Featured An Issue for the Pythian Games

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Roman Collector, May 23, 2020.

  1. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    The iconography on the reverse of this Roman provincial coin of Gordian III minted in Thessalonica perfectly epitomizes the Pythian games, for it depicts a tripod and apples and is explicitly labeled ΠVΘΙΑ (Pythia).

    Gordian III, AD 238-244.
    Roman provincial Æ 25.6 mm, 10.61 g, 2 h.
    Macedon, Thessalonica, AD 238-244.
    Obv: AVT K M ANT ΓΟΡΔIANOC, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right.
    Rev: ΘЄCCAΛΟΝΙΚЄΩΝ ΝЄ, tripod surmounted by five apples; Π-V/Θ-Ι/Α across field.
    Refs: Touratsoglou, Thessaloniki 80; Varbanov 4523; Moushmov 6815.

    The Pythian games were held at Delphi, a sanctuary called "Pytho" in poetic language. According to myth, it was here that the god Apollo had killed the serpent Python. Several Roman provincial coins share the common reverse motif of Apollo preparing to slay Python, as I have written about previously.

    Caracalla, with Julia Domna, AD 198-217.
    Roman provincial Æ Pentassarion, 10. 66 g, 27 mm, 1 h.
    Moesia Inferior, Marcianopolis, AD 215 under Quintillianus, legatus consularis.
    Obv: ΑΝΤΩΝΙΝΟC ΑVΓΟVCΤΟC ΙΟV-ΛΙΑ ΔΟΜΝΑ, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust of Caracalla and draped bust of Julia Domna facing one another.
    Rev: VΠΑ ΚVΝΤΙΛΙΑΝΟV ΜΑΡΚΙΑΝΟΠΟΛΙΤΩΝ, Apollo standing facing, head right, raising hand over head and holding bow; to left, Є (mark of value) above covered quiver; serpent-entwined stump to right.
    Refs: AMNG I 660 ff; Moushmov 471; H&J, Marcianopolis; Varbanov 1001; Mionnet --; BMC --; Sear --; Wiczay --.

    Ovid states that the games were inaugurated to celebrate Apollo having killed the serpent:

    Neve operis famam posset delere vetustas,
    instituit sacros celebri certamine ludos,
    Pythia perdomitae serpentis nomine dictos.[1]​

    Which I translate:

    That his fame would never perish through lapse,
    he instituted sacred games whose contests throngs beheld,
    called by the name of the slain Pythian serpent.​

    Though the poetry of Dryden's translation is sweeter to the ear:

    Then to preserve the fame of such a deed,
    For Python slain, he Pythian games decreed.[2]​

    The Apollo sanctuary at Delphi originated in the tenth century BC and became world famous for its oracle. In early times, a contest in singing a hymn for the god was held there every eight years. In 586 BC, a power struggle for control over the sanctuary unfolded between the nearby city Crisa and the Amphictyony (a league of twelve surrounding tribes, who had sworn to defend the interests of the cult). The Amphictyony took control of the sanctuary and added other musical events and sports contests to the games. The year 586 BC is therefore considered the foundation date of the Pythian games.[3]

    The Pythian games were one of four big, quadrennial games of almost international reputation by the standards of the time. The others included the Olympic Games in honor of Olympian Zeus, the Isthmian Games in honor of Poseidon at Corinth and the Nemean Games in honor of Zeus of Nemea. In Roman times, they were complemented by the Actaia at Nicopolis, the Heraia at Argos and the Capitolia at Rome.[4]

    The games took place over a five day program:

    - day 1: religious ceremonies (sacrifice, performance of the mythical struggle between Apollo and Python and procession)
    - day 2: a large banquet
    - day 3: musical contests
    - day 4: athletic contests
    - day 5: horse races[5]​

    The winners of the various competitions were awarded different prizes at the various games. Lucian explains the various contests and prizes in Anacharsis:

