Featured Atargatis or Dea Syria, the Great Syrian Goddess

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Jun 5, 2019.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear Friends of ancient mythology!

    Today I would like to present Atargatis:

    1st Coin:
    Syria, Cyrrhestica, Hierapolis, Caracalla, AD 198-217
    AE 27, 12.8mm, 26.97mm, 135°
    Bust, draped and cuirassed, laureate, r.
    Atargatis, in long garment, std. l. on throne with high back, r. foot set on
    footstool, holding with l. hand tympanon on her l. knee, resting with r. arm on
    arm of throne; before and behind the throne a lion std. r. with wide open mouth.
    Ref.: Butcher, Coinage in Roman Syria, p.451, no.53, pl.27 (same obv. die)
    rare, about VF, dark green glossy patina, nice rev., highlighted by sand patina
    I was particularly taken with the opened throat of the rear lion!

    2nd Coin:
    Syria Cyrrhestica, Hierapolis, Severus Alexander, AD 222-235
    AE 28, 18.3g, 0°
    Bust, draped and cuirassed, radiate, r.
    Atargatis riding right on lion, holding sceptre, sitting left
    Ref.: BMC 55 var.
    rare, about VF, some roughness
    ex coll. Penina, Manfra and Brookes, 1968

    Hieropolis in Syria Cyrrhestica was the famous cult centre of Atargatis called Dea Syria in the hellenism too (not to be confused with Dea Coelestis from Carthage). She was worshipped mostly together with the West-Semitic weather-god Baal-Hadad in Baalbek, Damascus, Palmyra, Dura-Europos but especially in Hieropolis and in Askalon. Her Greek name was Derketo. There were etymological connections to the Phoinicean goddess Aphrodite-Astarte and similarity in the character to Kybele-Rhea from Asia Minor.They all have the syzygie (companionship) with a young male god of the type Adonis-Attis. The parhedros (assisting companion) of Atargatis was Hadad. Lukian of Samosate called them Zeus and Hera and describes detailed the temple of Bambyke with its beautiful fragrance. Lukian talked of a trias of deities, the third formerly seen as misinterpretation of a deifyed vexillum, now seen more as a deus inferior like Kombabos. The novel of Stratonike-Kombabos shows in its castration motiv the influence of the Kybele ministration, and the orientalic hetaera character of Atargatis-Astarte, which is known from Derketo-Semiramis of Askalon too. This must be seen as evidence of her great fertility to which the young parhedros was addicted until his death.

    Her cult affirmation were veil, flowers, omphalos, sea procession, hydrophoria (a libation festival), lavatio (washing), tree burning (pyra), ecstatic dancing, eviration and phallolatria (worshipping of the phallos). Like the Phoinicean Astarte Atargatis was first a local numen, mistress of the city (Baalat), with the corona muralis of the Magna Mater. She is depicted with her lions and the bulls of Hadad. As Potnia Therion (Mistress of the animals) the paradise of Bambyke belonged to her and the lake of the sacred fishes from Askalon. In this nature she expands to an universal range: The aetiologic legends of Derketo's leap into the lake and her transformation into a fish, her birth from an egg of the Euphrate assisted by fishes and doves and the dove metamorphosis of Semiramis not only serve as explanation of religious facts like the ichthyomorphismus (looking like a fish) or her fish and dove attributes. But the Syrian animal cult emphasizes with fish and dove two first-class exponents of animal fertility and so stresses the blessing power of Dea Syria over air and water. Her challenge to rule over sky and sea comes from her participation in characer elements of the Mesopotamian fish-goddess Nina-Ishtar and the West-Semitic dove mistress Semiramis-Astarte. Parallel to the spreading of her worshipping and syncretistic accommodation she was elevated to an all-creating World and Mother Goddess. She was the heir of the Ugaritic 'Asherat of the sea', on Delos the heir of the mediterranean Earth and Sky goddess Aphrodite-Ariadne. Via Sicily and the Italian harbours she came to Rome. Sueton writes in his 'De Vita Caesarum' about Nero:

    He utterly despised all cults, with the sole exception of that of the Syrian Goddess and even acquired such a contempt for her that he made water on her image, after he was enamored of another, superstition, which was the only one to which he constantly clung. For he had received as a gift from some unknown man of the commons, as a protection against plots, a little image of a girl; and since a conspiracy at once came to light, he continued to venerate it as a powerful divinity and to offer three sacrifices to it every day, encouraging the belief that through its communication he had knowledge of the future. A few months before his death he did attend an inspection of victims, but could not get a favorable omen.

    She is often mentioned by Apuleius in his Metamorphoses too. With the Roman soldiers her cult reached the frontiers of the Empire. In Edessa, Haran and Nisibis her cult resisted the Christianity for a long time. In Haran the self-castration was known until the 9th century AD.

    Today Atargatis has a revival in the esoteric scene. She is used by Heavy Metal groups and in the Gothic scene. I have attached the famous painting 'Astarte Syriaca' of the Pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabriel Rosetti.

    (1) Lukian, De Dea Syria. online under http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/luc/tsg/index.htm
    (2) Apuleius, Metamorphoses (The golden ass)
    (3) Sueton, De Vita Caesarum

    Secondary Literature:
    (1) Der kleine Pauly

    Online Sources:

    (1) http://www.hausarbeiten.de/faecher/hausarbeit/gef/8075.html
    (2) http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dea_Syra

    Best regards
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2019
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  3. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Thanks for the writeup, Jochen. It prompted me to snag an example of the Caracalla in a recent auction. It's a double die match to yours.

    SYRIA, district of Cyrrhestica, Hierapolis. Caracalla

    198-217 CE
    AE 27 mm, 14.26 gm
    Obv: AVTO[KPATΩP KA]I MAPKOC AVPH ANT[ΩNINOC CE]; laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right
    Rev: [ΘEAC CVPIAC] - IEPOΠOΛITΩN; Atargatis seated on throne with high back, right foot on footstool, holding a tympanon on her left knee, right elbow resting on arm of throne; lion seated on each side of the throne
    Ref: Butcher, Coinage in Roman Syria, p.451, no.53, pl.27 (same obv. die); BMC 48-49
    shanxi, PeteB, zumbly and 5 others like this.
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