Featured Apollo Philesios and the movable stag of Kanachos

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Jan 6, 2019.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear friends!

    This article I have published years before on FAC in my thread "Mythological interesting coins". But I think it could be of interest here too. This article contains nearly all information I could get about this subject. I bet some of it will be new for you. Enjoy!

    The coin:
    Ionia, Miletos, Nero, AD 54-68
    AE 18, 2.44g, 18.3mm, 330°
    struck under magistrate Loupos
    obv. CEBA - CTOC (left side from above, right from below, A and T upside down)
    Laureate head r.
    rev. EΠI ΛO - VΠOV (left side from above, right from below)
    Cult statue of Apollo Didymeus, nude, stg. r., holding bow in l. hand and in his
    extended r. hand stag, turning head back to the god.
    ref. cf. BMC 148 (different magistrate); RPC comments p.449, 5a
    very rare, F+/about VF, dark green patina


    This coin belongs to the few objects which show us a model of the famous statue. It should be noted that the usual Apollo head on Milesian coins - showing a lion on the reverse - is not Apollo Philesios but Apollo Delphinios, the city god of Miletos.

    The mythology of Philesios goes back to the beautiful herdsman Branchos.

    Branchos, a rather unusual name in Greek, means 'sore throat, horseness'. This name is explained so: When his mother was pregnant with him she had a dream where the sun entered her mouth and left her through her belly. After gaving birth to the child she called him Branchos because the sun had entered her by the throat. The origin of this myth is surely pre-Hellenic and shall lead back Branchos and his later foretelling power to the sun-god or at least establish a connection to the sun-god. The etymological explanation of the name Branchos seems to be Greek but is somehow unfortunate because Branchos does not mean throat but sore throat!

    A probable later but now typical Greek myth tells, that once the herdsman Branchos, son of Smikros from Milet, herded his flock at Didyma near Miletos. As soon as Apollo had set eyes on him he fell in love with him. He kissed him, bestowed him a crown, a laurel rod and the power of forecasting. This myth explains the cult name Philesios, which Apollo has in Didyma, meaning such as 'the loving, the kissing' (from Greek philein = to love, to kiss).

    Thereupon Branchos endowed the Didymaic oracle which became widely famous. It is told that Apollo once came in conflict with the Milesians and sent them a plague to punish them. But Branchos saved the Milesians. He sprinkled the people with wet laurel branches and sang an hymnos on Apollo (Apollodor of Kerkyra). And the boys repeated the following magic verses:



    These magic verses are said to be invented by Branchos. They are well known and appear on several papyri. Originally they are pure nonsense verses. But they contain all 24 letters of the Milesian alphabet. Because of that there is the opinion too that Branchos by these verses has taught the art of writing to the Milesians, because sorcery and spelling are semantic closely connected, look at the double meaning of 'to spell' (related too with German 'Spiel', playing).

    Branchos became the founder of a mighty family of priest rulers whose were called Branchidai after him. To them he had bequested the power of forecasting.

    About the birth of Apollo we have talked already in the article 'Leto - Mother of the twins Apollo and Artemis'. While Delos claimed the birth of Apollo, Delphi his first deeds, Didyma as location of the conception could show a similar important myth.

    We have heard that Branchos became the founder of the Didymaic oracle and ancestor of the priestly ruling dynasty of the Branchides. Pausanias writes, that the sanctuary of Didyma has existed already before the colonisation by the Ionians. That matches well the fact that the name 'Branchos' as well as 'Didyma' originate from the Carian language, related to the Luwian language, which is closely connected to the Hittite language, and so both pre-Hellenic. Two donations testify the outstanding importance of the Didymaic sanctuary: The royal garment which Pharaoh Necho has worn at the battle of Megiddo where he has defeated Josiah, and several precious votive gifts of the Lydian king Kroisos. The oldest parts of the temple can be dated to the 7th century BC. Probably they were built around a holy spring. Didyma, also called Branchidai (so Herodotos), was connected with the sanctuary of Apollo Delphinios in Miletos with a holy street.

