ACTA ACCLA, October 2016
Gods, Goddesses, and Mythological Creatures on Greek Coins
By Robert D. Lattanzi
The Greek mythological world is more than two millennia behind us yet we remain as fascinated and delighted by the escapades of the gods, goddesses and the creatures as were the ancient Greeks.
"if that which tends to make us happier and better can be called useful, then we claim that epithet for our subject. For mythology is the handmaid of literature; and literature is one of the best allies of virtue and promoters of happiness." [ 1 ]
Vases, mosaics and ancient coins exhibit excellent examples of mythological figures. They can add a visual and tactile dimension that can greatly enhance our readings of history. Unlike vases and mosaics, ancient Greek and Roman coins are extraordinary numerous, cover a wide geographical area and are often of exceptional quality. This article is intended to highlight many of the mythological images found on ancient Greek and a few Roman coins. It is not intended to include all Greek mythological figures as these are far too numerous.
Ancient coins and their stories transport us back to a time contemporary with the myths. Handling them is an amazing experience begging questions such as: who handled them, where did they travel through the ancient world, what did the coins buy (food, pleasure, political advantage), what do they tell us about the history of the area or its origin, etc.
Of the many books written about mythology I recommend Edith Hamilton's Mythology, Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes [ 2 ], a book I read some years ago as a freshman in college. Having recently reread the book, it remains an entertaining read and a resource for this article.
All coin photos and coin descriptions in this article are courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group (CNG).
Homer's Iliad and Odyssey are among the oldest Greek writings containing an abundance of Greek mythology. Homer is shown on coins seated on a throne holding a scroll and resting his chin on his right hand.
IONIA, Kolophon. Circa 50 BCE. Æ hemiobol (19 mm, 6.22 g, 12 h). Homer is shown seated on a throne holding a scroll and resting his chin on his right hand, ΑΠΟΛΛΑΣ (magistrate) on left. Reverse: Apollo holding cithara and patera, ΚΟΛΟΦΩΝ on left. Courtesy of CNG.
IONIA, Smyrna. Circa 75-50 BCE. AR drachm (3.89 g, 12 h), Homereia type. Head of Apollo right wearing laurel wreath. Reverse: Homer seated left holding a scroll and resting his chin on his right hand. Apollo holding cithara and patera. ΜΕΓΑΚ[ΕΣ] (magistrate) on left, ΣΜΥΡΝΑΙΟΝ on right. Courtesy of CNG.
Gaia (the Earth)
In the mythical creation Gaia (the Earth) and Uranus (the Sky) are the primordial deities that emerged from Chios. Gaia gave birth to the Earth, the Universe, the Titans, the Giants and the gods.
MYSIA, Kyzikos. Circa 460-400 BCE. Electrum stater (16.01 g). The Earth (Gaia) raising out of the ground, bearing the infant Erichthonios (the Athenian mythical king). Courtesy of CNG.
From the union of Gaia and Uranus came the Titans, the elder gods that reigned supreme in the Universe. Six males Coeus, Crius, Cronus, Hyperion, Lapetus, and Oceanus and six females Mnemosyne, Phoebe, Rhea, Theia, Themis and Tethys. Of these Titans, Cronus and Oceanus are depicted on the coins below:
Cronus, the god of time, overthrew his father, Uranus, and ate all of Rhea’s children until the birth of Zeus. Rhea deceived Cronus by giving him a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, the Omphalos Stone, which he promptly swallowed, thinking that it was his son Zeus. In this way Zeus escaped the fate of Rhea’s other children and lived to become the king of the gods.
CILICIA, Mallos. 385-333 BCE. AR stater (10.75 g). Bearded head of Kronos right / Demeter walking right, ΜΑΛ. Courtesy of CNG.
Oceanus the Titan
Oceanus was to the ancient Greeks the personification of an enormous river encircling the world, the World Ocean. He was depicted as having the upper body of a man with a long beard, horns, the claws of a crab and the lower body of a serpent.
Note: This and one other Roman coin (the Lucius Aurelius Cotta denarius under Hephaestus) are exceptions to the all Greek theme of the article.
