Demeter Goes to Work

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by kevin McGonigal, Mar 25, 2021.

  1. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    Well, we in the Northern Hemisphere have just entered Spring, and for most of us it simply means a pleasant time of the year. But in the Ancient World of Greece and Rome it meant assembling on the Campus Martius to prepare for war with the barbarians, or in the case of the Greek city-states, more likely with each other. For the majority of ancient Greeks and Romans it meant the start of the new agricultural year. Most ancient Greeks were not philosophers and most Romans not senators. They were likely to be farmers, as the basis of the economies of both was agriculture. The greening of the fields, the budding shoots bring us good, even happy feelings. I suspect the response of the Ancients was somewhat more prosaic.

    Presently I am doing home instruction for my grandchildren on the West coast whose schools have been closed for most of the past year. As a retired teacher this is both a challenge and a joy. Part of this instruction is studying Aesop and his fables and Classical mythology. During this week's instruction I will relate to them the myth of Demeter and her daughter, Persephone whose story is closely tied to the seasons of the year. I'll bet many readers here are at least somewhat aware of the myth, though you may know it as the myth of Ceres and Proserpina, their Roman names. Like most myths it was an attempt by the Ancients to explain the phenomena of the world around them, in this case the changing of the seasons. As my grand daughters are about to find out, it is a captivating, some may say charming, story of how we came to have seasons of the year.

    For those not fully up on their Bullfinch, Demeter was the goddess of fields and crops. She watched over agriculture as well as nature and saw to it that the rains were regular and gentle, the sun shined when it should, and in general, Zephyrus would send lots of gentle westerly breezes, and the land would be fruitful. She would travel the land accompanied by her lovely daughter, Persephone, whose presence added to the beauty of the land. Unfortunately her comely appearance attracted the attention of the brother of Zeus, Hades, who decided that Persephone would improve things in the dark, dank underworld over which he presided. Since Demeter really didn't want anyone taking her daughter from her, Hades simply abducted Persephone and took her to the infernal regions as his wife.

    Demeter was totally distraught as she searched the land for her daughter and eventually discovered what her fate was. She tried appealing to her fellow divinities to free her daughter but got no favorable hearing, until she turned her wrath on the earth and mortals. The rains failed, then they turned into repeated floods. The boreal winds blasted from the north and froze the land, black clouds obscured the skies. Vegetation shriveled and died. Animals wasted and died. Mortals watched famine stalk the land. It was so terrible that even Zeus thought all life would wither away. He called an Olympian conference and used his best diplomatic skills. For half the year Persephone would remain with Hades in the underworld, but for the other six months she would return to the earth to be with her mother. While she remained with Hades it would be cold, dank and damp for mortals but when she returned, Demeter would makes things right again. And so it passed that every year we have an equal period of dark and gloom and one of light and warmth and Persephone has just now retuned from her world of cold and gloom and Demeter has just gone back to work to again make the earth fruitful.

    And now the coins. Greek Demeter, or Roman Ceres is easy to find on ancient coins. Persephone can also be found fairly commonly on Greek coins but may only exist on a few Roman coins. I don't have any Greek coins with Persephone but perhaps some members reading this might have one or two and add them to this post. The coin on the left is a stater of Metapontum with, not surprisingly an image of a sheaf of grain on the reverse side. It is Sear 416 from about 320 BC and weighs 7.8 grams. The coin on the right is a Roman denarius with Demeter, or Ceres, as the Romans called her. It is Furia 23 and weighs 3.95 grams and is from 63 BC. Please, IMG_1954Demeter and Ceres obv.jpg IMG_1955Ceres and Demeter Rev..jpg if any readers have other numismatic images of Demeter or (Ceres), or Persephone (Proserpina) please post them. As for everybody else, go on out and see if you can catch a westerly breeze, the scent of blossoms and help Demeter along by planting a few bulbs or seedlings.
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2021
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  3. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

    Lovely coins!

