Apollo Karneios - the horned Apollo

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Nov 9, 2019.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear friends of ancient mythology!

    After a longer time I have found a coin again worth to explore its mythology.

    The coin:
    Magna Graeca, Lukania, Metapontion, ca. 300-250 BC
    AE 11, 1.59g, 11.2mm, 0°
    obv. Horned head of Apollo r.
    rev. META (l. field upward)
    Barley ear with leaf to r.
    in r. field above leaf fly (control mark)
    ref.: Johnston Bronze 64; HN Italy 1700; cf. SNG ANS 587 (control mark); SNG
    Copenhagen 1256 (same); SNG Morcom 287 (same); Macdonald Hunter 67
    VF, green patina, well centered on tight flan
    The rev. shows an ear of the 6-line barley, Hordeum polystichum pyramidatum, the most important grain of the Greeks, and in Metapontion a symbol of the polis. Barley was eaten only roasted and even given to the dead for their voyage to netherworld. This too would be an interesting theme. But here we will concentrate on the obv.: the horned Apollo Karneios.

    The origin and the meaning of Karneios was obcure already in ancient times. According to Praxilla of Sikyon, a Greek poetess of the 5th century BC, Karneios was the son of Zeus and Europa, nursed by Leto and Apollo who was fallen in love to him.

    For the origin of his name there are different explanations:
    (1) An old myth tells, that the Greeks when building the Troian Horse have cut down trees of the cornel cherries at the Ida mountains (Greek κράνεια). They have grown in a sacred grove of Apollo, and to soften his anger they began to worship him under this name (Pausan. in Lacon.c.13.p.184.; Schol. Callim.ad Hymn, in Apollon v.72.). Today this explanation is obsolete although it is well known that is was strictly forbidden to cut down trees in his sacred groves, to cut off twigs, in fact to carry foliage out of the grove. There were serious punishments: Slaves were whipped, free men were subject of the judgment of the Council.

    (2) Referring to Pausanias (3, 13, 3.4) his name was originally Karnos and he came from Acarnania. He was an Apollonian seer in the army of the Heraclids, but was suspected to be a spy and therefore slain by Hippotes, a great-grandson of Herakles, when the Dorians were crossing over to the Peloponnesos at Naupaktos (Paus., schol. Theokrit). Apollo's anger, who send them a plague, they softened by rendering divine honour to Karnos and bestowing Apollo himself the surname Karneios. Hippotes was exiled for 10 years by a verdict of Delphi. Konon (narr. 26) calls Karneios a phasma Apollinis (spook of Apollo), that was following the army of the Dorians and finally shot by Hippotes. But because it is hardly possible to shoot a spook he was made a seer of Apollo. But this explanation is rather an aitiological legend, which has been invented in the interest of the Spartans.

    (3) Today the most probable explanation is the following: Karneios was an old pre-Dorian shepherd and ram god (Greek karnos = ram), who was already found by the Dorians when they invaded the Peloponnesos and whom they melted together with their own Apollo. He is closely related to Apollo Kereates, to Apollo Keraton (Plut. Thes. 21) and to Kertinos (Plut. de soll. anim. 35; Callim. hymn in Apoll. 61).

    The cult of Karneios:
    The cult of Apollo Karneios extended mostly to the Peloponnesos and the Dorian colonies. Main places of worshipping Apollo Karneios were Sparta, Sikyon, Thera, Kos and the colonies of Magna Graecia and Kyrene. In Sikyon his priests have had such a high credit that finally they ruled the city instead of the kings (Euseb.). But this is doubted by a number of scientists (Hederich).

    Referring to Ferdinand Tönnies he should have been worshipped in the oasis of Shiwa before the cult of Zeus Ammon became prevalent. There were sacred groves (so-called Karnesia) for him in Andania/ Messenia and Megalopolis/Arcadia. Apollo Karneios was the most important common deity of the Dorians. He was something like their national god.

    It is remarkable that the cult of the god took place mainly in Western Laconia, in the region of the Taygetos mountains where the Dorian influence never was very great. In contrast the distribution of the Laconian and Messenian cult of Karneios covers that of the ancient Minyae whose residencies were found especially in the regions of the Taygetos mountains. This is a strong hint that the cult of Karneios belongs to a yet older cultural stratum (Roscher).

    The Karneia:
    The Karneia, the festival in honour of the god, took place in the 1st half of the August and lasted 9 days. Regarding the festival the month was called Karnetos (Greek actually Metageitnion). For the Spartans it was a very importent festival. So it was not allowed during the festival to go to war. This was the reason that the Spartans came too late to the battle of Marathon!

