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Herakles 2nd labor: The Lernaean Hydra/ Snakes on coins


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heracles1-70212.jpg.5ae901f1aeeccb9e625b6ba9fbd9f811.jpgAfter the narrow escape (having lost a finger in the process) of completing his first labor of slaying the Nemean lion, Herakles enlisted the help of his cousin and part time charioteer, Iolaus, to help him complete his second labor, that of killing the Lernaean Hydra!


(Herakles and the Lernaean Hydra, Greco-Roman mosaic from Llíria C3rd A.D., National Archaeological Museum of Spain)

"The second labor of Hercules was to kill the Lernean Hydra. From the murky waters of the swamps near a place called Lerna, the hydra would rise up and terrorize the countryside. A monstrous serpent with nine heads, the hydra attacked with poisonous venom. Nor was this beast easy prey, for one of the nine heads was immortal and therefore indestructible."


(Malibu 83.AE.346, Caeretan hydria, c. 525 B.C. Main panel: Hercules slaying the Lernean hydra. Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California)

Herakles was smart in bringing his cousin, as this labor would take at least four arms and also knew that the hydra would first have to be lured out.


With flaming arrows he got the creature to emerge. Only to get wrapped in its coils and attacked by a massive crab! Being a hulking stud, this wasn't Herakles first run in with a case of crabs!


After bashing the crab to death with his club he got to work on the hydra's heads. Upon realizing that every time he would smash a head of the hydra two evil, mindless heads would grow back in its place (much like killing the leader of a drug cartel, or a republican), Herakles had an idea.


Each time Herakles would smash a head he would have Iolaus solder the neck with his torch. Thus no new heads could grow back!

Now to deal with the the ninth, immortal head. Instead of bashing, he chopped it off. He then buried it at the side of the road leading from Lerna to Elaeus, and for good measure, he covered it with a heavy rock (why didn't any of the teens think to do this to Jason or Freddy!?).

Of course, his coward of a cousin, Eurystheus, would later not except this labor, nor the cleaning of the stables, as having been completed fairly, since Herakles had his cousin help him. Thus, the ten labors ordered originally were turned into the twelve that we know and love today!


If you made it this far, thanks. And enjoy my newest labor, acquiring this coin:


CILICIA. Tarsus. Caracalla, 198-217. 18,78 gr - 33,88 mm, 211-217. AYT KAI M AYP CЄYHPOC ANTΩNЄINOC CЄB ✱ / Π - Π Laureate head of Caracalla to left. Rev. ΑΝΤΩΝΙΑΝΗC CЄYΗ ΑΔΡ ΜΗΤ / TAPCOV / Δ / Ε Κ Herakles standing left, with lion's skin draped over his left arm and raising club far over his right shoulder, about to strike the Lernaean Hydra. Fine RARE

And because one of the best parts of being part of a forum is seeing other coins that you've not seen before, getting others to share and contribute and show off a well, please


Enjoy some other snakes on ancients from my collection:

Don't forget, this wasn't Herk's first run in with snakes. Hera tried to kill him with them when he was a baby! I wrote about it here;



Italy, Calabria, Tarentum. c. 280-228 BC. AR Diobol (12 mm, 0,8 g). Helmeted head of Athena left, helmet decorated with Skylla. R/ The Herakliskos Drakonopnigon; monogram to lower left, thunderbolt in exergue. Vlasto 1455; cf. HN Italy 1068.

Of course Alexander's mom, Olympias, love of snakes creeped Philip ll out enough to make him second guess his firey love for her:


Time of Gordian III. Type G: Alexander with diadem and ram horn.

11,28 g. 26 mm

Obv.: ΑΛƐΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ; diademed head of Alexander the Great, r., with hanging hair and ram horn.

Rev.: ΚΟΙΝΟΝ ΜΑΚƐΔΟΝΩΝ ΔΙϹ ΝƐΩ; Olympias as Hygieia seated l., feeding serpent from patera, resting on throne.

