Featured The Griffins

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Mar 22, 2021.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear Friends of ancient mythology!

    Today I want to tell something about Griffins, which obviously seem to be related closely to Sphinxes. The myths about the fabolous peoples of the Arimasps and the Hyperboreans belong to their ambit.

    1st Coin:
    Thrace, Abdera, 352-323 (VIII Period)
    AR - Triobol, 1.5g, 12.98mm, 0°
    Obv.: Griffin, jumping up l., peaked feathered wing directed diagonal upward, beak
    slightly opened, his feet on club, laying with grip l.
    above eight-pointed star
    beneath MHNO
    Rev.: square of lines, within head of Apollo(?), with short hair, laureate, r., field
    barely deepened
    around the square ABΔ / HPI / TE / ΩN
    Ref.: AMNG II, 206 (3 ex., Copenhagen, London, Ratto)
    rare, VF
    (1) The club was added to the coin depiction as a symbol of the sovereignty of the Heraklids after Abdera came under the rule of Philipp II from Makedonia 352 BC. Abdera, a Ionian foundation, probably of Teos, was a provincial city of the province of Macedonia since 341 BC. It was the birthplay of the important Pre-Socratic natural philosopher Demokritos who together with his teacher Leukippos was the inventor of the theory of atoms. Protagoras and Anaxarchos too came from here and the poet Anakreon of Teos settled here. Nevertheless in antiquity Abdera was hold as something like the German 'Schilda', a city full of fools.

    (2) There is the opinion too that the portait doesn't show Apollo but the hero Abderos.

    2nd Coin:
    Gallienus, AD 260-268 (sole reign)
    Antoninianus, 3.27g
    Head, bearded, radiate, r.
    Griffin, stg. l.
    in ex. D
    Ref.: RIC V/1,165; C.77
    ex Romanorum

    (1) The Arimasps and the Gold of the Griffins:
    The griffins were mythological wingend beings with a lion's body and the forepart of an eagle. In his lost work 'Arimaspeia' Aristeas of Prokennos reports at length how the griffins in India or in the Riphean Mountains north of the Black Sea rose gold in their gold mines, accumulates huge treasures and defend them against the Arimasps. The Arimasps were an one-eyed horse people, who tried to steal the gold from the griffins, so that permanently combats between them arose. According to Herodot Aristeas has visited the regions of the Scyths and the Issedones. The Arimasps were situated - so Herodot - further north of the Issedones. Aischylos for his work 'Prometheus Bound' seem to have used his reports. He describes regions beyond the Caucasus Mountains where Gorgons, Griffins and Arimasps were living. The feature of one-eyeness goes back to Herodot who derives the name of Arimasps from Scythian 'arima' = 'one' and 'spu' = 'eye'. Others think it is Mongolian meaning 'mountain people' or Iranian where 'aspu' = 'horse', meaning 'owner of a horse'

    When you are searching for gold you can successfully use griffins. If you are skilful they lead you to their gold treasures! This myth obviously plays in Scytia. The Scyths are well known for their skilfulness in working with gold and griffins were one of their favourite motifs.

    (2) Apollo and the Griffin:
    I think it is not well known that Apollo always at the beginning of the winter betakes himself to the country of the Hyperboreans and stays there for the winter. The Hyperboreans were living in the extreme North beyond the Boreas, the cold north wind. Therefore it was the most delightful and most fertile country of eternal springtime and eternal youth. There Apollo was flying each on a swan or a griffin. Both animals were sacred to Apollo: The swan because of its singing and because he has played an important role at his birth, and the griffin because of his visionary abilities which were assigned to him. The people of Hyperboreans has venerated Apollo so much so that each of them was thought to be priest of Apollo. According to Pausanias (X, 5, 4) the Delphic Oracle was endowed by the Hyperboreans and according to Diodor (II, 47) Leto has come from the Hyperboreans. Regularly they sent votive offerings to the Apollo Oracle in Delphi. According to H.L.Ahrens the Hyperboreans originally were just the bringer of votive offerings and actually Apollo attendants. The myth of the country north of the Boreas then arise from a wrong etymology (Roscher)

    The fact behind this mythology can well be the cultural-historical procedure that this Apollo, the kithara playing Apollo, gifted in fine arts, was brought to Greece by the Dorians, and so was of Scythian-Pelasgian origin, in contrast to the other Apollo, shooting with bow and arrows, bringing - and ending - plagues, who came from Asia Minor. Both were melted to one deity not until later.

