Athena Itonia

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Mar 13, 2019.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear Friends of ancient mythology!

    Here I want to write about Athena Itonia, the main goddess of Thessaly:

    The coin:
    Greece, Thessalian League, 196 - 27 BC
    AR - Stater, 5.79g, 24.83mm, 0°
    struck under the magistrates (strategoi) Polyxenos and Eukolos, c.44 - 40 BC
    obv. Head of Zeus of Dodona wreathed with oak leaves, r.
    rev. l. ΘΕΣΣΑ (from bottom), r. ΛΩΝ (from top)
    Athena Itonia stg. r., helmeted, in long girded double chiton and palla, aegis on breast, holding with l. hand shield horizontally upwards and in raised r. hand spear ready for hurling
    above the spear [Π]ΟΛV - ΞΕΝ[ΟV]
    in ex. ΕVΚΟΛΟ[Σ]
    without mintmark
    ref. SNG Copenhagen 291; BMC Thessaly p. 2, 21; BCD 878.1
    about VF, slightly toned

    It is remarkable that the name of Polyxenos stands in genitive case, but the name of Eukolos in nominative case. It is suggested that Polyxenos was the strategos, the higher magistrate, whereas Eukolos, may be a tamias, was responsible for the coinage. But that is not undisputed (Nicholas V. Sekunda).

    Thessaly is situated in the north of Greece and built by a fertil plain, which is enclosed by mountains which are crossed by very few passes. It is drained by the Peneios river and its tributaries. It was famous for its abundances of horses and its cavalry which took part in Alexander's campaign against the Persians. Among the Romans Thessaly was infamous for its wizards and witches (take a look at Apuleius and his "Golden Ass", or Goethe "Faust II")
    Thessalian plain (Wikipedia)

    The new Thessalian League, which has issued our coin, was founded in 196 BC when the Romans has defeated Philipp V of Makedonia in the 2nd Makedonian War and Thessaly became "free". Metropolis and seat of the synhedrion (council) was Larissa in the Pelasgiotis. The other tetrarchies were Hestiaiotis, Thessaliotis and Phthiotis. At the head of the League stands an archon. The Thessalian League has existed until 146 BC, when Thessaly became a part of the Roman province Macedonia. But there is no evidence, that the League was liquidated by the Romans. Hoard findings prove, that the Thessalian League has issued coins hereafter until the 1st century BC, probably until c.30 BC (Klose).

    Athena Itonia was (besides Zeus Eleutherios) the main deity of the Thessalians and appears often on their coins. She was worshipped in several sanctuaries. The most important temple was located in Iton in the Phthiotis. It is reported that king Pyrrhos after his victory over Antigonos and his Gallic mercenaries here has hung up the shields of the killed Gauls and has dedicated them to Athena Itonia. Here festivals were celebrated in her name, called "Itonia", and regarding to Catull it was called incola Itoni. The Itonia actually were Panthessalian games and were celebrated in all Thessalian cities in the month called Itonia by the Thessalians.

    The sacral importance of this sanctuary turns out by this example too: When at war in Thessaly once the Boiotians were put to flight by the Spartans and some of them fled into the temple of Itonia. Agesilaos, king of the Spartans, badly wounded himself, thereupon spared the suppliants (Pausan. 3, 9, 13).

    At the war of the Phokians against the Thessalians the parole given by the Thessalian military leaders was "Athena Itonia" (Pausan. 10, 1, 10).

    Unfortunately we don't know the exact location of this temple. Iton, situated between Pherai and Larissa, is regarded as age-old and was mentioned already by Homer (Il. 2. 696). In this way Athena Itonia would be Athena of Iton.

    From Thessaly her cult spread out to Boiotia where she was the main war goddess, but according to Bakchylides the goddess of art and poetry too. She was worshipped in the sanctuary of the Boiotian League in Koroneia. Here the Panboiotia were celebrated, the pan-Boiotian games. This temple is not excavated until today - except for a trial dig. It was erected by Itonos, the eponym (name giver) of Iton. It is said that Athena has got her epithet from this Itonos (Schol. Apollon. ad I.I.v.551). Her cult appears too in Akesine, Amorgos and in Athens.