Hadrian. CE 117-138. AR denarius (18 mm, 3.33 g, 6 h). Rome mint. Laureate bust right, wearing aegis / Oceanus reclining left, holding anchor and resting arm on dolphin (not the typical description of Oceanus). Courtesy of CNG.
The Twelve Olympians, also known as the Dodekatheon
While the number was fixed at twelve there was considerable variation as to which deities were included. However, the twelve most commonly portrayed in art, poetry, and coins were: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes, and either Hestia, or Dionysus.
Zeus, the thunder and sky god, ruled as king of the gods on Mount Olympus.
Zeus was chief of the gods. He married Hera, his sister, and fathered Ares, Hebe, and Hephaestus. With Dione he fathered Aphrodite. In other erotic escapades he fathered Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, Persephone, Dionysus, Perseus, Heracles, Helen of Troy, Minos, and the Muses.
LUCANIA, Metapontion. Circa 340-330 BCE. AR nomos (20 mm, 7.46 g, 11 h). Head of Zeus right, wearing laurel wreath / Ear of barley. Courtesy of CNG.
Zeus’ symbols are the thunderbolt, the eagle, the bull, and the oak tree.
BITHYNIA, Dia. Circa 85-65 BCE. Æ (20 mm, 8.66 g, 12 h). Struck under Mithradates VI of Pontos. Laureated head of Zeus right / Eagle standing left, head right, on thunderbolt. Courtesy of CNG.
MESSENIA, Messene. Circa 183-182 BCE. Silver tetradrachm (16.79 g). Diademed head of Demeter to right / Zeus Ithomatas standing right, hurling thunderbolt with his right hand and with an eagle with spread wings perching on the wrist of his outstretched left arm. Courtesy of CNG.
Epithets (titles) of Zeus emphasized different aspects of his authority.
PTOLEMAIC KINGS of EGYPT. Ptolemy III Euergetes. 246-222 BCE. Æ obol (24 mm, 11.54 g, 12 h). Tyre mint. Diademed head of Zeus-Ammon / eagle standing left on thunderbolt, club to left, BΛΣIΛEΩΣ ΠTOΛEMΛIOY around. Courtesy of CNG.
THESSALY, Ainianes. Circa 350-340 BCE. AR hemidrachm (16 mm, 2.70 g, 12 h). Hypata mint. Laureated head of Zeus left / AINIANΩN, warrior (Phemios) holding petasos, cloak, and javelins, short sword in scabbard. Courtesy of CNG.
LESBOS, Mytilene. Circa 377-326 BCE. Electrum hekte (10 mm, 2.56 g, 11 h). Laureated head of Zeus right / Forepart of a snake. Courtesy of CNG.
Hera: Wife and Sister of Zeus
Hera, the goddess of women and marriage, had a very turbulent marriage with Zeus. She never forgave an injury inflicted by him and spent most of her time punishing his lovers. Among them were Europa, Io, Semele, Ganymede, Callisto, Dione, Persephone, Nemesis, Thaleia, Alkmeme and Danae. Argos was her favorite city and the cow, lion, and peacock were considered sacred to her.
BRUTTIUM, Kroton. Circa 400-325 BCE. AR nomos (22 mm, 7.79 g, 12 h). Head of Hera Lakinia facing slightly right / Herakles Epitrapezios. Courtesy of CNG.
BRUTTIUM, Kroton. Circa 400-325 BCE. AR nomos (19 mm, 7.91 g, 5 h). Head of Hera Lakinia / Herakles Epitrapezios. Courtesy of CNG.
CRETE, Knossos. Circa 300-270 BCE. AR drachm (19 mm, 5.41 g, 7 h). Head of Hera left, wearing ornamented stephanos, triple-pendant earring, and necklace / Labyrinth; A-P flanking, KNΩΣI below. Courtesy of CNG.