VF, RPC VII.2, 308. Rare. Purchased from Fitz Nov 2022

Heck, they even his beneath helmets in Makedon:


My half horse is a ode to @TIF and her, much cooler, "snake cowboy"


A real creeper from Thrace has Aesculapiu slithering through the sky on a winged snake!


Septimius Severus (193-211 AD). AE Tetrassarion (29 mm, 12.66 g). Thrace, Pautalia. Obv. ΑΥΤ Κ Λ CΕΠ CΕΥΗΡΟC Π, Laureate head to right. Rev. ΟΥΛΠΙΑC ΠΑΥ/ΤΑΛΙΑC, Aesculapius riding winged serpent right, holding serpent-entwined staff. Ruzicka 345; Varbanov 4687. Green patina. Fine to very fine. From the François Righetti Collection. Purchased from Auctiones GmbH Sept 2021

So please post your coins of Herakles, the hydra, lots of snakes on ancients or whatever slither to mind!

Edited by Ryro
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That Gordian coin is amazing!

Here's a recent pickup.


Bruttium, Skylletion
ca 350-325 BCE
Æ 19mm, 7.41g, 6h
Beardless male head l., wearing pileos /
Skylla swimming l., right arm raised, holding oar in left.
HNItaly 2565; CNS III p. 319, 1 (under "unidentified mercenaries"); SNG ANS 800; SNG Copenhagen 1993; HGC 1, 1722
Ex Anders Collection


Here's Herakles having fun with the Nemean lion.


Kings of Paeonia, Lykkeios
circa 359-335 BCE
AR Tetradrachm 22 mm, 13.19 g, 6 h
Astibos or Damastion
Laureate head of Apollo to right.
Rev. ΛYKK-EIOY Herakles standing left, strangling the Nemean lion; to right, bow and quiver.
Paeonian Hoard 72. Peykov E1030


And here's a friendly snake.


Thessaly, Homolion
ca 350 BCE
AE 20mm 6.6g
Head of Philoktetes right, wearing conical pileos /
ΟΜΟΛ-IEΩN; serpent coiled right, grape bunch above.
Helly, Quelques 25; Rogers 257

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This poor little coin doesn't depict a labor but it does reference one...

Metapontum, Lucania

430-400 BC
AR Obol (7.6mm, 0.38g)
O: Beardless head of Herakles right, wearing lion skin headdress.
R: Barley ear of five grains.
Noe 365.1; HN Italy 1506

The portrait here symbolizes the legend of Herakles and the Oxen of Geryon which, according to Diodorus Siculus (circa 1st century AD), were brought by the Hero to Metapontum from the west.

~ Peter 


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Excellent write-up. Do you intend to complete the set (labors)? Difficult task ... but for me it's more interesting than, let's say, a 12 Caesars set. I am not even sure if all the labors are depicted on coins. 

My most interesting coin with snake, snakes in fact, is this curious biga 


17 mm, 3,36 g.
M. Volteius M. f. AR denarius. Rome. 75 BC.
Head of Bacchus (or Liber) right, wearing ivy wreath / Ceres driving biga of snakes right, holding torch in each hand; dolphin behind.
Crawford 385/3; Sydenham 776; Volteia 3.

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Here are two coins with unusual designs.


ASIA MINOR. Uncertain. Diobol. 11 mm. 1.08 g.
Obv: Forepart of winged goat (or griffin?) right.
Rev: Facing head of panther (or Cerberus?) within incuse circle with mane of snakes.
Ref: UNPUBLISHED TYPE cf. CNG 73, September 2006, lot 419. (no snakes).
ex-Numismatik Naumann, Auction 46, September 2016, lot 182

It is hard to see, as the coin is so small, but it is clear the reverse animal has snake hair.  This could mean it is a hydra.  Also, the the three-headed dog Cerebus had a mane of snakes. (e.g. this kylix, and this hydria).  What animal is this?


