The Earth seen from space on a Roman coin

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by GinoLR, Jan 3, 2022.

  1. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    (None of the following coins are mine!)

    The most fascinating of all ancient coins, for me, are these aurei and denarii of Domitian or Domitia minted c. 82 AD in memory of their deceased infant child. Not only because it is a terrible loss for everybody, even a tyrant, but also because these coins are the oldest ones depicting the Earth seen from space. On the reverse the child is seen leaving the Earth and rising to the stars (probably the Ursa Major constellation). The Earth is depicted as a globe girdled with two perpendicular belts figuring the two annular oceans.

    (of course this is not mine, it's my dream coin...)

    monnaie domitia 82 83b.jpg

    Eratosthenes of Cyrene (c. 276 - c. 195 BC) had calculated the dimensions of the Globe and created a map of the inhabited world surrounded by oceans and covering less than one quarter of the Globe surface. Later, Crates of Mallos (who lectured in Rome in the 160s or 150s BC) drew the conclusion that the whole globe might be covered by 4 insular inhabited worlds separated by two annular oceans: an equatorial ocean and another perpendicular ocean passing through North and South poles. These two perpendicular oceanic rings separated our world from another one in the South hemisphere inhabited by the "Antoeci", and from another one in the Western (and eastern) hemisphere inhabited by the "Perioeci", and a fourth one South of the "Perioeci" inhabited by the "Antipodes".

    a modern graphic reconstruction of the Crates globe.

    This hypothetical globe became the doxa, and the Romans would not have been too surprised if they could have seen an actual image of the Earth because they thought obvious that there were inhabited lands on the other side of the Atlantic. For them, there were people all around the globe, the South hemisphere was temperate like our North hemisphere, but communication was impossible between the insular worlds, the oceans being too hot, or too cold, or too large.

    Cicero imagines in "Somnium Scipionis" what Earth looks like seen from the Milky way: "You see that on the earth only scattered and narrow plots are inhabited; while even in the very patches, as it were, in which men dwell, vast deserts are interspersed; and among those who live on the earth, there are not only such breaks that no communication can pass from one set to another, but some live in opposite zones; some on opposite sides of a zone; some even at the opposite point of the earth to you; and from these, at any rate, you can expect no glory. Moreover you see that this earth is girdled and surrounded by certain belts, as it were; of which two, the most remote from each other, and which rest upon the poles of the heaven at either end, have become rigid with frost; while that one in the middle, which is also the largest, is scorched by the burning heat of the sun. Two are habitable; of these, that one in the South - men standing in which have their feet planted right opposite to yours - has no connection with your race: moreover this other, in the Northern hemisphere which you inhabit, see in how small a measure it concerns you! For all the earth, which you inhabit, being narrow in the direction of the poles, broader East and West, is a kind of little island surrounded by the waters of that sea, which you on earth call the Atlantic, the Great Sea, the Ocean; and yet though it has such a grand name, see how small it really is!"

    Pliny wrote: "Human beings are distributed all round the earth and stand with their feet pointing toward each other, and the top of the sky is alike for them all and the earth trodden under foot at the center in the same way from any direction, while ordinary people enquire why the persons on the opposite side do not fall off - just as if it were not reasonable that the people on the other side wonder that why we do not fall off." (Plin. HN 2.161)

    Here is what it looks like when illustrated on a medieval manuscript :

    macrobe.jpg Page from Macrobius' comment on Cicero's Somnium Scipionis. Manuscript copied and illustrated in the 11th c.

    For the Roman Empire, the official image of the Earth was this globe girdled with two perpendicular belts.


  2. Avatar

    Guest User Guest

    to hide this ad.
  3. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark all my best friends are dead Romans Dealer

    These orbs are usually believed to be celestial spheres rather than the earth...of course there is always debate.

    see 'Symbolism of the Sphere' by Michael R. Molnar in Celator, June 1998

  4. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    Celestial spheres are different, they have only one belt (the zodiacal belt). On the denarius of Domitia, we see that the stars are outside the sphere. Same on the Constantinian Beata Tranquillitas follis. On this Tiberius as, you can see a large celestial sphere, with only one oblique belt, and another smaller one besides the rudder: this one is terrestrial.

