18th c. man, different in many ways as they were.   Here, the important thing to notice is that Eckhel died before the decipherment of hieroglyphics, so that he was one of the last great scholars to have Egypt wholly from Greco-Roman evidence.  In 1799, the Rosetta stone was discovered, and that was the year of Eckhel's death.  Eckhel's Egypt was virtually Hadrian's Egypt.  So though he was cognizant of most of the magistrates' names on coins, his Egypt was pre-decipherment (rather as Arthur Evans' Crete was pre-decipherment) and pre-archaeological (very pre-Flinders Petrie and Wallis Budge).
Thank you!  Pat L.

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: moonmoth on May 10, 2007, 10:23:57 am
Thanks for the context. You can look stuff up all you want, and learn a lot, but you don't really know what it means until you know everything else as well ..

This is your thread and I don't want to deny you the last word, but as it is about Isis, I would like to add this well-known and readily available coin of Julia Domna. RIC IV 577.  Sear and RIC both say that this is Isis with the infant Horus at her breast; she has one foot on a prow, and a rudder rests on an altar behind her.  RIC mentions her peaked head-dress.  This is one of those Roman reverses which look like an attempt to write a message in code, and end up being rather complicated.

The Dictionary of Roman Coins (which is a joy to have a physical copy of)  only gives this as a "female figure," quoting Akerman.  Do you think it really is supposed to be Isis? 

The prow and the rudder look as though they belong to Annona.  The head-dress is not Isis' usual one.  The legend, the happiness of the age, occurs with images of children elsewhere.  The altar might just be an indication of piety.  With your knowledge of context and statuary, what do you think?

(p.s. That infant looks like an awkward handful!)

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: slokind on May 10, 2007, 12:48:43 pm
That is a LOVELY Julia on your denarius.  Oh, yes, I'm sure it's Isis and Horus/Harpokrates.  The Septimius family likes the whole Greco-Egyptian family.  I have not the slightest doubt that this is just a minimally exotic form of Venus Victrix with Eros at her feet (and cf. Jupiter with little 'baby' Emperor at his feet~Septimius and Caracalla), which is to say that the obstreperous infant is a crypto-Caracalla and (rather like some of the Ptolemaic queens before her, who, I guess, started this game) Isis is equated to Aphrodite, and Julia is fancied as the mother of the Divine Child of their choice: SAECULI FELICITAS, indeed.  As for the Annona-like prow, Rome did get grain from Egypt, didn't she?  Pat L.
• EGYPT.  Berlin, StM.  Late Period: Dyn. XXVI (Saitic).  Blue faience statuette from Thebes of Isis nursing baby Horus.  c. 600 BCE.  H. 0.097m (that is, less than 5 inches).  The Greeks and then the Roman world found and adopted this cult and spread it everywhere.  Isis appears on regular Roman denarii just as Juno, Diana, and Venus do.

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: curtislclay on May 10, 2007, 03:09:43 pm
The traditional ID as Isis depends, I suppose, on the motif of nursing a child and on the association with a ship.  Isis is often shown nursing Horus, though usually, it would seem, in a seated pose.  Or, without the child, she can be shown standing on a ship and holding the sail. 

The "altar" behind might just be the stern of the ship, as the rudder leaning against it would suggest.  On new-style Eastern coins the "altar" on left is usually of the same height as the prow on right, as though both did belong to the same ship.  At Rome the "altar" is usually higher, suggesting two different objects, but maybe the prow has just been made smaller so Isis can put her foot on it, while the stern is enlarged so the rudder can be clearly rendered.  As Elberling remarked, is it likely that Isis would turn her back to her altar?

Two other details require explanation: the polos Isis wears on her head, not her traditional "horns, disk, and plumes", and the small wreath she holds in her r. hand, not readily visible because overlapping her dress and rarely if ever mentioned in descriptions of the type.

It would be good to check whether this coin type is discussed in the several exhaustive articles on the motif of "Isis nursing Horus" that are cited in LIMC.