CILICIA, Isaura (?). Circa 333-322 BC? AR Hemiobol.  6.5mm, 0.32 g.
Obv: Head of Herakles facing slightly left (within aegis!)
Rev: Head of lion facing slightly right.
Ref: Tevfik Göktürk. “Small coins from Cilicia and surroundings” #87
ex-CNG, e-auction 385, October 2016, lot 268 (Attributed as Gokturk #86)

The interesting thing about this tiny coin is that the head of Herakles appears to be in the center of an aegis.  Typically, it is the head of Medusa that appears in the aegis.  There is no reason why others can't appear there -- the aegis is a symbol of Athena's protection, and there are even examples of Athena's head appearing on her own aegis.  But it is strange to see Herakles (if it is indeed him) mounted within an aegis.

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A couple of labors of Hercules:

Roman Republic. C. Poblicius Q.f. AR Serrate Denarius, 80 BCE. Obv. Head of Roma right, wearing helmet decorated with grain ears; ROMA behind, V above / Rev. C•POBLICI•Q•F; Hercules standing left, wrestling (and strangling) the Nemean Lion; bow and quiver to left, club below, V above lion. Crawford 380/1, RSC I Poblicia 9, Sear RCV I 308 (ill.), Harlan, RRM I Ch. 5 at pp. 23-27, BMCRR Rome 2896. 20.13 mm., 3.84 g.


Roman Republic, M. [Marcus] Volteius, AR Denarius, 78 BCE (Crawford) or 75 BCE (Harlan). Obv. Head of young Hercules, wearing lion’s skin headdress, right / Rev. The Erymanthian boar running right; M•VOLTEI•M•F in exergue. Crawford 385/2; RSC I Volteia 2; BMCRR 3158, Sear RCV I 313 (ill.); Harlan, RRM I Ch. 12, pp. 62-79 at pp. 74-77, Sydenham 775. 18.5 mm., 3.96 g., 7 h.*


*This coin, depicting Hercules and the Erymanthian boar -- one of five coins issued by M. Volteius as moneyer during that year -- relates, like the other four Volteius coins, to one of the five principal agonistic festivals which were celebrated annually at Rome, this one specifically to the Ludi Plebeii, held each year from 4 to 17 November. Hercules had a special relationship with the Circus Flaminius, which was where the Ludi Plebeii were held, and was near the temple of Hercules Magna Custos ad Circum (Hercules the Great Guardian at the Circus).  See Harlan at p. 76 for a summary of the legend of Hercules capturing the Erymanthian boar alive, the fourth of the twelve labors of Hercules. Harlan points out that according to tradition, the tusks of the Erymanthian boar were preserved at the sanctuary of Apollo at Cumae -- perhaps establishing a connection of the Erymanthian boar to the Circus Flaminius (where the Ludi Plebeii were held) and the nearby temple of Hercules Magna Custos ad Circum (which was supposedly built on the advice of the Sibyl of Cumae). This may have been the rationale for the portrayal of the Erymanthian boar on this coin rather than one of Hercules’s other labors.

A few additional coins I like that depict Hercules/Herakles:

Trajan AR Tetradrachm, AD 100, Phoenicia, Tyre. Obv. Laureate head of Trajan right; behind, ear of grain in left field; to right, club in right field; below, eagle with folded wings standing right, ΑΥΤΟΚΡ ΚΑΙϹ ΝΕΡ ΤΡΑΙΑΝΟϹ ϹΕΒ ΓΕΡΜ / Rev. Laureate bust of Melqart (as Herakles) right, lion’s skin tied at neck, ΔΗΜΑΡΧ ΕΞ ΥΠΑΤ Γ [= COS III]. RPC [Roman Provincial Coinage] Vol. III 3526 (2015); RPC Online at https://rpc.ashmus.ox.ac.uk/coins/3/3526; Prieur 1482 [Prieur, Michel and Karin, Syro-Phoenician Tetradrachms (London, 2000)]; McAlee 452/2 (ill. p. 203; portraits appear to be a die match) (Group 5) [McAlee, Richard, The Coins of Roman Antioch (2007), ascribing Melqart types to Tyre or Rome]. 27 mm., 14.25 g.