    The cult of Athena Itonia is connected in some mystical manner with the god of the lower world. Strabo calls him Hades, which by few is supposed to be a misreading for Ares. But because Pausanias calls him Zeus the reading as Hades seems to be correct. Hades to confuse with Zeus is possible, but not with Ares. At least the cult of Athena Itonia had a primitive character. But because she was a goddess, who fostered the growths of the earth, she had some affinity to the Chthonic deities (Lewis Richard Farnell 1896). At Homer (Ilias, 5, 845) Athena puts on the cap of Hades when she was in fight with Ares, probably a cap made from dog fur, and the poet calls her Alalkomenes. The age-old Alalkomenic sanctuary was close to the Itonic. In Athens her statue remarkably does not stand together with Zeus, Hera and Apollo, but next to Hades and Poseidon. In this context the consideration of Furtwängler (Meisterwerke, p. 114) is of interest. See below under "History of Art".

    Usually Zeus is seen as father of Athena. But there is another mythology too where her father is Itonos, a mythical first king of Thessaly in Iton. He was the son of Amphiktyon and begot with Melanippe, a nymph, Boiotos, who gave the Boiotians their name. He had also two daughters, Athena and Iodama. Iodama got by Zeus Thebe, who later married Ogygios by which Thebens is called Ogygia. When Iodama once was at a weapon game with her sister Athena they came into conflict with each other out of jealousy, and Athena killed her sister.

    According to a Boiotian myth Iodama was a priestress of Athena in the temple of Koroneia. Once when she entered the temple at night, the goddess appeared to her in person with the gorgoneion on her breast. Immediately she was turned to stone. Since that time she had an altar in this temple and a fire has to be made everyday and a woman is crying threetimes in Boiotian language: "Iodama lives and demands fire!" (Pausan. 9.34.1)

    Historically Iodama originally was the local deity of Koroneia who then was replaced by Athena (Kleiner Pauly).

    The myth of Iodama has many parallels with the myth of Pallas. Pallas was the daughter of Triton. Her death was caused indirectly by Athena when both practized weapon games together. At Apollodoros Pallas is a kind of stepsister of Athena. Both have been raised by Triton, father of Pallas. After her - unintended - death Athena took in honor of her the epithet Pallas. This close sisterly relation between a goddess and a mortal is exceptional. There is nothing similar found between gods and heroes nor for any other goddess (Kerenyi).

    This duality is typical for Athena. Often it consists only in the number of two maidenservants of the goddess. 2 maidens were sent from Lokris to Troy as atonement for the crime which Aias had committed against the Palladium.The Trojan men, meanwhile, waited and lay in ambush, and spying the maidens killed them, burned their corpses on the wood of barren trees - a feature which characterizes the dealing with sacrifices to Deities (presumably the Goddess) of the underworld (Kerenyi)

    If the Lokrian maiden would have reached the temple of Athena they would have become her priestresses. They had to keep the temple cleaned up, went about barefooted and were allowed to do this only at night. Moreover, they were allowed neither to step in front of the Goddess nor to leave the temple. The sacrifice of at least one virgin is credible. In Laodikeia in Syria, Athena is originally supposed to have received the sacrifice of one virgin each year, later one doe.

    This example shows the importance of human sacrifices for Pallas Athena, at least in archaic times. Probably they belonged to initiation rites, when young boys - and maidens, too, as brides - were taken into patriarchal organizations. The victims were chosen as representatives of a group of young people. The shaving of the hair has a similar meaning. Two representatives sacrificed their lifes, all the other only their hair. It could be that the hair sacrifice was the transition of the barbaric-archaic human sacrifices to more civilized rites.

    One of the methods of slaying transmitted to us is turning the victim into stone. Athena Itonia, who turned the eternally living, fire-desiring Iodama into stone, is the Goddess of Alalcomena, the neighboring town to Koroneia, and as Alalcomenai she is a Pallas figure.

