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Home ▸ Catalog ▸ |Themes & Provenance| ▸ |Gods, Non-Olympian| ▸ |Medusa||View Options:  |  |  | 

Medusa, Gorgoneion & Perseus on Ancient Coins

Medusa, one of the Gorgons, was beheaded by Perseus. Medusa alone was mortal among the Gorgons, which made it possible for Perseus to come after her head. In order to kill her, he beheld the image of Medusaon a brazen shield, so that he would not be turned into a stone for looking at her, and, his hand guided by Athena, he beheaded her. When her head was cut off, there sprang from her trunk Pegasus and Chrysaor. When Medusa as beheaded, the other GORGONS woke up and pursued Perseus1, but they could not see him because he was wearing the helmet of Hades. According to late classical poets, Medousa was once a beautiful woman who was transformed into a monster by Athena as punishment for lying with Poseidon in her shrine. Earlier Greek writers and artists, however, simply portray her as a monster born into a large family of monsters. The three Gorgones were depicted in ancient Greek vase painting and sculpture as winged women with broad, round heads, serpentine locks of hair, large staring eyes, wide mouths, lolling tongues, the tusks of swine, flared nostrils, and sometimes short, coarse beards. Medousa was humanized in late classical art with the face of a beautiful woman. In mosaic art her round face was wreathed with coiling snakes and adorned with a pair of small wings on the brow.

Roman Bronze, Figure of Perseus Holding Head of Medusa, c. 1st - 3rd Century A.D.

|Metal| |Antiquities|, |Roman| |Bronze,| |Figure| |of| |Perseus| |Holding| |Head| |of| |Medusa,| |c.| |1st| |-| |3rd| |Century| |A.D.|
King Polydektes commanded Perseus to fetch the head of Medusa. With the help of the gods, Perseus obtained the helmet of Hades, which made him invisible, a reflective shield, and a magical harpa sword. Stealing the single eye of the Graeae, he compelled them to reveal the location of the Gorgones. Perseus approached Medusa as she slept and beheaded her with eyes averted to avoid her petrifying visage. Invisibility protected him from her vengeful sisters. On his journey back to Greece, Perseus came across the Ethiopian princess Andromeda chained to a rock as a sacrifice to a sea-monster. He slew the beast and brought her with him back to Greece as his bride. He returned to King Polydektes and turned him to stone, before traveling on to his grandfather's kingdom to claim the throne.

Bronzes of Herakles are abundant in the many museum collections reviewed by Forum, but Perseus is missing from most. We did not find any figures similar to this one in the many references checked.
AB23901. Roman Bronze, Figure of Perseus Holding Head of Medusa; BnF Bronzes -, Morgan Bronzes -, ROM Metalware -, BMC Bronzes -, Louvre Bronzes -, Choice, green patina, intact except for missing blade and mounting peg on left foot, reverse bronze standing figure of Perseus, 13cm (5") tall, nude but for the Phrygian helmet of Hades on his head, holding Medusa's head by the hair in his right hand, his harpa (blade missing) in his left hand, stand provided; ex Griffin Gallery of Ancient Art (Boca Raton FL); rare; $2800.00 SALE PRICE $2520.00


Parion, Mysia, 5th Century B.C.

|Parium|, |Parion,| |Mysia,| |5th| |Century| |B.C.||drachm|
A Gorgoneion was a horror-creating apotropaic Gorgon head pendant. The name derives from the Greek word gorgs, which means "dreadful." The Gorgons were three sisters who had hair of living, venomous snakes, and a horrifying face that turned those who saw it to stone. Stheno and Euryale were immortal, but their sister Medusa was not, and was slain by Perseus. Zeus, Athena, Hellenistic kings and Roman emperors wore Gorgoneion for protection. Images of the Gorgons were also put upon objects and buildings for protection. A Gorgon image is at the center of the pediment of the temple at Corfu, the oldest stone pediment in Greece from about 600 B.C.
GA111671. Silver drachm, SNG BnF 1351, SNG Cop 256, SNGvA -, BMC Mysia -, aVF, ragged irregular flan, edge crack, weight 3.816 g, maximum diameter 14.3 mm, Parion (Kemer, Canakkale, Turkey) mint, 5th century B.C.; obverse gorgoneion (facing head of Medusa), with protruding tongue; reverse disorganized linear pattern within incuse square; ex Numismatic Naumann auction 122 (6 Nov 2022), lot 1389 (part of); $100.00 SALE PRICE $90.00


