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Themistokles: Hero of Salamis, Savior of Greece and Bridge from the Archaic to the Classical


Ryro
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TOP 8 QUOTES BY THEMISTOCLES | A-Z Quotes

(Themistokles, born 524-459 BCE, would come along and save Greece with good old fashioned persuasion and compulsion)

Themistokles understanding of sea fighting would end up saving Greece from Persian control. After an unexpected windfall of silver being found he was able to get the rest of Athens to believe that when the Pythia had said, "A wooden wall will protect Athens." that they were talking about a wall of ships and not a palisade around the city. Due to this when the second invasion of Greece by Persia was underway they Greeks were as ready as they could be. 

Themistokles had the idea to stall the massive Persian army at the hot gates, known to us as Thermopylae. Which can certainly be viewed as a Greek loss, due to a Greek traitor showing the king of kings the way around the loggerhead, but did succeed in its most core function; give the Greeks time to unify and prepare for the coming storm.

After Thermopylae, and as the Persians came closer the Peloponnesians prepared to abandon Athens to regroup in the Isthmus of Corinth. However, Themistokles genius knew now bounds. He used his understanding of Persian diplomacy and excellent skills of subterfuge to fool the Persians. He sent a slave of his to let Xerxes know that Themistokles was, "on king's side and prefers that your affairs prevail, not the Hellenes" and further he told Xerxes that the Peloponnesians were taking off that night. All the king of kings needed to do was block the straits. Xerxes bit, hard. He sent his fleet right were the Greeks were waiting.

In the tiny straights the much larger Persian navy couldn't maneuver and the smaller Greek, forces used to close combat style fighting, cut them to pieces. 

Battle_of_salamis.png

(The Battle of Salamis is known as one of the most pivotal in human history, not due to the size of the engagement, but the repercussions it had in helping close out the war)

1920px-Kaulbach%2C_Wilhelm_von_-_Die_Seeschlacht_bei_Salamis_-_1868.JPG

(We know the battle was not this pretty and much MUCH more bloody than this idealized portrait)

He would be honored by Sparta, go on to be exiled by Athens and spend his remaining years serving Xerxes son in Perisa. Coin of Themistocles as Governor of Magnesia. A sad and ignominious end for one of the greatest generals and statesmen that Greece ever produced. Plutarch states:

"But when Egypt revolted with Athenian aid...and Cimon's mastery of the sea forced the King to resist the efforts of the Hellenes and to hinder their hostile growth...messages came down to Themistocles saying that the King commanded him to make good his promises by applying himself to the Hellenic problem; then, neither embittered by anything like anger against his former fellow-citizens, nor lifted up by the great honor and power he was to have in the war, but possibly thinking his task not even approachable, both because Hellas had other great generals at the time, and especially because Cimon was so marvelously successful in his campaigns; yet most of all out of regard for the reputation of his own achievements and the trophies of those early days; having decided that his best course was to put a fitting end to his life, he made a sacrifice to the gods, then called his friends together, gave them a farewell clasp of his hand, and, as the current story goes, drank bull's blood, or as some say, took a quick poison, and so died in Magnesia, in the sixty-fifth year of his life...They say that the King, on learning the cause and the manner of his death, admired the man yet more, and continued to treat his friends and kindred with kindness." 

Themistocles was probably the first ruler ever to issue coinage with his personal portrait. Thrilled to say that I won a coin of his for popcorn at today's Art & Coins auction:

IONIA, Magnesia ad Maeandrum. Themistokles. Circa 465-459 BC. AR Hemiobol. Male ...

IONIA, Magnesia ad Maeandrum. Themistokles. Circa 465-459 BC. AR Hemiobol. Male head (Themistokles?) right, wearing diadem; [M-A] across field; all within incuse square / Barley grain right; ΘE to left, meander pattern to right. AE 0.17gr

 

If you have any Themistokles coins, coins of the time, thoughts or anything related I would love to see/hear about it!

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EDIT: After following up on the portrait question, I noticed the faint obverse legend  on mine (as in Cahn-Gerin 8), which I think supports Cahn & Gerin's (1988: pp. 18-20) suggestion that this particular type is a portrait. Description & references updated, and more additions at end. Thanks again, @Ryro for bringing that topic up, or I might've never gone looking and realized what this coin actually was!

