Griffins as representations of Nemesis.

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by DonnaML, Jan 25, 2021.

  1. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    Until @Sulla80 pointed it out in another thread a while back, in commenting on a coin that @Al Kowsky had posted, I had no idea that when a griffin is depicted on an ancient Roman coin with its paw on a wheel, it represents Nemesis, with the wheel representing the cyclical nature of fortune -- just like on the old TV game show!

    After learning this, I knew I wanted an example. It didn't take that long before one I liked (and could afford) came up for sale, and I bought it right away. It arrived today, and I'm very pleased with it. (In hand, it looks even better to me than in the photo; one can see the copper shining through the greenish patina in places.) So here it is:

    Philip II, AE 27 mm., 247-249 AD, Moesia Inferior, Tomis. Obv. Bareheaded, draped, and cuirassed bust right, seen from rear, Μ ΙΟΥΛ ΦΙΛΙΠΠΟC ΚΑΙCΑΡ / Rev. Griffin seated left with right paw on top of wheel [representing Nemesis*], ΜΗ-ΤΡΟ-Π-ΠΟ-ΝΤΟ, continued in exergue in two lines: Υ ΤΟΜΕ/ΩϹ(ME ligate), Δ in right field. 27 mm., 12.22 g. RPC [Roman Provincial Coinage] VIII Online 28171 [temporary ID number] (see [this coin is Specimen 7, used as primary illustration for type, see ]; Varbanov 5781 [Varbanov, Ivan, Greek Imperial Coins And Their Values, Volume I: Dacia, Moesia Superior & Moesia Inferior (English Edition) (Bourgas, Bulgaria, 2005)]. Purchased from Herakles Numismatics, Jan. 2021; ex. I-Nummis, Paris, Mail Bid Sale 6, Nov. 7, 2008, Lot 399 (see|348|399|a3b582d0b87f863b39d084dd851a7a89). [“Scarce”: 11 specimens in RPC (including this coin), 6 examples in ACSearch (including this coin).]

    Philip II Moesia, Tomis (Gryphon & wheel) jpg version.jpg

    *See : “The image of a griffin supporting one of its forepaws on a wheel appears in Roman art by the first century AD. The wheel, a symbol of the cyclical movement of human fortune, and the winged griffin are both distinctive attributes of Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance, who is also often represented with wings. In a first-century AD wall painting from the House of the Fabii at Pompeii, Apollo and two female figures are accompanied by a winged griffin with a wheel. This motif also occurs on coins of Alexandria dating to the reign of the emperor Domitian (AD 81–96). Scenes depicting Nemesis with a griffin are especially common during the second and third centuries AD and occur in many different media, including coins, gems, statues, and funerary and votive reliefs. The particular image of a griffin resting its paw on a wheel, typically seated at the foot of Nemesis, is so pervasive that it eventually became a symbol for the goddess herself. For example, a limestone mold of the second to third centuries AD from Egypt, possibly from Alexandria, shows a griffin and a wheel with the Greek inscription Nemesis.

    Representations of the griffin with a wheel unaccompanied by Nemesis, as in the Getty mosaic, are particularly common in North Africa and the eastern periphery of the Roman Empire. The motif appears in the second and third centuries AD in Egyptian statuettes in faience [see image at], relief stelai from the amphitheater at Leptis Magna in present-day Libya; tomb paintings in Jordan; a votive marble statue from Erez, Israel, bearing a dedicatory inscription in Greek (dated AD 210–211); gems from Caesarea Maritima in Israel and Gadara in Jordan; and terracotta tesserae from Palmyra. While the worship of Nemesis was widespread across the Roman Empire, it was particularly prevalent in Egypt, where she had a pre-Roman cult, and in Syria and the surrounding regions, where she was associated with several important local deities, including the classical goddesses Tyche (personification of fortune) and Nike (personification of victory) and the Arabic deities Allath (goddess of war) and Manawat (goddess of fate).” [Footnotes omitted.]

    Separately, does anyone have any idea of the meaning of the Δ (for "D") in the right field of the reverse?

    I have several other coins with griffins (or gryphons, as I sometimes feel like spelling the word!), but no others with wheels. Here they are, nonetheless:

    Cimmerian Bosporos, Pantikapaion, AE 19 mm., ca. 320-310 BCE, minted under Perisad I, 345-310 BC. Obv. Bearded head of satyr, right / Rev. Forepart of griffin left; below, sturgeon left; Π-A-N [PAN] around. Anokhin (2011) 1023 [Anokhin, V.A., Античные Монеты Северного Причерноморья (Ancient Coins of the Northern Black Sea Coast) (Kiev. 2011) (see]; Seaby 1700 [Sear, David, Greek Coins and their Values, Vol. 1: Europe (Seaby 1979) at p. 169]; SNG BM Black Sea 869-870 [Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, Great Britain, Volume IX, British Museum, Part 1: The Black Sea (London, 1993); available online at; see SNGuk_0901_0869 and SNGuk_0901_0870]. 20 mm., 7.87 g., 12 h.

