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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 Medusa†on 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 Perseus†1, 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; SOLD


Roman Republic, Dictatorship of Julius Caesar, L. Plautius Plancus, 47 B.C.

|after| |50| |B.C.|, |Roman| |Republic,| |Dictatorship| |of| |Julius| |Caesar,| |L.| |Plautius| |Plancus,| |47| |B.C.||denarius|
In the spring of 47 B.C. Caesar and Cleopatra celebrated their victory in the Alexandrine civil war with a triumphant procession on the Nile.

Among the most beautiful of all Roman coin types, both the obverse and reverse designs were popular designs for intaglio engraved gems during the Late Republic.
RR38435. Silver denarius, Crawford 453/1e, RSC I Plautia 1c, Sydenham 959b, Sear CRI 29a, SRCV I 429, BMCRR Rome 4009 var. (L. PLAVTIVS), Russo RBW 1587 var. (PLANCV), EF, imperfect strike but far better than most for the type, weight 4.035 g, maximum diameter 19.2 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, 47 B.C; obverse facing head (mask?) of Medusa with disheveled hair, no snakes, L∑PLAVTIV below; reverse winged Aurora flying right, head turned facing, holding reins and conducting the four horses of the sun, wreath on palm frond in left hand, PLANCVS below; SOLD


Roman Republic, L. Cornelius Lentulus and C. Claudius Marcellus, For Pompey the Great, 49 B.C.

|after| |50| |B.C.|, |Roman| |Republic,| |L.| |Cornelius| |Lentulus| |and| |C.| |Claudius| |Marcellus,| |For| |Pompey| |the| |Great,| |49| |B.C.||denarius|
Lentulus and Marcellus, the consuls for 49 B.C., were exiled by Caesar upon his war with Pompey. This coin was struck by a mobile military mint in Pompey's camp, possibly in Sicily but more likely in Greece, under the name of the two consuls.
SH30342. Silver denarius, Crawford 445/1b, BMCRR Sicily 1, Sydenham 1029, RSC I Cornelia 64a, SRCV I 414, EF, weight 4.067 g, maximum diameter 17.4 mm, die axis 0o, Pompeian military mint, obverse triskeles, head of Medusa in center, grain-ears between legs; reverse LENT MAR COS (consules), Jupiter standing half-right, thunderbolt in right, eagle in left; scarce; SOLD


Roman Republic, Dictatorship of Julius Caesar, L. Plautius Plancus, 47 B.C.

|after| |50| |B.C.|, |Roman| |Republic,| |Dictatorship| |of| |Julius| |Caesar,| |L.| |Plautius| |Plancus,| |47| |B.C.||denarius|
In the spring of 47 B.C. Caesar and Cleopatra celebrated their victory in the Alexandrine civil war with a triumphant procession on the Nile.

Among the most beautiful of all Roman coin types, both the obverse and reverse designs were popular designs for intaglio engraved gems during the Late Republic.
SH42465. Silver denarius, Crawford 453/1a, BMCRR Rome 4004, Russo RBW 1583, RSC I Plautia 15, Sydenham 959, Sear Imperators 29, SRCV I 429, gVF, choice for the type, weight 4.028 g, maximum diameter 19.1 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, dictatorship of Julius Caesar, 47 B.C.; obverse facing head (mask?) of Medusa with disheveled hair, snakes for hoop earrings, L∑PLAVTIVS below; reverse winged Aurora flying right, head turned facing, holding reins and conducting the four horses of the sun, wreath on palm frond in left hand, PLANCVS below; a masterpiece reverse design - well struck in magnificent style; SOLD


Roman Republic, Dictatorship of Julius Caesar, L. Plautius Plancus, 47 B.C.

|after| |50| |B.C.|, |Roman| |Republic,| |Dictatorship| |of| |Julius| |Caesar,| |L.| |Plautius| |Plancus,| |47| |B.C.||denarius|
In the spring of 47 B.C. Caesar and Cleopatra celebrated their victory in the Alexandrine civil war with a triumphant procession on the Nile.