    The festival consisted of athletic competitions and of a contest of kithara players. The mayor feature of the festival however was the race of the staphylodromoi. From each phyle were drawn by lot 5 unmarried young men (Karnetes) for 4 years who have to organize the festival under guidance of a priest (Agetes). A young volunteer, decorated with woollen garlands (the Agetes?), who had made special prayers to the city deities, was hunted by young men, the staphylodromoi (= wine grape runners). If he was caught, it was a good omen for the city, if not it was a bad omen. Probably the staphylodromoi had wine grapes in their hands (hence the name). This race has had the features of vintage, harvesting and expiation rites. May be that the race originally has ended with the killing of the caught ram demon (Pauly).

    Then the convivial part started. On 9 locations tents were erected (Skias), in which always 9 men, representing the 3 phratries, were eating together under the command of an herald. This appears to be the imitation of war life. Obviously the immigrated Spartians have melted their own Apollo cult with the encountered cult. By this the character of the festival has changed
    to a warrior festival.

    Of course sacrifices were made to Apollo Karneios, so a ram in Thurioi, or a boar in the Karnesian grove in Messenia.

    History of Art:

    (1) In Kyrene/Libya, founded by Dorians from Thera, large parts of his temple are found until today. Apollo Karneios was regarded as mythological founder of the city. To honour him a special monument was erected at the end of the 4th century BC. Here too were celebrated Karneias. These were mentioned by Pindar in his Odes (Pythia 5.80)
    Kyrene Apollotempel.jpg
    The temple of Apollo Karneios in Kyrene (www2.warwick.ac.uk)

    Kyrene Monument des Karneios.jpg
    The monument for Karneios in Kyrene (www2.warwick.ac.uk)

    (2) In the National Archaeological Museum in Taranto/Italy exists a red-figured volute Krater from Ceglie del Campo from the 5th century BC, showing dancing girls and youths near a pillar inscribed KARNEIOS. Probably it is the dance of virgins decorated with the Spartian leaf crown for the Karneias (Pauly)
    Krater von Ceglie.jpg
    Volute krater of Ceglie (Photo Scala, Florence)


    was an ancient Greek poetess in the 5th century BC from Sikyon whose works were mostly lost. Survived has only one rhyme in hexameter. It is said that she has written a hymn to Adonis too, as well as wine and drinking poems. At the end of the last century BC the Greek poet Antipater from Thessalonika has made a list of the most important Greek poetesses. On this list she has the first place, before Sappho or Erinna.
    Of Erasmus of Rotterdam a proverb is known: "More stupid than the Adonis of Praxilla (Stupidior Praxillae Adonide)". That goes back to a fragment of her hymn to Adonis, quoted by Zenobius, in which Adonis answered to the question, which of all things he was leaving on earth was the most beauty "The sun, the moon, the cucumbers and the apples." This answer seems ridiculous and stupid to the reader.

    Konon was a Greek mythograph living around the Nativity. His work Diegeseis is mostly known by an excerpt by Photios from Byzantine times. It is a collection of narratives, founder myths, aetiologies (myths explaining the origin of things) and love stories, which should entertain the reader.

    The Minyae were an ancient Greek tribe in Boiotia around the city of Orchomenos. As their ancestor is seen Minyas. In Mycenean times they were bearer of a highly developed culture. In the Trojan War they manned 30 ships. The mythical Erginos is said to have made Theben tributary. At the end of the 2nd century BC their empire collapsed and the people as a whole
    disappeared. Even archaeologically it is not identifiable. The claimed connection to the Argonauts ist a post-Homeric construction.

    (1) Apollodor, Bibliotheke
    (2) Kallimachos, Hymns to Apoll
    (3) Pausanias, Periegesis
    (4) Pindar, Odes
    (5) Plutarch, Biographies
    (6) Herodot, Histories
    (7) Theokrit, Poems

    Secondary literature:
    (1) Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher, Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und  römischen
    (2) Benjamin Hederich, Gründliches mythologisches Lexikon
    (3) Der Kleine Pauly, Lexikon der Antike

    Online sources:
    (1) Wikipedia
    (2) www2.warwick.ac.uk
    (3) scalarchives.it

    Best regards
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  3. eparch

    eparch Well-Known Member

    Jochen, thanks for another interesting post.

    My Apollo from Metapontion has no horns.Perhaps he was worshiped
    in more than one aspect, or perhaps it was just artistic preference ?


    Lucania, Metapontion, Bronze, c. 300-250 BC; AE (g 3,33; mm 16; h 12); Laureate head of Apollo l., Rv. META, barley-ear with leaf to l.; on r., tripod. HNItaly 1675; Johnston 40.HGC I 1116

    Rare. Brownish patina, .
    TIF, panzerman, Johndakerftw and 2 others like this.
  4. panzerman

    panzerman Well-Known Member

    Great history/ writeup Jochen:) Neat coin!!!

    One never ceases learning new things on this forum.

    Here is my example from Cyrene, got it from Heritage. lf (25).jpg
    TIF, Johndakerftw, Bing and 2 others like this.
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