Featured Caracalla and Cabeirus

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by ancient coin hunter, Mar 3, 2020.

  1. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter I dig ancient coins...

    Here is a very interesting coin received in the latest JAZ Numismatics auction of 2/27/20. It depicts winged Nike holding a small Cabeirus and Palm. Just to give you an idea of how little is known about this deity reflect upon the fact that it has no Wikipedia entry. Hence, we have to turn to other sources for a provenance.

    (Group Κάβειροι), mystic divinities who occur in various parts of the ancient world. The obscurity that hangs over them, and the contradictions respecting them in the accounts of the ancients themselves, have opened a wide field for speculation to modern writers on mythology, each of whom has been tempted to propound a theory of his own. The meaning of the name Cabeiri is quite uncertain, and has been traced to nearly all the languages of the East, and even to those of the North; but one etymology seems as plausible as another, and etymology in this instance is a real ignis fatuus to the inquirer. The character and nature of the Cabeiri are as obscure as the meaning of their name. All that we can attempt to do here is to trace and explain the various opinions of the ancients themselves, as they are presented to us in chronological succession. We chiefly follow Lobeck, who has collected all the passages of the ancients upon this subject, and who appears to us the most sober among those who have written upon it. (Aglaopham. pp. 1202-1281.)

    The earliest writers regard the Cabeiri as descended from inferior divinities, Proteus and Hephaestus: they have their seats on earth, in Samothrace, Lemnos, and Imbros. Those early writers cannot possibly have conceived them to be Demeter, Persephone or Rhea. It is true those early authorities are not numerous in comparison with the later ones; but Demetrius, who wrote on the subject, may have had more and very good ones, since it is with reference to him that Strabo repeats the assertion, that the Cabeiri, like the Corybantes and Curetes, were only ministers of the great gods. We may therefore suppose, that the Samothracian Cabeiri were originally such inferior beings; and as the notion of the Cabeiri was from the first not fixed and distinct, it became less so in later times; and as the ideas of mystery and Demeter came to be looked upon as inseparable, it cannot occasion surprise that the mysteries, which were next in importance to those of Eleusis, the most celebrated in antiquity, were at length completely transferred to this goddess. The opinion that the Samothracian gods were the same as the Roman Penates, seems to have arisen with those writers who endeavoured to trace every ancient Roman institution to Troy, and thence to Samothrace.

    In any case, this coin was struck in Thessalonica, which also must have been a center of worship of this obscure deity in the time of Caracalla.

    MACEDON, Thessalonica

    Caracalla. 198-217 A.D. AE 26, 14.9 grams, 7h

    Obverse: Laureate and cuirassed bust right

    Reverse: Nike advancing left, holding a small Cabeirus and palm

    Reference: Touratsoglou Em, II:a

    ex: JAZ Numismatics



    This example fetches $275 on Vcoins. I got mine for much less.


    Please share any Cabeirus coins you have or Caracallas...
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  3. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter I dig ancient coins...

    Hmmm. No other coins of Cabeirus?
  4. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    None here.
  5. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    You got a great deal on that one.

    This one isn't a real looker, but it has Kabeiros. You'll note it's from Thessalonica. You are correct in noting that this god is rarely found in the Roman provincial series outside of Thessalonica in Macedonia. In pre-Roman times, coins depicting this deity are seen in issues of Birtys in Troas from the late 4th century BCE.

    The god Kabeiros is similar in appearance to Dionysos and the rites of his cult were likely similar to those of the Dionysian mysteries. The attributes of Kabeiros are a rhyton* and hammer.

    Julia Mamaea, AD 226-235
    Roman provincial Æ 24.7 mm, 10.46 gm
    Macedonia, Thessalonica, AD 226-235
    Obv: ΙΟVΛΙΑ ΜΑΜΑΙΑ ΑVΓ, diademed and draped bust, right
    Rev: ΘΕCCΑΛΟΝΙΚΕΩΝ, Kabeiros standing facing, head left, holding rhyton and hammer.
    Refs: Similar to SGI 3409; Varbanov 4484

    *A rhyton (plural rhyta) is an ancient Greek drinking horn or libation vessel. Horn shaped, the rhyton was filled by scooping wine or water into the wide mouth at the top with the thumb covering the hole at the bottom. To drink or pour the user removed their thumb to unstopper the hole at the bottom conical end and the fluid run into the mouth (or onto the ground or altar in libation).
  6. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter I dig ancient coins...

    One other thing, the cuirass of Caracalla looks like it could be scale armor, a bit of a departure from the usual cuirass we see.
  7. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter

    Similar to the type RC posted, but a civic issue with Tyche obverse, mid 2nd-century. The cult had to be quite strong in Thessalonica, despite the fact that Christianity was slowly taking over. It's no mystery what one would do with a rhyton, but what does our Cabeiros intend with the hammer? Build something? Destroy something? Delusions of Thor? The problem with knowing very much about secretive cults is that they were secretive.

  8. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter I dig ancient coins...

    Thanks for sharing that coin John. I'm trying to read up more on Cabeirus today.
  9. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter

    There is actually a decent wiki article. You may not have come across it because it is titled using the Latin plural, Cabeiri.
  10. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter I dig ancient coins...

    Good. My mistake and I'll have to check that one out. Thanks.
    Ed Snible likes this.
  11. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter


    LESBOS, Mytilene. EL Hekte, 11mm, 2.5g, 6h; c. 377-326 BC. Obv.: Head of Kabeiros right, wearing pileos; two stars flanking. Rev.: Head of Persephone right within linear square. Reference: Bodenstedt Em. 99; HGC 6, 1025.
  12. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter I dig ancient coins...

