Tyche of Antioch


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


More specifically, 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.  The statue depicted the goddess draped, wearing a turret crown, and seated on a rock (representing Mount Silpius), with the water-Spirit of the River Orontes (a youthful male figure) swimming at Tyche’s feet. 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. 


The sixth-century Antiochene chronicler John Malalas records that the Emperor Trajan completed the theatre at Antioch and caused a bronze Tyche statue to be placed on four columns in the middle of the nymphaeum in the theatre’s proscenium.3  Some of the details Malalas mentions (human sacrifice) are fanciful, but the anecdote likely has a historical basis. Malalas does not clearly indicate whether the statue which Trajan commissioned was a copy of Eutychides’ work or a different portrayal. It is possible that the original statue by Eutychides was damaged in one of the city's many earthquakes and that Trajan's commission was intended as some sort of replacement. The numismatic evidence is that the image as depicted on coins changes slightly at this time: before the time of Trajan, Tyche is shown holding a palm branch upright; from Trajan onward Tyche holds wheat sheaves pointing below the horizontal.  

From the early first-century BCE, and all through the Roman period, Tyche is a frequent motif on Antioch'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, 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 Fortuna figure, carrying a cornucopia and often an anchor or rudder;

3. More commonly, a facing or profile full-length figure, based on the Eutychides statue – hence, seated on a rocky mound and carrying palm branches or ears of grain. 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 a portable tetrastyle shrine (tetrakionion). The ram usually appears jumping over the shrine.

We don’t know when the statue was finally lost, but there are numismatic reasons to believe it survived the Theodosian decrees which would have closed Antioch’s pagan temples, including the city’s Tychaeum. The Tyche of Antioch has a final and surprising manifestation on three sixth-century pentanummi from the reigns of Justin I and Justinian I (including 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. 

For a few examples, see my gallery:  https://www.forumancientcoins.com/gallery/thumbnails.php?album=7272 


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

3 John Malalas, Chronographia Book 11, 276