    The wish of Iodama to have fire - asked in the name of Athena - shows also the difference between this Goddess and Hestia: The fire does not glow eternally on the altar of Iodama but must be rekindled daily, just as is naturally the case with a coal pan, an eschara. The sanctuary lay on the river Koralios or Kuralios, presumably so named because the Goddess received the hair offerings of boys and girls there; for this characteristic she bore the epithet Koria or Koresia (Kerenyi)

    Iodama (and in another context Aglauros), the sacrified, slain, annihilated - but nevertheless living - represents the one aspect of the Goddess that stands over against the other aspect: Pallas Athena. Both poles in their opposition belong inseparably together. "It is not merely that a martial and a maternal existence are bound together and opposed to each other, but a defensive virginity, keeping at bay hostile aggression by the menace of death, and a virginity that falls victim to attack and death, whereby conception and motherhood come into being." (Kerenyi)

    History of Art:
    The cult statue of Athena Itonia (and of Zeus Eleutherios too) in Koroneia, a bronze statue, was created by Agorakritos (Pausan. IX 34, 1). Agorakritos, sculptor from Paros, was a scholar of Phidias. His main work is seen in the statue of Nemesis in Rhamnos, which was held in antiquity a long time for the work of Phidias himself.
    Furtwängler (Meisterwerke p. 113 ff.) wants to have recognize a copy of Athena Itonia of this artist in the statue of Pallas Albani with the fur cap. But this is not generally accepted. So until today no statues or other depictions of Athena Itona are found. We are dependent on the depictions of the coins.
    Pic of the restaurated statue of Athena with the fur cap from the Villa Albani in Rome
    (Pallas Albani). This statue is seen by few as copy of the Athena Itonia of Agorakritos

    (1) Homer, Ilias
    (2) Pausanias, Voyages
    (3) Stephanos Byzantios
    (4) Scholiast ad Apoll. Rhod.
    (5) Scholiast ad Lykophr.
    (6) Strabo, Geographica
    (7) Catull, Epithalamion

    Secondary Literature:
    (1) Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher, Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen
    Mythologie, 1884 (online too)
    (2) Benjamin Hederich, Gründliches Mythologisches Wörterbuch, 1770 (online too)
    (3) William Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology,
    1870 (online too)
    (4) Adolf Furtwängler, Meisterwerke der griechischen Plastik: Kunstgeschichtliche
    Untersuchungen, Leipzig 1893 (online at
    (5) Lewis Richard Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States, Oxford 1896 (online at
    (6) Der Kleine Pauly, 1979
    (7) Karl Kerenyi, Die Mythologie der Griechen I, dtv 1966
    (8) Karl Kerenyi, Die Jungfrau und Mutter der griechischen Religion, eine Studie über Pallas Athene, Rhein Verlag 1952
    (9) Denver Graninger: Cult and Koinon in Hellenistic Thessaly, Leiden/Boston/Tokyo: Brill Academic Publishers 2011
    (10) Dietrich O. A. Klose, “Zur Chronologie der thessalischen Koinonprägungen im 2. und 1. Jh. v.Chr.: Ein weiterer Schatzfund aus Südthessalien,” in Ulrike Peter, Stephanos nomismatikos: Edith Schönert-Geiss zum 65. Geburtstag, Berlin 1998
    (11) Nicholas V.Sekunda, The Kylloi and Eubiotoi of Hypata during the Imperial Period, in: Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 118 (1997) 207-226 (online)

    Online sources:
    (2) (Article of the RE)

    Best regards
    Sulla80, Ryro, Andres2 and 17 others like this.
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  3. Magnus Maximus

    Magnus Maximus Dulce et Decorum est....

  4. happy_collector

    happy_collector Well-Known Member

    Great article, @Jochen . Really enjoyed the reading. :cat:
  5. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana


    Here she is on a Koinon of Thessaly issue from Imperial times.

    Faustina Jr - Koinon of Thessaly Athena.jpg
    AE Assarion. 4.97g, 19.9mm. THESSALY, Koinon of Thessaly, circa AD 147-175. O: ΦAYCTЄINA CЄBACTH, draped bust right. R: KOINON ΘЄCCAΛωN, Athena Itonia striding right, hurling spear held in her right hand, shield on her left arm.
    Ex BCD Collection, with his round handwritten tag noting acquisition date of February 1985.

