Antioch on the Orontes

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Carl Wilmont, Nov 21, 2020 at 8:04 PM.

  1. Carl Wilmont

    Carl Wilmont Supporter! Supporter

    Personified by a swimming river god, the Orontes is highlighted at the bottom of the reverse of this ancient tetradrachm from the Roman province of Syria.


    After flowing northward from Mount Lebanon through Syria and into southern Turkey, the Orontes bends to the west and empties into the Mediterranean, draining a large portion of the northern Levant. In ancient times, the Orontes separated Syria from Egypt and was a symbol of the Near East, as the Tiber was of Rome.

    Image from: David R. Bridgland, Rob Westaway, Mohammad Abou Romieh, Ian Candy, Mohamad Daoud, Tuncer Demir, Nikolaos Galiatsatos, Danielle C. Schreve, Ali Seyrek, Andrew D. Shaw, Tom S. White, John Whittaker, The River Orontes in Syria and Turkey: Downstream variation of fluvial archives in different crustal blocks, Geomorphology,Volumes 165–166,2012,Pages 25-49.

    The river god Orontes was a son of Oceanus and Tethys. Here are some references to him in classical literature from the second and third centuries:

    Pseudo-Hyginus, Preface (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
    "From Oceanus and Tethys [were born] the Oceanides . . . Of the same descent Rivers : Strymon, Nile, Euphrates, Tanais, Indus, Cephisus, Ismenus, Axenus [Axios], Achelous, Simoeis, Inachus, Alpheus, Thermodon, Scamandrus, Tigris, Maeandrus, Orontes."

    Oppian, Cynegetica 2. 115 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd A.D.) :
    "Aforetime all the plain by the foot of Emblonos [in Syria] was flooded; since evermore in great volume rushed Orontes in his eagerness, forgetting the sea and burning with desire of the dark-eyed Nymphe, the daughter of Okeanos (Oceanus). He lingered amid the heights and he covered the fertile earth, unwilling to forgo his hopeless love of Meliboia (Meliboea). With mountains on either side was he encircled round, mountains that one either hand leaned their heads together. From East came the lofty form of Diokleion (Diocleum), and from the West the left horn of Emblonos, and in the midst himself raging in the plains, ever waxing and drawing night the walls, flooding with his waters that mainland at once and island [the Khersonese (Chersonese)], mine own city. Therefore was the son [Herakles] of Zeus destined straightway with club and mighty hands to apportion their water unto each, and to give separate course from the plain for the waters of the fair-tressed lake and the fair-flowing river. And he wrought his mighty labour, when he cut the girdle of the encircling hills and undid their stony bonds, and sent the river belching to its mouth, surging incontinent and wildly murmuring, and guided it towards the shores. And loudly roared the deep sea, and the mighty body of the Syrian shore echoed to the din . . . So the mighty Orontes made a noise of dread bellowing about the shores; and mightily roared the headlands when they received within their bosom the swell of the new-come sea; and the black and fertile earth took heart again, arisen form the waves, a new plain of Herakles."

    One of the most influential statues of antiquity was the Tyche of Antioch by Eutychides, created in about 300 B.C. The original has been lost, but surviving works modeled after it reveal that it showed her seated on a rock, with the river god Orontes at her feet.

    This Roman copy in marble is housed in the Vatican.


    Another example is this 1st-2nd century Roman bronze statuette in the Yale University Art Gallery. It is unclear if it originally included the figure of Orontes.

    Photo: Yale University Art Galley

    Note the similarities of these works to the reverse of this coin which was minted in Antioch, an important city in the Graeco-Roman world by which the Orontes flowed. As the river supported the fortunes of Antioch, the river god Orontes is depicted below Tyche, the civic diety and personification of fortune. In the first statue above, Tyche holds wheat stalks in her hand, on the coin, a palm branch. Both may symbolize the fertility of the city’s lands which were irrigated by the Orontes.

    Antioch served as the second capital of the Seleucid Empire from 240 BC until 63 BC, when the Romans took control through the conquering Pompey. (Founded in 312 BC, the Seleucid Empire had Seleucia as its first capital from 305 to 240 BC.). Rome made Antioch the capital of their province of Syria, and it was the third largest city of the Empire in size and importance after Rome and Alexandria.

