The featured coin for this week is noteworthy both for what it shows and what it does not. During the middle ages a belief prevailed in Christian Europe that this coin was the silver paid to Judas for the betrayal of Jesus Christ. This belief was based on the obverse showing what was interpreted as the head of Jesus wearing the crown of thorns. The unlikely case of the authorities minting a coin bearing the image of a man they were about to crucify apparently was lost in the minds of the faithful.

Rhodes, Caria - silver didrachm 304-167 BC
Radiant facing head of Helios / Rose POdeltaION EY
20mm diameter - 6.6g - Sear 5049v, BMC 52-55, Dewing 2401

The head, in fact, was the portrait of Helios, the sun god, wearing a crown of rays. The head was copied from the great statue of Helios named among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus of Rhodes. The island nation was immensely successful as a commercial power of the Aegean siding with Athens but negotiating favorable surrenders with, subsequently, Sparta, Alexander the Great and Demetrios Poliorketes that allowed them to continue at least some degree of independence through neutrality. The Colossus was the result of the war with Demetrios. Poliorketes ('besieger of cities') attacked the city without success for over a year (305/4 BC) and eventually negotiated a settlement. He left behind the huge siege towers constructed of valuable timbers which the Rhodeans sold off for shipbuilding. The proceeds from this sale were invested in the huge (105 ft.) bronze statue of Helios which stood at (not across!) the entrance of the harbor. While the statue served as a reminder of the city's fortitude during the siege and attracted attention from tourists, it only stood until 227 BC when it was felled by an earthquake.

Equally interesting is the reverse of the coin. Rhodes was named for the flower, the rose. Rather few Greek coins bear floral types. The rose shown is a bit less spectacular than some of our modern hybrids but remains and attractive pun identifying the coin's place of issue. Also shown is a side stem with small bud. Above the rose, on this coin, is the name of the city but many varieties show a magistrate's name instead. On the left is a small sickle (harpa) and magistrate letters EY. Various other symbols/letters are also known.

A number of variations of this general type are known. On some Helios is shown in profile facing right but most bear the 3/4 facing head. Quality of the artwork varies from somewhat awkward to strikingly beautiful. The Featured Coin is somewhere in the middle of the range of stylistic quality. Early (pre Colossus) coins lack the radiate crown; later issues show the reverse type recessed in a square. The general type was struck in gold and several denominations of silver. Also included in the late period are large and impressive bronze denominations. The status of the city as a major commercial center over a long period of time resulted in production of huge quantities of these coins which are now readily available to collectors.

Back to Main page

(c) 1997 Doug Smith