    But it is true that, very often, celators or painters, not being scientists, did not make a difference and could mistake terrestrial for celestial spheres...
  5. happy_collector

    happy_collector Well-Known Member

    Thanks for your great writeup, @GinoLR.
    Here is a Faustina I coin to add onto your list. I think this one has two bands on the globe. :happy:

    Diva Faustina I. Æ As.
    Rome, AD 146-161.
    Obv: DIVA FAVSTINA, draped bust to right
    Rev: Aeternitas seated to left on globe, extending hand & holding sceptre
    RIC III 1159 (Pius); C. 22; BMCRE 1551. 10.51g, 29mm
  6. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    Are you sure? I would say there is only one belt, and that the sphere is dotted with stars above and under this belt. It could well be celestial...
    Inspector43 and happy_collector like this.
  7. Limes

    Limes Well-Known Member

    Interesting @GinoLR. My sestertius of Antoninus Pius shows Italia on a globe, with four (?) lines, and stars between them. Puzzling...
  8. happy_collector

    happy_collector Well-Known Member

    Good observation, @GinoLR. I am no expert in this coin type. Looks like there is a clear horizontal band, but no obvious one vertically.
    Inspector43 likes this.
  9. Harry G

    Harry G Well-Known Member

    Very interesting coin! Domitia also seems to have had an aureus version

    (unfortunately not my coin)

    I wish I owned one. Unfortunately, the denarii seem to sell for around £3-4k, while the aurei sell for about £10k
  10. Ryro

    Ryro Trying to remove supporter status Supporter

    Here's a recent purchase of mine showing planet X:
  11. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    Yes, this one is puzzling. Maybe it's one for which the celator confused or mixed the terrestrial and the celestial globe. Roman celators or painters were never comfortable with depictions of spheres. For example on Augustus denarii there is a capricorn holding a celestial sphere with parallels and meridians, but it is often blundered on the coins:
    ... and even on frescoes. See this Pompeii painting of Urania (her name means Celestial) muse of astronomy :
    25155412346_8fd3ba8104_b.jpg Artists were uncomfortable with spheres, and could very easily represent them rather awkwardly. A well-represented celestial globe, with the equator and the oblique zodiacal belt, from Pompeii, is here :
    and here :
  12. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    If you look carefully, it's a celestial sphere much like the one on the Brazilian flag.
    Inspector43 and happy_collector like this.
  13. happy_collector

    happy_collector Well-Known Member

    Agree. I just re-examined the coin under magnification at different angles. No vertical band at all. Just stars above and below horizontal band.

    Thanks, @GinoLR. :)
    Inspector43 likes this.
  14. ominus1

    ominus1 Supporter! Supporter

    interesting hypothesis 1st bought coin, which is how i got here, ancients & all, shows the earth from holds a special place & i owe it much :D IMG_0804.JPG IMG_0805.JPG
  15. Inspector43

    Inspector43 Collecting Since 1948 Supporter

    And then the Middle Ages come along and thinkers get life in prison or execution for declaring that the Earth is a globe.
  16. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    I think the prohibited heresy was more the idea that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and is not at the center -- rather than the idea that the Earth was a globe.
  17. Marsman

    Marsman Well-Known Member

    Very interesting thread and great write-up @GinoLR !

    I have this coin with Providentia on the reverse pointing at what might be a globe of the earth ?


    Marcus Aurelius, sestertius
    32 mm, 25.66 g, Rome
    Obv. M AVREL ANTONINVS AVG ARMENIACVS P M, head of Marcus Aurelius, laureate, right
    Rev. TR POT XX IMP III COS III S C, Providentia, draped, standing left, pointing wand in right hand at globe at her feet and holding vertical sceptre in left hand
    RIC III 923.
  18. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    Honestly speaking, I don't know what kind of globe, celestial or terrestrial, it is. It can be celestial (Providentia is generally depicted with globes that seem celestial) but you never know, the celators didn't care and could engrave any kind of globe, or a globe with lines arranged with no order. Large as it is, I would say celestial.
    Severus Alexander likes this.
  19. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    The Middle Ages did nothing new. In 437 BC in Athens, Cleon (a conservative politician opponent to Pericles) passed a law prohibiting defamation of gods. The philosopher Anaxagoras of Clazomenae was tried for "impiety" because he had a theory saying that the sun was red-hot metal, the moon was a stone and all stars were also fiery stones. Blasphemy! Everybody knows that the sun is a god, Helios, the moon a goddess, Selene... He was forced to flee Athens and ended his life in exile to avoid death penalty.
  20. Cherd

    Cherd Junior Member Supporter

    I wonder how Domitian would have handled modern Flat Earth Society criticisms of his coin. Let's just say, it probably wouldn't have been pretty :nailbiting:

    Jokes aside, this was a really informative, interesting write up and responses. I'd seen examples of the Domitia coins before, but didn't realize their relevance as the oldest space perspective of the planet on coins. Pretty cool!
    Severus Alexander likes this.
  21. Black Friar

    Black Friar Well-Known Member

    Flat Earthers, where are you when we need you the most:bookworm:? Seriously, a thoroughly enjoyable posting. As a collector of ancients of all types I never thought about those early depictions on coins other than from a modern perspective pov.

    I never investigated these from a contemporary point of view. It seems there is always a day of enlightenment in every age. Numismatics is an eye opener on more
    levels than one. So many coins, so little time. Cheers to all in this new year, may
    our points of view take advantage the clarity of common sense and knowledge.

    This is the second time in this month I have used this image. Seems apropos. SinopePontusS3702.jpg
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page