Featured Herakles and the Cretan Bull

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, May 11, 2019.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear Friends of ancient mythology!

    I'm happy that I can share this coin which I have searched after for a long time. I know that its state is not the best, but better coins are always very expensive.

    The coin:
    Moesia inferior, Nikopolis ad Istrum, Septimius Severus, AD 193-211
    AE 27, 11.97g, 26.55mm, 210°
    struck under governor L. Aurelius Gallus
    obv. .AVT.Λ.CEΠT - CEVHP ΠEP
    laureate head r.
    beneath: the bow
    The Cretan Bull with uplifted forelegs and raised tail prancing l.; Herakles, nude,
    running beside him l., embracing with both hands the bull's head to subdue him;
    club on ground behind Hercules’ right foot
    ref. a) AMNG I/1, 1309
    b) Varbanov 2710
    c) Hristova/Hoeft/Jekov (2018) No. (plate coin)
    d) Voegtli type 4m
    rare, F+

    Minos, king of Crete, has established his right of the throne by claiming that his rule over Crete was God-given. To prove that claim he declared that each of his prayers would answered by the gods. Hereupon Minos offered Poseidon to sacrifice the next animal to him which would rise from the sea, because not one of his own animals was worthy such an important sacrifice. So Poseidon sent an exceptional noble white bull. Minos however - attired in the beauty of this bull - hid him in his herd, embezzled him to the god and sacrificed instead of this bull another one from his own animals.

    Poseidon enraged because of this sacrilege damned Minos' wife Pasiphae so that she fell in immortal love to the bull. By the ingenious Daidalos she let built a wooden stage in the shape of a cow, covered with a cow's skin, and then she crawled into this stage and unified with the bull. From this unification emerged the Minotauros, a being with human body and a bull's head. Minos at first wanted to kill this creature, because it was an evidence of his wife's slip, but at the request of his daughter Ariadne he let Minotauros alive and charged Daidolos with construction of a prison, the Labyrinth in Knossos, in which he locked up the Minotauros.

    Furthermore the Cretan Bull was beaten with furor which caused great devastations on Crete. Especially the region around the river Tethris was hit.

    Erystheus now told Herakles - as seventh of his labours - to capture the bull and bring him back to him. After the struggle against the Stymphalian Birds this was a rather easy undertaking. Herakles sailed to Crete and asked king Minos wether he has objections to capture the bull. Minos denied that if only Herakles would get along with the bull. Very soon Herakles succeeded in subduing the bull although he was breathing fire. He chained him and brought him back to Erystheus. Erystheus wanted to sacrifice the bull immediately to Hera, but Hera - hating Herakles - refused the offering because it only would increase the fame of the hero. So the bull was released.

    After that the bull wandered through Lakedaimon and Arcadia, crossed the Isthmos of Corinth and reached Marathon where he did great damage and killed many humans. Therefore he is often called 'Marathonian Bull' too. Theseus, son of the Athenian king Aigeos, was sent against the bull, subdued him and led him to Athens were Aigeos sacrificed the bull to Zeus.

    Androgeos, a son of king Minos and Pasiphae, stayed in this region when Theseus was hunting the bull. At this occasion he was killed from behind. Therefore Minos began a war against Athens. But because he couldn't conquer Athens he asked his father Zeus for help which he granted. He sent the plague and Athens had to surrender. To appease Minos Athens had to send as tribute each ninth year seven youths and seven maiden to Crete.

    But that's another story.


    There is the suggestion too that the Cretan Bull was not the bull of Poseidon, but the bull who has brought Europa from Phoenicia to Crete.


    Here I want to add the article, which Ranke-Graces wrote about the Cretan Bull. Principally I distrust his interpretations because I think he is fixated too much on the matriarchy and the Holy Wedding (hieros gamos). Very well then!

    The struggle with the bull or a man in bull disguise - one of the ritual duties which have to be fulfilled by the aspirant of the kingship - appears too in the myth of Theseus and the Minotauros and in the myth of Jason and the fire-breathing bulls of Aietes. When the immortality which was associated with the royal dignity finally was promised all adepts of the Dionysian Mysteries the capture of a bull and offering him to Dionysos Plutodotes ('donor of wealth') became a general ritus in Arcadia (Pausan. VIII, 19, 2) and in Lydia (Strabon XIV, 1, 44), where Dionysos hold the title Zeus. His most important theophania was the bull but he appeared too in the shape of a lion or a serpent. Touching the horns of the bull enabled the Holy King to fertilize the land in the name of the moon goddess by making rain. The magic explanation for this is that the roar of a bull was signalizing thunderstorms which were to be caused to break out by the swinging of rhombi or bull cries. Torches too were thrown to symbolize lightning, representing the fiery breath of the bull.

    I have added
    (1) the pic 'Heracles binds the Cretan Bull', a black-figured vase painting, c.510 BC, from Vulci, now in the Staatliche Antikensammlung in Munich/Germany.

    (2) the pic of the mosaic 'The twelve Labours of Hercules' from Lliria (Valencia/Spain), 1st half of 3rd century, made by an unknown artist. Here the depiction with Herakles running besides the bull is very similar to the depiction on the coin.


    (1) Apollodor, Bibliotheke
    (2) Benjamin Hederich, Gründliches Mythologisches Lexikon
    (3) Robert von Ranke-Graves, Griechische Mythologie
    (4) Der Kleine Pauly

    Best regards
  2. Avatar

    Guest User Guest

    to hide this ad.
  3. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

    As usual great write up , thanks Jochen.

    P1160775 english text.jpg
  4. furryfrog02

    furryfrog02 Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the write-up @Jochen!
  5. 7Calbrey

    7Calbrey Well-Known Member

    Superb. Fantasy, Myth and of course History through the minds of ancient people.
    The following coin was struck after a mosaic which still exists in the national museum. There are also photos of this mosaic.
    The coin depicts Zeus who was disguised in the shape of a bull to abduct Europa, sister of Kadmos, the great Phoenician. The legend or myth tells that the abduction took place on the shore of Sidon-Phoenicia. And indeed the following coin was struck in Sidon, as we can read in exergue of this coin which was struck under Elagabalus.
    Here's the coin from my old folders.
    Gabalus R       Europa.JPG Gabalu O.jpg
    Ryro and Johndakerftw like this.
  6. Jwt708

    Jwt708 Well-Known Member

    I love your posts Jochen that tie a coin to a particular myth! I have nothing to share other than my gratitude for the post.
    7Calbrey likes this.
  7. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Cogito Ergo Sum

    Great post @Jochen - it certainly deserves being featured.
    7Calbrey likes this.
  8. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    @Jochen, as always a pleasure to read your posts, and although it depicts neither Herakles nor the Cretan bull, the mosaic and the coin remind me of this coin showing bull wrestling.
    Thessaly Drachm Bull .jpg
    Thessaly, Larissa, circa 450-420 BC, AR Drachm
    Obv: The hero Thessalos, with petasos and chlamys hanging around neck, restraining bull right by a band held around its head
    Rev: ΛΑΡ-IΣAIA, horse prancing right within incuse square
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page