Another argument in favor of the Isis ID: the type may well date to 200 and reflect the imperial family's visit to Egypt in 199-200.  The type certainly belongs after 198, because very rare on bronze coins, but before 202, since it was copied on the new-style Eastern coins which ended in that year.  The unique Isis and Horus sestertius that I know shares its obv. die with another unique coin showing the Hilaritas type of Cohen 76 (holding long palm and scepter); and this same Hilaritas type is die-linked on aurei to the dynastic series of 201-2.

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: moonmoth on May 11, 2007, 04:05:41 am
Curtis, that is some nice observation.  I had a browse through the Coin Archives specimens and it seems that some of the engravers in Rome didn't really know what they were engraving.  Here are some examples from Coin Archives showing from Rome, a definite altar and a definite ship's stern; and from Laodicea, a definite ship.  There are plenty of indeterminate objects from Rome too - these two are from engravers who at least had some definite objects in mind.

The wreath is interesting.  Some coins don't seem to show it.  I was interpreting this gesture as offering the breast to the child, but I can see on my own coin that it could easily be a small wreath.

There are coins of Caracalla showing Serapis (the other major Egyptian deity in Rome) with a small wreath made of corn ears.  I wonder if this could be the same sort of thing? Alternatively, it could be a teething ring for the child. (That last is a wild surmise not supported by any evidence.)

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: Heliodromus on May 11, 2007, 05:09:28 am
Interesting topic! I have the Domna Saecvli Felicitas type myself and had always taken it as given that it was Isis, but thinking about it there really doesn't seem to be much to go on to make that identification, although the imperial travels to Egypt at the time that Curtis mentions does strengthen the case.

The polos/kalathos does seem very odd for Isis - one would really expect the horns+sun disc crown of Hathor or conceivably the throne crown (see intact version below), although I've never noticed the latter on a roman coin. Interestingly though there's a provincial Septimius type showing Isis Faria with polos on Coin Archives (attached). I wonder if this is normal for this particular type or just an error?

The only other "Isis" with kalathos I could find was an odd terracotta Isis-Aphrodite with a huge kalathos decorated with the crown of Hathor.

It's also noticable that the depiction on the coin doesn't show the infant being nursed, nor does he(?) bear any attributes identifying him with horus/harpocrates. Nor does the female figure carry a sistrum or wear the knot of Isis (despite elaborate drapery being depicted) that would make the identification more secure. She does seem to have long braided hair which is sometimes seen on Isis.

(continued below, so I can add more pictures)

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: Heliodromus on May 11, 2007, 05:31:45 am
Searching coin archives, the clearest version of the wreath-like object being held by the female figure is the one below, where it does seem to show some structure - like a ring being grasped at one side with three ball-like objects threaded onto it on the other. It's not a sistrum (could be some type of rattle, though), but nor does it bring to mind any object that would attribute the figure as any other deity/personification.

The only things that come to mind for the polos are that it could either be basically an error - maybe intended as a very small throne crown (although normally clearly depicted as a kalathos with top lip), just as the Hathor crown is shown much reduced on the roman Isis (see example from Hadrian's villa below), or maybe it's indended to show a more generic mother goddess - a merged version of Isis and Cybele (who repeatedly appears on Domna's coins), perhaps. I did find another provincial on Coin Archives where Cybele appears to be shown with a kalathos rather than the expected turretted crown.



Title: Re: Isis
Post by: Robin Ayers on May 11, 2007, 06:47:28 pm
Here is mine, although it is not the sharpest image. Note the crown-

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: slokind on May 11, 2007, 06:53:36 pm
Thank you, Robin.  Whatever else it is, that crown is no kalathos, and I suspect that the engraver intended an Egyptian hairdo as well.  It is a neat coin.  Pat L.

I photographed this in the Late Egyptian room at the Louvre, and I think it's Dyn. XXVI (Saitic) or later, but I didn't take time to copy the label!
Anyhow here is a rather academically correct Egyptian rather than Greco-Egyptian Holy Family.  From studying its relations with Archaic Greek art, I have become particulaly fond of late Dynastic and Greco-Egyptian art.  So I'll just share this tiny one.  P.L.

