very special group of reverse types appeared during the reign of
Antonius Pius, that differed markedly from the rather static representations
of divinities heretofore noted. Often described as "pictorial types,"
these reverses depict subjects from Greek mythology and from astrology.
special group arose early in the reign of Pius, and seemed to coincide
with the employment of at least one, and possibly two, imported
mint engravers of unusual talents. The stimulus seems to have come
from Hadrian's antiquarian interests and "one world" policies. As
a matter of fact, the bronze drachmas of Hadrian's seventeenth to
nineteenth years reflect the developing concepts that culminated
in these exceptional themes.
large bronze drachmas were the exclusive denomination carrying these
types. Indeed, no smaller planchet would have permitted the detail
and dynamic qualities which are so characteristic of the mythological
group. Unfortunately, the innovation did not meet with favor, and
these pictorial coins did not survive the end of Pius's reign. All
mythological types are very rare, as are the majority of the zodiacal
first group which we will consider are the "Labors of Herakles."
Ancient writers usually listed 12 labors (a zodiacal implication
?), although there was considerable variance in those included among
the 12. Among the two dozen or more such tasks found in various
lists, some eight or nine occur regularly. The author has arbitrarily
chosen a group of 12 from the known Alexandrian types, in deference
to classical precedent.
background of the mythological exploits of Herakles is too well
known to discuss at any length. In general, the hero was required
to carry out these labors, deemed virtually impossible, as a means
of attaining immortality ( or alternately, as a means of expiating
a "blood debt") . Having done so, he eventually reached a tragic
end but did achieve divinity. He was hindered at all times by the
goddess Hera, but received clandestine aid from other gods and goddesses.
XXV we find illustrations of six labors. These will be discussed
and the Amazon: In this adventure, Herakles is charged with
obtaining the magic girdle of Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons. He
does so by defeating the female army, and taking the girdle from
the fallen body of the queen. The coin type shows Herakles in the
act of seizing the girdle of the prostrate Hippolyte.
and the Augean stables: This was one of the most popular adventures,
and provides a certain amount of amusement to the modern reader.
Herakles's task was to clean the vast stables of King Augeas, in
which the accumulated filth of many years lay undisturbed. Our hero
neatly diverted the waters of a nearby river through them, effectively
cleaning them in a single day. The coin reverse symbolically portrays
Herakles advancing toward a pile of rocks, from which a lionhead
spout pours water into a shallow vase. A rake leans against the
and the Centaur Pholos: While embarked on a boar hunt, Herakles
was entertained by Pholos, a centaur. When Pholos served wine which
was community property, the other centaurs objected and attacked
Herakles. He vanquished the objectors and put them to flight. Pholos,
unfortunately, died from a wound inflicted by a poisoned arrow which
he dropped on his own foot after the fight. The coin type shows
Herakles, holding a lyre, clasping the arm of Pholos as the two
apparently converse. To the right, an attendant is drawing wine.
A club leans against the rocks on which Herakles sits.
and the Cretan bull: Herakles was given the task of capturing
alive the bull on which Europa arrived in Crete. He did so after
minor adventures, showed it to Eurystheus (his taskmaster), and
then released it. The coin motif depicts the actual capture, as
the hero grasps the bull by the head.
and Diomedes: In this rather weird saga, Herakles is required
to secure the flesh eating horses of Diomedes, son of the war god
Ares. He does so, after a terrible battle, by killing Diomedes and
feeding his body to his own horses. This act tamed the steeds and
enabled them to be brought safely to Argos. The coin shows Herakles
about to smite Diomedes with a club. The foreparts of two horses
may be seen in the background.
and Echidna: In this tale, the popular hero overcomes the giantess
Echidna and her reptilian offspring. The variations are so many,
for this adventure, that it is difflcult to give an effective summary.
The coin type shows Herakles smiting Echidna, who raises her' serpent
son Hydra against him, in defense. This seems to refer to the earliest
form of the tale, before later writers had embellished Hydra with
a multitude of heads, each of which could be replaced when cut off.
Echidna is depicted as half woman, half serpent.
XXVI continues with the remaining six labors of Herakles.
They will be considered in order.
and the Erymanthian boar: In this relatively dull adventure,
Herakles is set the task of capturing alive a fierce boar. He frightens
it from its lair, chases it into deep snow, and there nets it. Some
humor is provided by the behavior of Eurystheus, who cowered in
terror in a bronze jar, when he saw Herakles approaching with the
struggling beast about his shoulders. The coin reverse shows Herakles
with the boar about his shoulders, while the frightened Eurystheus,
at the lower right, is somewhat obscured by wear.
in the Garden of Hesperides: Often considered the final labor,
this tale concerns Herakles's efforts to secure the holy golden
apples of the Hesperides. After difficulties in locating the garden,
Herakles could not pick the apples. He got Atlas to do this for
him by holding the sky on his own shoulders. Atlas, however, was
so delighted to be free of his heavy burden that he did not wish
to return to the task. Herakles finally tricked him into handing
him the apples and resuming the sky upon his shoulders. The attractive
design of the reverse of the bronze drachma depicts Herakles reaching
for an apple, while the serpent Ladon, who had opposed him, hangs
dead from the branches of the tree, an arrow through his neck.
and Kerberos: This, the most terrible of the tasks, required
Herakles to invade Hades itself. He was to bring back the watchdog
of Hell, Kerberos (another of Echidna's delightful offspring). After
some lively adventures, and with the help of Athene and Hermes,
the task was accomplished. The unpublished coin variety seen on
the plate gives an unusually vigorous representation of Herakles
emerging from the portal of Hades, dragging by a rope the reluctant
and the Nemean lion: Once again we encounter Echidna's progeny,
in the Nemean lion. This invulnerable beast was introduced into
the scene by the angry Hera. Unable to pierce its skin, Herakles
battered it with his club and then choked it in his mighty arms.