    The close connection between Apollo and the griffin can be seen on coins too. The antoninian of Gallienus above shows a griffin and along with it the legend APOLLINI CONS AVG, dedicated to Apollo the conservator of the emperor.

    Alexander's Flight to Heaven:
    In India - it is said - Alexander have met griffins. In the Alexander romance, a legendary biography from the 3rd century AD it is reported that Alexander in his desire to know everything has undertaken a flight to heaven. He let capture two griffins and starving. Then he sat down in a big basket and the animals hitched up to the vehicle. Two spears with horse-liver he held in front of their beaks. The starved griffins tried to reach the liver, started to beat their wings, raised into the air and were flying higher and higher. Alexander saw the countries of the earth under his feet laying there 'like a threshing-floor', enclosed by the sea 'like a snake'. But then a bird with a human face, may be an angel, came to him and blamed him for his hybris. Thereupon Alexander abandoned his undertaking, gave the meat to the griffons and landed safely. In the Middle Ages the Alexanderflight was equated with the Ascension of Christus.

    Name and Origin:
    The Greek name of griffin was gryps, Latin gryphus, derivated probably from the Indogermanic stem *grabh, to grip. Herder et alii wanted to find the griffin in the Cherub of the Old Testament, gryps = kherub. But recently this seems to be denied. There is neither a etymological nor a semantic connection, despite you can read this often.

    Originally the griffin, 'achech, cames from the ancient Egyptian mythology, where he was mentioned already in the 4th century BC as heaven's being closely connected to the sun. The Mesopotamian griffin is known first c.1400 BC. And the Sumeric composite creatures of lion-griffins were rather dragons. Earlier the griffin is known in Syria where he was mentioned in the 2nd century BC. From the oriental Kulturkreis of the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Hettites and the Syrians the griffin was adopted into the Cretan-Mycenaen culture and from there since the Geometric Time into the Greek art. He is often depicted with a knob on his forehead whose meaning is unclear. According to ancient Greek myths the griffin was living in mountains and his lifespan was 60 years. North of the land of the Scyths a realm of gold-hoarding griffins should have been or have been a part of them.

    Some meanings of the Griffin:
    Because the griffin was a widespread fabulous animal for a long period of time he has several different meanings:

    (1) First he was a guardian, keeper and custodian of the gold, later of light, the sun and the divine. In this sense he became a symbol of divine power. The conception that griffins were pulling the chariot of the sun cames from Syria. Usually he is depicted calmly seated often with raised forepaw. Here he never appears as predator.

    (2) But he can be warlike too as the use of griffins on helmets an cuirasses point out. Surely here he is meant apotropaic. His depiction on sarcophaguses allows us to assume that he stands for eternity and immortality.

    (3) He means wisdom, ingenuity and foresight. In connection with Apollo too for visionary abilities.

    (4) Because he is built-up of the king of air and the king of animals he is seen as master over heaven and earth. In Middle Ages this naturally was Christus. So the griffin in his double character as terrestrial and aerial animal symbolized Christus.

    If one approach the stories of mythological animals rationally then there are assumptions that the gold digging Scyths in the large deserts of Central Asia have found fossils of Protoceratops, a dinosaur frequently occuring in Cretaceous Age. This is true for the Gobi desert today. In this connection the Riphean Mountains were equated with the Altai Mountains. These finds could well have led to the myth of griffins. The Protoceratop has a big beak and his body remains slightly on that of a lion. When the Greeks came along the caravan routes in the direction to China, they took the tales about the griffin with them on their way back to the West.

    History of Art:
    Only some notes: According to the Kulturkreis and the era we find various depictions. So we find alternative depictions on the portals of Persepolis and of Persian or Babylonian walls, further on helmets, e.g. on the helmet of Athena Parthenos of Phidias on the Akropolis in Athens, on cuirasses or coins. The griffin was the crest animal of Teos - and then of Abdera - as powerful demonic guardian of Syrian type, in apotropaic sense. Griffins we find in arabesques, especially on Roman columns, and as acroteria on temples. Well known are the large griffon bowls. The cuirass of Trajan as Britannicus, now in the Lateran Museum, is decorated with pics of Arimasps who serve the griffins with drinks, above Sol is floating in his chariot. Hanfman et alii suggest that the fighters on the Ara Pacis of Augustus on the Campus Martis are rather Arimasps then Amazons, because Amazons as allies of the Trojans, the mythic ancestors of Augustus, would never been depicted as enemies.