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: slokind on May 21, 2007, 12:55:03 pm
I got this Alexandria diobol not because Hadrian looks pretty, but for its Isis reverse.  Since the dealer practically insisted on sending it registered (from that dangerous place, Belgium), I expect it will take some time.  If it hadn't been for Isis, I probably would have been leery of it, as I am of the registered mail business.*  In any case, that is why I'm using the dealer's pictures.  I hope that it's OK (usually I post only what I have in hand).
*Today the seller returned my payment for registered mail.
So here is Isis nursing Horus-Harpokrates.  Now to the library to get BMC Alexandria.  I have come to grief on Alexandria before now, and it has no L on it.
Pat L.

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: Rugser on May 21, 2007, 04:38:50 pm
Thanks Pat for these interesting discussions   
I learn a lot of things on the history and on the art.   
These are my coins with ISIS.   
Is what seen in hand to Anubis it is a "sistrum" ?     
Best regards   

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: slokind on May 21, 2007, 04:47:02 pm
Yes, indeed, Anubis holds an excellent sistrum.  I wouldn't worry about my coin if it looked like yours.  And that little lotus-like crown is a legitimate variety of Isis crown, too.  And your Isis heads say FARIA!
I am waiting to see what others say about my coin; meantime I'll look at BMC and LIMC pages.
Pat L.

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: Jochen on May 21, 2007, 05:07:28 pm
Hi Pat!

I think I can see a IS in the r. field of your coin. Then it would be year 16 = AD 131/132. Usually this type has the L on the field l. of the throne, but may be it is worn away. I have found a type like yours in 'Gisela Förschner, Die Münzen der römischen Kaiser in Alexandrien, Historisches Museum Frankfurt am Main, 1987', but with two hawks sitting on the back of the throne. Ref.: Datt. - cp. 1749; SNG Cop. 370 (without the hawks!); Köln 1046.

So it seems to be the type in SNG Cop.!

Best regards

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: Heliodromus on May 21, 2007, 05:56:59 pm
I have a very similar coin to Pats, but not identical. I'd be interested if anyone could give a precise attribution for it, and let me know what the jug-like (?) object in left field is, and what the sceptre-like thing is that Horus/Harpocrates is holding. The weight is 10.38g, which I believe makes it a diobol.

Ser - I love those festival of Isis pieces!


Title: Re: Isis
Post by: slokind on May 21, 2007, 08:10:45 pm
I found Ben's.  It is illustrated in LIMC sv Isis, pl. 514, Isis 219, which = BMC 761, Dattari 1750, pl. 17, Milne 1345, Geissen AlexKaisermünzen II, 1045.  I am just copying what is there, sv Isis p. 777, no. 219.  I don't find the vase mentioned, whether a canopic jar of Hadrianic issue or some other jar.  I ought to have noted who wrote the article; I can go back tomorrow, if you want.  P.L.
Yes, the infant is holding a lotus bud on its stem.  And, is that a 'canopic urn' at left?  With a vulture head?
There is even, ibid., no. 223, a Hadrianic coin showing this statuary composition (and the lotus bud held by Harpokrates) in an Egyptian temple/shrine.  Cool Coin!
Pat L

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: curtislclay on May 21, 2007, 09:30:25 pm
Confirming Pat's attribution: Ben's coin seems to be quite like Cologne 1045, AE 23, 10.01 gr., year 16, Harpocrates wears skhent on head and holds lotus, oinochoe and palm in field, falcons on corners of throne back, a detail not shown by Ben's and Pat's coins.

Pat's is like Cologne 1046, AE 24, 8.65 gr., same year, same types but without the oinochoe behind throne and palm branch before.

Ben's coin clearly shows Isis reaching her r. hand to her bare breast to offer it to Harpocrates.  She is definitely nursing him, and this same activity seems to be meant on all Alexandrian coins of Isis seated with Harpocrates, and in all of the similar reliefs and statues illustrated in LIMC.

In Domna's SAECVLI FELICITAS type, in contrast, the lady does not bare her breast and does not reach toward it with open hand to offer it to the child.  Ben has remarked on this point, and it was made forcibly by Elberling in 1866: Cohen was wrong to see nursing here, the child is too far away from the breast, sometimes the child raises both hands as though to embrace the mother.  For thirty years Elberling had instructed his agents to pay any price for a coin actually showing the child being nursed, but they always reported back that the descriptions in the auction catalogues were inaccurate and no nursing was taking place!  One might wonder whether Elberling himself wasn't weaned too early, but he got the facts right!  This type doesn't depict nursing, which has to make us question the ID as Isis and Harpocrates.

