Featured A Greek Artistic Masterpiece on Roman Coins

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Curtisimo, Aug 14, 2019.

  1. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    Last year one of my favorite acquisitions was my follis of Maximinus Daia showing what is referred to as the “Farnese Hercules” type. This design was based on a Greek statue made by one of the most renowned ancient artists of all time. I recently re-photographed another Roman coin in my collection showing the same theme but with some subtle differences that I think are important and interesting to note. Additionally, last year I had the good fortune to see many of the sculptures I discuss below in person.

    Roman Empire
    Maximinus Daia (AD 308 - 313)
    AE Follis, Antioch mint, struck ca. AD 313
    Dia.: 20.5 mm
    Wt.: 3.9 g
    Obv.: IMP C GAL VAL MAXIMINVS P F AVG; Laureate bust right
    Rev.: HERCVLI VICTORI; Hercules standing right, leaning on lions skin and club
    Ref.: RIC VI 170b, Scarce

    Ex FSR, lot 370 (Jul. 2018)

    Roman Empire
    Gordian III (238-244)
    AR Antoninianus, Rome mint
    Dia.: 24.5 mm
    Wt.: 3.89g
    Obv: IMP GORDIANVS PIVS FEL AVG; Radiate, draped and cuirassed bust right.
    Rev: VIRTVTI AVGVSTI; The Farnese Hercules: statue of Hercules right, with apples of the Hesperides and lion skin, and leaning upon club.
    RIC 95.

    Ex AMCC 1, lot 236 (Dec. 2018)

    The Weary Herakles and its many Imitators

    The Weary Herakles was created in about 320 BC by the master sculptor Lysippos of Sikyon. The original statue was produced late in the great artist’s career and was probably a life-size bronze. Pausanias makes a possible reference to this statue when he mentions a Hercules by Lysippos on display in the agora of Sikyon in the second century AD [2] (2.9.8).

    The statue showed a nude Herakles, resting on his club over which was draped the skin of the Nimean Lion. It captured the hero in the moment after he had finished holding up the cosmos in place of Atlas. By showing Herakles in such an informal and human light Lysippos was doing something that had never been done before. In Herakles’s right hand (held behind his back) the artist placed the apples of the Hesperides in order to show clearly that, while tired, the hero was nonetheless victorious in his labor.

    The work was one of the most famous sculptures of the ancient world and was also one of the most copied pieces of art in antiquity. More than 50 copies in various states of preservation are known to have survived into the present day [1]. The most famous of these is known as the Farnese Hercules. The Farnese Hercules was made sometime before AD 216 and housed in the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. It was unearthed there in AD 1546 and spent the next several centuries in the collection of the Farnese family from which the sculpture gets its name. It was signed by the artist who created it, Glykon of Athens.

    Variations of the Iconic Archetype

    Because the Weary Herakles archetype was popular for such a long period of time, several variations on the original were eventually developed. The Lysippos original did not survive antiquity but through careful study of the surviving examples many scholars believe they can determine which pieces were closest artistically to the original. Vermeule proposes that the existing statues fall into 4 groups [1].

    Group 1: Statues closest to the original
    Group 2: Statues that show an early Hellenistic influence
    Group 3: Statues that show a late Hellenistic and early Roman influence
    Group 4: Statues that are heavily influenced by the Roman style​

    The differentiators between some of the groups are probably more academic than most will find interesting but from what I can see there is a clear delineation between Groups 2 and 3 that would be clear to even a casual observer. Below is a breakdown of my observations on the groups.

    Naturalistic Herakles (Groups 1 and 2): Statues in this category tend to be closer to the original Lysippos sculpture. The proportions are slender and elegant. The head is often smaller in proportion to the body. The figure is muscled but not unrealistically so. The expression of the face conveys a sense that the figure is fatigued and weary. Some examples of this style;
    • The statue of Hercules discovered in the Gymnasium at Salamis. 2nd century AD (Group 1)
    • The statue of Hercules in the Ufizzi Gallery. 2nd century AD (Group 2)
    Figure 1: Copies of the Weary Hercules type that more closely mirror the original. Left: Statue recovered from the ruins of the Gymnasium of Salamis, Cyprus (Photo by Carole Raddato). Right: Statue on display at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy (Author's photo).