    Pantikapaion (Pan-Griffin) redacted, jpg version.jpg

    Roman Republic, L. Papius, AR Serrate Denarius, 79 BCE. Obv. Head of Juno Sospita right, wearing goat skin; control-symbol of lyre behind/ Rev. Gryphon prancing right, control-symbol of lyre-key below, L. PAPI in exergue. Crawford 384/1 (see also Crawford Vol. II Plate LXVII, control-symbol 127 & p. 788), RSC I Papia 1, Sear RCV I 311 (ill.), Harlan, RRM I Ch. 7 at pp. 32-35, BMCRR Rome 2977-3095 [control-symbol pair not in BMCRR]. 19 mm., 3.79 g., 9 h.

    L. Papius - Juno Sospita & Gryphon, jpg version.jpg

    Gallienus, Billon Antoninianus, 267-268 AD, Rome Mint (4th Officina). Obv. Radiate head right, GALLIENVS AVG / Rev. Griffin walking left, APOLLINI CONS AVG; Δ [Delta = 4th Officina] in exergue. RIC V-1 166, RSC IV 76, Wolkow 4a4, Göbl MIR [Moneta Imperii Romani] Band 36, No. 718, Sear RCV III 10180. 20.5 mm., 3.29 g., 6 h.

    Gallienus Gryphon jpg version.jpg

    Each of my four griffins is slightly different in appearance, but the basics of the depiction really didn't change much over a period spanning almost 600 years. (See the fascinating presentation by @David Atherton, in his post at, of the theory that ancient dinosaur fossil finds in Central Asia inspired the legend of the griffin.)

    Please post your griffins or gryphons, if possible with wheels, but if not, without them.
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2021
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  3. Amit Vyas

    Amit Vyas Well-Known Member

    Great coins. This is the only one I have with a griffin.

    Abdera, Thrace: Magistrate Protes, AR Tetrobol, c. 411-386 BC, May 329, McClean 4019 (2.63 g, 15 mm)

    Obverse: Griffin springing left

    Reverse: Laureate head of Apollo left in linear square; ΠΡ-Ω-TH-Σ around

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  4. spirityoda

    spirityoda Coin Junky

    Griffins rule!

    German States/ Rostock 1761
    s-l160german states copy.jpg

    German States/Baden
    11001616_704809582972976_1522279066852812814_o copy.jpg
    11002605_704809649639636_7448293283858902456_n copy.jpg
    g22 copy.jpg
    10468472_632170306903571_3031645341604977450_o copy.jpg
    red1 copy.jpg red2 copy.jpg
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  5. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Well-Known Member

    Excellent article Donna :D! The griffin was obviously an important symbol for Greco-Roman culture as your coins illustrate. I like the Philip II bronze with well detailed reverse :happy:. The DELTA symbol on the reverse of that coin might relate to the 4 Eparchy's, an administrative district of 4 different mints that worked in unison to strike coinage. On many of the Tets struck in Syria you'll see the letters DELTA & EPSILON in the reverse fields, like the coin pictured below. Those letters did identify Antioch as 1 of the 4 Eparchy's.

    1883002-031 rev..jpg 1883002-031 obv..jpg
    The coin you mentioned in the article from Alexandria, I did sell at CNG 483. It hammered for $275.00, & in that lot I threw in the auction catalog that illustrated the coin in 1984.

    The Morris (Philip Peck) Collection.jpg
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  6. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana

    That's another handsome griffin for your collection, Donna. I don't have one with a wheel to show, but here's another Tomis with a Δ. These are apparently marks of value, with Δ indicating a 4-assaria value. There is a page on Doug's website that discusses these marks (from about 1/3 down the page):

    Maximus - Tomis - Dioscuri.jpg MAXIMUS
    AE Tetrassarion. 9.54g, 29.1mm. MOESIA INFERIOR, Tomis, circa AD 235-238. Varbanov 5513 (R4). O: Γ IOYΛ OYHP MAΞIMOC KAIC ΓEP, barehead, draped and cuirassed bust right. R: MHTPO ΠONTOY TOMEΩC, Dioscuri reclining left, side by side, heads facing, right one holding patera, left one resting on rock; each with star above forehead; ∆ in left field.
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  7. Alegandron

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

    Very cool pickup, @DonnaML .

    No Griffin-and-wheel for me...

    This seems a Happy Coin with “springing” and “prancing” going on!

    Sicily Kainon AE Tetras 367-357 BCE 20mm 6.7g Griffin springing - Horse Prancing SNG COP 133
  8. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    Thank you!
  9. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Well-Known Member

    Abdera Ar tetradrachm 475-450 BC Obv, Eagle griffin seated left with right forepaw raised. Rv. quadripartite square May 101 HGC 1135 14,58 grms 28 mm Photo by W. Hansen abdera2.jpg This coin came to me as a result of being outbid on another. I didn't get that one and so got this one as a consolation prize. I particularly like the depiction of the griffin One really gets the impression of the power suggested at by the body of the lion as well as the fierceness conveyed by the head of the eagle.
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  10. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus

    A truly lovely coin Donna!