    καὶ ἄλλα δὲ ἡμῖν ἐστι γυμνάσια τοιαῦτα πυγμῆς καὶ δίσκου καὶ τοῦ ὑπεράλλεσθαι, ὧν ἁπάντων ἀγῶνας προτίθεμεν, καὶ ὁ κρατήσας ἄριστος εἶναι δοκεῖ τῶν καθ᾽ αὑτὸν καὶ ἀναιρεῖται τὰ ἆθλα .... Ὀλυμπίασι μὲν στέφανος ἐκ κοτίνου, Ἰσθμοῖ δὲ ἐκ πίτυος, ἐν Νεμέᾳ δὲ σελίνων πεπλεγμένος, Πυθοῖ δὲ μῆλα τῶν ἱερῶν τοῦ θεοῦ, παρ᾽ ἡμῖν δὲ τοῖς Παναθηναίοις τὸ ἔλαιον τὸ ἐκ τῆς μορίας.
    Which is translated:

    We likewise have other sports, such as boxing, quoits, and leaping, for every one of which we lay down certain rewards, which the conqueror is entitled to .... At the Olympic games, an olive crown or garland; at the Nemean, one of Parsley; at the Pythian, apples from the trees sacred to Apollo; and with us, at the Panathenaica, olives from the tree of Minerva.[6]​

    Similarly, an anonymous epigram in The Greek Anthology notes:

    τέσσαρὲς εἰσιν ἀγῶνες ἀν᾽ Ἑλλάδα, τέσσαρες ἱροί,
    οἱ δύο μὲν θνητῶν, οἱ δύο δ᾽ ἀθανάτων
    Ζηνός, Λητοΐδαο, Παλαίμονος, Ἀρχεμόροιο.
    ἆθλα δὲ τῶν, κότινος, μῆλα, σέλινα, πίτυς.​

    Which is translated:

    There are four games in Greece, two sacred to mortals and two to immortals: to Zeus, Apollo, Palaemon, and Archemorus, and their prizes are wild-olive, and their prizes are wild-olive, apples, celery, and pine-branches.[7]​

    Paton explains, "The games are the Olympian, the Pythian, Isthmian and Nemean ones. The crown of pine was the Isthmean pine, the celery the Nemean. The Pythian apples are mentioned by other later writers."[8]

    Let's take another look a the reverse of this coin.

    Gordian III Thessalonica Tripod and apples reverse.jpg

    Its design depicts the prize awarded at the Pythian Games: apples from the trees sacred to Apollo arranged within a tripod, for the tripod is associated with the myth of the slaying of Python by Apollo. Many coins of the Roman provincial series depict the serpent and tripod of Apollo motif, such as this one.

    [​IMG] Elagabalus, AD 218-222.
    Roman provincial Æ assarion, 2.88 g, 16.6 mm, 7 h.
    Moesia Inferior, Marcianopolis, AD 218-222.
    Obv: ΑVΤ Κ Μ ΑVΡ ΑΝΤΩΝΙΝΟC, laureate head, right.
    Rev: ΜΑΡΚΙΑΝΟΠΟΛΙΤΩΝ, Tripod with serpent entwined around central leg.
    Refs: AMNG I 916; Varbanov 1425; Moushmov 653; H&J

    As I note in a previous thread, Apollo chased the serpent-god Python from Mount Parnassus, slew the creature with his arrow, placed his bones into a tripod cauldron and deposited them into his new temple.[9]

    Lastly, the association of the coin with the Pythian games is explicitly expressed by the inscription ΠVΘΙΑ (Pythia) inscribed in the fields flanking the tripod.

    Coins were issued for the Pythian games by other cities in the Roman provincial series, such as this one from Emesa owned by @ancientone , which depicts a prize urn.

    Post your coins depicting athletic games and contests, comments, or anything you feel is relevant!


    1. Ovid. Metamorphoses 1.445-6. Hugo Magnus. Gotha (Germany). Friedr. Andr. Perthes. 1892.

    2. Dryden, John, and John Sargeaunt. The Poems of John Dryden. H. Frowde, Oxford University Press, 1910, p. 436.

    3. Ancient Olympics, ancientolympics.arts.kuleuven.be/eng/TB002EN.html.

    4. Kampmann, Ursula. The Prize-Crowns of Philippopolis: How Caracalla in 214 AD Established Pythian Games for the Apollo of Delphi in Philippopolis, www.moneymuseum.com/en/archive/the-prize-crowns-of-philippopolis-345.