Poseidon’s main domain was the ocean. He was called the "God of the Sea". Additionally, he was referred to as "Earth-Shaker" due to his role in causing earthquakes. Atlas is one of his children. Poseidon was a major civic god of several cities. In Athens, he was second only to Athena in importance, while in Corinth and many cities of Magna Graecia he was the chief god of the polis.
KINGS of MACEDON. Demetrios I Poliorketes. 306-283 BCE. AR tetradrachm (27 mm, 17.18 g, 12 h). Ephesos mint. Struck circa 301-295 BCE. Nike, blowing trumpet / Poseidon Pelagaios (Poseidon of the sea) standing left, preparing to throw trident, monogram to left, star to right. Courtesy of CNG.
ITALY. Lucania. Poseidonia. About 470-455 BCE. AR stater (8.00 g). Poseidon advancing right, wielding trident overhead / Bull standing left within circular incuse. Courtesy of CNG.
SICILY, Syracuse. Hieron II. 275-215 BCE. Æ 22 mm (9.12 g). Diademed head of Poseidon left / Trident head flanked by two dolphins with ΙΕΡ-ΩΝΟΣ across base. Courtesy of CNG.
Demeter was “goddess of the corn” who presided over grains and the fertility of the earth. She also presided over the sacred law, and the cycle of life and death.
LUCANIA, Metapontion. Circa 290-280 BCE. Siver nomos (7.85 g). Head of Demeter to left, wearing grain wreath / Ear of barley with leaf to right, ΜΕΤΑ. Courtesy of CNG.
CRETE, Knossos. Circa 360-320 BCE. AR stater (24.5 mm, 10.83 g). Head of Demeter right, wearing grain wreath / Cruciform labyrinth with five pellets in center. Courtesy of CNG.
PHOKIS, Delphi. Circa 338/6-334/3 BCE. AR stater (23mm, 12.20 g, 7h). Head of Demeter left, wearing veil and wreath of grain ears / Apollo seated left. Courtesy of CNG.
Athena was said to have been born from the head of Zeus in full armor.
She was the shrewd and fearless battle-goddess, the embodiment of strength and war strategy, the goddess of the city and the virgin patroness of Athens.
Her temple was the Parthenon.
Athena was also known as the goddess of wisdom, reason, and purity.
SICILY, Syracuse. Struck circa 405 BCE. AR tetradrachm (25 mm, 16.98 g, 11 h). Fast quadriga, female charioteer, reins in her left hand and flaming torch in her right; above, Nike flying right to crown her, in exergue ear of barley / Head of Athena, inclined slightly to the left, wearing crested helmet. Reverse die signed by Eukleidas (across bowl of helmet). Courtesy of CNG.
LUCANIA, Herakleia. Circa 390-340 BCE. AR nomos (21 mm, 7.94 g, 3 h). Head of Athena right wearing crested Attic helmet decorated with Skylla throwing stone held in right hand; EY to right / Herakles standing facing, torso right, strangling the Nemean Lion. Courtesy of CNG.
Skylla was a sea monster that lived on one side of a narrow strait of water opposite its counterpart, Charybdis. In the Odyssey, Odesseus and his crew were forced to choose between sides of a strait inhabited by Skylla and Charybdis, presumably the Strait of Messina between Sicily and Italy.
ATTICA, Athens. Circa 475-465 BCE. AR tetradrachm (22 mm, 16.99 g, 8 h). Transitional type. Head of Athena right, wearing crested Attic helmet decorated with three olive leaves / Owl standing right, head facing, with spread tail feathers; olive sprig and crescent behind; all within incuse square. Courtesy of CNG.
Apollo was born on the island of Delos. He was the "most Greek of all the gods," the patron and deity of the Delphic Oracle.
Apollo was the patron god of music and poetry. Hermes created the lyre (kithara) for him. He was the defender of herds and flocks.
Apollo was recognized as a god of truth and prophecy, the Archer-god, lord of the silver bow, god of healing, the sun and light, and the plague.
SICILY, Leontini. Circa 405-402 BCE. Æ tetras – trionkion (13.5 mm, 2.02 g, 2 h). Head of Apollo right, wearing laurel wreath, ΛEON to right / Tripod; kithara within legs, barley grains flanking, three pellets in exergue. Courtesy of CNG.