    This is my only depiction of Nemesis. The reverse is PAX/Nemesis
    vespasian ric 544.jpg
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  11. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

    My only Nemesis is this rather ugly Elagabalus.
    It's the same size as a dupondius and has a radiate, but since it's provincial all bets are off.
    Elagabalus Radiate Nikopolis Nemesis (2020_11_18 03_38_31 UTC).JPG
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  12. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Well-Known Member

    Very interesting reverse type, @DonnaML! Now I want one, too.

    Here's a coin of Tomis with a mark of value and Nemesis in my collection. I wrote about it earlier, if you're interested. And if you're interested, I also translated Mesomedes' "Hymn to Nemesis" from Greek to English. Mesomedes' work not only illustrates what ancient people thought about Nemesis, but it's one of only a handful of songs from the ancient world for which we know the music in addition to the lyrics.

    Gordian III, with Tranquillina. A.D. 238-244.
    Roman provincial AE 4.5 assaria; 28.92 mm, 15.89 g, 7:00
    Moesia Inferior, Tomis, A.D. 241-244; Magistrate Pontianus
    Obv: AVT K M ANTΩNIOC ΓΟΡΔΙΑΝΟC // [C]ABINIA (TP)AN / KVΛΛINA, confronted laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Gordian right and diademed, draped bust of Tranquillina left
    Rev: MHTPO ΠONTOV TOMEΩC, Nemesis standing facing, head left, holding arshin (rod) and sling, wheel at feet; Δ - < (denomination) in fields
    Refs: AMNG I 3537; Varbanov 5701; Moushmov 2279; Cf. SNG Cop 305.

    On a more distantly related note, here's a triassarion from Tomis with a retrograde Γ as a mark of value.

    Domna Tomis Nike triassarion.jpg
    Julia Domna AD 193-217.
    Roman provincial AE triassarion, 8.75 gm, 24.4 mm, 6 h.
    Moesia Inferior, Tomis, AD 193-211.
    Obv: ΙΟVΛΙΑ ΔΟΜΝΑ CE, bare-headed and draped bust, r.
    Rev: ΜΗΤ ΠΟΝ ΤΟΜΕΩC, Nike advancing l., holding wreath and palm, retrograde Γ (=3) to left.
    Refs: Varbanov 4857; AMNG 2811.
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  13. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic

    Gosh, I love these griffin coins. Fantastic examples! Nice write-up too.
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  14. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    Thrace, Abdera.jpg
    OBVERSE: Griffin springing left
    REVERSE: Magistrate's name around linear border, within which head of Hermes l., caduceus before; all in incuse square
    Struck at Abdera 411-385 BC
    2.780g, 15mm
    May 279
    OBVERSE: Female head left, hair in a sphendone
    REVERSE: Head of griffin left
    Sturck at Phokaia, ca 350-300 BC
    12mm, 1.86g
    BMC 91-93; SNG von Aulock 2135; SNG Cop 1031-1033; SNG Leipzig 1206; SNG Tuebingen 3121-3122
    ASSOS, TROAS.jpg
    AR Hemiobol
    OBV: Veiled female head left
    REV: Griffin right, A to left, in dotted linear square within incuse square
    Struck at Assos, 420-380 BC
    .3g, 6.88mm
    BMC Lycia, Pamphlia, and Pisidia p. 21, #100, plate 6 #4 (attributed to Lycia). Cf. CNG e-auction 287, September 2012, lot 128
    ex Saint Paul Antiques
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  15. Sulla80

    Sulla80 Well-Known Member

    Congrats, @DonnaML, on your new Nemesis from Moesia Inferior, Tomis...I don't have a Nemesis, I do have this griffin from Abdera:
    Thace Abdera Semisiglos.jpg
    Thrace, Abdera, circa 346/345-336 BC, AR Hemisiglos (hemidrachm)
    Obv: ΕΠΙ - Χ-ΑΡΜ-Ο, griffin leaping left, forepart and forpaws raised, with feathered wings, tail curling and closed beak.
    Rev: ΑΒΔ-ΗΡI-ΤΕ-ΩΝ, laureate head of Apollo, left, within linear square
    Notes: for more on this coin and Abdera see Coins from Abdera, Thrace
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2021
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  16. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    ..well, i guess i better show mine too...:smuggrin: peter griffin.jpg
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  17. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    Thanks for this story and image. I am currently reading an historical novel set in Ancient Rome and the main character's favorite deity is none other than Nemesis, to whom he devoutly prays and offers sacrifices before battle. I had no idea she was pictured in this way.
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  18. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Don't have any griffins yet. If I do get one it will probably be on a drachm of Alexandria.
  19. Mr.Q

    Mr.Q Well-Known Member

    Great find Donna congratulations. Enjoyed the story also, thank you.
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  20. whopper64

    whopper64 Well-Known Member

    Just to let you know, the gryphon "griffin" is alive and well on quite a few Welsh coins, most recently the "Queen's Beasts" 2017 rendition of the Red Dragon of Wales. A beautiful coin, and part of my heritage.
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  21. PlanoSteve

    PlanoSteve Well-Known Member

    I don't have one, but I am compelled to say that is one fabulous specimen!!! :happy:;)
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