Roman Republic, M. Aurelius Cota [Cotta], AR Denarius 139 BCE. Obv. Head of Roma right, wearing winged helmet ornamented with stylized representation of gryphon’s head, earring with three pellets, and necklace of pendants; hair arranged in three symmetrical locks; to right below chin, COTA; behind, mark of value X [after re-tariffing, so = 16 asses] / Rev. Hercules in biga of centaurs right, holding reins in left hand and club in right hand; centaurs each carry branch in left hand; below, M•AVRELI (AVR ligate); in exergue, ROMA. 19 mm., 3.78 g. “Removed from a ring mount; otherwise very fine.” Crawford 229/1b; BMCRR I 916-917 (& Vol. III Pl. xxvi. 2); RBW Collection 959 (ill. p. 201); RSC I Aurelia 16; Sear RCV 1 106. Purchased from Dix Noonan Webb Auction 253, 13 April 2022, Lot 1240; ex Spink Numismatic Circular May 1984, No. 2625 at p. 125 (ill. p. 137). [Footnote omitted.]


Trajan, AE Quadrans, ca. AD 101 (Sear), Rome Mint. Obv. Diademed bust of bearded Hercules right, lion’s skin knotted at neck, IMP CAES TRAIAN AVG GERM / Rev. Boar walking right, SC in exergue. 14.5 mm., 2.30 g., 6 h. RIC II 702, BMCRE II Trajan 1062 (ill. Pl. 43 no. 10); Sear RCV II 3248, Cohen 341. Purchased from London Ancient Coins, Aug. 2022; ex Bertolami Fine Arts, London, E-Auction 92, 02.10.2020, Lot 1235.


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Very cool write-up, @Ryro!! I don't have any 2nd labor of Herakles coins. 😞

I don't even have the 2nd labor of Faustina coin! 😢

Nonetheless, I'm going to show one depicting the second labor of Faustina!! Baby Lucilla, born in March, 149, with older sister Domitia Faustina, born November, 147:

Faustina Jr IVNO aureus BMC.png

Aureus (RIC 504, BMC 1043], British Museum collection.

I DO have snake coins, though. Lot's of 'em. But I'm only going to show one of them -- coiled around an altar in front of the healing goddess Salus on this coin issued after the EIGHTH labor of Faustina (the birth of Commodus and his twin brother, Titus Aurelius Fulvus Antoninus on 30 August, AD 161). Beckmann (p. 116) postulates they were issued in response to a health crisis experienced by Faustina after delivery of the twin boys.


Faustina II, 147-175 CE.
Roman orichalcum dupondius, 10.84 g, 26.1 mm, 5 h.
Rome, 161 - c. 164 CE.
Obv: FAVSTINA AVGVSTA, draped bust, right (Beckmann Type 7 hairstyle).
Rev: SALVTI AVGVSTAE S C, Salus seated left, feeding snake coiled round altar from patera in right hand and resting left arm on chair.
Refs: RIC 1671a; BMCRE 992-94; Cohen –; RCV –; MIR 30-7/10b.


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Thanks so much for all the replies, reacts, and most importantly sharing your coins!

Man, @kirispupis I really lyke your Lykkeios! The artistry of him strangling and winding up to punch the Nemean lion is lovely😍

@Curtisimo the Great! It's great to see you posting. I know you're a busy dude. That is an excellent example of one of my favorite labors.


Gordianus III (238-244 AD). AE34 (21.86 g). Cilicia, Tarsus. Obv. AVT K M ANTΩNIOC ΓOPΔIANOC CEB / Π Π, Radiate, draped and cuirassed bust to right, holding spear and shield decorated with gorgoneion between two serpents. Rev. TAPCOV MHTPOΠOΛEΩ, A / M in left field, K / Γ / B in right field, Herakles standing left holding club in right hand, apples of the Hesperides in left hand, lion skin hanging from left forearm, to left dead serpent in tree. SNG Paris 1669 (same dies). Light green patina. Fine/almost very fine. See Voegtli, Heldenepen, pp. 42-44: this scene appears on the provincial coins of Tarsus and ten other cities. 

There are soooooo many side stories to the acquisition of the apples of the Hesperides. One of my favorites is Herk duping Atlas, after being duped himself. Though, I doubt any ancient attempted putting the handing off of the earth and sky on coin. That said, during the same labor Herakles also wrestled and KILLED mother Gai's son!

