Featured Darzalas - The Great God of Odessos

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Jan 27, 2019.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear Friends of Greek mythology!

    Today I want to present one of the most mysterious gods of the Greek mythology, Darzalas the Great God of Odessos. Actually he is more a Thracian god. But very few is known about him. Here is what I could find out. But first three related coins:

    1st coin
    Thracia, Odessos, Septimius Severus, AD 193-211
    AE 26, 9.98g, 26.34mm, 225°
    obv. AV K Λ CEΠ - CEVHP[O]C Π
    bust, draped and cuirassed, laureate, r.
    rev. O - ΔHCCE - ITΩN
    The Great God of Odessos, in himation, stg. l., holding cornucopiae and sacrifying
    from phiale over altar l.
    Die break on rev.
    ref. AMNG I/1, cf. 2260 (here gorgoneion on breastplate); SNG Copenhagen 672 var.

    2nd coin:
    Thracia, Odessos, Gordian III & the Great God, AD 238-244
    AE 27, 11.31g, 27.37mm, 180°
    Confronted busts of Gordian III, draped and cuirassed, laureate, r., and the Great
    God, in himation and with kalathos, l., with cornucopiae over l. shoulder
    rev. OΔ- HCC - EITΩN
    Demeter, veiled, with peplos over long chiton, stg. l., holding corn-ear and puppy
    in r. hand and torch (or sceptre?) in l. hand
    in r. field E (for pentassarion)
    ref. AMNG I/1, 2337 (only 1 ex. in London)

    (1) On coin #1 the Great God interestingly still without kalathos!
    (2) Demeter (on coin #2) too is a chthonic deity!

    3rd coin:
    Thracia, Odessos, Gordian III and the Great God, AD 238-244
    AE 27, 11.40g
    struck probably AD 238
    Confronted busts of Gordian III, draped and cuirassed, laureate, r., and the Great
    God, in himation and with kalathos, l., with cornucopiae over l. shoulder
    rev. OΔHC - C - EITΩN
    Prize-crown, decorated with zigzag-lines, inscribed with 'ΔAPZAΛEIA'; two
    palm-branches coming out the opening
    E in the field below (for pentassarion)
    ref. AMNG I/1, 2371 (2 ex.)

    The ΔAPZAΛEIA were the games in honour of the Great God (Pick, AMNG I/1,
    p.526 ff.)

    In ancient times the Thracians inhabitant the regions from north of Greece to the Lower Danube. They were consisted of numerous particular nations. The most famous were the Odryses. The most important of the mountain people were the Besses and the last conquered by the Romans. The Moesi were the remainders of the Mysi which emigrated to Asia Minor. On both sides of the Lower Danube settled the Geti. They populated too parts of the Aegaeis and parts of Asia Minor. So e.g. Samothrace was Thracian shown already by its name. Herodot writes (Herodot, Hist. 5,3) that the Thracians after the Indians were the greatest people on earth. But they never succeeded in founding an empire for its own because they were at odds with each other and were at war with one another very often. However they had the same language and their conventions were all the same. They all were ruled by priest kings.
    The connections between the Greek and the Thracians were very close in both directions. Orpheus and Museios were Thracians. Dionysos (Thracian dios = Zeus, nysos = son) has his origin probably at the phrygian Thracians, came to the european Thracians and then slowly spread to Greece in the 8th century BC. Asklepios too was a Thracian (Thracian as = snake, klepi = to entwine a staff). But it was true in the other direction too. The Thracian gods were named referring to Greek gods. The Thracian kings derived their origin from Hermes. The Thracian Mother Goddess Bendis, mentioned by Herodot and Platon was called the Thracian Artemis. In the Thracian pantheon she was regarded as Great Goddess and probably the Thracian kings were hold as her sons. This is supported by the names Teres and Kotys of several kings and which were actually derived from the epitheta Tereia and Kotyto of Artemis.

    Most of the Thracian deities were of chthonic nature. They were earth and fertility deities with strong relations to the underworld. The most important difference between Greek and Thracian religion was their belief in a life after death. This was absolut weird to the Greek. But their belief was so strong that it was told the Thracians had joyfully celebrated the death but had wept at the birth of a child. This faith was the reason too for the dreaded courage of the Thracian horsemen who didn't take care for their lifes in fight. This could be a reason too that the Christian belief was not strange to them and fell on fertile ground, so that their own religion died off in the 4th century AD.

    On top of the Thracian pantheon stood the 'Thracian Rider', who is depicted on many coins. He was rather a symbol of god as creator of all earthly than the personification of a particular deity. The horse was regarded as holy to the Thracians and gods like Apollon, Dionysos, Asklepios and Ares were depicted as horsemen too. So Greek deities were melted with Thracians beliefs. This happened especially in Hellenistic and Roman times in the Greek cities of the Pontos (Black Sea), the Aegaeis and the Propontis (Sea of Marmara). The cults of Isis and Serapis exclusively spread at the coast whereas the inland mainly stayed Thracian.

    This was true especially for the 'Great of God of Odessos Darzalas'. Darzalas was one of the more important deities of the Thracians and under this name became the main god of Odessos, todays Varna in Bulgaria. So he kept his old Thracian name. He was a underworld and fertility god, was called just 'Great God (= Megas Theos)' as well or only 'God'. Today it is discussed wether there was an impact of the Jewish diaspora too.