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: slokind on May 22, 2007, 12:30:49 am
It is true, though certainly not conclusive, that Imperial art while embracing great amounts of Greek and Hellenistic symbolism, stops short, except in very rare cases, of showing a Roman woman of any standing, let alone an empress (even Domna!), exhibiting (let along using!) a functional mammary gland; they were particularly averse to nipples (they aren't just worn off).  All the Roman ladies, and empresses, shown as Venus, even a Venus with only one bare breast, also wear a thin shift where the Greek statue showed skin.  Remember, this was the culture (in Italy, traditionally) that also thought it shocking to wear sandals that showed bare feet.  What Romans DID was one thing; what they celebrated or even confessed to in public was another.  It is, I think, possible that they wanted the idea of Isis without, quite, her concrete iconography.  The exceptional female nudity of a couple of Flavian ladies, scrawny editions of the Pudica type with their own high wigs in stiff curls, are the only nude empresses and ladies of court that I can think of.  So, I do think that, after all, we are to think of Isis and Harpokrates, just as the Venus Genetrix of Sabina really does refer to that statue, holding her apple and graciously unveiling, without being anywhere near as joyous about it as the actual copies of the statue of c. 410-400 BCE were.  I mean, like Jesus being baptised in the Jordan is meant as a nude man, but not only has he all the attributes of a rubber wetting-pants doll but the Jordan river arches up to shield him as well.  I mean, they just won't draw it or engrave it or sculpt it if it's a working breast or a working thingy of any sort.  I mean, one can't look at the denarii without remembering Isis, but it was necessary to have her hold something sort of like a wreath, or a teething ring (we might say), rather than offer Harpokrates nourishment.  Can't prove it, of course.
Pat L.
From my old teaching files:
• Copenhagen, NCG  Cat. 541.  Marcia Furnilla as Venus.  The body is the Aphrodite type we call the "Capitoline Venus", that which Nicola Pisano adopted for Truth and Botticelli for the Birth of Venus.  As he put Simonetta Vespucci's head on Venus, here a Flavian sculptor has put that of a Flavian imperial woman: not Julia Titi, not Domitia (Domitian's wife), so evidently (also comparing some other portraits) Marcia Furnilla, Titus's second wife.  What WOULD Vespasian say?
(One of the best possible advertisments, until A. Dürer's Women's Bathhouse, for bodily modesty).

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: moonmoth on May 22, 2007, 01:40:31 am
That's interesting. Maybe 150 years later, this posthumous coin of Theodora does definitely seem to show a mother offering a functioning breast to her infant.  Of course, a culture can shift a good deal in 150 years, as our own demonstrates.

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: Heliodromus on May 22, 2007, 03:45:51 am
Pat, Curtis, thanks very much for the attribution. That give me more to follow-up on the symbolism.

It's interesting to see the same type in the temple of Isis (headress on pediment), which does suggest as Pat says that it may have been a statue that is being copied here.

Pat, the objection to imperial nudity is interesting, but how can we be sure that that the figure on the coin is meant to represent Julia Domna as well as Isis? From Curtis's 198-202 dating of the type, it seems that the child is depicted too young to be taken as Caracalla or Geta who'd have been around 10 yrs old (b. 188, 189 respectively) at the time. On the other hand, if it was meant to be one of them then I suppose it might further explain why he is not being breast fed!

It'd be useful to know, if possible, what the wreath-like object being (noted by Curtis) held by the figure on the coin is. Perhaps it's a key to the identification of the figure.