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  13. Ed Snible

    Ed Snible Well-Known Member

    I have never understood why the god on this coin is described as "Kabeiros". Perhaps because of the stars?

    Birytis, circa 300 BC, AE10, 1.4g
    Kabeiros l, wearing pilos, star above
    ex Colosseum Coin Exchange, April 2003

    At this city we see heads in pointy hats, with and without beards. Is it a Kabeiros? Warwick Wroth, in his 1894 catalog of the British Museum collection, identified the head as "one of the Kabiri or the Dioskuri?" with no explanation. No explanation given in Historia Numorum. At some point the question mark and reference to the Dioskuri was dropped; trade catalogs just say "Kabeiros" today.

    At nearby Kebren Barclay Head wrote "The principal type is a ram, which may, perhaps, refer to some cultus of the Kabeiri at this town (von Fritze, Z. f. N., xxiv. p. 115)."

    The Wikipedia article says nothing about hats, stars, or rams. I have no idea what von Fritze said in German a few centuries ago. Very frustrating to research these Troas coins.
  14. ancientone

    ancientone Well-Known Member

    Just about started a thread titled Gettin' my drink on(Getting hammered) with Kabieros.
    z.jpg Obv: ΘƐϹϹΑΛΟΝΙΚƐⲰΝ; turreted and draped bust of Tyche, l.
    Rev: ΚΑΒƐΙΡΟϹ; Kabeiros standing, l., holding rhyton over crescent and hammer.
    Time of Antoninus Pius.

  15. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter


    Troas, Birytis,
    c. 350-300 BCE.
    Æ (9mm, 1.21g, 12h).
    Head of Kabeiros l., wearing pileos; two stars above.
    Club within wreath.
    SNG Copenhagen 249.
    Green patina
    Ex: St Pauls Auction
  16. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    I just purchased this one from @John Anthony . It features Kabeiros in a distyle temple flanked by potted plants.

    This is one of the best articles on the mythology of the Kabeiroi, for it compiles all ancient literary sources.

    Gordian III Thessalonica Temple and Kabeiros.jpg
    Gordian III, AD 238-244.
    Roman provincial Æ 27 mm, 11.3g, 12h.
    Macedon, Thessalonica, AD 238-244.
    Obv: AVT K M ANTΩNIOC ΓΟΡΔIANOC, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right.
    Rev: ΘЄCCAΛΟΝΙ-ΚЄΩΝ ΝЄΩΚΟ-ΡΩΝ, distyle temple containing Kabeiros standing facing, head left, between two urns containing palm, holding rhyton and hammer.
    Refs: Touratsoglou 145; Price & Trell 132; Varbanov 4583 var.; Moushmov 6827.
    Last edited: May 16, 2020
  17. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    I have long been puzzled why Thessalonica in Macedon is essentially the only city in the Roman provincial series to issue coins depicting the Kabeiroi when the seat of their cult seems to have been Samothrace and Lemnos. But this passage from the final paragraph of William Smith's entry on the Kabeiroi in his A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology explains:

    The reverence paid by the Macedonians to the Cabeiri may be inferred from the fact of Philip and Olympias being initiated in the Samothracian mysteries, and of Alexander erecting altars to the Cabeiri at the close of his Eastern expedition. (Plut. Alex. 2; Philostr. de Vit. Apollon. 2.43.)​

    Alexander the Great's half-sister (a daughter of Philip II) was named Thessalonike, after whom the city of Thessalonica is named. It sounds like Kabeiroi worship may have been initiated in this city by Alexander himself.
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  18. NewStyleKing

    NewStyleKing Beware of Greeks bearing wreaths Supporter


    NOT MINE from CNG

    WESTERN ASIA MINOR, Uncertain. Circa 145-140 BC. AR Tetradrachm (31.5mm, 16.60 g, 12h). Stephanophoric type. Head of Demeter right, wearing wreath of grain ears and triple-pendant earring / Two Kabeiroi, nude but for cloak tied at their necks, standing facing, each wearing laurel wreath and holding staff in outer hand; ΘEΩN KABEIPΩN at sides, ΣYPIΩN below, monogram to lower right; all within wreath. Nicolet-Pierre & Amandry dies D7/R9 (Syros; this coin referenced and illustrated); HGC 6, 709 (Syros); Friedlaender & Von Sallet 268. EF, toned. Very rare, and among the finest known of this coinage.

    From the Gasvoda Collection. Ex Numismatica Ars Classica 88 (8 October 2015), lot 406; Tkalec (23 October 1992), lot 105; Numismatic & Ancient Art Gallery 7 (11 April 1991), lot 509.

    This issue had long been attributed to the island of Syros based on the reverse legend. Recent scholarship, however, has convincingly shown that this attribution is erroneous, as the reverse legend does not contain an ethnic, but names the type: the Divine Syrian Kaberioi. As the issue has long been linked to a rare portrait emission of Eumenes I with the same reverse type, it is clear that it must belong to a mint in the sphere of the kings of Pergamon. Although it is tempting to attribute it to the royal mint at Pergamon, this Attic-standard issue could have been struck at one of several mints under Attalid control. See A. Meadows, “The Closed Currency System of the Attalid Kingdom” in P. Thonemann, Attalid Asia Minor (Oxford, 2013), pp. 184–91 for the most current analysis of this intriguing coinage.
  19. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter I dig ancient coins...

    If Alexander had continued something Philip started then I imagine it would have become popular in the days of the diadochoi, when all things Alexander were celebrated...
  20. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Good point. Ultimately, we may never understand why Thessalonica seems to be the primary mint to depict Kabeiros in the Roman imperial period.
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