    Exaggerated Hercules (Groups 3 and 4): Statues in this category tend to have features that are greatly exaggerated. The body of Hercules is much wider and stouter than in the naturalistic type and the musculature of the figure in particular borders on unnatural. The facial expression often conveys a sense of sternness instead of weariness. There seems to be a strong Roman influence on this style but it should be noted that a Exaggerated Hercules style sculpture was discovered in the Antikythera shipwreck dated ca. 80 – 65 BC so there was clearly some Hellenistic influence as well. Some examples;
    • The Antikythera Hercules, 1st century BC (Group 3)
    • The Farnese Hercules. Early 3rd century AD (Group 3)
    • The statue of Hercules with the head of Commodus. Late 2nd century AD (Group 4)
    Figure 2: Roman / late Hellenistic influenced copies that show exaggerated features. Right: Statue of weary Hercules with the head of Commodus located at the Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy. Left: The Farnese Hercules on display at the Naples Archaeological museum (Author's photo).
    Influence on Coins

    The above examples clearly show that in the second century both the naturalistic and exaggerated styles of the Weary Herakles were popular. This was probably the case well into the third century as well. I suspect that the die-cutters at the Roman mint(s) of this period were directly influenced by one of the two styles and that the influence can be readily identified in most cases.

    For instance my Gordian III example seems to reference the naturalistic style while the Maximinus Daia resembles the exaggerated style usually associated with the Farnese Hercules sculpture.


    One possibility for why this could be so is that the die-cutters may have been given a copy of the statue in miniature (of which several are still extant) that conformed to one of the styles and so were more influenced by that style. Another possibility is that the master die-cutters may have had prior knowledge of the artistic trends related to the archetype and consciously chose to emulate one or the other.

    I am not aware that we have any information on the life of any Roman die-cutters but it would not surprise me if many of them (even in the west) were Greeks trained in Hellenic artistic traditions in much the same way that many of the sculptors obviously were. In my research of the statue it seems to me that the naturalistic type of sculpture was more common in the east (i.e. Greek part of the empire) so it may be that die-cutters from that part of the empire would tend toward this style as well.


    [1] Vermeule, C., American Journal of Archaeology; Vol. 79, No. 4 (Oct., 1975), pp. 323-332

    [2] Pausanias, Description of Greece; Online https://www.theoi.com/Text/Pausanias2A.html

    Show Your Weary Herakles / Hercules Coins

    Above are just two coins from my collection that show this statue. As we now know the statue referenced was hundreds of years old by this time. When was the first time this statue was shown on a coin? I believe there were some Hellenistic coins that show the statue. Anybody have one? How many different emperors can we identify that show this statue on their coins?

    In short, let’s see your examples!
    (or any GIII or Max. Daias for that matter!)
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2019
    Tony1982, svessien, akeady and 49 others like this.
  2. Avatar

    Guest User Guest

    to hide this ad.
  3. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Fantastic research and write up, @Curtisimo !!! I love art history as illustrated by numismatics! This deserves to be a featured thread!

    I have a GIII with Hercules, too, but it was struck with a worn reverse die and doesn't have the detail that yours does:

    Gordian III VIRTVTI AVGVSTI Antoninianus.jpg
    Gordian III AD 238-244
    Roman AR Antoninianus; 5.52 g, 23.2 mm, 2:00
    Obv: IMP GORDIANVS PIVS FEL AVG, radiate and draped bust, right
    Rev: VIRTVTI AVGVSTI, Hercules standing right, right hand on hip, left holding lion's skin and resting on club set on rock
    Refs: RIC 95; Cohen 404; RCV 8670; Hunter 71.
    Carl Wilmont, Edessa, tibor and 20 others like this.
  4. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    @Curtisimo , that is an excellent writeup that would make a web page I would be proud off. In fact, I think I am going to make a web page of annotated links to outstanding CT posts like yours and link to it on my main educational page. I'd hate to see it buried on page 2 or higher of CT where few readers would ever see it again.


    Maximinus II. 21 mm.
    RIC VI Nicomedia 68
    This one has the heavily-muscled Hercules style of the first OP coin, but is from Nicomedia ("SMN" = Sacra Moneta Nicomedia)
    Carl Wilmont, Edessa, tibor and 23 others like this.
  5. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    Roman Collector and Curtisimo like this.
  6. Ancient Aussie

    Ancient Aussie Supporter! Supporter

    That Maximinus Daia coin of yours is absolutely fantastic, I think it aligns well with the Farnese Hercules sculpture in the Naples museum. I remember being gobsmacked when I first seen it a few years back. Unfortunately I am yet to acquire a Hercules of this type. But great and as usual an interesting write up.
    Severus Alexander and Curtisimo like this.
  7. gsimonel

    gsimonel Supporter! Supporter

    Neither is a particularly stunning example, but I have before and after coins of Constantine I.

    temp copy.jpg
    Ticinum mint, A.D. 307-308
    RIC 99
    Rev: VIRTVS PER-PETVA AVG - Hercules, strangling Nemean lion; club behind left leg
    ST in exergue
    26 mm, 7.1 g.