    The most important art work in Didyma was the bronze statue of the standing Apollo Philesios made by Kanachos in the 5th century BC, probably a gift of the Milesians to Didyma and therefore rather a votive gift than actual a cult statue. In 494 BC Didyma and Milet were destroyed by the Persians under Xerxes and the bronze statue was carried off to Ekbatana. Strabon reports, that the Branchides have committed betrayal and have handed over the huge treasures of the temple to the Persians. Then they have followed the Persians in the East- fearing the revenge of the Milesians - and were settled in Sogdania at the river Oxos in Bactria. We should know that a great part of the elite was traditional Persian friendly.

    When after the death of Alexander the Great his Empire was divided under the Diadochs the treasures of Ekbatana came in possession of the Seleucids. In 300 BC Seleukos Nikator gave back the statue to the Milesians. So after nearly 200 years the statue came back to Didyma. Pausanias probably has still seen it. During the raids of the Goths in the 3rd century AD it was lost forever.

    Under Alexander the oracle was re-established in AD 331 - now under a Milesian administration - and a new temple erected around the holy spring which started to flow again. This temple was amplified and decorated gorgeously especially under the Seleucids. Even the looting by the Galatians in 277/6 BC could only shortly delay the further advancement of the sanctuary. At its zenith in the Roman imperial time the temple of Apollo in Didyma was the largest temple in the ancient world. He was so large that he never was roofed. The Roman emperors took much care about him, especially Caligula, Trajan and Hadrian. Trajan f.e. was prophetes and enlarged and paved the holy street to Miletos. Here about 80 AD the oracle has forecasted Trajan the future reign - referring to Dio of Prusas. Only the Christians succeeded in demolishing the temple. But he was so large, that his fundaments are preserved until today.

    (1) Der Kleine Pauly
    (2) Roscher, Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie
    (3) Benjamin Hederich, Gründliches mythologisches Lexikon
    (4) Jennifer Lynn Larsen, Ancient Greek Cults
    (5) Reinhold Merkelbach, Weisse KNAXZBI-Milch, in Philologica - Kleine ausgewählte

    Excursion: The Massacre of the Branchides:

    When Alexander the Great on his campaign of conquest came in 327 BC to Bactria and conquered Sogdania, he let burn down it to the ground, and killed not only the descendants of the Branchides but all inhabitants together with women and children. It is said that he has done that to revenge their blasphemy and the betrayal of their ancestors. The temple treasures he has held for his own properties as son of the sun god (so Kallisthenes, probably an eye-witness). Another hypothesis says that Milesian generals, f.e. Demodamas, have forced Alexander to this massacre, because they were afraid that the Branchides after returning to Didyma would claim the old rights of their ancestors for the sanctuary.

    This happened c.150 years after the events in Didyma! But like Schiller writes about Wallenstein in the Prolog: "Von der Parteien Gunst und Hass verwirrt / Schwankt sein Charakterbild in der Geschichte" (= By the parties favour and hate confused / his character sketch sways in history), so the opinion about Alexander sways between youthful hero and cruel tyrant. The massacre of the Branchides undoubtedly belongs to his most disgusting deeds. Parke (see sources) suggests, that it is the sign of collapse of the moral objective of his campeign. From the defensiveness of the Greek civilisation it has degenerated to the purpose of world domination. And the actual reason of the collapse has been the overwhelming success and the achieving of the highest thinkable aims.

    I have added
    (1) the pic of the Kanachos relief from the theater wall in Miletos. It shows Apollo Philesios holding the stag in the palm of his extended hand accompagnied by two torch-beares. It was found AD 1903 and is today in the Pergamon Museum on the Museum Island in Berlin. It is possible that the torch-bearers were added later.

    (2) a pic of the Apollo temple in Didyma as you can see him today. If you look at the visitors on the stairs you can imagine the huge dimensions of this temple.


    Excursion: The movable Stag of Kanachos

    (a) The Artist
    Kanachos of Sikyon, brother of Aristokles, was a late-archaic sculptor around 500 BC. He is known for creating the bronze statue of Apollo Philesios in Didyma (Plin. nat. 34, 75), of which we have resonances in reliefs, on coins and intaglios, for creating the seated statue of Aphrodite in Sikyon (made from gold and ivory, Paus. 2, 10, 5) and several other works (Plin. nat. 34, 75), f.e. in Olympia, from which we have no more views. The use of so different material shows his virtuosity and the geographical distribution certifies his fame and his importance.