    I have added:
    (1) The pic of an Attic red-figured chalice krater showing the fight between a griffin and an Arimasp. At the l. side a Satyr is standing. Unknown artist, c.375-350 BC, Louvre/Paris

    (2) The pic of an Attic red-figured ´kylix' (dringing bowl) showing Apollo riding sidesaddle upon the back of a griffin. The god strums a lyre with one hand and holds a laurel branch in the other. He is on his way to the Hyperboreans. C.380 BC, Late classic to Early-Hellenistic, Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM) Vienna
    Apollo riding gryphon Vienna.jpg

    (3) A world map created according to the narrations of Herodot so that you have an idea of the geographical circumstances used in this article. At the very top you see the Riphean Mountains extending broadly from West to East where the griffins and the Arimasps were living.


    (1) Herodot, Histories
    (2) Aischylos, Prometheus Bound
    (3) Pausanias, Voyages
    (4) Diododor, Bibliotheke
    (5) Physiologus

    (1) Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher, Mythologie
    (2) Der Kleine Pauly

    Online Sources:
    (1) http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Mythology/Griffin.html
    (2) http://www.theoi.com/Thaumasios/Grypes.html
    (3) Wikipedia

    I hope that something was new for you. And as always this article should be seen as starting point for own further researches!

    Best regards
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  3. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    As always, a wonderful write-up with fantastic illustrations. Thank you, @Jochen.

    I think it's also significant to mention the role of Griffins as representations of Nemesis, as discussed in a thread I started a couple of months ago. See https://www.cointalk.com/threads/griffins-as-representations-of-nemesis.374292/#post-5581847. I will try to copy and paste my initial post in that thread here:

    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 https://rpc.ashmus.ox.ac.uk/type/28171) [this coin is Specimen 7, used as primary illustration for type, see https://rpc.ashmus.ox.ac.uk/coin/156187 ]; 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 https://www.coinarchives.com/a/openlink.php?l=239902|348|399|a3b582d0b87f863b39d084dd851a7a89). [“Scarce”: 11 specimens in RPC (including this coin), 6 examples in ACSearch (including this coin).]


    *See https://www.getty.edu/publications/romanmosaics/catalogue/8/ : “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 https://www.getty.edu/publications/...es/pics/pic_30_faience-egyptian-statuette.jpg], 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 https://bosporan-kingdom.com/111-3141/)]; 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 http://www.sylloge-nummorum-graecorum.org; see SNGuk_0901_0869 and SNGuk_0901_0870]. 20 mm., 7.87 g., 12 h.


    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.


    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.


    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 https://www.cointalk.com/threads/great-griffin.365868/#post-4804393, of the theory that ancient dinosaur fossil finds in Central Asia inspired the legend of the griffin.)
  4. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    @DonnaML Thank you for your in depth article.

    DonnaML likes this.
  5. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Supporter! Supporter

    Abdera Ar Tetradrachm or possibly a double siglos 321-320 BC Obv. Eagle griffin recumbent left raising right paw. Rv. Head of Apollo right. May 543 HGC 1211 h 10.68 grms 22 mm Photo by W. Hansen abdera3.jpg It does seem peculiar that whereas everyone else is going with an Attic standard coinage these guys are going with a coin of much lighter weight. The theory of the double siglos is attractive but that does fly in the face of the likely replacement of sigloi with attic drachms within Asia Minor. However it is likely that the siglos did penetrate regions outside Asia Minor and these coins might be the result of the need to maintain that standard in markets outside the control of the Macedonian Kingdom.
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2021
  6. Alegandron

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

    Thanks for the very nice writeup and coins, @Jochen1 .

    IONIA Teos AR tetartemorion 0.2g 6mm Hd griffin R mouth open - Quadripartite incuse SNG Turkey 602
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2021
  7. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    I think the Δ means a denomination of four assaria.
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2021
    Jochen1, Roman Collector and DonnaML like this.
  8. Ryro

    Ryro They call me the 13th Caesar Supporter

    Always love your posts Jochen! Always so insightful and full of history and art. I get excited each time I see you posted something.
    Here are some of my Griffins:
    IMG_3069.jpg Screenshot_20200919-164459_PicCollage-removebg-preview.png
  9. cmezner

    cmezner do ut des Supporter

    Great post, Jochen, as always. Thank you so much for sharing :happy:

