by William Raines
The Tyche of Antioch was the designation of the tutelary spirit of the city of Antioch-ad-Orontem, which became the prototype for a number of other city Tyches in the Syrian and Levantine region.1
Secondarily, the term refers to a colossal bronze cultic statue commissioned (near the close of the 4th-century BCE) by Seleucus Nicanor at the founding of Antioch, which became his dynastic capital city. According to Pausanias,2 the statue was the creation of Eutychides of Sicyon, a pupil of Lysippus. We don’t know when the statue was finally destroyed, but there are numismatic reasons to believe it survived beyond the devastating earthquake of 526 CE. A Roman copy in marble of Eutychides’ statue is on display in the Vatican Museum. The British Museum has a small 4th-century silver statuette obviously depicting the Antiochene Tyche, but discovered in Rome, part of the Esquiline hill treasure.3
The salient features of the iconography are:
The goddess is shown draped, veiled and wearing a ‘turret crown’, resembling the walls and towers of the city she protects;
She holds ears of grain symbolizing her aspect as ‘Fortuna Annonaria’, offering the gift of agricultural fecundity;
She is seated on a rock, presumably representing Mount Silpius, whose slope dominates the city of Syrian Antioch;
At (or under) her feet a youthful male figure is depicted, the Spirit of the River Orontes.
From the early first-century BCE, and all through the Roman period, the Tyche of Antioch is a frequent motif on the city’s coins. The earliest Tyche coins date from the time of the Armenian Tigranes II, who conquered Syria in 83 BCE. On the coinage she is sometimes associated with the figure of a leaping ram. The standard depictions are:
1. The head of Tyche, veiled and easily recognised because of the turret crown. The ram, if present, may be engraved over Tyche’s head or shown on the reverse;
2. On early issues, as a generic full-length standing ‘harvest’ goddess, carrying a cornucopia;
3. More commonly, a facing or profile full-length figure, based on the statue – hence, usually seated on a rock and sometimes carrying corn sheaves or similar. Frequently, the Spirit of Orontes is also present, playing at her feet;
4. Particularly from the third-century CE onwards, the Tyche statue is often portrayed inside its tetrastyle shrine (tetrakionion). The ram usually appears jumping over the shrine.
The Tyche of Antioch has a final and surprising manifestation on three sixth-century pentanummi from the reigns of Justin I and Justinian I (and one from their brief joint reign). These are tiny (12mm) coins and not very remarkable except that this is the only pagan imagery to be found on any Byzantine coinage. Presumably, by the time of Justin and Justinian, Eutychides’ statue was thought of as a famous piece of antique art, not as a religious artefact – possibly somewhat like the Serpent Column at the Hippodrome in Constantinople.
1 See K. Butcher, Roman Syria and the Near East, British Museum Press, London 2003, p. 236-7
2 Pausanius, Description of Greece 6.2.7