    I have this gorgeous Faustina Ceres:
    Faustina I Sestertius RIC Rome 1128.JPG
  4. NewStyleKing

    NewStyleKing Beware of Greeks bearing wreaths

    NewStyles are littered with the attributes of the Eleusinian mysteries where persons of any rank could be inducted into the secrets of life ( and death) as revealed by the priests of Eleusis.
    upload_2021-3-25_19-58-36.png upload_2021-3-25_19-59-49.png upload_2021-3-25_20-1-3.png upload_2021-3-25_19-57-28.png upload_2021-3-25_20-4-54.png

    Grain Ear, Kernos, Triptolemos, Dionysos with Demeter holding 2 torches,Poppy with 2 Grain Ears and Kernos and Bakhos.
  5. Archeocultura

    Archeocultura Well-Known Member

    I've got this Alexandrian tetradrachm with Domitianus on the obverse and his wife, guised as Demeter on the reverse. This is probably a unique coin in silver; bronzes with this reverse are known. 5 nr 32 teradr domitianus domitia.jpg
  6. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

    Kevin, Great write up , great coins , thanks

    Galba As Ceres.jpg P1180315ceres taedifera.jpg
  7. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    Yes, Demeter was indeed a part of the Eleusinian Mysteries.
    Yes, I was unfamiliar with this coin.
    robinjojo likes this.
  8. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

  9. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    My favorite of my coins with Ceres:

    Roman Republic, C. [Gaius] Marius C.f. Capito, AR Serrate Denarius 81 BCE [Harlan: 81/80 BCE], Rome Mint. Obv. Draped bust of Ceres right, wearing earring, head bound with corn wreath, hair falling down neck; CAPIT• upwards behind, with legend followed by control number CI; control symbol (knife [Crawford, Table XXXIII at p. 395 ] or distaff [BMCRR p. 355]) to right of chin* / Rev. Husbandman/plowman left holding goad in right hand and plow in left, with yoke of two oxen plowing left with heads turned to face forward; horizontal test cut and control-number CI above; C•MARI•C•F / S•C [Senatus consulto] on two lines in exergue. Crawford 378/1c; RSC I Maria 9; Sear RCV I 300 (ill.); Sydenham 744b; BMCRR Vol. I 2855-2890 [Control-number CI is no. 2873]; Harlan, Michael, Roman Republican Moneyers and their Coins, 81 BCE-64 BCE (2012) [“RRM I”], Ch. 2 at pp. 8-13. 19 mm., 3.97 g., 10 hr. Purchased Feb. 21, 2021 from Nomos AG, Obolos Auction 18, Lot 468. [Footnote omitted.)

    Nomos Obolos Auction 18 Marius Capito denarius (Control-number CI) jpg version.jpg

    And even though I've posted it before, here's the illustration of Ceres from the story of "Proserpina and Pluto" in my childhood copy of A Child's Book of Myths (published in 1924 with illustrations by Margaret Evans Price):

    Illustration of Ceres from A Child's Book of Myths.jpg
  10. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

    For some reason that drawing is really really sad.
    DonnaML likes this.
  11. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    It's supposed to be!
  12. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    Your coin has a very sharp reverse. It looks like the oxen are posing for their picture.
    DonnaML likes this.
  13. robinjojo

    robinjojo Supporter! Supporter

    A very nice array of new style owls!

    Here's my lower grade owl with Triptolemos on the reverse:

    D-Camera Athens new style tetradrachm, 113-112 BC 16.91 grms,,  8-23-20.jpg
  14. robinjojo

    robinjojo Supporter! Supporter

    Yes, Spring has sprung.

    The imagery of Demeter/Ceres extends to the political realm, as exemplified by this tetradrachm of Claudius, which incorporates Messalina as the personification of Ceres with ears of grain to the right, and fertility (which dovetails nicely with the festival of Dionysus/Bacchus), symbolized by the two small figures in her right palm.

    D-Camera Claudius and Messilina tetradrachm, Alexandria, 41 AD, 14.1 g MA Shops 1-20-21.jpg
    Andres2, svessien, zumbly and 7 others like this.
  15. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    Thanks. The test cut didn't bother me at all, since it fortunately missed the oxen.
  16. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Great write-up, as usual, @kevin McGonigal! Here are some of my provincials with Demeter.

    This coin used to be unlisted in RPC, but not anymore!

    Gordian AD 238-244 and Tranquillina.
    Roman provincial Æ 28.6 mm, 11.36 g, 7 h.
    Thrace, Mesembria, AD 241-244.
    Obv: ΑVΤ Κ Μ ΓΟΡΔΙΑΝΟC ΑVΓ CΕΒ-ΤΡΑΝΚVΛ|ΛΙΝΑ, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Gordian and draped bust of Tranquillina, wearing stephane, confronted.
    Rev: ΜΕCΑΜΒΡ-Ι-ΑΝΩΝ, Demeter standing left, wearing stephane, holding phiale and long torch.
    Refs: RPC VII.2, — (unassigned; ID 48421); Varbanov 4190; Karayotov 87; Corpus Nummorum 425 (citing Varbanov); SNG Copenhagen --; BMC --; Moushmov --; Lindgren --; Mionnet suppl 2 --; Sear --; Wiczay --.
    Note: Double die-match to Karayatov 87.

