Alexandrian tetradrachm with an unusual deity

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by TIF, Mar 16, 2019.

  1. TIF

    TIF Always learning.

    We've recently seen Apollo Didymeus thanks to this detailed post by @Jochen-- the description of the ancient "animatronics" of the cult statue was a riveting read. Alexandrian coinage has an astonishing array of deities and cult figures... from snakes riding horses to mashups of a half dozen multicultural gods. Usually the reverse figures are drawn from Egyptian deities or common Roman deities. This coin, however, features a cult statue of Apollo popular in Ionia, Apollo Didymeus.

    EGYPT, Alexandria. Antoninus Pius
    regnal year 11 (147/8 CE)
    billon tetradrachm, 23 mm, 14 gm
    Obv: ANTωNEINOCCEB EVCEB; laureate draped bust right, seen from behind
    Rev: Apollo Didymeus standing facing, holding quiver and stag; LENΔEKATOV around
    Ref: Emmett 1358.11; RPC Online 14267; Dattari-Savio Pl. 108, 8084.

    @zumbly has a fantastic drachm with the identical depiction of Apollo but also flanked by two Nemeses (jealous!! :sour:).

    If this coin depicts the Didymean cult statue of Apollo made by Kanachos c. 500 BCE, what is it doing on a coin of Roman Egypt six centuries later? The iconography does not seem to be common and cults of Apollo Didymeus seem to have existed in only a handful of locations in Asia Minor and one in Sogdiana.

    I can understand the purpose of blending Roman and Egyptian gods for Roman Egyptian coinage, and I can understand why common GrecoRoman deities and personifications appear... but why this version of Apollo, a cult statue from 750 kilometers across the sea... 2800 km by land? What was important enough about this cult statue to warrant its placement on coins of Roman Egypt?

    Apollo Didymeus appears only in the early years of Antoninus Pius's tenure as Augustus and of Marcus Aurelius as Caesar under Pius.

    I have no answers but it is fun to speculate. Who was in charge of deciding who or what is depicted on the reverses of coins of Roman Egypt? Did Apollo Didymeus mean something special to the person who made that decision? Was there something going on in Rome or the emperor's life which tied in to this archaic statue or cult? Was there a copy or illustration of this statue in Alexandria? Maybe... maybe the original Kanachos Apollo Philesios (Didymeus) ended up in Alexandria! When Didyma was sacked by the Persians it was taken to Ekbatana. Seleukos Nikator returned it to Ionia centuries later. Where did it go after that? Okay, probably not Alexandria :D... but whoever designed that coin had seen it or some representation of it. I suppose the designer and engraver could have used other coins as a model.

    Alexandrian tetradrachms had poor quality metal during the reign of Antoninus Pius, or at least they didn't hold up to the ages as well as others. The surfaces are usually very porous and unattractive. This coin has rather good fabric, "for the type" :D. The still images capture all the surface flaws. Here's a quick in-hand video:

    Do you have any coins that have puzzling iconography? I'd like to see other examples.
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2019
    Smojo, ominus1, Chris B and 28 others like this.
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  3. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Cool! And puzzling, indeed.

    Here's one that's not a puzzle, but it does have Apollo Didymeus.

    Miletos Apollo.jpg
    Greek Ionia, Miletos.
    AE Hemiobol, 3.35 g, 18.3 mm, 12 h.
    Aeschylinos, magistrate, ca. 200 BC.
    Obv: Apollo Didymeus standing right, holding small stag and bow; monogram below.
    Rev: Lion seated right with head turned to left, star above, monogram right, ΑIΣXΥΛΙΝΟΥ in exergue.
    Refs: Deppert 941-56 var; Marcellesi 56.
  4. furryfrog02

    furryfrog02 Well-Known Member

    Great coin and great write-up @TIF! I'm normally not a youtube watcher but since you posted it, I figured it would be ok :p I was right! The picture doesn't do justice to just how big and thick that coin is. Thanks for sharing!

    Unfortunately, I don't think I have anything that really fits this category.
  5. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Beautiful coin & video, night weight too. Congrats.
    TIF likes this.
  6. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    I don't think I have anything as interesting. Maybe my postumus ant from Trier with serapis. He was kind of far from home.
    TIF and Justin Lee like this.
  7. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Great coin! I love how it looks in that in-hand video, which really shows off its wholesome chunkiness. :hungry:

    Antoninus Pius - Drachm Apollo Miletus 2596.jpg
    AE Drachm. 24.25g, 33.5mm. EGYPT, Alexandria, RY 10 = AD 146/7. RPC Online temp 13590; Emmett 1457; Dattari Savio 8311-12. O: ΑVΤ Κ Τ ΑΙΛ ΑΔΡ ΑΝΤωΝƐΙΝΟС СƐΒ ƐVС, laureate head right. R: Apollo Didymeus (of Miletus) standing, facing, holding stag and bow, tripod at feet; between the Nemeseis of Smyrna, one on right holding cubit-rule; L ΔƐΚΑΤΟV in exergue.
    Ex Dr Walter Neussel Collection
  8. chrsmat71

    chrsmat71 I LIKE TURTLES!

    Awesome TIF, I love a good edge view...and that one is chunky and sweet!