Title: Re: Isis
Post by: slokind on May 22, 2007, 01:27:40 pm
Ben: As for implicit free association (free as all propaganda is) of JD with Isis, I said all that can be said (that I know of) above in Reply #12.  As to the chronological ages of Harpokrates and Caracalla...!   Harpokrates is intrinsically and eternally the divine infant in his role in the Isis Lactans composition.  Caracalla is intrinsically the Imperial heir, but he is mortal!  That is the limit to human divinity, which caught up even with Jesus, who, nonetheless, in a creche, meaning incarnation and bodily weakness, incorporates the final bodily weakness of the crucifixion.  I cannot pretend to be privy to any fantasy world of Septimius and Julia, though they may seem to have been imaginative in such ways.  But look, too, at the Harpokrates and Telesphoros (not to mention Eros) types in Balkan provincials.  Telesphroos, too, is eternally, intrinsically infantile (or a toddler), and Eros intrinsically never grows up, quite.  They had other deities for long and devoted marriages and partnerships!  Even in Christianity, as Theotokos, Mary is not the bearer of a full-grown god incarnate, and the Infant of the Nativity remains just that.  I'm not interpreting pre-Christianity in Christian terms; if anything, I'm reminding myself that the way that Christianity thought of its mysteries was inherited from the way that Greco-Roman antiquity had thought of theirs.
Anyhow, I do think that placing a virtual Isis Lactans on JD's reverses with Saeculi Felicitas was designed to invite that association.
Pat L.

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: Heliodromus on May 22, 2007, 01:34:06 pm
The coin is a bronze of Commodus from Flaviopolis in Cilicia depicting Isis wearing the lotus blossum facing Serapis.

Are you sure this is meant to be a lotus blossum, and not some variant of the crown of hathor (plain, or with plumes and/or wheat ears)? Why would Isis be wearing a lotus blossom? The only Egyptian deity that Google turns up associated with a lotus crown (sometimes with central plumes) is Nefertem, and the lotus blossom has a distinct shape:

Interestingly though there is a terracotta Isis-Aphrodite in the NY Met museum where I-A is wearing what is described as a kalathos, but looks at least to be lotus shaped:



Title: Re: Isis
Post by: Heliodromus on May 22, 2007, 02:07:46 pm
You may well be right that this is intended to be Julia-Isis, but it just seems unsatisfying that we're not given any better clues. If this is meant to be Isis then why is a hand that could be holding a sistrum - obvious attribute of Isis - instead holding a (to us, so far) unidentified object? If this is meant to be Julia-Isis, rather than plain Isis, then how are we meant to know that? Why not two infants or a fancy hairdo?! Of course a contemporary roman might laugh at such questions secure in the, to them, "obvious" knowledge of who it is! Or maybe they'd be scratching their heads and shrugging their shoulders also?

It seems we're definitely missing something with that wreath/rattle/thingy - it seems a bit unusual, but was surely meant to convey something. The odd shape-shifting headress is another question, although I guess that clueless celators copying a throne crown prototype a la chinese whispers could account for it!


Title: Re: Isis
Post by: moonmoth on May 22, 2007, 02:37:23 pm
One thing I have learned about Imperial Roman coins is that the imagery was often used like a language, with attributes of different personifications or even deities thrown together to make a point.  What exactly that point might be is sometimes not easy to see, though people like Curtis and Pat can make pretty good conjectures from their different and complementary viewpoints. 

So it could be Isis at base on those Domna coins, even if some of the appurtenances are not the traditional ones.  In fact I am surprised that Isis does not appear on more coins from Rome, when you compare the frequency of appearances made by Serapis, another Egyptian deity, and even Cybele, a foreign goddess the Romans invited in to help them beat the Carthaginians - both of whom, like Isis, had popular cults in Rome.


Title: Re: Isis
Post by: Heliodromus on May 22, 2007, 04:16:09 pm
While it is certainly true that it is customary to see Isis wearing the “seat/throne” symbol – often seen in Egyptian art or the horns and disk – which one might ask why she would be wearing the symbol for Hathor, because of her associations with Hathor/Horus (Hathor that healed Horus). I do not pretend to be the expert on Roman/Egyptian symbolism but I would say that given the Roman association of Isis as a dispenser of life, protector, etc and the similar association of the lotus flower, then it might be logical to find her wearing such a crown (as she might the horns/disk).