    Darzalis and Serapis:
    In his appearance Darzalas wss vefry similar to the Greek Serapis. So it could be that the same god was warshipped by the Thracians as Darzalas and by the Greek as Serapis or Zeus. The analogy between them was great. Both were depicted as older men full-bearded, with flowing hair and wearing himation. In the Roman Imperial time at least from Septimius Severus on the Great God got the kalathos (lat. modius) too. This similarity of look is the reason that both often are not differentiated in coin descriptions today. But the typical attribute of the Great God is the cornucopiae never found on Serapis! Sometimes it is difficult to recognize it on the coin obverse because it extends to the legend (e.g. coin #2).

    The history of development of both gods is very different. Serapis is an artificial deity created by Ptolemy I because of political and religious-political reasons. He mixed together elements of the Egypt death god Osiris-Apis with the Zeus-shaped ruler of the world. The Great God in contrast, the syncretisation of a Thracian god with Greek beliefs, developed in a natural wise over a long time. At first Megas Theos occured on coins of the 3rd century BC in the shape of a rider. Here we find another melting process with the Thracian rider hero. The name Megas Theos we see on a tetradrachm of the 2rd century BC.

    The Cult:
    Sadly very few is known of its cult. It was a combination of Greek and Thracian ideas. At the height of its importance it was surely connected to the belief in a life after death and healing. It was widely spread over the people of Thracia and Moesia inferior and people of all social levels and all ethnics belong to its devotees. At this time a temple was built in Istrion too and coins were struck with his image at Tomis, Markianopolis and Dionysopolis too. As we know there was never a mystery cult with secret communities and hierarchies.

    The priests of the Great God have played an important role in Odessos. His Highpriest was the president of the assemblage of the citizens. In honour of Darzalas games were organized at the time of Gordian III, the so-called ΔAPZAΛEIA, a name found on a coin of Odessos (coin #3). These games took place in AD 238 probably in the presence of the emperor (Pick, AMNG, p.528).

    I have attached the pic of a grave of Asklepios, a priest of Darzalas, now in the Regional Museum of History in Varna. It was found in Odessos and shows him together with his wife Ani and two of their slaves. The inscription says, that he was one of the distinguished citizens: he was a "senior town's doctor" and a priest of the Great God Darzalas, a gymnasiarchos and a bearer of a number of honourable titles. The elements of a full armament are shown below the relief: a round shield with a horse's head and a spear showing behind it, a helmet, a sword with a leather strap, greaves. This too proofs the close connection between Darzalas and the Thracian Rider. So, referring to Pudill, Darzalas the Great God of Odessos is the outstanding example for continuity of cults and syncretism in Thracia.

    (1) Der kleine Pauly, Thrakien
    (2) Pick, AMNG I/1
    (3) Rainer Pudill, The Great God of Odessos Darzalas, Celator 10/15, Okt. 2001

    Online Sources:
    (1) http://www.kroraina.com/thracia/hb/thrac_hero.html (for the grave)

    Best regards
    sand, eparch, Jwt708 and 13 others like this.
  2. Avatar

    Guest User Guest

    to hide this ad.
  3. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus

    Excellent writeup and great coins. I especially like the portrait on the S. Severus.
  4. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Great write-up and love the coins. like Orfew, the Severus especially.
  5. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Well-Known Member

    Jochen, Thanks for an excellent article & photos ;). We've learned so much about the Thracians from their coins.
  6. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    Unfortunately, I don't always appreciate a CT post until I get a coin under discussion. Jochen - this is by far the most comprehensive, single source for Theos Megas that I could find with coins included. Fine work indeed, as always.

    And here it is, my only Theos Megas - a Hadrian AE from Odessos with unfortunate surfaces. It is a big, handsome coin despite the problems. And from what I can find online it is a Varbanov R7. I could fine 3 online. It came in an undescribed lot of AEs from eBay.

    Hadrian Odessos Theos Megas AE lot Oct 2019 (0).jpg

    Hadrian Æ 27
    (c. 120-130 A.D.)
    Moesia Inferior, Odessos

    [AVTOKP TPAIANO C AΔPIA]NOC, laureate bust right, drapery on left shoulder /
    OΔHCCEI[NOC], Theos Megas standing left holding patera and cornucopiae.
    AMNG 2233; Varbanov 4289 (R7).
    (15.55 grams / 27 mm)
  7. eparch

    eparch Well-Known Member

    Jochen, thank you for another interesting post. I am puzzled by the reverse of your first coin - who would Darzalas be sacrificing to ?
    TIF likes this.
  8. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member


    That's a very interesting question. But it does not only rise here, but also with all other gods, who are depicted with a sacrificial bowl or sacrificing before an altar. I briefly went through my provincial coins and found these representations for Apollo, Athena, Demeter, Felicitas, Hera, Hestia, Homonoia, Nemesis, Nike, Serapis and even Zeus himself.

    Besides there are deities where I did not find this representation, at least in my collection. These are for example Aphrodite, Artemis, Dionysos or Hermes.

    I think it is possible that the deity is shown here making the sacrifice instead of the believers or better perhaps in the name of the believers, as in the Christian church e.g. the priest makes the sacrifice in the name of the congregation.

    I think it would be worthwhile to discuss this. I would like to here other opinions.

    Last edited: Oct 14, 2019
    Marsyas Mike and eparch like this.
  9. Barry Murphy

    Barry Murphy Well-Known Member


    I used to own the Septimius. Did I sell it to you?

    I still like that coin.

    Barry Murphy
  10. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Hi Barry!

    Thank you for your offer. But the coin of Septimius in my article above is from my collection. Usually I use only my own coins for my articles. Otherwise I mention it.

  11. Barry Murphy

    Barry Murphy Well-Known Member


    I wasn't asking to buy it. Just curious if I sold it to you. It used to be in my collection in the 1990's and early 2000's and I can't recall when or who I sold it to.

Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page