MACEDON, Chalkidian League. Circa 382-379 BCE. AR tetradrachm (25 mm, 14.48 g, 12 h). Olynthos mint. Laureate head of Apollo right, floral symbol to left / Kithara. Courtesy of CNG.
BRUTTIUM, Kaulonia. Circa 475-425 BCE. AR nomos (20.5 mm, 8.02 g, 11 h). Apollo advancing right, holding branch aloft in right hand / Stag standing right. Courtesy of CNG.
Artemis, virgin goddess of the hunt and of wild things, was worshipped throughout Greece. She was often depicted as a huntress carrying a bow and silver arrows. The deer and cypress tree were sacred to her. She was the daughter of Zeus and Leto and the twin sister of Apollo. She was born on Mount Cynthus on the island of Delos.
MACEDON (Roman Protectorate), Republican period. Circa 167-149 BCE. AR tetradrachm (31 mm, 14.99 g, 9 h). Amphipolis mint. Diademed and draped bust of Artemis right / bow and quiver over shoulder, in the center of a Macedonian shield. Courtesy of CNG.
IONIA, Ephesos. Circa 300-290 BCE. AR octobol (19 mm, 5.60 g, 12 h). Draped bust of Artemis right / Bow and quiver, KΛEOΛEΩ[...] (name of magistrate) on left, bee and EΦE on right. Courtesy of CNG.
SICILY, Syracuse. The Fifth Syracusan Democracy. 214-212 BCE. AR 12 litrai (10.19 g). Helmeted head of Athena left, wearing an Attic helmet decorated with a griffin / ΣΥΡΑΚΟΣΙΩΝ, Artemis standing left, drawing bow, hound at her feet; ΔΑ before. Courtesy of CNG.
Son of Zeus and Hera, Ares was the god of war.
He was a ruthless god, an instigator of violence who delighted in the slaughter of warriors regardless of what side they were on.
Edith Hamilton [ 2 ] refers to Ares as "the mean whining deity of the Iliad."
Ares was revered in Sparta as a model soldier.
IONIA, Phokaia. Circa 521-478 BCE. Electrum hekte (2.58 g). Bearded head of Ares left, wearing crested helmet / rough incuse square. Courtesy of CNG.
BRUTTIUM, The Brettii. Circa 214-211 BCE. Æ didrachm or reduced sextans (27 mm, 17.94 g, 3 h). Head of Ares left, wearing helmet ornamented with griffin; grain ear below, two pellets behind / Nike advancing left. Courtesy of CNG.
Aphrodite was the goddess of love, beauty, and pleasure.
According to one story of her origin, Aphrodite arose from the sea foam, aphros.
Cythera and Cyprus claim to be the place of her sea birth, and Aphrodite was often called Cytherea or Cyprian.
Myrtle was her tree, doves and sparrows her birds, and horses and swans were sacred to her.
CORINTHIA, Corinth. Circa 350-300 BCE. AR drachm (15 mm, 2.57 g, 12 h). Pegasos flying left / Head of Aphrodite left. Courtesy of CNG.
CILICIA, Nagidos. Circa 400-384 BCE. AR stater (23 mm, 10.59 g, 9 h). Aphrodite seated left / Dionysos standing left, holding grape bunches. Courtesy of CNG.
CARIA, Knidos. Circa 465-449 BCE. AR drachm (15 mm, 6.08 g, 9 h). Lion head right / Head of Aphrodite right. Courtesy of CNG.
Messenger of the gods, god of travel and commerce. Hermes had wings on his hat and sandals.
He was the most cunning of the gods and a master thief. He guided souls of the dead down to the underworld.
Hermes main symbol was the kerykeion, two snakes wrapped around a staff.
He wears a petasos (sunhat).
ARKADIA, Pheneos. Circa 360-350 BCE. Silver stater (12.13 g). Head of Demeter right, wearing grain wreath / Hermes, nude but for his petasos and for a cloak over his shoulders, ΦΕΝΕΩΝ. Courtesy of CNG.