    This one appears to be unlisted anywhere:

    Plautilla, AD 202-205
    Roman provincial Æ 15.8 mm, 3.08 g
    Bithynia, Nicaea
    Obv: ΠΛΑVΤΙΛΛΑ CEΒΑCΤΗ, bare-headed and dr. bust, right
    Rev: ΝΙΚΑ-ΙΕΩΝ, Demeter standing left, holding long torch.
    Refs: BMC --; Sear --; RG --; Lindgren I --; SNG von Aulock --; SNG Copenhagen --; Mionnet Suppl 5 --.

    This one is from Anchialus and marked with a gamma (=3), a variant of the coin that is not described in the standard references.

    Julia Domna, AD 193-217.
    Roman provincial triassarion, 10.88 gm, 26.8 mm, 7 h.
    Thrace, Anchialos, AD 193-211.
    Obv: ΙΟVΛΙΑ-ΔΟΜΝΑ C, bare-headed and draped bust, right.
    Rev: ΑΓΧΙΑΛ-ЄΩΝ, Demeter seated left, holding grain ears and scepter; Γ (mark of value = 3) in exergue.
    Refs: AMNG II (Strack) 503 var.; Varbanov II 297 var.; Moushmov 2840 var.
  17. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Great writeup! Here's a provincial with mother and daughter together:

    Tranquilina - Odessus AE23 Demeter Persephone 4011.jpg TRANQUILLINA
    AE23. 6.0g, 23.4mm. THRACE, Odessus, AD 241-244. Varbanov 4614 (R7); AMNG 2405. O: CAB TPANKVΛΛEINA C, diademed and draped bust right. R: ΟΔΗCCΕΙΤΩΝ, Demeter standing right, holding long torch and grain ears, facing Persephone standing left, holding patera and torch.

    The abduction of Persephone by Hades:

    Phrygia - Hierapolis Abduction of Persephone.jpg PHRYGIA, Hierapolis
    AE29. 12.36g, 29.1mm. PHRYGIA, Hierapolis, circa AD 2nd-3rd centuries. Pseudo-autonomous issue. RPC Online 2045; SNG Cop 428. O: IЄPAΠOΛЄI-TΩN, head of youthful Dionysos right, wearing ivy wreath. R: The Abduction of Persephone: Hades in galloping quadriga right, carrying off struggling Persephone.

    Less commonly found on coins is the infant deity Ploutos, who, depending on the source, was either the son of Demeter and Iasion, or Persephone and Hades. Ploutos came to represent wealth, but seems to originally have been a god of agricultural bounty. I like how on the coin below he's reaching out a hand to pluck an ear of grain from the cornucopia.

    PHRYGIA Laodicea ad Lycum - AE15 Cornucopia Plutos 4263.JPG
    PHRYGIA, Laodicea ad Lycum
    AE15. 4.16g, 15.3mm. PHRYGIA, Laodicea ad Lycum, pseudo-autonomous issue, time of Antoninus Pius. Po. Ailios Dionysios Sabinianos, magistrate, circa AD 139-147. RPC IV.2 Online temp 2116; SNG Cop 535; BMC 98. O: Radiate and draped bust of Helios right. R: ΛΑΟΔΙ-ΔΙΟΝV, Cornucopia containing ears of corn and fruit; in inner curve of cornucopia, infant Ploutos seated left, raising arm towards hanging ear of corn.
  18. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Well-Known Member

    Metapontion Ar Nomos 400-340 BC Obv Head of Demeter left. Rv, Ear of Barley Noe 520 7.99 grms 20 mm Photo by W. Hansen
    metapontum10.jpg About thirty years before the minting of this coin the citizens of Metapontion continued with their ongoing revaluation of their coinage and placed a head on the obverse of their coins. They experimented a number of deities but it seems that Demeter became the dominate image on the coins. The combination of Demeter and grain would appear to be a natural combination on a coin but at no time did she completely dominate the coinage of that city.
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2021
  19. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    Thanks. I had never seen any of those coins before.
  20. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    Those coins are great, especially the one with Hades actually carrying off Persephone. It's really interesting to see the vast array of deities and scenes available on these provincials not seen elsewhere. I had no idea this scene was out there on any coin
  21. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    This coin is a real beauty showing the exquisite capabilities of a celator and the mint workers.
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2021
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