Featured Kadmos - Founder of Thebes

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Jun 12, 2019.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear Friends of ancient mythology!

    Here I want to talk about Kadmos, the founder of Thebes. The coin shows him in the typical founder attitude, looking back to his comrades and pointing forward asking them to follow him to new shores.

    The Coin:
    Phoenicia, Sidon, Trajan, AD 98-117
    AE 24, 8.72g, 0°
    struck year 227 of Sidonian era = AD 116/7
    Laureate head r.
    Kadmos, nude to hips, stg. l. on prow, lookong r., with outstretched r. hand pointing l.
    in l. field LZKΣ (retrograde, year 227)
    Ref.: BMC 218; SNG Copenhagen 252; Lindgren-Kovacs 2329
    rare, F+, green-red patina
    (missed legend parts completed according to Sear GIC 1087)
    NAVAPΞIΣ = Mistress of a Fleet, epitheton of several important maritime cities

    Kadmos was the son of the Phoenician king Agenor, son of Poseidon and Libye, and his wife Telephassa. His sister was Europa and his brothers Phoinix and Kilix. After Zeus has raped Europa in the shape of a bull, he was sent out together with his brothers to search for Europa and to bring her home or never come back again. So he and his mother and some people of Sidon entered a ship and started the search. He strayed around the eastern Mediterranean and visited many islands. Drifted to Rhodos by a heavy storm he erected a temple for Poseidon. He came to Thera too, to Crete and Samothrace and everywhere he built temples. Finely he came to Thracia, where Telephassa died. Because he nowhere has heard of Europa he went to Delphi to ask the oracle. Apollo answered he should stop asking for Europa but should follow the cow which would lead him and build a town where the cow would lie down.

    Kadmos followed the cow to Boiotia where she laid down and so pointed the place to build the town. But when he wanted to sacrify the cow to Athena and sent his men to get water from the spring of Ares they were killed and devoured by a huge dragon. That happened to others too. Hereupon Kadmos killed the dragon in a fight. Athena advised him to sow the teeth of the dragon on a field. After doing that a mass of armoured warriors rose from the earth and started to struggle against each other. All were killed except five. These - the so-called 'Spartoi' - became the ancestors of the subsequent Thebanians. He for himself had to serve one year as slave for Ares to expiate the murder of the dragon which was a son of Ares. This fight is said to happened at the Castalic spring. Furthermore Boiotia should have its name from this cow because cow in Greek is BOUS. Kadmos built at this place the castle Kadmeia which later became the city of Thebes (Homer called it the 'seven-gated Thebes' in contrary to the 'hundred-gated Thebes' in Egypt). The Ilias therefore called the Thebanians Kadmeioi.

    Kadmos is said too to have brought the Phoenician alphabet to Greece. It is the alphabet which the Greek still used today and from which the Latin alphabet is derived too. He should have introduced the cult of Dionysos to Greece and he is said to be the inventor of the art of forging which was first done at the Pangaios mointain in Thracia.

    The begin of his reign was very happy. Athena has provided him the castle and the town, and Zeus gave him Harmonia as wife, his daughter with Elektra (regarding to others the daughter of Ares with Aphrodite). This was a splendid marriage. All gods were aboard and make a present. Apoll and the Muses made the music. But then his fate turned into misfortune!

    He has one son and four daughters. His son Polydoros was his successor to the throne. His first daughter was Semele who by Zeus gave birth to Dionysos but then was killed by his thunderbolt (see article in this thread). His second daughter was Ino who was forced by her mad husband to jump with her son Melikertes over the cliffs into the sea (see article in this thread). The third daughter was Autonoe who has with Aristaios the son Aktaion who was disrupted by his own dogs. The last one was Agaue, wife of Echion, who in furiousness ruptured her own son Pentheus.

    After all that bad luck Kadmos and Harmonia left Thebes and went to Illyria where he helped the Encheleerians(?) in their war against the Illyrians and became king of Illyria thereafter. Shortly after that Kadmos and Harmonia were turned by Zeus into snakes and put to the Elysian Fields.

    The reason for all the terrible desaster of his family was Hera who wanted to avange the infidelity of her husband Zeus who had betrayed her with Europa, sister of Kadmos, and then with his daughter Semele.

    Some background:

    The name Kadmos can be derived from Phoenician 'kadam', meaning 'the morning'. Then Kadmos would be the man from the morning, man from the East. In Thebes recently are found 36 Babylonian cylinder seals - besides important cretic-mycenian art work -, so that a strong orientalic impact in Kadmeia is proofed.

    Essential is the connection with Illyria at the end of his life where a local cult site is incorporated into the myth of Kadmos. At the end of Euripides' Bacchoi Dionysos predicts that Kadmos and Harmonia would go by a bull chariot in the shape of snakes to a strange people; as leader of this people he would campaign against Hellas until Delphi was sacked; then this people would come to an evil end, but Kadmos and Harmonia leaded by Zeus would enter the land of the blessed. The transformation into snakes means heroisation and is identical to translation to Elysium. Therefore Ovid (Met. 4, 562ff.) put it to the end of his life but as punishment for killing the dragon.

    Why Kadmos left Thebes is told differently. That he has helped the Enchelleerians(?) is told by Apollodor. Referring to him he has a late son, Illyrios. The graves of Kadmos and Harmonia were shown near Epidamnos.

    The Greek 'Kadmeia nike' was used in the same way as our Pyrrhic Victory. It is known from Herodot and Plato.

    Alltogether Kadmos was seen as important bringer of culture to the Greek. They were well aware that their scripture was from the East and that the workmanship of iron came from the East too. A funny interpretation of the struggle of the teeth-borne warriors is from Alkias: He suggested that the warriors actually were scholars who have originated from the brought letters (the teeth of the dragon!) and since that time were bashing their heads!

    The history of Thebes in mythology is a chain of desasters. I remind on the myth of Eteokles and Polydeikes and the myth of the Seven against Thebes and the following myth of the Epigones.

    This is true for the real history of Thebes too. By the unfortunate policy of its rulers here also one misfortune follows the other until the city was totally destroyed by Alexander the Great and the inhabitants were sold as slaves. To see these parallels between mythology and history is very weird!

    History of Art:

    In ancient times the fight between Kadmos and the dragon was a favourite subject which was depicted several times on vases. Here we have the red-figured picture of a crater found near Paestum from the time of 360-340 BC attributed to Python. It is now in the Louvre. We see Kadmos holding a Hydria in front of the dragon of the Ismenic spring near Thebes. He is accompanied by Harmonia on the left side. On the right side Ismene is standing, the Najad of this spring.


    (1) Ovid, Metamorphoses
    (2) Benjamin Hederich, Gründliches Mythologisches Lexikon
    (3) Der kleine Pauly, Kadmos and Thebai

    Best regards
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2019
    eparch, Pavlos, PeteB and 5 others like this.
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  3. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Excellent! Thanks for that article. Here’s one of my favorite coins, showing the essential elements of the founding - Cadmus, the cow, and the citygate of Thebes.

    AE27. 13.98g, 27.3mm. PHOENICIA, Tyre, circa AD 253-260. Rouvier 2500. O: IMP C P LIC VALERIANVS AVG, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right. R: TVRIORVM, Cadmus standing left, holding patera and spear; at feet to left, cow reclining right; in left field, city gate of Thebes above ΘH/BЄ; murex shell to right.
  4. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Beautiful mythological coin. I would be glad if I would have it in my collection.

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