    5. Ancient Olympics, op. cit.

    6. Lucian. The Works of Lucian, from the Greek, by Thomas Francklin. Vol. 2, Printed for T. Cadell, 1780, p. 278.

    7. The Greek Anthology 9.357. W.R. Paton. Vol. 3, William Heinemann Ltd., 1917, pp 190-191.

    8. Ibid, p. 191.

    9. Hyginus (2nd c. AD?), Fabulae: 140 in Trzaskoma, Stephen M., and R. Scott. Smith. Apollodorus' Library and Hyginus' Fabulae: Two Handbooks of Greek Mythology. Hackett Publishing, 2007, p. 146.
    Last edited: May 23, 2020
  2. Avatar

    Guest User Guest

    to hide this ad.
  3. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    ..wow!...i've looked at a lot of provincials with that type reverse, but had NO idea what it was about...kool info RC! :)
    Roman Collector likes this.
  4. JulesUK

    JulesUK Well-Known Member

    Delphi is on my bucket list of places to visit. Was so close to going this year but alas.......
    Great post RC.
  5. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

  6. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    It appears that Perinthus, Thrace, was successful in both the Actaian (left) and Pythian (right) games the year this Septimius Severus AE30 was issued. There is a lot going on under and on this table.
  7. svessien

    svessien Senior Member



    AD 253-260

    AE Hexassarion. 18.8g, 27mm

    MINTED: CILICIA, Anazarbus, CY 272 (AD 253/4)
    REF: SNG Levante 1518-20
    OBVERSE: AVT K M ΛIK OV-AΛЄPIANOC CЄ, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right.

    REVERSE: Six agonistic prize urns, A M K above, (Γ) ЄT BOC Γ between, ANAΞAP/BOY in exergue in two lines.

    Anazarbus appears to have made a grand slam during the reign of Valerian. Six prize urns!
    Minotaur Ancient coins writes about this issue:

    «Sporting festivals and games were of great importance to the civic and religious life of the eastern Roman provinces. In cities such as Tarsus and Anazarbus in Cilicia, the prestige associated with their hosting such games was such that their coinage often featured agonistic reverses (agōn in Ancient Greece referred to a stadium or to sporting competitions). Amongst the variety of types are to be found those depicting the crown of the demiourgos (who organized the games), the gymnasiarch (who officiated), competing athletes, and agonistic urns (or prize crowns as they are sometimes called). This particular coin features six prize urns.
    The legend A M K on the reverse abbreviates in Greek the declaration that the city of Anazarbus was "first", "greatest", and "most beautiful". Its rival in the region, Tarsus, also used A M K on their coins.»

    This must be the ancient equivalent of the modern proof Olympic Games coins.
  8. Shea19

    Shea19 Supporter! Supporter

    Great post as usual, RC. I don’t have any coins to share, but I can share a few photos that I took of some of the Pythian Games sites when I was in Delphi a few years ago. I highly, highly recommend that anyone visiting Greece should spend a day in Delphi, without question one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

    Here is the stadium where many of the events and races took place:

    And this is the amphitheater where the musical contests were held (the ruins of the Temple of Apollo are to the left just below the theater).

  9. Whenever I think I might have fairly decent knowledge of ancient times and coins I read a fantastic post like this and I realize I'm a grasshopper.
  10. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Wow! What an opportunity to immerse yourself in the ancient world! Great photos, @Shea19 .
    Shea19 and JulesUK like this.
  11. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    I need to do a little more digging into this coin - I know I have some additional notes written somewhere, but not sure where at the moment...
    Anc-10-R4-k0198-Caracalla-Thrace-AE35-Perinthus-2487regvar1.jpg Provincial Rome - Thrace
    Caracalla, r. 198-217 A.D.
    Perinthus, AE 35 Medallion, 35.30 mm x 26.52 grams
    Obv.: [AVT K M AVP CЄ]OVHP ANTΩNINOC AVΓ, radiate head right
    Rev.: ΠЄPINΘIΩN NEΩKOPΩN, agonistic table surmounted by two prize urns, each containing palm; below, five balls and amphora
  12. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Cool coin, @FitzNigel !