DYNASTS of LYCIA. Uncertain dynast. Circa late 5th-early 4th century BCE. AR 1/12 stater (11 mm, 0.50 g, 12 h). Helmeted head of Athena left / Head of Hermes left, wearing winged petasos. Courtesy of CNG.
Dionysos was the last god accepted on Mt. Olympus and the only one to have a mortal mother, the Theban princess Semele.
He was god of everything wine: grape harvest, wine making, wine, and wine festivals.
Dionysos was particularly revered by the inhabitants of Mende.
MACEDON, Mende. Circa 460-423 BCE. AR tetradrachm (23 mm, 17.17 g, 11 h). Inebriated Dionysos reclining left, holding kantharos in right hand, on back of an ass standing right / MEN-ΔA-I-ON within linear square around vine of six grape clusters within linear square, all within incuse square. Courtesy of CNG.
SICILY, Naxos. Circa 461-430 BCE. AR drachm (19 mm, 4.32 g, 7 h). Bearded head of Dionysos right, wearing tainia decorated with an ivy branch / Silenos (tutor of Dipnysos), nude and bearded, squatting half-left, tail behind, holding kantharos in right hand and resting his left on his knee, N-A-XI-ON around, all within shallow concave circular incuse. Courtesy of CNG.
Herakles was gatekeeper of Olympus, god of heroes, sports, athletes, health, agriculture, fertility, trade, oracles and divine protector of mankind.
LUCANIA, Herakleia. Circa 390-340 BCE. AR nomos (21 mm, 7.94 g, 3 h). Head of Athena / Herakles standing facing, torso right, strangling the Nemean Lion to right. Courtesy of CNG.
EASTERN EUROPE, Imitations of Thasos. Late 2nd-1st century BCE. AR tetradrachm (27 mm, 15.81 g). Mint in the lower Danube region. Wreathed head of Dionysos right, style completely degraded / Herakles standing facing, legend degraded to lines. Courtesy of CNG.
MYSIA, Pergamon. 334-332 BCE. Gold stater (17 mm, 8.62 g). Head of youthful Herakles to right, wearing lion skin headdress / Palladium, wearing kalathos, standing facing in an archaic manner, holding a shield over her left arm and thrusting with a spear held in her upraised right hand,Corinthian helmet with crest in field to left, fillet ending in tassels hanging from the shield. Courtesy of CNG.
ISLANDS off CARIA, Kos. Circa 345-340 BCE. AR didrachm (19 mm, 6.87 g, 12 h). Age–, magistrate. Head of Herakles right, wearing lion skin / Veiled head of Demeter left; AΓ[H] to right. Courtesy of CNG.
IONIA, Erythrai. Circa 550-500 BCE. Electrum hekte (2.57 g). Head of Herakles left, wearing lion skin / Quadripartite incuse square, two quarters partially filled-in. Courtesy of CNG.
Arethousa was a nymph and the daughter of Nereus. She lived in Arcadea and while bathing encountered the river god Alpheus. He fell in love with her to no avail since Arethousa was a chaste attendant of Artemis. Arethousa was transformed into a stream and fled to the island of Ortygia, the center of the city of Syracuse, where she emerged as a spring.
Arethousa was the patron of Syracuse. Her image is considered the most beautiful figure on all ancient coins.
SICILY, Syracuse. Dionysios I. 405-367 BCE. AR dekadrachm (34 mm, 43.23 g, 5 h). Dies signed by Kimon. / Head of Arethousa left, wearing single-pendant earring and necklace, hair restrained in an ampyx (inscribed K) and open-weave sakkos; ΣΥΡΑΚΟ-ΣΙΩ behind hair, four swimming dolphins around, the one below neck inscribed KIMΩN. Courtesy of CNG.
SICILY, Syracuse. Second Democracy. 466-405 BCE. AR tetradrachm (25 mm, 17.32 g, 10 h). Struck circa 440-430 BCE. Charioteer, holding kentron in right hand and reins in both, driving fast quadriga left, Nike flying right above, in exergue, ketos left / Head of Arethousa right, hair tied back, wearing small hook earring and necklace; A behind neck, ΣYPAKOΣION to right, four dolphins around. Courtesy of CNG.
