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The First Labor of Herakles: The Nemean Lion/ or, The Last Labor of the Nemean Lion: Herakles


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Of all of Herakles 12 labors, the Nemean lion, is the most well known. Though, not as exciting as wrestling Cerberus, the three headed hell hound, pet of Hades and bringing him to the mortal world. Nor as glamorous as fetching the apples of the Hesperides (and the many wild exploits that single labor entailed). Nor as thrilling as killing the immortal Hydra. And on and on. 


(Spoiler alert, don't look at what's slung over the heroes arm. It might spoil the story for the one person who had never heard the story)

But for two simple reasons is it the most well known.

First- Well, it came first. Pretty obvious, I know. But you ask people the first book of Harry Potter and you'll have a better chance of them knowing then if you ask them to name the fifth. Same thing goes for the much more fantastical book, the bible. Etc. 


And B- He wears the things face and body like it was going out of style! In more portraits of him than not he's wearing the poor beast like Chainsaw Massacre's Leatherface wearing some lovely young girl. It's as unsettling as it is rad. So rad in fact, that even the emperor Commodus would emulate this image on his coins. 


I'll start with 2 of my latest Herculean efforts in ancient coins, before telling the lion's tale😉. Here's a Naville win.

Unlike my other coin of the type with Herakles bent over, here he stands tall as the lion wriggles and writhes, arching his back in an vein attempt at escape:


Calabria, Tarentum Diobol circa 325-280, AR 12.00 mm., 0.85 g.

Head of Athena r., wearing crested Attic helmet. Rev. Heracles standing facing, strangling the Nemean Lion to r.; club to l., Z between legs. cf. Vlasto 1398. Historia Numorum Italy 976.

Good Very fine

And this bronze beauty of the two sexy beasts:


Kings of Galatia. Amyntas, AE. (Bronze,8.85 g 24mm) 36-25 BC.
Obv: Bearded and bare head of Herakles right, with club over shoulder.
Rev: BAΣIΛEΩΣ / AMYNTOY, Lion walking, right.
Ref: RPC I 3502; HGC 7, 781; BMC 8-11.

And onto the labor: After the murder of his wife and children in one of the poor massive man's fits of RAGE the oracle/gods decided that to make amends Herakles would have to complete 10 labors ...10??? That's right. It was originally 10, but then his pig of a cousin who got to choose the labors upped it to twelve saying that 2 didn't count (the hydra due to having help, and the cleansing of the Stables cause he used nature to do the work for him).


(Herk want so impressed with his cousin)

With Hera in his ear, King Eurystheus commanded Herakles to go to Nemea where a massive lion that had eaten over a hundred men, woman and children lay in wait! Yeah, if you didn't pick up on it, Eurystheus wanted Herakles dead. 


Being much more known for his brawn than his brain, the dweeb from Thebes first tried a more tactful approach then we are used to from him; he stayed at a distance and shot arrows from his bow to not risk an encounter with the beast. 


(Maybe if Nacho was sent the arrows WOULD'VE worked)

But once he realized his arrows had no effect, all bets were off. And the muscled man did just what we would expect. He tracked the lion to a cave with two entrances, blocked one entrance with a boulder and entered the other to put an end to the standoff. 

Making sure to avoid its razor sharp claws Herk picked up the oversized pussy and he choked it to death. Though, some ancient images have Herakles snapping the lion's jaw, ala King Kong at the end of his fight with the lizard:


Most images and the stories handed down to us though have him choking the lion out:


(probably NOT the scenario that inspired the Cutting Crew to write this little eighties hit)

Upon bringing the corpse back to King Eurystheus, the king became terrified of his cousin. Realizing his true power he no longer allowed Herakles into the kingdom and instead would only communicate the labors via heralds. Who's the bigger pussy, the lion or the king? He even had a jar buried in the earth so that he could avoid his cousin should he come around!


(The king, unlike the REAL king, Elvis when he died, Eurystheus was in the pot and not on it)

And so ends the first labor and a new beginning to the pain and suffering the square shaped hero would endure. 

A few other fun coins of him wearing the lion...


Alexander III (336-323 BC).Uncertain in western Asia Minor. Drachm.

Obv : Head of Herakles right, wearing lion skin. 

Rev : AΛEΞANΔPOY. Zeus seated left on throne, round shield in left field, grape bunch below throne. 

Condition : Somewhat porous.Some scratches on the reverse.Nicely toned.Very fine. Weight : 4.1 gr, Diameter : 18 mm, Reference : Price 2705. Purchased from Biga December 2021


Philip III Arrhidaeus Uncertain mint in Western Asia Minor. (323-317 BCE)/ Or Antigonus Gonatas

Macedonian shield.