Despite its invulnerability, he managed to skin it with its own
claws. Thereafter, the lion skin became his standard raiment. The
plate depicts an unpublished variety of Pius's Year Four, with an
unusually dynamic representation of Herakles choking the lion, which
he has dragged off its feet.
and the oxen of Geryones: In this labor, Herakles was unable
to journey to the, "Farthest West," the land of the monster Geryones
(brother of Echidna), without first forcing Helios himself to yield
the golden cup of the sun for the journey. Having reached the Farthest
West, he had to contend with the formidable watchdog Orthros and
with the Herdsman Eurytion, both of whom he slew, before finally
coming to grips with Geryones. Having killed Geryones, he loaded
the slain monster's vast herd of cattle on board the golden cup
and returned. Later embellishments added a multitude of adventures
to the return voyage. The depicted coin reverse shows Herakles holding
two charging oxen of the dead Geryones, whose body lies below.
shooting the Stymphalian birds: A thickly wooded lake shore
in Stymphalos (Arkadia) provided a natural refuge for birds, who
became so numerous that Herakles was given the task of eliminating
them. Some accounts state that the birds had razor-edged feathers,
others that they were man-eaters. At any rate, the indomitable hero
secured a bronze rattle made by the god Hephaistos, with which he
frightened them out into the open. He then quickly dispatched them
with arrows. The coin type depicts Herakles, with lion skin over
head and shoulders, drawing his bow for a shot, while two birds
tumble down before him.
first three illustrations on Plate
XXVII are of mythological reverses not connected with the
Heraklean series. All are extremely rare, and the- first two represent
triumph over Marsyas: This tale concerns the conceit and consequent
ill fate of the satyr Marsyas. Having found the discarded flutes
of Athene, he appropriated them. He gradually became so proficient
in their use that he challenged the mighty Apollo himself to a music
contest. The terms which Apollo imposed were that the victor could
do as he pleased with the other. Having then vanquished Marsyas,
Apollo took his revenge by flaying him alive. The coin reverse depicts
the flaying scene. We see Apollo seated at the left, casually playing
his lyre. Marsyas hangs from a tree, suspended by the wrists. A
Scythian slave advances upon him with a knife, ready to commence
the bloody task. (The only other three known examples of this coin
type, all of inferior state of preservation, depict the slave kneeling
with his back to Marsyas, as he sharpens the knife.)
and Achilles: The wise and benevolent centaur Chiron, as tutor
and guide, was given the custody of the sons of many ancient princes.
One such pupil was Achilles (of Trojan war fame), who spent his
formative years with the centaur. The drachma reverse type shows
Chiron leading the young Achilles, who carries a sword and shield.
judgment of Paris: This is perhaps the most fascinating of the
mythological subjects depicted on the Alexandrian coins, since it
involves the event that later precipitated the Trojan war. The tale
also provides an interesting glimpse into the personalities of the
ancient Greek gods and goddesses. In brief a banquet of the gods
was interrupted by Eris (strife), who threw on the table a golden
apple inscribed "to the fairest." Hera, Athene and Aphrodite all
immediately claimed it. Zeus wisely avoided responsibility by referring
the decision to Paris, mortal son of the king of Troy. Aphrodite
won the golden apple, through her offer to Paris of the world's
loveliest mortal as a wife. Paris's subsequent claiming of his reward
(Helen) led to the great war. Our coin reverse depicts Paris seated
in judgment, with Hermes standing behind him. Facing Paris are the
standing figures of the fair goddesses. Aphrodite, who is nearest
to him, appears to be reaching forth for the golden prize. Athene,
farthest from Paris, holds spear and shield.
zodiacal types are shown by the last four figures on Plate
XXVII, and by the whole of Plate
XXVIII. The first illustration is of particular interest.
Dated for Pius's eighth year, the coin reverse shows the bust of
Sarapis surrounded by two circles. The innermost circle contains
busts of gods of the days of the week, while the outermost consists
of the twelve signs of the zodiac. This, as well as the following
types, seem to have been inspired by the completion of a 1460 year
Sothic cycle in 139 A.D.
in Taurus," the next type, is represented by a charging bull,
above which is the bust of Aphrodite facing a star.
in Scorpio" depicts a large scorpion above which is the bust
of Ares facing a star.
final type of Plate
in Aries," reveals a leaping ram, above which the bust of Ares
faces a star.
first two types face to the left, while the other faces in the opposite
XXVIII we find in order, the following reverses:
in Leo," showing the bust of Helios over a charging lion, above
whose head is a star;
in Virgo," for which the unpublished variety depicts a well
draped virgin, with a star as a crown, facing the bust of Hermes;
"Mercury in Gemini," represented by the bust of Hermes (facing
a star) above and between the standing figures of Apollo and Herakles;
in Aquarius," showing the veiled bust of Kronos, facing a star,
above a swimming figure holding an amphora;
in Cancer," represented by the bust of Selene, set in a lunar
crescent and facing a star, with the figure of a large crab below;
in Sagittarius," depicting the bust of Zeus above a running
centaur, who draws a bow, and above whose head is a star; and
in Pisces," showing two fishes facing in opposite directions,
above which appears the bust of Zeus facing a star.
type "Mercury in Gemini," noted above, was unknown at the time the
British Museum catalog (Alexandria and the Nomes) was prepared,
and remains very rare to this day. The two zodiacal signs not shown
in the present article are "Venus in Libra" and "Saturn in Capricorn."