Eusebeia (Caesarea), Cappadocian Kingdom, Reign of Archelaus, c. 36 B.C. - 17 A.D.

|Cappadocia|, |Eusebeia| |(Caesarea),| |Cappadocian| |Kingdom,| |Reign| |of| |Archelaus,| |c.| |36| |B.C.| |-| |17| |A.D.||AE| |16|
Mount Erciyes (Argaios to the Greeks, Argaeus to the Romans) is a massive stratovolcano 25 km to the south of Kayseri (ancient Caesarea) in Turkey. The highest mountain in central Anatolia, with its summit reaching 3,916 meters (12,848 ft). It may have erupted as recently as 253 B.C., as may be depicted on Roman era coins. Strabo wrote that the summit was never free from snow and that those few who ascended it reported seeing both the Black Sea to the north and the Mediterranean Sea to the south in days with a clear sky.
GB110053. Bronze AE 16, Sydenham Caesarea 5; BMC Galatia p. 45, 1; ; Lindgren III 945; SNGvA -; SNG Cop VII -; Imhoof MG -, F, green patina, earthen deposits, weight 3.729 g, maximum diameter 15.7 mm, die axis 0o, Cappadocia, Caesarea (Kayseri, Turkey) mint, c. 36 B.C. - 17 A.D.; obverse facing head of Medusa (gorgoneion) in aegis; reverse Mount Argaeus, EYΣEBEIAΣ in exergue ; $70.00 SALE PRICE $63.00


Seleukid Kingdom, Alexander I Balas, 152 - 145 B.C.

|Seleucid| |Kingdom|, |Seleukid| |Kingdom,| |Alexander| |I| |Balas,| |152| |-| |145| |B.C.||AE| |13|
The aegis was a well-known symbol of Alexander the Great. After his death, the body of Alexander and his aegis wound up in the hands of the Ptolemies. At the time this coin was struck, Alexander Balas was the son in law of Ptolemy VI and the Ptolemaic candidate for the Seleucid throne. After the break between them, Ptolemy VI dissolved his daughter's first marriage and married her to Demetrius II, as if she were a piece of furniture. (J.P. Mahaffy). Alexander Balas fell at the 145 BC Battle of Oenoparas. Though the Battle was a Ptolemaic victory, Ptolemy VI died of battle wounds a few days later. Alexander Balas, of humble origin, claimed to be Antiochus IV's son and heir to the Seleukid throne. Rome and Egypt accepted his claims. He married Cleopatra Thea, daughter of King Ptolemy Philometor of Egypt. With his father-in-law's help, he defeated Demetrius Soter and became the Seleukid king. After he abandoned himself to debauchery, his father-in-law shifted his support to Demetrius II, the son of Demetrius Soter. Balas was defeated and fled to Nabataea where he was murdered. Apamea, on the right bank of the Orontes River, was an ancient Greek and Roman city. It was located at a strategic crossroads for Eastern commerce and became one of the four cities of the Syrian tetrapolis. Seleucus also made it a military base with 500 elephants, and an equestrian stud with 30,000 mares and 300 stallions.
GY110632. Bronze AE 13, Houghton-Lorber II 1792.2b; SNG Spaer 1480; Houghton CSE 207, F, earthen encrustation, light corrosion, weight 2.243 g, maximum diameter 13.2 mm, die axis 315o, Antiochia on the Orontes mint, 150 - 146 B.C.; obverse aegis with facing head of Medusa at center; reverse Pegasos flying right right, A (control) below, BAΣIΛEΩΣ (king) above, AΛEΞANΔPOY below; rare; $60.00 SALE PRICE $54.00







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REFERENCES

Karoglou, K. Dangerous Beauty: Medusa in Classical Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v.75, no. 3 (Winter, 2017).

Catalog current as of Tuesday, May 30, 2023.
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