    I've always wondered who the heck this chick is? (Usually when I think that it is Apollo, but experts seem to also think it's a lady).


    Tetrarchy of Chalkis, Coele Syria, Lysanias, 40 - 36 B.C.

    O; female bust, R: double cornucopia, flanked by ligatures, 22 x 24 mm, 5.4 g
  9. Ryro

    Ryro Trying to remove supporter status Supporter

    That coin is one beautiful chunky mystery. Thanks for the video! Very cool :artist:
    Puzzling iconography eh? I guess I should start with a coin that you have a lovely example of TIF.
    Why is this coin a mask,

    Roman Republican Period

    167-165 B.C. Æ Unit. 22 mm. 9.43 grams. Obverse: Facing mask of Silenos with pointed ears, wearing ivy wreath. Reverse: MAKE / ΔΟΝΩΝ in two lines within oak wreath.SNG Copenhagen 1324-6; MacKay pl. III, 10; Touratsoglou, Macedonia 25.Very Fine. Dark earthen patina.

    And this one not?

    Sicily, Katane

    AR Litra. Circa 415/3-404 BC. Head of Silenos to left, wearing ivy wreath / ΚΑΤΑΝΑΙΩΝ Winged thunderbolt between two shields. Boehringer, Kataneische LI 6-7. Rizzo pl. XIV, 18 var. SNG ANS 1266. 0.71g, 10mm, 6h
  10. Ancient Aussie

    Ancient Aussie Supporter! Supporter

    Beautiful coin TIF, with great surfaces and detail. Your video brings out the best of another fantastic acquisition.
    TIF likes this.
  11. TIF

    TIF Always learning.

    I remember when you ID'd that coin, Chris. What a cool find!
    Nice coin!!

    I have the same questions and don't have definite answers.

    First, why is the head of Silenos on coins often called a mask rather than a head? How do we know it is intended to represent a mask rather than a head? I'm not sure but if the depiction doesn't show his neck, perhaps it is called a mask, but how can you tell on the facing portraits when his long beard would hide any neck?

    Also, why a "mask" in the first place? That question is a little easier. In Greek satyr plays the leader of the chorus wore a mask of Silenos. What are "satyr plays"? Short comedic sketches performed between acts of or after a Greek drama or tragedy. "The rowdy satyrs intrude upon a standard myth, stir up comic havoc, nearly disrupt its set course, but in the end the traditional resolution of the myth is preserved and the satyrs head off for another jolly adventure." (source)

    Silenos is an interesting character. You'd think a raunchy drunken licentious satyr would be lighthearted and carefree but his philosophy would make Nietzsche proud, although Silenos was an antinatalist rather than nihilist. When Silenos was drunk-- which seems to be whenever he was awake-- he had powers of prophecy. Here is the recorded "Wisdom of Silenos":

    "...but for humans, the best for them is not to be born at all, not to partake of nature's excellence; not to be is best, for both sexes. This should be our choice, if choice we have; and the next to this is, when we are born, to die as soon as we can.' It is plain therefore, that he declared the condition of the dead to be better than that of the living."

    Aristotle, Eudemus (354 BCE), surviving fragment quoted in Plutarch, Moralia, Consolatio ad Apollonium, sec. xxvii
    What a downer, eh? :D
    ominus1, Johndakerftw, Ryro and 2 others like this.
  12. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic

    Great coin and excellent write-up! I had an enjoyable time reading it while sipping my morning tea.

    The topic reminded me of many types in my own collection with iconography that I must confess not to understand completely ... too numerous to post here, but thanks for inspiring me to revisit them!
    ancient coin hunter and TIF like this.
  13. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Well-Known Member

    Another great coin in a great collection is all I can contribute with here (and I'm sorry for not having better to show off.... ;) )

    TIF likes this.
  14. Bert Gedin

    Bert Gedin Well-Known Member

    Greek/Roman connections with Egypt, in ancient times, were of course rife. Think of Julius Caesar, and his warfare against Egypt. The Ptolemys, who had ruled Egypt, included Cleopatra VII, and their background was Greek. Alexandria, Capital of Egypt, was named after Alexander the Great. Equivalent to Egyptian god, Ra, is Roman/Greek god Apollo. And Apollo, not infrequently, figures on Egyptian coins.
  15. TIF

    TIF Always learning.

    All true, of course.

    Also true, but not this specific replication of an Ionian statue of Apollo, the Kanachos Apollo of Didyma. Why this particular Apollo? It's probably just a rhetorical question... I don't expect a provable answer but it is fun to speculate.
  16. Bert Gedin

    Bert Gedin Well-Known Member

    Suppose I should know more, having visited an Ionian island, named Corfu. But, Apollo apart, some general info to speculate about. "The British Museum - The ancient civilisations that flourished on Greek and Egyptian soil, though separated by the Mediterranean Sea, had long been aware of each other, and at times had entertained significant levels of contact. - - - Egyptian Pharaohs of the Saite dynasty, newly established under Psamtek (664-610 BC) increasingly engaged with neighbouring cultures both close by and far away, motivated by shared interests in prestige, trade and military security."
  17. ominus1

    ominus1 Supporter! Supporter

    wow TIF.. great coin and vid always get the gooduns that are different and very interesting! :)
    TIF likes this.
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