    (b) The Apollo of Didyma
    Sadly we know the statue of Apollo Philesios only from descriptions, reliefs and from pics on coins and intaglios. The most detailed description comes from Plinius (nat. 34, 75): "Kanachos has made from Aiginetic bronze a nude Apollo, called 'the Lovely', located in the temple of Didyma, together with a stag who is floating on the soles of his feet, so that it is possible to draw a thread under his feet, because heel and toes by alternate grasping hold tight on the ground, because in both parts a movable tip is affixed so that it alternately rebounds when it swings back." So the statue was especially important because of this mechanics which must have made a lasting impression to the ancient beholder because the stag appeared alive. Wether the stag on the palm of the hand actually stood forwards turning his head backwards to the god we don't know. We not even know wether the stag has stood or lain. Generally the stag is seen as sign of the close affinity between Apollo and his twin sister Artemis or as reference to the Hittite concept of a 'tutelary god of the animals'.

    (c) Between Late Archaic and Early Classic
    Cicero (Brut. 18, 70) mentions Kanachos in a row with Kalamis, Myron and Polyklet. He refers to a scale of hardness grades which probably is borrowed from an Hellenistic source and where the archaic works of art belong to the most hard. In the development of the Greek art to genuine natural truth (veritas) and to beauty (pulchrum) to reach with Polykleitos finally perfection, Kanachos has stood on the 1st stage. This verdict meanwhile has been revised. Kanachos stood at the end of the Late Archaic with one foot already in the Early Classic. The relief in Berlin shows that Apollo no more was standing frontal with straight knees - as usually in the Archaic -, but with his r. knee slightly bent. "Alone the attempt of the Kontrapost signifies a qualitative leap, because it is the exterior sign of a principally new concept of liveness and self-determination of man." (Strocka). Ok, it was actually not yet a Kontrapost but he was on the way. And the movable figure of the stag too was post-Archaic. The most reliable copy for the body seems to be the Apollo of the Forum Romanum which was found AD 1900 near the Juturna fountain - matching well Didyma as an original holy spring -, and for the head the Apollo Townley in the British Museum. Both show a style which unifies features of the Late Archaic with those of the 'Strenger Stil' (Winkelmann) and thus bearing first lines of the Classic.

    (d) The movable stag: Some notes on a possible solution
    Schwerdhöfer tries a reconstruction of the mechanics of the famous movable stag. That has been tried already previously, f.e. 1880 by Petersen, 1904 by Schmidt and 1991 by Schürmann. All these attempts were not satisfying and at last it was noticed: "Over the kind of this mechanism has much been puzzled; to solve this question will be probably impossible." (B.K.Weis) All the more interesting it is that here a new attempt is made which for the first time uses the method of Construction Systematics which was developed in the last 60 years as an own engeenering science.
    Here we have a rough draft of his line of thought which performs in 5 steps:

    (1) Evaluation of the ancient sources to determine the basic principle
    Referring to the description of Plinius we have a standing stag. His description and the fact that the stag after 600 years, carrying off and re-installation was fully operative is evidence of robust techniques and speaks for an one-piece stag without internal mechanics.

    (2) Determination of the basic principle of the device
    The stag is moved by a mechanism so that he can lift alternately his hindlegs and forelegs and bounce back when he touches down the feet.

    (3) Formulation of partial functions and quest for structural elements to perform the partial functions
    Important terms were defined: pivot, bearing and centre of gravity. As partial functions are needed slewing (geometry and bearing) and manipulation (power source and control elements). For slewing there are 2 possibilities: common pivot for both pairs of hoofs, or separate pivot for hindlegs and forelegs.
    With this we have the following leading points (a):

    I. Pivot on the middle vertical line:
    - Bearing in the range of the middle vertical line
    - Bearing on the circular arc of the hoofs
    - Bearing outside the circular arc of the hoofs

    II. Pivot on the hoofs:
    - without lateral shift
    - with lateral shift
    and the following different criteria (b):

    I. Pivot beneat the base line
    II. Pivot on the base line
    III. Pivot above the baseline
    IV. Pivot at the body

    (4) Combination of these solution elements in a morphological box
    The 4 different criteria and the 5 leading points were combined in a 4x5 matrix (morphological box) which gives 20 solution fields. 8 of them can be eliminated immediately because they are technically impossible. The other 12 were now discussed one after the other taking into account literary criteria (Plinius), art history criteria (relief, coins) and technical criteria like stability (very important!), inseparability of the stag from the hand, manufacturability in ancient times, optical impression, but also features like raising of the feet, rebound effect, manipulation and loss of friction in the bearing. All these critera were evaluated in a scale from -2 (unfavourable) to +2 (favourable)