Well, she wears the throne crown because that is literally her symbol - part of the hieroglyph that gives us her name meaning queen of the throne, and the crown of Hathor because she assimilated Hathor (thereby becoming the mother to Horus). But more importantly, logic aside, these are simply the crowns that she is customarily shown wearing. I've seen a few coins described as her wearing a lotus crown, but never one that looked more like a lotus than a Hathor crown to me, and more importantly I can't find any historical basis for her ever wearing one.

Nefertem is the ancient Egyptian god, a son of Ptah, but I am not aware of his assimilation into Roman-Greco mythology – though he may have been in other forms.  Though he is associated with the lotus, his headdress bears no resemblance to the lotus blossom, which indeed that found on the Isis coin does.

I think it's meant to be something close to an Egyptian blue water lily (see attached pic). It occurs quite often in Egyptian art.


Title: Re: Isis
Post by: slokind on May 22, 2007, 06:18:17 pm
But, considering what Harpokrates actually holds on the coins numbered LIMC 219 and 223 (above), and considering also lotus in Egyptian decorative arts, not usually wide opened,  I wrote "lotus BUD" in order to be helpful.  Of course, Lousiana isn't Egypt, but the buds of our water lilies do resemble what Harpokrates holds.  Pat L.

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: Heliodromus on May 22, 2007, 08:01:04 pm
Yes - no argument over the bud.  I was just illustrating what Nefertem's headress is based on (and contrasting that to Isis's headress on gordian_guy's Commodus coin).


Title: Re: Isis
Post by: slokind on May 22, 2007, 09:23:32 pm
I did not know previously about Isis wearing that lotus, but it is well represented on Greco-Roman Isis, and perhaps, anyway, it was not very recent.  I too was thinking of objects from Tutankhamen's tomb, such as the alabaster lotus cup, and, thanks partly to Ben's posting a well focused close-up of the Hadrianic Isis from Tivoli itself (the one in the background of my Dying Gaul), I am now convinced that it is just her forearms that are restored: her headdress is a lotus.  For that matter, aren't the Nicopolis coins that we started with also, probably, lotus-crowned and Claudius II's Isis as well?  In representations of the deceased, he may nold a lotus, and the ladies in the Tomb of Nakht (Dyn. XVIII) hold them and wear them.  It was raining today, but I'll go back to LIMC.  Thank you, both.  Pat
Here is an idea, just to think about.  I have a huge picture book that some students gave me, and I have been looking through it thoughtfully.  Of course, we've always taught that Egyptian sentiment, like Hebrew and Greek sentiment in due course, became much more humanistic in the course of time.  The Middle Kingdom, famously, offers a story you can call a novella, for instance.  But it really takes hold in the wealthy and cosmopolitan world of Dynasty XVIII, and after that it was there for the Greeks to fall in love with: Greeks never call Egyptians 'barbarians', just everybody else.  Greece teaches us how wrong we are to hang onto the 18th-century idea of Egypt as a Magic Flute, Illuminati sort of world.  When Isis almost naturalistically suckles Harpokrates and wears a comfortable lotus on her head, rather than a crown that can only be worn symbolically, she is humanized.  The lotus is a flower that Egyptians must always have loved as moist and cool and clean and sweet.  Just look at the girls at the banquet in the Tomb of Nakht, one of whom holds a lotus to her nose (the things on their heads are perfune cones); just look at the girl musicians from the same tomb, whose hands are occupied and who have lotus, in bud and opening (in the course of the evening) in their headbands.  It seems to me that Isis and Harpokrates as Hadrian knew them, and long before,  embodied these humanistic, sweet and gentle aspects of religion.
Then it occurred to me that Spes holding a flower is acting like that, too, and her unrealistic flower might go back to a lotus.  Surely that's too fanciful!  It is not impossible, though.  After 30 BC, Captive Egypt was frightfully fashionable in early Augustan Rome.  Just like Blue Willow and Magic Flute stuff in 18th-century Europe.  Just like Japonoiserie after WW II.
Pat L.
And having mentioned the upper-class Egyptian craze of the Augustan period, here I'll just post a most delicious bit of Egyptianizing from the Black Room of the Villa at Boscotrecase, which at one point may have belonged to Agrippa Postumus (it even has Augustus's white Apollonian swans on one panel); here we see not only a pseudo-Egyptian panel painting but even an attempt to make an Egyptian lotus frieze.  It is hard not to think of Art Deco.
Courtesey BullMMA