Hephaestus (Roman Volcan), the ugly and lame son of Zeus and Hera, was the Greek god of fire, volcanoes, metallurgy, artisans and craftsmen. He was the blacksmith of the gods and made all of their weapons. He designed Hermes' winged helmet and sandals, the Aegis breastplate, Aphrodite’s famed girdle, Agamemnon’s staff of office, Achilles’ armor, Heracles’ bronze clappers, Helios’ chariot, etc. [ 4 ] Hephaestus' symbols were a smith’s hammer, anvil, and a pair of tongs.
SICILY, Mytistratus. Circa 340 BCE. Æ Onkia (7.00 g). Head of Hephaestus right, wearing pileus / MYT, three spoked wheel with central pellet. Courtesy of CNG.
Hephaestus’ image is more common on Roman coins as Vulcan.
Lucius Aurelius Cotta. 105 BCE. AR Serrate Denarius (3.83 g). Draped bust of Vulcan right, tongs and mark of value behind / Eagle standing right on thunderbolt within laurel wreath. Courtesy of CNG.
Perseus was born of Zeus and Danaë. Zeus came to her in the form of a shower of gold that fell from the sky and impregnated her. Before Herakles appeared on the scene, Perseus was one of the greatest Greek heroes. He cut off the head of the Gorgon Medusa, the creature whose gaze turned people into stone. In another story, Perseus saved and married the beautiful Andromeda when he slew the sea monster, the Cetus. The Greeks believed Perseus founded Mycenae.
MYSIA, Kyzikos. Circa 550-500 BCE. Electrum hekte (sixth of a stater) (10 mm, 2.59 g). Head of Perseus left wearing winged helmet, downward tunny behind / Quadripartite incuse square. Courtesy of CNG.
KINGS of MACEDON. Perseus. 179-168 BCE. AR tetradrachm (30 mm, 15.45 g, 12 h). Attic standard. Pella or Amphipolis mint. Struck circa 173-171 BC. Diademed head of Perseus right / Eagle. Courtesy of CNG.
CYCLADES, Seriphos. Circa 2nd Century BCE. Æ 17 mm (3.33 g). Head of Perseus right wearing winged Phrygian helmet / Gorgoneion facing, harpa below. Courtesy of CNG.
Tyche from the Greek meaning "luck" governed the fortune and prosperity of the polis. Some believed events for which there were no perceivable cause such as earthquakes, drought, etc. were attributable to Tyche.
IONIA, Smyrna. Circa 155-145 BC. AR tetradrachm (35 mm, 16.71 g, 12 h). Turreted head of Tyche right / ΖΜΥΡ/ΝΑΙΩΝ in two lines, monogram below; all within wreath. Courtesy of CNG.
Pan was the god of shepherds, goats, fields, groves, wooded glens and music. His legs, horns, and hindquarter were of a goat. He was also the god of theater critics.
CIMMERIAN BOSPOROS, Pantikapaion. Circa 340-325 BCE. AR drachm (15 mm, 3.35 g, 3 h). Bearded head of satyr facing slightly left / Head of ox left, Π-Α-Ν around. Courtesy of CNG.
CIMMERIAN BOSPOROS, Pantikapaion. Circa 325-310 BCE. AV stater (22 mm, 9.11 g, 11 h). Head of Pan left, wearing ivy wreath / Griffin, holding spear in its mouth, standing left, head facing, forepaw raised, on grain ear, Π-A-N around. Courtesy of CNG.
Achilles was the greatest warrior and central character of Homer’s Iliad. He slew Hector outside the gates of Troy and was subsequently slain by Paris who shot him in the heel with an arrow.
THESSALY, Larissa Kremaste. 4th century BCE. Æ trichalkon (18 mm, 7.41 g, 12 h). Head of Achilles left / Thetis seated left on hippocamp, holding shield of Achilles with AX (=Achilles) monogram, ΛΑΡ below. Courtesy of CNG.