    (5) Discussion and valuation of the solutions and removal resp. reduction of realized lacks
    After all his consideration he comes to the result that his solution no.13 matches best all criteria. Here the stag moves around a pivot on the hoofs. If he lifts the forelegs the bearing is on the hindlegs and lifting the hindlegs it is on the forelegs. To do that under the hoofs were claw-shaped attachments and in the palm of the hand indentations with a bolt which fit the attachments. By an easily arranged lock it can be achieved that the stag is unremovable from the hand (please take a look at the pics!). The most simple transmission element for manual power is a string. This reconstruction is robust, longlasting, easily to establish and easily to operate. The stag has the claws which Plinius has mentioned which interfere in the hand, and the hoofs can rebound as described.
    Clarified by classical studies should be the function of the Apollo statue. Was it a 'toy', accessible for everyone, or was it manipulated by an adept, hidden behind a wall? Or could it be used by pilgrims, who can't distinguish between both cable controls for the movement, for forecasting or decisions depending on wether the stag lifted his hindlegs or forelegs?

    1. Mechanik des Hirsches.jpg
    2. Hirsch.jpg
    3. Apollo Philesios.jpg
    I have added
    (1) 2 sketches of the stag showing how the claws under the hoofs interfere in the hand of Apollo.
    (2) A sketch showing the run of the cable controls. We see the possibility of 2 cables Z1 and Z2 to move the legs or the possibility of only one cable where the stag is moved back by his own gravity.
    (3) A sketch of the Apollo statue how it could have stood before a wall, with an invisible operator behind.

    (1) V.M. Strocka, Der Apollon des Kanachos in Didyma und der Beginn des Strengen
    (2) H. J. Schwerdhöfer, Eine Methode zur Rekonstruktion antiker Mechaniken erläutert an der Apollon-Philesios-Statue des Kanachos , in Thetis, Mannheimer Beiträge zur klassischen Archäologie und Geschichte Griechenlands und Zyperns, Band 10 (2003)

    BTW I would be happy to hear some comments to this article. It has cost me two weeks of work and some money to obtain the needed literature.

    Best regards
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 6, 2019
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  3. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    That's fascinating!!
  4. paddyman98

    paddyman98 No Common Cents! Supporter

    Maybe some origin from -
  5. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Last edited: Jan 6, 2019
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  6. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Thank you!

    I have corrected the above article by discarding the 2nd coin that appears in the original article because the description was incorrect.

    Roman Collector likes this.
  7. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    This was such an interesting thread, I had to rush out and get this coin from our very own @Ken Dorney !

    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.
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2019
  8. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member


  9. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    I've wondered for some time now how he ended up on this drachm of Alexandria, flanked by the twin Nemeseis of Smyrna. Any ideas, @Jochen?

    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.
    arizonarobin, dlhill132, TIF and 5 others like this.
  10. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Very cool! I have a little subcollection of Nemesis coins and now I need to get one of these!
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  11. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Fantastic coin, Z!
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  12. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member


    Very interesting coin. Never seen before. At a first sight it looks like a Homonoia coinage. And in Franke/Nolle, Die Homonoia-Münzen Kleinasiens, are listed 4 types of Milet for Homonoia with Smyrna under Antoninus Pius. All depicting the cult statue of Apollon Didyma, holding bow and stag, and beside the 2 Nemeseis of Smyrna (Milet No.3, 4, 5, 6). But this type struck for Alexandria is extraordinary.

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  13. furryfrog02

    furryfrog02 Well-Known Member

    Great write up @Jochen ! I was directed to your post by @TIF since she saw my newest purchase of a Nero with the statue of Apollo Philesios on the reverse. My coin is even more interesting now that I have some more background for it. Thank you for that. Oh, and here is my coin, just to keep this post on topic. :p

    AE21 of Miletus, Ionia.
    AD 54-68. 4.56 g. Magistrate Ti. Dama. CEBACTOC
    Obverse: laureate head right
    Reverse: EΠI TI ΔAMA MIΛHCIΩN downwards to left and right of Apollo standing right, holding bow and stag.
    Nero, AE21 of Miletus, Ionia. AD 54-68.jpg
  14. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Nice to see!
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