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: Heliodromus on May 22, 2007, 11:22:57 pm
I'm still not convinced that the coin that started this thread, the Claudius II type, the festival of Isis types, gordian_guys coin, don't all just show variously rendered types of the double plumed crown of Hathor. I also assume that Hadrian's Isis in the Capitoline shows the same thing, although the picture isn't really clear - not so sure about that one, although many small statues of Isis do show the horns and sun disc (& maybe plumes) as a small fused whole.

The lotus being held at the funery banquet seems very similar to that used as Nefertem's crown.

I find it hard to believe that the Romans decided to give Isis a lotus crown out of the blue (certainly not a Roman tradition), so I think a case can only really be made for it being a lotus if there is an Egyptian prototype.


Title: Re: Isis
Post by: slokind on May 30, 2007, 07:48:44 pm
My Hadrianic Isis Lactans of Hadrian at Alexandria arrived today in good time, and, being happy with it, I post my own photo of it, as promised.
Pat L.
30 05 07 Æ25 8.07g axis 11h  Egypt, Alexandria.  Hadrian, laureate, draped bust from behind.  Rev., Isis enthroned to r., suckling Harpokrates.  Lotus-bud crown.   See above, Curtis: "like Cologne 1046, AE 24, 8.65 gr., same year, same types but without the oinochoe behind throne and palm branch before."

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: moonmoth on May 31, 2007, 11:55:16 am
An interesting thing about Pat's coin - one of several! - is the obverse legend: AYT KAI TPAIAANA CEB. Interesting both because Hadrian is given only the name of his adoptive father, and because of the four As in the name.  That must be easy to overlook - I found quite a decent page on Alexandrian coins of Hadrian that mis-transcribes a similar coin to show TPAIANA.  I don't know Greek (except for words that might appear in coin legends and plant names!) - is this usual?


Title: Re: Isis
Post by: curtislclay on May 31, 2007, 12:07:54 pm

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: moonmoth on May 31, 2007, 12:14:47 pm
Thanks yet again, Curtis.  That shows once more that in deciphering legends, it helps if you know what to look for!  Though that must have its dangers.

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: curtislclay on May 31, 2007, 12:33:24 pm
Knowing what to look for is indeed dangerous. 

Consider Postumus' earliest obv. legend with spelling POSTIMVS, misread POSTVMVS for centuries because that's what every observer expected!

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: moonmoth on June 01, 2007, 02:06:22 pm
Has anyone found a reason for the addition of plumes to the crown of Hathor as worn by Isis?  Plumes were not part of Hathor's crown.  Two plumes and a sun-disk, with no horns, belong to Amon-Ra, a sun god, so this may be yet another syncretism.  But the disk, plumes and horn crown is is certainly the item worn on several of the coins posted by Congius, much reduced in relative size compared with the basic Crown of Hathor, and also the item shown in isolation on several Seleucid coins as well as one of the coins posted by Ben.

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: archivum on May 18, 2008, 02:02:04 pm
The following array of Asia Minor Isis issues from ca. 200 AD (not a die-duplication in the lot!) will attest to the reach and the breadth of the Isis-cult far outside Egypt (I count 16 other AM mints with similar Serapis-Isis issues in Isegrim, which spells it "Sarapis") *:

-- Serapis / Isis, AE 20 4.37 g, from Saitta, Lydia, unpublished with anepigraphic obverse (cf. Herakles anepigraphic / Isis AE 5.35 g, also Saitta, BMC 13, not in Isegrim);

-- Serapis / Isis, AE 18 3.05 g, from Bria, Phrygia, SNG von Aulock 3520;

-- Serapis / Isis, AE 18 4.63 g, from Bageis, Lydia, Lindgren 1.715;

-- Serapis / Isis, AE 18 3.36 g, from Tripolis, Lydia, SNG von Aulock 3311-12;

-- Isis / Harpokrates standing with altar to left, AE 12 1.68 g, from Aegae, Aeolis,

   * There's an interesting parallel issue from Augusta Traiana in Thrace:

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: Robert_Brenchley on May 18, 2008, 03:22:30 pm
London had a Temple of Isis, attested by an altar which mentions a 3rd Century rebuilding.