    A very small Griffin also from Teos, Ionia 210-190 BC:
    10.5 x 11 mm, 1.839 g
    SNG Copenhagen 1460; Kinns 142

    Ob.: Griffin seated on haunches right, left paw raised.
    Rev.: THIΩN (“of the people of Teos”), lyre; leg of animal to left; all within square linear frame
  10. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Thanks -- yes, that was answered in the original thread, but I forgot to correct the description before I posted it here. As corrected, it says:

    Philip II, AE Tetrassarion, 247-249 AD, Moesia Inferior, Tomis [now Constanţa, Romania]. 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 [signifying the denomination, 4 assaria]. 27 mm., 12.22 g.
    Jochen1 and Roman Collector like this.
  11. Carausius

    Carausius Brother, can you spare a sestertius?


    Rome. The Republic.
    Gryphon Series, 169-158 BC
    AE As.
    Crawford 182/2.

    Obv: laureate head of Janus; I (mark of value) above.

    Rev: prow facing right; gryphon above; I (mark of value) before; [ROMA] below.
  12. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    Jochen wrote:
    "Abdera, a Ionian foundation, probably of Teos, was a provincial city of the province of Macedonia since 341 BC. It was the birthplay of the important Pre-Socratic natural philosopher Demokritos who together with his teacher Leukippos was the inventor of the theory of atoms. Protagoras and Anaxarchos too came from here and the poet Anakreon of Teos settled here."
    IONIA, Teos. Time of Marcus Aurelius. Æ (25mm, 12.84 gm, 7h).
    Obv: ΤƐΩС, turreted and draped bust of youthful Dionysus as the Tyche, r.; to l., thyrsus. Rev: CTP ACKΛΕΠΙΑΔΟΥ, Anakreon seated, r., playing lyre.
    BMC__; SNG Cop__; von Aulock__; RPC IV 2780 (temporary): Two examples known: B Löbb and Frank L. Kovacs (ex private coll. Marcel Burstein = Lindgren I, 578A), This coin.
  13. Alegandron

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

    Knucklebone and Griffin in one...

    Troas Assos 500-450 BCE AR Tetartemorion 6.4mm 0.21g Griffin springing right - Astragalos within incuse square Klein 475 VF Rare
  14. Fugio1

    Fugio1 Supporter! Supporter

    Here is a denarius member of the gryphon family, RRC 182/1:
  15. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    @Jochen1, I think if one were to combine your post, and mine, and @David Atherton's fascinating post on the griffin-dinosaur connection, and all the wonderful griffin coins people have posted, all together in one article, we would have everything anyone could possibly want to know about griffins in the ancient world. Then we would just have to add something on griffins on medieval and modern coins, because I'm sure there must have been some!
  16. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    I think the title for my article would have been better "Apollo and the Griffins".

    I have added the pic of an AE 30 (9 obols) of Syria, Seleukis & Pieria, Nikopolis Seleukidis, Severus Alexander, BMC 2
    The rev. shows a distyle temple with the cult statue of Nemesis and a griffina at her feet r.

    Last edited: Mar 23, 2021
  17. ominus1

    ominus1 Supporter! Supporter

    ...of course no thread of this kind would be complete without mine :D griffin.jpg
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  18. octavius

    octavius Well-Known Member

    Well, not exactly a coin, but a Griffin nonetheless . Fist century AD Roman lamp...

  19. Ryan McVay

    Ryan McVay Supporter! Supporter

    The knob on the head is cleary a reference to Egyptian mythology and origin. It is the lotus flower. You have to look to other art forms to really see this. Pottery, statuary, bronze, etc.
    The attributes of the lotus flower are regeneration, rebirth, creation and the sun. Keeping with sun it is easy to attribute the attributes. The sun continually regens and dies and is reborn.
    cmezner likes this.
  20. Ryan McVay

    Ryan McVay Supporter! Supporter

    I'm not sold that motif of circular symbol with rays is a wheel. I would need convincing otherwise that it is just not the ancient symbol (ancient at the time of minting) for the sun disk. This would also be reinforced by the lotus flower nub on the head of the griffins. Both are sun symbols.
    cmezner likes this.
  21. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Which coin are you talking about? You can't mean all of them, because that would be completely off base. The sun doesn't have a rim around it, and neither Nemesis nor griffins play with the sun. Wheels? Yes on both counts. All over the Empire. Look at the links I posted. Fate? Nemesis? Wheels? This has nothing to do with the sun, to the best of my knowledge.
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2021
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