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Baal and the Coinage of Cilicia

By Walter M. Shandruk

Silver Stater of Satrap Mazaios, 361-334 B.C.

Obverse: Baal of Tarsos enthroned left, head facing, holding bunch of grapes grapes, grain ear, and eagle in right hand, lotus headed scepter in left hand, BLTRZ (=Baaltarz) in Aramaic behind, M below throne, all within a circle of dots.

Reverse: Lion bringing down bull, attacking with teeth and claws, MZDI (=Mazdai) in Aramaic above, symbol below, all within a circle of dots.

The coinage of Cilicia, from its beginnings in the late 5th century, through to the Hellenistic period, illustrated a prominence for the Phoenicio-Canaanite god Baal, specifically in the various coins minted at Tarsos. This should not be surprising, for the proximity of Cilicia to Phoenicia and Canaan would naturally suggest contact and influence between the regions. And, Indeed, tablets found at the site of Ras Shamra ancient Ugarit attest to the prominence of Baal. Although, not at the pinnacle of the Canaanite pantheon of gods, Baal is, nonetheless, the most prominent deity in the Ras Shamra texts.[1]

Most depictions of Baal on Cilician coinage is in accord with that found at Ras Shamra. On one particular stele, he is shown, wearing a belted kilt, horned helmet, while wielding a club in his right hand and a long staff in his left which has a stylized tip, and standing on a mountain.[2] Many of these elements, either together or in various combinations, are found in his depictions on Cilician coinage, and his wearing a kilt and long shaft in left or right hand being the most common elements. Although nowhere on the coinage is he found depicted as explicitly standing on a mountain, it may well be implied with the many depictions of him enthroned, alluding to the common scene in Ras Shamra texts describing him as enthroned on mountain Zaphon and ruling therefrom.[3]

Another element common in the later depictions of Baal on Cilician coinage is that of the corn-ear/barley and grapes. Although absent from the earliest issues under the satrap Tiribazos (386-380 B.C.E.), these symbols began to appear in conjunction with Baal under the satrap Datames (378-362 B.C.E.), and continued under the satraps Mazaios (361-334 B.C.E.) and Arsames (334-333 B.C.E.). After the conquest of the region by Alexander the Great, the assigned ruler of Cilicia, Balakros, continued this trend[4] (although from that point on the thematic content of the coinage minted in Tarsos takes on a more varied nature). These common symbols may originate with Baal 's capacity as a god involved in the seasonal cycles of life and death, as illustrated in the last episode of the Baal Cycle related in the Ras Shamra texts.[5] Furthermore, they may be a more specific reference to the fecundity of the fertile Cilician plains and Baal 's role in this.[6] There are a number of issues minted in the city of Soloi[7] where grapes and ears of corn comprise prominent devices on the coins outside of any reference to Baal, which would suggest that the occurance of these motifs weren 't simply an abstract reference to Baal 's religious capacity as purveyor of fecundity, but reflected Cilicia 's own fertility of land. Furthermore, that the association of Baal with these symbols of fecundity is most often illustrated in coins minted at Tarsos, although there are at least two examples in total from Soloi and Issos[8], suggests the more prominent place that worship of Baal held within Tarsos. This is further substantiated by the fact that most Cilician issues depicting Baal are attributed to Tarsos.[9]

In 361 B.C.E., the satrap Mazaios was entrusted the government of Cilicia. Under his authority, the representation of Baal on coins of Tarsos reached its apex. Most of the types minted can be classified into three general groups, according to the reverse design: 1) a lion attacking a stag, within incuse square, 2) a lion attacking a bull, 3) a lion attacking a bull with a fortification below.[10] All three types exhibit Aramaic inscriptions reading "Baal Tarz" in the field to the right of Baal on the obverse. The first two types have Aramaic inscriptions on the reverse, above the attack scenes, reading "Mazdai," whereas the Aramaic inscription on the reverse of the last type describes Mazaios as "Governor of Trans-Euphratesia and Cilicia."[11] In the first variety, Baal is depicted on the obverse as enthroned left, crowned with a horned helmet, holding a lotus-tipped staff in his left hand and extending his right hand while holding what is seemingly a club, off which hangs a bundle of grapes and extends an ear of corn. In the second variety, Baal is similarly disposed as in the first variety, except he is facing ahead and an eagle is resting on the club in addition to the other features. In the first two varieties, there are a number of minute variations, mostly in the Aramaic letters and symbols shown below the club and below the throne, but all retaining the general features described above. In the third variety, Baal is once again enthroned left, but this time holding the staff in his right hand, with his left hand at rest to his side. In the field to his left is a corn ear and bundle of grapes.