Title: Isis Sails for the Balkans
Post by: archivum on May 23, 2008, 08:10:04 am
Considering how many Isis issues there were from the Balkans, it's surprising how scarce most of those types are now:

-- Commodus laur. head r., AY KAI MAR AYRH KOMODOS / Isis standing l. with sistrum and situla, Philippopolis, Thrace, AE 24, not in RPC or in Varbanov;

-- Commodus laur. head r.,  [AYT K]AI KOMODOS / Isis standing l. with sistrum and situla, NEIKOPOLITWN PROS ISS [sic], Nikopolis ad Istrum, Moesia Inferior, AE 18, not in RPC or Varbanov;

-- Commodus radiate head r., [KAI AYRHLI] KOMODOS A / Isis standing l. with sistrum and situla, ADR[IANOPOLEITWN], Hadrianopolis, Thrace, AE 22, RPC (not pictured), Varbanov (Bulg.) 1675, prob. same reverse die;

-- Septimius Severus laureate head r., AYT K L SEP SEYHROS PER / Isis Pharia sailing r., E in field, KALLATIANWN, Kallatis, Moesia Inferior, AE 26, Varbanov (Bulg.) 421, same dies

* Compare similar, but larger, Nikopolis reverse from A. Pius (coinarchives) here pictured in Congius message above.                         

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: slokind on May 23, 2008, 04:27:49 pm
Her barque being late Antonine and Severan patronage of the cult, I think.  Not that it was new.  But I have the impression of its prevalence--in the century, say, from c. 160 to c. 240?  Perhaps I should make that a bit longer, from late Hadrianic on.  Pat L.

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: archivum on May 27, 2008, 10:09:36 am

   With the growing syncretism of 1st-2nd c. writers like Plutarch I suspect it was tempting to start to treat Isis as a more wholesome version of Kybele; anyway we can see from this 17th-c. print how far such syncretism went eventually (from Athanasius Kircher, Oedipus Aegyptiacus [Rome, 1652]; Isis' titles as gathered by Kircher equate her with the Mother of the Gods or Kybele, Minerva, Venus, Juno, Proserpina, Ceres, Diana, Mother Earth or Rhea, war-goddess Bellona, Hecate, the Moon, and the "polymorphous Daemon").

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: Heliodromus on March 18, 2021, 11:35:46 am
Just adding a specimen picture, from Sulla80 on CoinTalk, to this archive since it clarifies a couple of details.

- The figure on Isis's knee has wings confirming the identification as Horus (Harpocrates)
- The object that Isis is holding is very clearly just a wreath
- As is common on these, but made more clear here by the clean engraving of the wreath and Isis's torso, Horus does not appear to be breast feeding (i.e this is not a depiction of Isis Lactans), but rather reaching up towards Isis's face


Title: Re: Isis
Post by: Aleph on March 20, 2021, 03:04:44 pm
Is the consensus still that this is Isis?  Without the quintessential sistrum, the attribution still feels very odd.  Not knowing better, I might suggest this issue feels so much more like an iconography hybrid, something like Fecunditas with the attributes of Laetitia which would also fit the legend.

Title: Re: Isis
Post by: Heliodromus on March 27, 2021, 09:15:54 am
Is the consensus still that this is Isis?  Without the quintessential sistrum, the attribution still feels very odd.  Not knowing better, I might suggest this issue feels so much more like an iconography hybrid, something like Fecunditas with the attributes of Laetitia which would also fit the legend.

This is not my area, so I can't answer that, but it does seem strange that we might be expected to identify the figure as Isis without her having any of the attributes of Isis.

I just noticed this Severus sestertius, RIC 794a, which has an interestingly similar reverse - female figure (in this case holding corn ears, so more securely identified as Annona), but also with ship's prow and this small winged reaching figure - typically described as cupid. Is it known what the prow and "cupid" are meant to convey in this context? Could these elements have the same meaning on the Domna type?