    And here, I have an excuse to post one of my favorite coins, featuring the transgressor in question. :D

    Lokris Opuntii Stater.jpg
    LOKRIS, Lokri Opuntii
    AR Stater. 12.09g, 24.9mm. LOKRIS, Opous, circa 350-340 BC. BCD Lokris-Phokis 60; McClean 5433; HGC 4, 992 var (control). O: Head of Demeter left, wreathed with grain. R: OΠONTIΩN, Ajax the Lesser advancing right, brandishing sword and holding shield decorated with griffin and palmette; spear on ground behind, Λ between legs.
    Ex CNG 63 (21 May 2003), lot 313
    Ryro, Spaniard, ancientone and 6 others like this.
  6. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Hi zumbly!

    Your coin caused me to post an article about Ajas the Lesser.

    Roman Collector and zumbly like this.
  7. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Well-Known Member

    Resurrecting this thread to let everyone know about a new academic publication about Athena Itonia, Athena Itonia: Geography and Meaning of an Ancient Greek War Goddess by Gerald V. Lalonde (Brill, 2020).

    This avatar of Athena appears commonly on coins of Thessaly. In the chapter on "Thessaly," Lalonde comments on the rich evidence from this region which supports the argument that the cult of Athena Itonia in Thessaly was very old.

    He notes a variety of cognate-Iton linguistic terms, spanning from the month Itonios to two toponyms, Iton and Itonos, and the festival of the Itonia. This suggests that the byname Itonia has a toponymic etymology: Athena Itonia was probably the result of a merger of a local goddess with Athena and was adopted by the Thessalians as soon as they reached historical Thessaly after leaving Epiros. As the 'maid of Iton,' Athena Itonia was "as early as the Geometric period the principal military patron of the Thessalians" (p.33).

    In his treatment of the archaeological evidence, Lalonde argues that the rich sanctuary excavated at Philia (ancient Thessaliotis) by Theocharis in the 1960s was not the only temenos for Athena Itonia in Thessaly. In addition to numerous votives found at Philia, further discoveries were made elsewhere in the area, especially in the region of Achaia Phthiotis.

    Here's my latest acquisition featuring Athena Itonia:

    Faustina Jr Larissa.jpg
    Faustina II, AD 147-175.
    Roman provincial Æ assarion, 6.04 g, 19.2 mm, 1 h.
    Koinon of Thessaly, Larissa, AD 158-165.
    Obv: ΦΑVϹΤЄΙΝΑ ϹЄΒΑϹΤΗ; bare-headed and draped bust of Faustina II, right.
    Rev: ΚΟΙΝΟΝ ΘЄϹϹΑΛⲰΝ; Athena Itonia in snake-adorned aegis, striding right, brandishing spear and holding shield.
    Refs: RPC IV.1 4570 (temporary); Rogers 98a, SNG Cop 349; SNG Evelpidis 1685; BCD Thessaly II 966.1 & 966.2.
    Notes: Ex-BCD collection. Issued in three denominations: tetrassarion (RPC 4569), diassarion (RPC 4568), and assarion (such as this coin).

    Although @zumbly has an example from the BCD collection (see above) and I just acquired another, neither of ours are the examples in the BCD Thessaly II catalog.

    BCD Faustina.jpg
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2020
    Ryro, happy_collector, zumbly and 5 others like this.
  8. Spaniard

    Spaniard Well-Known Member

    @Roman Collector.......Thanks!..Very interesting....Really like your new purchase.
    I picked up an Athena Itonia a few months ago...
    Thessalian League. Around 197-150 BC. AE Trichalcon (7.64 gm, 19mm). Hippolo(chos), magistrates.
    Obverse: laureate head of Apollo right.
    Reverse: ΘEΣΣA ΛΩN (THESSALON) in two lines, Athena Itonia striding right, hurling spear held in her right hand, shield on her left arm; ΙΠΠ-ΟΛΟ (IPOLLO magistrates name) over spear and A-PI across central field.
    BCD Thessaly II, 900.3; Rogers 21.SNG Copenhagen 315.
    APOLLO BLACK 2.jpg
    Roman Collector, Bing, Ryro and 3 others like this.
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