Here's a one of a kind:


Volusian CILICIA, Tarsus (?). 251-253 AD. Æ 33mm (21.1 g). Radiate, draped and cuirassed bust right, seen from behind / Herakles and Antaeus: Herakles standing facing, head left, leaning right and wrestling Antaeus; he lifts Antaeus up into the air by the waist while Antaeus tries to break his grip. Unlisted in RPC/ACSearch/Wild Winds/ Very Fine. Purchased from NBS auction November 2021 "The giant Antaeus, the son of Poseidon and Gaia (Mother Earth), was in the habit of forcing strangers to wrestle him until they were exhausted, whereupon he killed them. Not only was he a strong and skilled athlete, but whenever he touched his mother, the earth, his strength was revived. Herakles and Antaeus met while Herakles was out traveling for his labors, and Herakles became determined to end this barbarous practice. He accepted Antaeus' challenge to a wrestling match and realizing that Antaeus was a son of Mother Earth; he lifted Antaeus in the air, off the ground, until he crushed him to death."

Now would you please, please, PLEASE hold another coin game?!?!

Cool coin @Phil Anthos! I do enjoy those "bite-sized" coins from Metapontum. How does it reference the oxen of Geryon?

LOVE the snake biga @ambr0zie! And nobody should ever try... yes and shhhhh😏

I can always rely on you, @Ed Snible, to share something wondrous, that I've never seen before. Good reminder that many could be the the center of an aegis. And yours is very interesting. Though, with the gave clearly being bearded, Herakles is my knee Herk reaction. Kind of reminds me of this common but strange:


Pisidia - Selge Stag Fraction 200-1 BCE Obv: head of Herakles facing, wreathed with styrax, (club over left shoulder, off flan). Rev: SE-L with recumbent stag right, head turned back, K below. 2.81 grams. Very fine. [No Reserve] Literature BMC 43-44; SNG France 3 1964-1965; Waddington 3941; Imhoof KM 11; Imhoof MG 104; Paris 763 and 749.

Thanks @Nerosmyfavorite68! I'm pretty geeked about it. 

Nice Apollo and python @AncientOne and excellent patina!

@DonnaML some LOVELY labors and you may have the most STELLAR set of serpents that I've seen! Dang beautiful Alexandrians... and thanks for the excuse to show off my newest Nome:


Egypt, Arsinoite Nome. Alexandria. Hadrian, 117-138. Obol (Bronze, 19 mm, 5.21 g, 12 h), year ΙΑ = 11 = 126/7. ΑΥΤ ΚΑΙ - ΤΡΑΙ ΑΔΡΙΑ CЄΒ Laureate head of Hadrian to right, slight drapery on his far shoulder. Rev. ΑΡCI - L ΙΑ Head of the Pharaoh Premarres (= Amenemhet III of the 12th Dynasty, 1831-1786 BCE) to right, wearing the nemes head cloth and the uraeus serpent. BMC N73. RPC III 6296. Attractive and clear with a brown patina. Minor deposits. Good very fine.

@Roman Collector didn't Faustina ll have 13 labors!?! That's more than Herk! And thanks. Also very nice eighth labor coin😁

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"Cool coin @Phil Anthos! I do enjoy those "bite-sized" coins from Metapontum. How does it reference the oxen of Geryon?"

Hi Ryro. That coin was a gift from a long time ago, but I remember from my research at the time that this may be the first appearance of Herakles (vaguely seen here) on Metapontine coinage and the choice was deliberate as the polis was associated with the myth. Claiming Herakles as a patron might grant some instant credibility? 

edit; looking at this coin again after so many years I'm not at all happy with this attribution and I think more research is necessary. The Noe number doesn't match the book, but I typically don't just c&p this information. Stay tuned...

~ Peter 

Edited by Phil Anthos
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Totally forgot that I have a non-coin reference for Herakles' labors. This year, I visited the site of Tiryns, where he mythically received them!

Here are a few photos. I found the visit well worth it and there was hardly anyone there.



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