Reverse, Macedonian helmet; in the field on the right, a caduceus; monogram in the left field.

Caption setback: B-A Ex: Savoca June 2019


In Martin Price's book, this type of bronze is dated between 323 and 310 BC, struck in West Asia Minor. If this is the case, this bronze could have been struck by Philip III, Antigone the Borgne or Demetrius Poliorketes. According to David Sear, this coin was minted in Macedonia during the intersection of Poliorketes and Antigonus Gonatas (GC. 6781 ss).

The Kingdom of Macedonia experienced a very difficult period after the fall of Demetrius Poliorketes who was driven out of Macedonia by Lysimachus and Pyrrhus. The two victors shared the remains of the kingdom of Epigone. After Lysimachus death at the Battle of Couroupédion in 281 BC, Macedonia finally fell to Antigonus Gonatas, the son of Demetrius Poliorketes who had won a brilliant victory over the Galatians (Gaulois) in 277 BC in Lysimachus.

And lastly, a coin from Herakles hometown:


THEBES, Boeotia AR Obol, 371-338 BCE, Boeotian shield with club across end /Young Herakles head r, BMC. 169-170, somewhat off-ctr, dark patination worn off in center of shield; ex BCD with his meticulous detailed tag (bought from Baldwin's 1976). Rare Ex: Frank Robinson

If you had fun along the way please share coins of Herakles battling or wearing the Great Lion of Nemea, other labors, thoughts etc. 

Edited by Ryro
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Yep, the most common on ancient coins, but this does not make this labor less interesting than others. 

I remember reading mythology books when I was a child. Boy, did I like them. 

Here is my coin depicting this labor, with the correct attribution pointed to me by a major specialist in this field (it's not Tarentum as I erroneously thought)


10 mm, 0,90 g.
Lucania, Herakleia. AR diobol. 432-420 BC.
Athena with Attic helmet to right, ornamented with Hippocamp / HE, Herakles kneeling right, wrestling the Nemean lion.
Van Keuren 38; SNG ANS 35; HN Italy 1360.


Hercules with lion skin 





Edited by ambr0zie
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Great writeup!

I've shared this coin of Herakles fighting the lion before, but since it's my most on-topic example, here it is again.


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 is a friendly lion I photographed in Tanzania.



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From Lucanian Herakeia

Heraclaea, AR Stater, c. 390-330 BC, head of Athena right, wearing crested Athenian helmet, decorated with Scylla hurling stone, A before, rev. Heracles stood right strangling the Nemean lion with both hands


and after the fight -

Herakleia, c. 340-300 BC AR Stater, 21 mm. 7.8 gm. Obv: Head of Athena r., wearing crested Corinthian helmet, decorated with a Skylla hurling a stone, Rev: ͰHPAKΛHIΩN, Herakles standing facing, holding club, bow and lion-skin at l., AΘA, above skyphos.




"Fun" fact,  lions were quite a problem in parts of  broadly defined Greece right into the 5th century. Herodotus -

Xerxes and his land army marched from Acanthus by the straightest inland course, making for Therma. Their way lay through the Paeonian and the Crestonaean country to the river Cheidorus, which, rising in the Crestonaean land, flows through the Mygdonian country and issues by the marshes of the Axius.

As Xerxes thus marched, lions attacked the camels that carried his provision; nightly they would come down out of their lairs and made havoc of the camels alone, seizing nothing else, man or beast of burden; and I marvel what was the reason that constrained the lions to touch nought else but attack the camels, creatures whereof till then they had no sight or knowledge.

There are many lions in these parts, and wild oxen, whose horns are those very long ones which are brought into Hellas. The boundary of the lions' country is the river Nestus that flows through Abdera and the river Achelous that flows through Acarnania. Neither to the east of the Nestus anywhere in the nearer part of Europe, nor to the west of the Achelous in the rest of the mainland, is any lion to be seen; but they are found in the country between those rivers.






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Show me a more 'Heraklean' coin...

Taras, Calabria

302-290 BC
AR Diobol (11mm, 1.07g)
O: Head of young Herakles right, wearing lion skin headdress.
R: Herakles standing right, strangling the Nemean lion; A-T above, club and astragalos behind, Φ between legs.
D'Andrea XXXIX, 889; Vlasto 1356; Cote 190; HN Italy 978; Sear 352

Here once again is the battle scene being played out between Herakles and the Nemean lion, however on this coin we see the head of a relatively young Herakles in place of the usual helmeted Athena.
This variation is much scarcer than most of the Athena 

~ Peter 


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Some excellent coins depicting the first labor and its aftermath, or should I say hat-ftermath?! No. No, I shouldn't. 

Great grip of Herakles @ambr0zie!