Among the most beautiful of all Roman coin types, both the obverse and reverse designs were popular designs for intaglio engraved gems during the Late Republic.
SH81831. Silver denarius, Crawford 453/1e, RSC I Plautia 1c, Sydenham 959b, Sear CRI 29a, SRCV I 429, BMCRR Rome 4009 var. (L. PLAVTIVS), Russo RBW 1587 var. (PLANCV), EF, much better strike than typical for this issue, weight 3.777 g, maximum diameter 18.6 mm, die axis 90o, Rome mint, 47 B.C; obverse facing head (mask?) of Medusa with disheveled hair, no snakes, L∑PLAVTIV below; reverse winged Aurora flying right, head turned facing, holding reins and conducting the four horses of the sun, wreath on palm frond in left hand, PLANCVS below; SOLD


Motya, Sicily, 420 - 397 B.C.

|Other| |Sicily|, |Motya,| |Sicily,| |420| |-| |397| |B.C.||litra|
Motya was founded by Phoenicians in the 8th century B.C. on the biggest island in Stagnone lagoon. The colony was successful due to its favorable location on trade routes, however, in 397 B.C. Greeks from Eastern Sicily destroyed the city. The town was surrounded by walls with watch-towers and two gates, which are still well preserved. Most of the city has not been excavated.
SH11109. Silver litra, Jenkins 4b (or similar), SNG ANS 503 -507 var., BMC -, Rizzo -, Hill -, VF, weight .526 g, maximum diameter 13.15 mm, die axis 45o, Motya mint, obverse facing head of Medusa (gorgoneion); reverse palm tree, Punic script at sides; toned, chiped, ex C. E. Bullowa (Philadelphia dealer); rare; SOLD


Lycia(?), 5th Century B.C.

|Lycia|, |Lycia(?),| |5th| |Century| |B.C.||hemidrachm|
Although unlisted in the major references, this hemidrachm type was first published by 1890. Five examples are listed on Coin Archives, which were offered at auction in the last two decades.

The chimera (also chimaera) was, according to Greek mythology, a monstrous fire-breathing creature of Lycia in Anatolia, composed of the parts of three animals - a lion, a snake, and a goat. Usually depicted as a lion, with the head of a goat arising from its back, and a tail that ended in a snake's head, the Chimera was one of the offspring of Typhon and Echidna and a sibling of such monsters as Cerberus and the Lernaean Hydra. The term chimera has come to describe any mythical or fictional animal with parts taken from various animals, or to describe anything perceived as wildly imaginative or implausible.
GA84765. Silver hemidrachm, Boston MFA 2325; Greenwell 1897, p. 281, 2; Six Monnaies 1890, p. 235, 16bis; BMC -; SNG Cop -; SNGvA -; Rosen -; Klein -, VF, light marks, obverse off center, reverse struck with damaged die (left side of incuse), weight 1.946 g, maximum diameter 11.6 mm, Anatolia, uncertain mint, 5th century B.C.; obverse Chimera standing right, right foreleg raised, jaws open; reverse gorgoneion (facing head of Medusa), snaky locks, tongue protruding, within incuse square; extremely rare; SOLD


Segesta, Sicily, 430 - 420 B.C.