EDIT, AGAIN: Another good writeup and post, specifically addressing the portrait question, was made by @Curtisimo in an excellent thread...elsewhere. The summary of Nollé'& Wenninger is much appreciated, since I couldn't catch most of it in the original German. I especially appreciate that there's enough detail for me to reach a different interpretation from @Curtisimo, but still understand his interpretation (that C & G are wrong, it's not Themistokles; N & W are right, it's Hephaestus). Personally, I do think the Θ-Ε is enough (specifically because it appears on both sides -- in any other context we interpret the legend next to a bust as naming it) to believe the portrait was supposed to be identified with Themistokles, even if it may have also been supposed to invoke Hephaestus. (It seems many early numismatic portraits -- and later ones, and other kinds of sculptural portraits -- took such a form, i.e., ruler-so-and-so-as-such-and-such-deity.)

Thanks for the interesting writeup! And congratulations on your Themistokles! If that's a portrait of him on the obverse, that would be really amazing. (I wonder if yours should probably be called a Tetartemorion [both Nollé and Cahn refer to other 0.17g Themisto. specimens as "1/4 Obol?"] rather than 1/2 Obol? Interestingly, the weight is almost exactly half of my "Hemi" below.)

I'm also excited to have just won my first coin of Themistokles, a little AR Hemiobol from Magnesia (7mm, 0.36g). It was cited but not illustrated (referencing a 1999 Gorny sale) in one of Nollé's two articles (both in German) on these coins, which have become standard references (Nollé – Wenninger 1998/1999, JNG [or go directly to PDF file of issue XLVIII/XLIX]). See also Nollé's "Themistokles in Magnesia..." (1996) in SNR.

Mine's not terribly attractive, but we buy these ones for the history, not the art, don't we?

image.jpeg.199f8967e910e780930145addc1ae32d.jpeg

Greek Asia Minor (Archaic/Classical). Ionia, Magnesia AR Hemiobol (7mm, 0.36g), temp. Themistokles, c. 459 BCE.
Obv: Θ-Ε.  Bearded head of Themistokles (?) right, wearing tight fitting cap.
Rev: ΘΕ monogram in dotted square within incuse square.
Ref: J. Nollé & A. Wenninger, JNG 48, 1998, p.67 Th5a (this coin cited); J. Nollé, SNR 75 , 1996, p.12, note 35 & Taf.1, No. 3c; Cahn & Gerin (1988) pl. 2, no. 8.
Prov: Sammlung Gert Cleff; Gorny & Mosch e-288 (27 Jul 2022), Lot 3; ex Giessener Münzhandlung Auction 97, Munich 1999, 376.

 

On 9/8/2022 at 1:54 PM, Ryro said:

Themistocles was probably the first ruler ever to issue coinage with his personal portrait.

This is very interesting! I had heard similar claims for Persian satraps, but not Themistokles. I'm very glad I have now!

My German is very limited, so it takes forever to work through even portions of articles like Nollé's above.

But now that I look:

  • I see a big section in the 1996 SNR article: "Künstlerische und Mentale Voraussetzungen für Porträtmünzen," which Google tells me = "artistic and mental requirements for portrait coins."
  • And the footnote cited in my description (p. 12, n. 35) references an article by Oeconomides in a 1979/1982 conference proceedings, "Le Problème de l'Effigie de Thémistoclès sur les Monnaies (à Propos d'une Monnaie de. Magnésie)," which would seem to be about Themisto's portrait coins. I have yet to find it.

Perhaps after a few more weeks I'll have translated Nollé's answer to whether my bearded "Hephaestus (?)" coin could be considered a "disguised portrait" (like Alexander III/Herakles) and thus one of the "Porträtmünzen" (another wonderful German word)! I would be thrilled if so.

For now, I'm starting on the Numismatic Chronicle articles by Herbert Cahn, available free on JSTOR (and thankfully in English!):

EDIT: One more for the Themistocles bibliography available online:

EDIT: According to Cahn-Gerin (link above), this is the coin about which Oeconomides wrote. Apparently she concluded that this particular type was not Themistocles. I'm not sure whether others have disagreed, and which types might indeed be the Themiso. portraits:

image.png.eb32d7e26073a5eea031b5b6502c532c.png

 

EDIT 2: Obverse legend = Yes, very likely a portrait of Themistokles! (Per Cahn & Gerin, 1988: pp. 18-20.)

I only just noticed this, but there's also a "Θ - Ε" on the obverse. It's almost impossible to see on my example, and I only realized it when comparing to example 8 of Cahn & Gerin... The old hand-engraved illustration (same example) helps:

image.png.bee3b9a296dd9fef3bd5efb784df2c50.png

 

Edited by Curtis JJ
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21 hours ago, Curtis JJ said:

Perhaps after a few more weeks I'll have translated Nollé's answer to whether my bearded "Hephaestus (?)" coin could be considered a "disguised portrait" (like Alexander III/Herakles) and thus one of the "Porträtmünzen" (another wonderful German word)! I would be thrilled if so.