I have a similar type to your first. Though, admittedly, I'm not sure about my identification as I won it in a lot:


LUCANIA, Herakleia

433-330 BCE  AR Diobol (1.15 gm). Head of Athena right, wearing Corinthian helmet decorated with hippocamp / Herakles kneeling right, head facing, wrestling with the Nemean lion; EP upper right, club left. Van Keuren 62 (same dies); SNG ANS 33

And then I have a fourée of it:


Man, do I love the action scene on the reverse of yours @kirispupis Herakles has his right fist balled up and is winding up to punch the lion. And stunning photo😍looks like it should be on the cover of a national geographic!


Oh, baby! That first Athena helmet nearly steals the show @Deinomenid. But the artistry of Herakles musculature and the lion's main are striking! As well, what's under the lion??


And great fun fact! I had no idea that lions were just roaming around ancient Greece. 

Very Meta-kles rarity @Phil Anthos

Here's a bronze double-akles:


LYDIA. Blaundus. Pseudo-autonomous. Time of the Antonines (138-192). Ae. Obv: Head of Herakles right, wearing lion skin. Rev: BΛAVNΔЄΩN. Herakles standing facing, head left, holding lion skin and leaning upon club. RPC IV online 1202; SNG Copenhagen 75. 3.75 gr, 17 mm

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Great write-up beautifull coins/ photos.

Here is one of mine/ from CNG Auction.

Bithynia/ Herakleia Pontike

EL Hekte / 1/6 Stater) ND (530BC)

Herakles wearing Lion Headdress

Quadripartite Incuse Square

2.61g.  10.5mm.   .600

Fischer-Bossart 1, 1g. (VI/RI) HGC 7

f502feb400c6a872935933278b2e5c06 (6).jpg

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This pair of coins is a favorite from the Severan dynasty. They are little bronze provincials from Marcianopolis and were probably issued together as a set. It features husband and wife with mirror images of the same reverse design, as though viewed from opposite vantage points. It's a reminder that Herakles simply fights the lion; whether he or the lion is left or right depends on one's vantage point.

Septimius Severus, AD 193-211.
Roman provincial Æ 18.6 mm, 4.37 g, 7 h.
Moesia Inferior, Marcianopolis, AD 193-211.
Obv: ΑV Κ CΕΠΤΙ CΕΥΗΡΟC Π, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right.
Rev: MAPKIA-NOΠOΛITΩ-N, Herakles standing left, wrestling the Nemean lion.
Refs: AMNG I 585 v.; Varbanov 710; Moushmov 397; H&J; Mionnet Suppl. 2, 126.

Julia Domna, AD 193-217.
Roman provincial Æ 16.8 mm, 4.33 g, 1 h.
Moesia Inferior, Marcianopolis, AD 193-211.
Obv: IOVΛIA ΔO-MNA CEB, bare-headed and draped bust right.
Rev: MAPKIANOΠOΛITΩN, Herakles standing right, wrestling the Nemean lion.
Refs: AMNG I 606; Varbanov 673; Moushmov 419; SNG Copenhagen --; SNG Budapest --.
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Here are a few with lionskin around neck and my favorite AE Herakles wearing lionskin on head.


Lydia, Attalea. Pseudo-autonomous AE14

Obv: Head of Herakles right, wearing lion's skin.
Rev: ATTAΛΕATΩ, Lion standing right.



Phrygia, Sebaste. AE15, Pseudo-autonomous issue. ca AD 258-276.

Obv: Laureate head of youthful Herakles right, lionskin knotted around his neck.
Rev: CEBACTH-NΩN, club and bowcase.
RPC III, 2603



Lycaonia, Iconium. Æ15

Obv: Bust of bearded Hercules r. wearing lion skin around neck, club over l. shoulder.
Rev: COL ICONI; nude Perseus standing, facing, head, r., wearing helmet, holding Medusa-head, harpa and chlamys.
Second century AD.



Thrace, Byzantium. Pseudo-autonomous AE17. Hercules/Club of Hercules

Obv: Head of Herakles right, wearing lion skin.
Rev: Club of Hercules. BYZANTIWN.
E. Schönert-Geiss. Griechisches Münzwerk: Die Münzprägung von Byzantion dates this coin to the second century AD.

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I've posted these coins before, more than once, so I'll omit the write-ups.

Hercules & Nemean Lion:


Hercules & Erymanthian Boar


Trajan quadrans depicting Hercules & boar:


Two photos of a bronze Hercules that I took in Rome in 2008. Unfortunately, I don't remember at this late date which statue it was, in which museum. A lot of bored-looking tourists sitting at his feet, I must say!



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29 minutes ago, Phil Anthos said:

Surely the third coin must be a cow (or horse)?

~ Peter 

Are you talking to me? If so, every source agrees that that's a boar. Look at the snout.

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