    In light of the fact that apples were awarded as prizes, those five "balls" are probably supposed to be apples.
  13. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I liked the type of these enough that I didn't let the roughness stop me. Now AI see that rough is standard for the type. I wonder if our coins were from the same hoard.
    Also Anazarbus but the half size AE26 with radiate crown dated on the reverse to year 272 (253/4 AD
    From Nikomedia, Bithynia is an AE25 celebrating their third Neocourate temple in exergue. The city name is completely lost at the top but the ID is certain. How many places have Valerian II joining his father and grandfather on the obverse?
  14. svessien

    svessien Senior Member

    I also liked it a lot. I bought mine just recently. When did you get yours?
    I’ve had some second thoughts about the influx of large amounts of coins originating in that area. It may of course be that the cheap but effective metal detectors have reached Iraq and Syria, but I have also wondered if I’m sponsoring ISIS when buying these coins. Many archealogical sites and museums have been plundered the later years.
    Last edited: May 23, 2020
  15. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    Maybe next year? Greece from UK is not a hard trip provided you book everything early... That is of course if there will be any airlines left by next spring... If you do it though I reccomend to combine Delphi with Meteora with a couple of overnight stays in the region around Meteora. There are some lovely Bn'Bs in the surrounding villages.

    That is a very legitimate worry. The whole region is so unstable, so in order to be safer than sorry go for coins with some provenance. They don't have to be from important collections, just having an auction history for the past few years should be enough.
  16. svessien

    svessien Senior Member

    Yes. These are 10£ coins though. So not much provenance recorded. I usually do my homework before buying something expensive.
  17. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    1999 - You rarely know if a coin you get was found recently or just cleaned recently. I tend to think of old collection coins having better surfaces but a lot depends on where the coin was in the soil. My 'developed' countries used harsh chemical fertilizers before the 'Third World' and some soils are just harder on metal than others. I see no way of telling whether the coins were both found over 20 years ago but mine has been with me that long.
    JulesUK likes this.
  18. svessien

    svessien Senior Member

    I don’t know if you follow the European budget auctions these days. They typically have a large number of coins of the same type in the same auction, and often several types from a specific area in large numbers. At the same time you see these types showing up in large lots at the more mid-high end venues. It looks to me like recent hoards.
    Another alternative is of course that it is inventory from dealers. Or black market material bought from countries where the administration has fallen apart. In any event, there is a lot of different provincial material for sale, and this market sucks up every obol.
  19. nicholasz219

    nicholasz219 Well-Known Member


    Provincial, Perinthus, Thrace, AE30, AKTIA PYQIA
    Roman Provincial: Perinthus, Thrace
    Septimius Severus
    Augustus: 193 - 211AD
    30.0mm 11.80gr 7h
    O: ΑΥΚ Λ CεΠ CεΥΗΡΟC Π; Laureate, draped bust, right, seen from behind; beaded border.
    R: AKTIA PYQIA; Two agonistic prize urns set on altar, palms between, amphora and apples below, beaded border.
    Actian and Pythian Games
    Mionnet Supp. II 1258; BMC Thrace 31; Moushmov 4505.

    Per usual I am late to the party. @dougsmit’s example is much better than mine but I am still proud to own my example. I wish the reverse legend was clear but I love this coin nonetheless.
  20. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    Caracalla. 98-217 AD. Philippopolis, Thrace. Æ Medallion (35mm, 25.54 gm, 8h). Struck 215 AD. Obv: AVT K M AVΡ CEΥH ANTΩNEINOC, radiate, draped, and cuirassed bust right. Rev: K(OINO)N ΘΡAKΩN AΛEΞANΔΡIA/ EN ΦIΛIΠΠOΠOΛΙ, table seen in perspective to right, surmounted by prize urn containing two palms and inscribed (ΠΥΘΙΑ) (worn off here); below, five balloting balls, palm branch and amphora. Moushmov, Philippopolis__ ; Varbanov 1485, rarity 6.
  21. Ancient Aussie

    Ancient Aussie Supporter! Supporter

    Great in depth write up RC and terrific coin.
    1. Tranquillina.
    Bronze. AD 238-244.
    26 mm. 12,11 g.
    Diademed and draped bust right.
    Tetrastyle temple seen in perspective to left ΠΥΘΙΑ below.
    Cf. Varbanov 4657.
    The Pythian Games (Greek: Πύθια) were one of the four Panhellenic Games of Ancient Greece. They were held in honour of Apollo every four years at his sanctuary at Delphi. They were held two years after each Olympic Games, and between each Nemean and Isthmian games
    Shea19, Bing, Johndakerftw and 4 others like this.
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page