    Cyzicus mint, A.D. 311-312
    RIC 89b (var.)
    Rev: HERCVLI VICTORI - Hercules, leaning on club covered by lion skin
    MKV in exergue; Γ in left field
    21 mm, 4.2 g.
    Carl Wilmont, Edessa, tibor and 16 others like this.
  8. Spaniard

    Spaniard Well-Known Member

    WOW! Excellent thread...Great write up really informative and very interesting...Thanks for putting this together....
    I only have 1 Hercules coin the same as you and RC...RIC#95
    The only thing with my coin is that Hercules looks like he gave up the gym and took up Clarinet lessons and is about to play....:nailbiting: 1-normal_gordhrec.jpg
  9. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    Curtisimo, Great score on your follis ;). You might want to correct the description inside your photo o_O, where you label the coin Siscia Mint. Gallienus, AD 253-268, used a similar theme in the double-denarius pictured below, 18 mm, 4.29 gm, RIC V 672. Asian Mint ?

    RIC V 672 obv..jpg
    RIC V 672 rev..jpg
    Carl Wilmont, Edessa, tibor and 13 others like this.
  10. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Great writeup, Curtis. That Max Daia is a wonderful coin, and I love that the Herc on it has a face that wouldn't look too out of place on the obverse.

    Here's a rather optimistic-looking Herc with the facial features of Antoninus Pius.

    Gordian - Hercules.jpg
    AR Antoninianus. 4.87g, 22mm. Rome mint, AD 240-243. RIC 95. O: IMP GORDIANVS PIVS FEL AVG, radiate, draped and cuirassed bust right. R: VIRTVTI AVGVSTI, "Farnese" Hercules standing right, resting hand upon hip and holding club set upon rock.
    Carl Wilmont, Edessa, tibor and 16 others like this.
  11. 7Calbrey

    7Calbrey Well-Known Member

    The only coin of Hercules I have is of Gallienus. RIC 623. Asian mint.

    GalHerc.JPG GHerc R.JPG
    Carl Wilmont, Edessa, tibor and 9 others like this.
  12. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Great post, Curtis! As you know, I'm a fan of this type. I have four so far. The bottom two (Diocletian and Maximianus ants) haven't been posted yet:

    Screen Shot 2019-08-15 at 10.29.22 AM.jpg Screen Shot 2019-08-15 at 10.29.32 AM.jpg Screen Shot 2019-08-15 at 10.29.46 AM.jpg Screen Shot 2019-08-15 at 10.29.55 AM.jpg

    The representations of Diocletian as the "Jovian" emperor and Max as the "Herculean" emperor hadn't been established yet, but doubtless the reverse on the bottom coin would later have been seen as a representation of Maximianus.
  13. lrbguy

    lrbguy Well-Known Member

    Another great thread and outstanding writeup, @Curtisimo. Here's a pair to go along with your OP coin from Antioch:

    The first is a Maximinus like yours, but from officina delta (RIC VI170b):

    And a companion piece from the same series but issued for Constantine I (RIC VI 170c varient - officina mark Z is on left instead of right)

    These two are both for Maximinus II from the mint at Nicomedia. The first is from the same series from 311 A.D. as Warren showed above (officina B):
    And the next is from the series of late 312 A.D. With the star in left field, officina Epsilon; (RIC VI 75):

    Interesting variation of detail on the treatment of the club and "tails".
  14. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark standing on the shoulders of giants Dealer

    That's an error in RIC, the officina is always in the left field for this issue.
  15. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    Thanks for the kind words everyone. There are some great coins in this thread.

    I love the detail on that reverse!

    I think the description you have for the reverse may not be accurate though.
    He actually has his hand behind his back holding the apples of the Hersperides.

    Thanks for the heads up. I had some of my details a bit crossed on that. Should be fixed now.
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2019
  16. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Right you are! Thanks for the correction, and for that completely non-gratuitous shot of Ancient Greece’s rear end. :D
  17. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    Hey Venus and Athena get all the attention for showing off their posteriors but little do people know that it was really Herakles that was strutting around looking for attention...
  18. Gavin Richardson

    Gavin Richardson Well-Known Member

    Sorry I'm late to the Farnese party. Constantine. CON 1 HERCULES 1.jpg
  19. Broucheion

    Broucheion Supporter! Supporter

    My first post: my Alexandrian Maximianus
  20. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    Broucheion likes this.
  21. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    Thank you for participating. We await your next post!
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page