    This coin also has a nice portrait on the obverse of Octavian as Augustus, the first Roman emperor; and it was struck in 3 BC, close to the time of the birth of Christ. Luke mentions Augustus in the second chapter of his gospel, “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.” It was this order that prompted Joseph to travel with Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register. There, Jesus was born. Antioch was one of the earliest centers of Christianity. It is the place in which the disciples of Jesus were first called Christians (Acts 11:26), and it was also the city from which the apostle Paul launched his missionary journeys.

    Augustus Tetradrachm Combined.jpg
    Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD). AR Tetradrachm (26mm, 15.10 g, 12h). Antioch mint, Seleucis Pieria, Syria. Dated year 29 of the Actian Era and Cos. XII = October-December 3 BC. ΚAIΣAPOΣ ΣΕ-BAΣTOY (‘of Augustus Caesar’), laureate head of Augustus right, bead and reel border / ETOYΣ ΘΚ NIKHΣ ( 'Year 29 of the victory'), Tyche, holding palm frond in right hand, seated right on rocky outcropping; at her feet, half-length figure of river-god Orontes swimming right; in right field two monograms and IB (consular date) to right, border of dots.

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  3. Quant.Geek

    Quant.Geek Well-Known Member

    An outstanding write up with an over-the-top coin! Too sheepish to post a coin...
    Carl Wilmont likes this.
  4. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

  5. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    I believe Saint Peter established the first Christian Church there.
  6. Shea19

    Shea19 Supporter! Supporter

    Wonderful that reverse!

    And thank you so much for posting the photos of the statues! I recently added a big provincial bronze from Antioch with Tyche and Orontes on the reverse. I hadn’t researched it much yet, so I hadn’t come across photos of the statues, but the reverse design on my coin looks like it is based on the same statue design. Very informative write-up, I appreciate it!

    Trebonianus Gallus, 251-253, Seleucis and Pieria, Antioch, AE Octassarion (30 mm, 18.53 g). Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Trebonianus Gallus to right. Rev.ANTIOXEΩN MHTPO KOΛΩN / Δ-E / S C Tyche of Antioch seated facing with river god Orontes swimming left below; all within tetrastyle portable shrine surmounted by ram leaping right; on bottom of shrine, carrying poles. RPC IX 1851.
  7. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    Volusian 2.jpg
    OBVERSE: AVTOK K G AFIN GAL OVEND OVOLOCCIANOC CEB, radiate and draped bust right
    REVERSE: ANTIOXEWN MHTRO KOLWN D-e, SC below, Tyche seated facing within tetrastyle temple, the river-god Orontes swimming beneath her, ram leaping right above
    Struck at Syria-Antioch, 251-253 AD
    17.1g, 30mm
    SNGCop 295
  8. singig

    singig Well-Known Member

    Wow, I was first impressed by the revers, but the obverse is also beautiful !

    I think is the only Tyche representation I have:
    Antoninus Pius AE 25mm of Laodicea ad Mare , Syria. BMC 72
    AVTO KAI TI AIΛI AΔΡI ANTΩNEINOC CEB, laureate head left , countermark of a bearded male head right / IOVΛIEΩN TΩN KAI ΛAOΔIKEΩN, draped and turreted bust of Tyche(as the city goddess) left wearing bunch of grapes ; MO/ΥΚ to left, ΓP (date) to right.
    anton10 .jpg
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  9. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    I'll try this again.
  10. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    I think Tyche has a more elaborate headdress than a bunch of grapes. See:
    Antoninus Pius. 138-161 AD. SYRIA, Seleucis and Pieria. Laodicea ad Mare. Æ (25mm, 9.70 gm, 12h). Dated 138 AD. Obv: Laureate head right; c/m: laureate and bearded head right within oval incuse. ΙΟΥΛΙΕWN TWN K-AI ΛΑΟΔΙΚΕWΝ, Turreted and draped bust of Tyche left; ΘE before, HΠP (date) behind. The turreted headdress consisting of a gateway, turrets, walls, and a lighthouse. RPC 4, 9109 (temporary); SNG Copenhagen 350; Hunterian 3200; for c/m: Bearded head right; Howgego 113.