Taras was the son of Poseidon and a nymph named Satyrion. He was rescued from a shipwreck by a dolphin. Tarentum is the site where the dolphin put him ashore and is named in Taras’ honor.
CALABRIA, Tarentum. Circa 344-334 BCE. AR nomos (7.88 g). Naked horseman dismounting left, holding small round shield and lance, Δ below / Taras astride dolphin left, holding trident over right shoulder, left hand at side; Κ and waves below, ΤΑΡΑ-Σ behind.
Jason was the Greek mythological hero of the Argonauts who sought the Golden Fleece aboard the ship, Argo.
THESSALY, Larissa. Circa 479-460 BCE. AR Hemidrachm (12.5 mm, 2.11 g, 10 h). Head of Jason right, wearing petasos / Sandal of Jason right ΛΑΡΙ below within incuse square. Courtesy of CNG.
THESSALY, Iolkos. Mid 4th century BCE. Æ chalkous (12 mm, 2.00 g, 12 h). Head of Artemis Iolkia right, with quiver over shoulder, wearing earring and necklace / Prow of the galley Argo left, [I]OΛΚIΩN below. Courtesy of CNG.
Theseus and the Minotaur
ATTICA, Athens. Circa 145/55-175 CE. Æ Drachm (4.84 g, 3 h). Draped bust of Athena right, wearing crested Corinthian helmet and aegis, shield before / Theseus, right hand holding club, left hand holding a horn of the Minotaur kneeling right that he is preparing to slay, ΑΘΗΝΑ-Ι-Ω-Ν around. Courtesy of CNG.
Centaurs were creatures with the upper body of a human and the lower body of a horse. They inhabited the mountains and forests of Thessalian Magnesia, and the forests in Elis and Laconia. There were female centaurs called Centaurides. The Centaur Chiron was the tutor of Achilles and Aesculapius.
THRACO-MACEDONIAN TRIBES, Orreskioi(?). Circa 500-480 BCE. Obol (Silver, 0.89 g). Bearded Centaur in the 'running-kneeling' posture to right, his head turned back to left to look at a kantharos held in his right hand / Quadripartite incuse square. Courtesy of CNG.
THRACO-MACEDONIAN TRIBES, The Orreskioi. Circa 500-480 BCE. Stater (Silver, 9.88 g). Centaur galloping to right, carrying off nymph whose right hand is raised in protest / Quadripartite incuse square. Courtesy of CNG.
The Greek Sphinx had the human head of a woman, the body of a lion, the wings of an eagle and a serpent-headed tail. She was a treacherous monster who guarded the Greek city of Thebes. All wishing to enter the city had to answer her riddle; "Which creature has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?" Those who could not answer the riddle were condemned to death. Oedipus solved the riddle by answering MAN. He crawls on all fours as a baby, then walks on two feet as an adult and then uses a walking stick in old age.
ISLANDS off IONIA, Chios. Circa 400-380 BCE. AR drachm (13 mm, 3.72 g). Sphinx seated left, grape bunch above amphora on left, uncertain symbol or monogram to right / Quadripartite incuse square. Courtesy of CNG.
The Gorgoneion was an ugly creature with her tongue hanging out, with puffy cheeks, wild hair and strange eyes. The Gorgoneion kept away evil and bad luck. Zeus and Athena were said to have worn an amulet containing the Gorgon image. It was used to decorate monuments, coins, floors, dishes, masks, and the shields of warriors.
ETRURIA, Populonia. Circa 211-206 BCE. AR 20 as (8.40 gm). Gorgoneion facing / plain. Courtesy of CNG.
MACEDON, Neapolis. Circa 500-480 BCE. AR stater (19 mm, 9.82 g). Facing gorgoneion with protruding tongue. Courtesy of CNG.
Cerberus was a multi-headed monster dog that guards the gates of Hades. To get past it one had to play music in order to put him to sleep. Heracles captured the Cerberus as one of his twelve labors. The three headed dog in a Harry Potter story is a Cerberus.
