Early portraits on coins

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Finn235, Apr 17, 2019.

  1. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    Thought this might be a fun collaborative/discussion thread.

    Even though the human form began appearing on coinage within about a century from its invention in the late 7th century BC, the Greeks mostly shied away from placing their rulers' porttaits on coinage, preferring to stick with icons and patron deities. This tradition was upheld until the death of Philip III and the subsequent implosion of Alexander's empire, when Ptolemy and Seleukos boldly placed their living image on their coinage as they wrestled for control with the other Diadochi. Portraiture would become standard fare for the Hellenistic world, and inspired one Roman Dictator in Perpetuity to do the same....

    Ptolemy and Seleukos were not the first, however. While the Greeks of the classical age declined to appear on their coinage and the imperial Achaemenids opted for an idealized image of their semi-mythical founder, the western frontiers of the Persian Empire were ruled by powerful satraps who felt no binding taboo against showing their immediate subjects exactly who they paid their taxes to.

    I haven't ventured very far into this area of numismatics, but I do find it fascinating. Let's see your earliest coins bearing the mug of a living, breathing king, emperor, or satrap!

    First up is my least ambiguous, an obol of the Cilician satrap Tarkumuwa, better known by his Greek name Datames
    Cilicia obol datames arethusa.jpg
    Cilicia, Tarsos
    AR obol of Datames
    385-362 BC
    Obv: Head of Datames left in helmet, Aramaic TRKMW before
    Rev: Head of Arethusa, copying Kimon

    My others are all less certain.

    This one is certainly of a Cilician satrap, but nobody has been able to deduce who
    Cilicia obol unknown satrap SNG Cop 537.jpg

    Another, possibly the same person? Possibly with his wife?
    (No longer my coin)
    Cilicia unknown satrap facing traite 135.jpg

    These two are attributed to Pharnabazos (413-374 BC), predecessor and colleague of Datames, although not all are conviced the portrait is of him
    Cilicia obol Pharnabazos baaltars.jpg
    I argue that it is likely the case; compare the facial features to this one of the same ruler, depicting "Herakles with bare head"
    Cilicia uncertain obol female herakles.jpg

    And finally, an enigmatic issue that may be one of the few coin portraits of a sitting Achaemenid emperor, although the jury is still out on whether this could be Artaxerxes II, Artaxerxes III, or merely Achamenes ("Great King") in Greek style
    Cilicia obol unknown persian king pegasus.jpg

    Let's see some more early portraits!
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  3. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I have never been clear on how we should draw the line between a portrait and a face of a god with features resembling the person in control.
    I called this one Ares:

    Is this 133 BC Hercules quadrans a portrait of the moneyer C. Numitorius? The face is distinctive and not all that standard for the god.

    The big question of course is whether all those Alexander tetradrachms were supposed to make you think of Herakles or Alexander. Both is an option!
  4. Alegandron

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

    I believe this would be my oldest king

    Achaemenid Empire
    Darius I The Great 510-486 BCE
    AR 1/32nd Siglos 0.11g 5mm
    Persian hero-king in running position
    incuse reverse
    Klein 758 Rare
    ominus1, randygeki, Jay GT4 and 4 others like this.
  5. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Well-Known Member

    Fundamental to any understanding of what constitutes a portrait is an understanding of how the gods were depicted in ancient art. Normally these images were standardized e.g Zeus as a mature laureate bearded male, Apollo as a young clean shaven male and Athena as a helmeted female. To further cement the identification process a subsidiary object or animal are incorporated into the design or placed on the reverse. Thus Zeus could be distinguished from Poseidon as he would be seen with his trademark trident. Thus these images would be instantly recognizable to their audience.
    I believe this to be important especially for early portraits as all the early portraits seem to have some form of adjunct object. Alexander has the horn of Ammon as well as in Egypt an elephant head headdress. Demetrios Poliorcetes has a diadem and bull horns and Ptolemy I a diadem as well as an aegis. These adjuncts would serve the purpose of distinguishing this image from that of a god e.g Ptolemy I a male using an aegis usually associated with the goddess Athena. Thus some issue may have .." the features of".. are probably not portraits in the classic sense as the lack of some form of identifying adjunct would make the image ambiguous.
    ominus1 and Jay GT4 like this.
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