|Other| |Sicily|, |Segesta,| |Sicily,| |430| |-| |420| |B.C.||litra|
Segesta, in the northwestern Sicily, was one of the major cities of the Elymians, one of the three indigenous peoples of Sicily. Ionian Greeks settled in the city and the Elymians were quickly Hellenized. Segesta was in eternal conflict with Selinus. The first clashes were in 580 - 576 B.C., and again in 454 B.C. In 415 B.C. Segesta asked Athens for help against Selinus, leading to a disastrous Athenian expedition in Sicily. Later they asked Carthage for help. After Carthage destroyed Selinus, Segesta remained a loyal ally. It was besieged by Dionysius of Syracuse in 397 B.C., and destroyed by Agathocles in 307 B.C., but recovered. In 276 B.C. the city allied with Pyrrhus, but changed sides and surrendered to the Romans in 260 B.C. Due to the mythical common origin of the Romans and the Elymians (both descendants of refugees from Troy), Rome designated Segesta a "free and immune" city. In 104 B.C., the slave rebellion led by Athenion started in Segesta. Little is known about the city under Roman rule. It was destroyed by the Vandals.
GB66063. Silver litra, SNG ANS 651 - 654, Winterthur 838, SNG Cop -, VF, weight 0.649 g, maximum diameter 11.9 mm, die axis 315o, Segesta mint, 430 - 420 B.C.; obverse Head of the nymph Segesta facing slightly left, laurel branches flanking; reverse hound standing left; gorgoneion above, murex shell to left; ex Triton VIII Auction, CNG January 10, 2005, lot 1839 (part of), ex Tony Hardy collection; very rare; SOLD


Neapolis, Macedonia, 424 - 350 B.C.

|Other| |Macedonia|, |Neapolis,| |Macedonia,| |424| |-| |350| || |B.C.||hemidrachm|
Neapolis, Macedonia (Kavala, Greece today), was founded by settlers from Thasos near the end of the 7th century B.C., to exploit the rich gold and silver mines of the area. At the end of the 6th century B.C. Neapolis ("new city" in Greek) claimed its independence from Thasos and struck its own silver coins with the head of Gorgon. A member of the Athenian League, Neapolis was besieged by the allied armies of the Spartans and the Thasians in 411 B.C., during the Peloponnesian War, but remained faithful to Athens. The Apostle Paul landed at Neapolis on his second and third missionary journeys.
SH69904. Silver hemidrachm, SNG ANS 444 (same dies); SNG Cop 227; SNG Berry 41; BMC Macedonia p.85, 17; SGCV I 1417, aVF, slightly grainy, nice style, weight 1.663 g, maximum diameter 13.1 mm, die axis 270o, Macedonia, Neapolis mint, 424 - 350 B.C.; obverse facing head of Medusa (gorgoneion) tongue protruding; reverse N-E-O-Π (clockwise from upper left, diademed female (nymph?) head right; SOLD


Anatolia (Lycia?), 5th Century B.C.

|Lycia|, |Anatolia| |(Lycia?),| |5th| |Century| |B.C.||obol|
Although unlisted in the major references, a similar hemidrachm type was first published by 1897. Five obols of this type, including this coin, are listed on Coin Archives having been offered at auction in the last two decades.

The chimera was, according to Greek mythology, a monstrous fire-breathing creature of Lycia, composed of the parts of three animals - a lion, a snake, and a goat or stag. Usually depicted as a lion, with the head of a goat arising from its back, and a tail that ending with a snake's head, the Chimera was one of the offspring of Typhon and Echidna and a sibling of such monsters as Cerberus and the Lernaean Hydra. The term chimera has come to describe any mythical or fictional animal with parts taken from various animals, or to describe anything perceived as wildly imaginative or implausible.
GA85627. Silver obol, 5 specimens know from auctions, otherwise unpublished; cf. Boston MFA 2325 (hemidrachm), Greenwell 1897, p. 281, 2 (= Boston MFA 2325), VF, well centered, light marks, light corrosion, weight 0.647 g, maximum diameter 7.1 mm, die axis 270o, uncertain (Lycian?) mint, 5th century B.C.; obverse chimera standing (right?) with heads of a lion (in center with looking left), stag, and serpent, joined on one quadruped body at the center and radiating outward; reverse gorgoneion (facing head of Medusa), snaky locks, tongue protruding, within incuse square; ex Roma e-sale 36, lot 112; extremely rare; SOLD




  




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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 Monday, December 4, 2023.
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