Spoiler!
I did a very quick reading of Nollé's paper. And no - these are just normal Greek coins showing gods (the guy with the cap is Hephaistos)
Definitely no portraits of Themistokles
"Θ - Ε" is no nominative (= this is Themistokles), but as usual genitive (= coin of or minted by Themistokles)

The paper in its length is somewhat more complicated than I just wrote 😉

Regards
Klaus

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1 hour ago, Dwarf said:

Spoiler!
I did a very quick reading of Nollé's paper. And no - these are just normal Greek coins showing gods (the guy with the cap is Hephaistos)
Definitely no portraits of Themistokles
"Θ - Ε" is no nominative (= this is Themistokles), but as usual genitive (= coin of or minted by Themistokles)

The paper in its length is somewhat more complicated than I just wrote 😉

Regards
Klaus

Thanks much for the update, Klaus! I've also found Curtisimo's CT Thread (a different Curtis, one of at least 3 here, no relation!) with his summary of Nolle's & Wenninger's argument.

Recognizing that I'm in a distinct minority (but not alone), and that general opinion seems to have sided with Nollé & Wenninger (1998) over H. Cahn & Gerrin (1988), I'm still "strongly agnostic" (at least for now): 
I consider Cahn's hypothesis highly plausible (that it is a portrait of Themistocles).
I also think Nollé's is plausible (that it is Hephaestus). 
Of course, I can't make a truly fair evaluation of (much less counter argument to) Nollé before I've finished the original, but I think I understand the main argument for why it is Hephaestus instead.

It all hinges on the interpretation the "Θ - Ε" on the obverse -- whether it's nominative or genitive -- which we can't tell from an abbreviation. Based on context, I am quite sure the "Θ - Ε" on the reverse is genitive, of course, identifying this coin as "From Themistokles." But...

The main issue(s) as I see it:

  1. Why would he also put his name on the obverse in addition to the reverse (using the same characters), unless it served another function?
  2. And why did he do it only on this one type, and not on the other types with Themistocles's monogram on the reverse, such as the owl (which would've entirely resolved the debate)?

There may be other explanations (perhaps Nollé had some), but to me, that shows clear intent to highlight something different about this one obverse type, and that the difference required the application of Themistocles' name (whether nominative or genitive). It's hard not to consider that it might be what it seems... naming the image.

And the old middle-ground hypothesis: Themistocles-as-Hephaestus. Ambiguity and alternative interpretations were some of the most powerful tools in coinage (e.g.,  Rowan, 2016, "Ambiguity, Iconology and Entangled Objects..."). But they can also be interpretive obstacles for us now (including by making us look for them in places they don't exist -- a possibility I acknowledge).

*

Incidentally, here is a much clearer example of a larger denomination from Roma in 2018. I'm not sure it contributes, unless it helps to further identify the imagery as Hephaestus (or if the facial features matched a known sculptural bust of Themistocles)

(NOT my coin!) Roma EA 16 (26 Sep 2018), 258

5281395.m.jpg

  • Ionia, Magnesia AR Trihemiobol. Themistokles, as governor of Magnesia, circa 465/4-460/59 BC. Bearded male head right wearing cap or helmet ornamented with four laurel leaves and spiral decoration; Θ-E flanking / ΘΕ monogram within dotted border inside incuse square. Cahn & Gerin, NC 1988, p. 15, 8, pl. 2, 8; J. Nollé - A. Wenninger, JNG XLVIII/XLIX (1998/99), Th.3c. 1.17g, 10mm, 1h.

Interestingly, Roma calls it a "male head" and doesn't side with Hephaestus or Themistocles, and cites the two major articles on both sides of that debate.

Edited by Curtis JJ
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Here a screenshot of the relevant passage and a haphazard translation of the last lines.

Nollé's argument is a little bit "thin"

 

616373056_Screenshot2022-09-10212117.jpg.46a265d9d51463c5f0c1520ef287fce2.jpg

No argument can be built on the fact that the abbreviated name of the mintmaster is only placed next to the image of Hephaestus, but not next to the images of Leucippus and the owl: uniformity and consistency are not to be expected with these coins: the letters M-A are found alone on the reverse of the series of small coins (google translate gets better and better!)

Regards
Klaus

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I did a little bit more reading and think that this really stays an open discussion.
As to the significance of "Θ - Ε" being nominative or genitive case attached a remark by great grandfather Barclay V. Head, dated 1886, but nonetheless still valid (cited by Nollé in his article in JNG)

IMG_20220911_0001.jpg.f9a9e8c295aca38bac82a158f47fd87a.jpg

Have a nice Sunday (roast?🍗 )
Klaus

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