CAMPANIA, Capua. Circa 216-211 BCE. Æ semuncia (3.10 gm). Diademed head of Herakles right, club over left shoulder / Cerberus standing right. Courtesy of CNG.
Keto was the daughter of Gaia and Pontus. Ketos was a common term for a sea monster in ancient Greece.
CARIA, Kindya. Circa 510-490 BCE. AR tetrobol (2.05 gm). Head of sea monster (ketos) left / Incuse geometric pattern. Courtesy of CNG.
SICILY, Syracuse. 466-405 BCE. AR tetradrachm (27 mm, 17.41 g, 9 h). Struck circa 466-460 BCE. Charioteer driving quadriga right, Nike flying left above, crowning the charioteer, in exergue ketos right / Diademed head of Arethousa right, four dolphins around. Courtesy of CNG.
The Griffin had a body of a lion and the head, wings and talons of an eagle. Because of these attributes the griffin was considered an especially powerful king of all creatures.
THRACE, Abdera. Circa 395-360 BCE. AR stater (24 mm, 12.81 g, 12 h). Philados, magistrate. Griffin seated left, cicada on left ABΔH on right / Herakles seated half-left, his head turned to half-right, on lion skin draped over rock, his right hand holding club set vertically on his knee, his left arm resting on his left thigh, EΠI ΦIΛA-ΔOΣ at sides, all within shallow incuse. Courtesy of CNG.
A Chimaera was a monstrous fire breathing creature. Homer described it as "a thing of immortal make, not human, lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle". [ 3 ] Bellerophon and Pegasus defeated the creature by shooting it from the air.
SIKYONIA, Sikyon. Circa 335-330 BCE. AR stater (26 mm, 12.22 g, 9 h). Chimaera standing left, wreath above ΣE below / Dove flying left, I before, all within wreath. Courtesy of CNG.
The Keryneian Hind
The Keryneian Hind was an enormous deer. It lived in the woods in Keryneia, Greece and was sacred to Artemis, goddess of the hunt. The hind had gold antlers and bronze hooves. It could outrun an arrow. Heracles captured the Keryneian Hind as one of his seven labors.
ARKADIA, Psophis. Circa 470-440 BCE. AR obol (10 mm, 1.03 g, 1 h). Forepart of the Keryneian Hind right / Fish right with ethnic above and below, all within incuse square. Courtesy of CNG.
Achelous was the river god and the patron of the Achelous River. Tethys and Oceanus were his parents as well as the parents of the three thousand river gods. On the coin shown here he is portrayed as a man-faced bull.
SICILY, Gela. Circa 480/75-475/70 BCE. AR tetradrachm (24 mm, 17.31 g, 7 h). Charioteer driving quadriga right, Nike flying right above / Forepart of bearded man-headed bull (river god) right, ΓEΛAΣ above, all within shallow incuse circle. Courtesy of CNG.
The hippocamp had the upper body of a horse and the lower body of a fish. Poseidon’s sea-chariot was often seen driven by hippocamps. These mythological creatures often appear on Etruscan, Phoenician and Greek coins.
PHOENICIA, Byblos (Gebal). Ozbaal. Circa 394-352 BCE. AR shekel (25 mm, 13.40 g, 10 h). Three hoplites holding shields, on galley left above waves, prow ending in lion's head, below, Hippocamp left above murex shell / Lion attacking bull left. Courtesy of CNG.
ETRURIA, Luca(?). 3rd century BCE. AR 5 as (2.08 g). Hippocamp right, dolphin and star above / Blank. Courtesy of CNG.
All coin photos and attributions in this article are courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group (CNG).
[ 1 ] Bulfinch, Thomas. 1993, Bulfinch’s Mythology.
[ 2 ] Hamilton, Edith. 1940. Mythology Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. [Reprints are widely available]
[ 3 ] Homer. Iliad.
[ 4 ] Graves, Robert. 1960. The Palace of Olympus, in: Greek Gods and Heroes. (see Wikipedia Hephaestus entry references).