As a point of interest, it may be noted that there is a common stylistic thread through many of the seated figures on Cilician coins, whether they depict Baal, Aphrodite or Athena. Aphrodite is particularly well represented among seated figures on Cilician coinage, and a cursory glance at the disposition of the seated figures in issues minted at Aphrodisias and Nagidos clearly suggests a stylistic link. Types 5523 and 5587[12] minted in Aphrodisias and Nagidos, respectively, indicate a very similar style in the execution of the legs and the flow the garments over them; both figures are seated in profile to the left, and their right arms extended in a fashion similar to that of the contemporaneous Tarsos issues of seated Baal.

In terms of Greek content, there is no shortage of Hellenic deities and heros represented on Cilician coinage. As already indicated above, Aphrodite and Athena are two examples of this. Added to this, Herakles, Hera, and Demeter compose a notable proportion of deities represented, most of which were not minted in Tarsos. Indeed, Baal, despite his numerically significant presence on coinage types, is only one out of a minority of non-Hellenic deities represented.[13] That this indicates that Tarsos was the primary city of Baal-worship in Cilicia is clear, if not hint at the significant level of influence that Hellenic culture exerted in eastern Asia Minor even before the conquest of Alexander the Great.

In terms of Hellenic deities, Zeus corresponded to Baal, and there is no more clear indication of their identity with each other than the overt example of syncretism attested by the abundant issues of imperial Attic tetradrachms, first minted under Alexander the Great, and continuing into the 2nd century B.C.E., depicting the head of Herakles, usually clad in lion 's skin, on the obverse, and a seated figure fully reminiscent of the depictions of the enthroned Baal on the reverse, but now identified as Zeus.[14] While, bereft of the ear of corn and bundle of grapes, his depiction is more reminiscent of the Baal type under Tiribazos, Alexander 's friendship with Mazaios may well have played no small part in the adoption of this particular depiction of Zeus.

As an unusual character within the repertoire of deities employed in the mints of Asia Minor in the 4th century, Baal offers an interesting focus or point of divergence for a study of the region 's cultural history. This cursory overview of Baal 's place within Cilician coinage offers an interesting glimpse into the region 's cultural pluralism, pressed between the ever increasing Hellenic influence from the west, and the ancient traditions of Canaan and Phoenicia under the late Persian empire.

[1] Myth and Mystery: And Introduction to the Pagan Religions of the Biblical World, Jack Finegan, p. 139.

[2] Ibid. p. 144.

[3] Ibid. p. 143.

[4] Archaic and Classical Greek Coins, Colin M. Kraay, p. 284.

[5] Myth and Mystery: And Introduction to the Pagan Religions of the Biblical World, Jack Finegan, pp. 144-146.

[6] Archaic and Classical Greek Coins, Colin M. Kraay, p. 282.

[7] Specifically, types 5600-5603, 5606-5609, 5613-5614, and 5632 are examples of this in Greek Coins and their Values, David R. Sear, pp. 509-512. Type 5587 of the city Nagidos has Dionysos holding a vine branch with grapes, standing left, p. 508.

[8] Greek Coins and their Values, David R. Sear, p. 511 attributes 5617 to Soloi, whereas the corresponding type is attributed to Tarsos in the British Museum Collection, Volume 21. Type 5556 is a clear example of Baal with corn-ear and grapes for the city of Issos.

[9] Type 5554 in Greek Coins and their Values, David R. Sear, p. 505, where Baal is standing left and holding staff on obverse of coin is also attributed to Issos.

[10] Archaic and Classical Greek Coins, Colin M. Kraay, p. 283. Examples of all three are 5649, 5650, and 5651, respectively, in Greek Coins and their Values, David R. Sear, p. 514. Type 5652 is a prototype of the design employed in the Attic tetradrachms that were minted under Mazaios after he was given governorship of Babylon following the region 's conquest by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C.E.

[11] Greek Coins and their Values, David R. Sear, p. 515. Because this office was held by Mazaios from 351 B.C.E. onward, this type must be the latest of the three, "Archaic and Classical Greek Coins," Colin M. Kraay, p. 283-284.

[12] Ibid., p. 502, 508.

[13] Ibid, p. 512, type 5633 represents the god Mesopotamian god Nergal standing right, on lion, with spear and bow.

[14] Ibid., pp, 622-623, specifically types 6712-6725, even though, these are a tiny sampling of the great variety of Alexandrian tetradrachms, differing in all manner of minutiae.

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