    She possibly has a bunch of grapes for an earring, but I am not sure.
  11. singig

    singig Well-Known Member

  12. David@PCC


    That's a very nice tetradrachm @Carl Wilmont. I have around 90 coins from Antioch.
    Civic coinage of Antioch
    Summer 312 AD
    Antioch mint
    Obvs: GENIO ANTIOCHENI, Tyche of Antioch facing; river god Orontes below.
    Revs: APOLLONI SANCTO, Apollo holding lyre and patera. I in right field, SMA in ex
    AE 15x16mm, 1.64g
    Ref: Vagi 2954; Van Heesch 3

    And one minted a decade or so after it's founding
    Seleucus I
    Mint: Antioch
    300 to 286 BC
    Obvs: Laureate head of Apollo right with long hair. Dotted border.
    Revs: BAΣIΛIEΩΣ ΣEΛEYKOY, Athena Alkidemos/Promachos in Corinthian helmet brandishing spear and holding shield. Anchor to right.
    AE 22mm, 8.5g
    Ref: SNG Isr. 5; SC 15.1; HGC 9, 77(C-S)
  13. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    Carl, Congrats on acquiring this beautiful coin & an excellent article to go with it :D! The history of Syrian - Antioch has been of great interest to me for a long time. I did have an excellent example of this coin type I sold long ago, see photo below.

    100_4902.JPG 100_4905.JPG
  14. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    A wonderful coin @Carl Wilmont - here's mine from Year 30 (2/1 BC). I especially enjoyed the map & quote from Oppian that you cite:

    "So, the mighty river Orontes made a noise of dread bellowing about the shores; and mightily roared the headlands when they received within their bosom the swell of the new-come sea; and the black and fertile earth took heart again, arisen from the waves, a new plain of Heracles."

    I have museum catalog of Antioch that you might enjoy "Antioch, The Lost Ancient City", which provides an overview of the city and history, generously illustrated with art and artifacts.
    Augustus Tetradrachm Antioch.jpg
    Seleucis and Pieria, Antioch, Augustus, 27 BC-AD 14, AR tetradrachm, dated year 30 of the Actian Era - dating from the Battle of Actium between Marc Antony and Augustus - and Cos. XIII (2/1 BC)
    Obv: ΚΑΙΣΑΡΟΣ ΣΕΒΑΣΤΟY, laureate head right
    Rev: [ETOVΣ] Λ (Actian era date) NIKHΣ, Tyche seated right on rocky outcropping, holding palm frond; below, half-length figure of river-god Orontes swimming right; in right field, monogram (=ΥΠΑTOY) and IΓ (consular iteration) above monogram (=ANTIOXIEΩN?)
    Ref: RPC I 4156, McAlee 185; Prieur 55
  15. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    I also have a copy of that catalog that has excellent illustrations & essays. William Metcalf wrote an excellent essay The Mint of Antioch for that catalog.

    Antioch, The Lost Ancient City.jpg
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2020 at 2:50 PM
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  16. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter I dig ancient coins...

  17. cmezner

    cmezner Supporter! Supporter

    All the Tetras are breathtaking ! Impressive.
    I have one that I shared in another thread sometime ago, I have just a question

    trying to understand how the numismatists calculate the date, it is like a riddle - is the following reasoning correct?

    As K = 20, Θ = 9 it is the year 29 of the Actian Era. The Actian Era dates from the victory of Caesar over Antony at Actium in 31 BC. If the era started before the common era (BC or BCE), to determine the common era (AD or CE) date, subtract the era start year from the date on the coin.

    31 - 29 = 2 BC
    Cos XII = 12th consulate Augustus became consul for the 12th time on January 1, 5BC

    do we subtract 2 BC from 5 BC: 5 - 2 = 3 BC to date the tetradrachm?
  18. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I don't believe anyone has posted a coin from Antioch by Pescennius Niger. He gets no respect as a usurper. He was defeated by Septimius Severus when both simultaneously rose against Didius Julianus at least partly because Septimius Severus was stationed closer to Rome and made a beeline there to cement his position. Technically, both were usurpers against the same foe. His coins are not popular because there are rather few in high grade. As a collector of Septimius Severus, I felt it appropriate to have a few of the other side.
    This one is Minerva. MINER VICTRIS
  19. Broucheion

    Broucheion Supporter! Supporter

    Very interesting coins! Here's one of the very few I have from Antioch, which I've posted before.


    - Broucheion
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  20. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    ...well i'll be danged...i got one of her(& him) too! ^^...kool coin and story @Carl Wilmont! :) Trebonus Gallus  Romans  Christmas 2018 002.JPG Trebonus Gallus  Romans  Christmas 2018 004.JPG
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  21. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    ...i love the reverse of these.coins!..i believe @ancient coin hunter has one as well...:)
    singig and Carl Wilmont like this.
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