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Augustus in Samos. Peacock. And a bunch of interesting historical events c. 31 to 19 BCE

Curtis JJ

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All this interesting history about Samos -- but I only have the one relevant coin to share!

Can anyone else share relevant illustrations about, say, Augustus or Samos or Peacocks or the lost Standards of Crassus' Legions in Parthia or Emissaries from India or other wild incidents of Asian-Roman cultural exchange or Augustus v. Antony/Cleopatra and all the other relevant stuff?

There is so much to say about the historical context of just this one city & just this one moment. Below, I've mentioned several favorite historical episodes relating to Augustus in Samos.

(And all of that is without even mentioning the coin's >80 year collection history -- from Lord Grantley to R.C. Lockett to Cornelius Vermeule!)


Ionia, Samos. Augustus Æ (18mm, 5.43g), c. 20 BCE.
Obv: Laureate head right /
RevPeacock standing right on caduceus, scepter behind.
RefRPC I 2681, ex. 30 (this coin).
Prov:  Cornelius Vermeule (1925-2008) Collection, Triton III (30 Nov 1999), Lot 1709 (part), sold for the benefit of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; Richard Cyrill Lockett (1873-1950) Collection, Part XII, Glendining's (23 February 1961), Lot 2894 (part) [see: BNS digitized Lockett Notebook 20, p 18]; John Richard-Brinsley Norton, 5th Baron Grantley (1855-1943) Collection, Glendining (29 June 1944), Lot 2309 (part).


For a decade and change, the little island of Samos was at center of everything important in the Greco-Roman world.

Being one of their favorite retreats, Antony and Cleopatra "sailed to Samos and there made merry" in 32 BCE while marshalling their forces in the buildup to Actium. Plutarch described their last big blowout:

a single island for many days resounded with flutes and stringed instruments; theatres there were filled, and choral bands were competing with one another.... kings vied with one another in their mutual entertainments and gifts. (Plutarch, Parallel Lives 56)

As much as the famous lovers enjoyed Samos, Augustus seems to have favored it even more strongly.

Having defeated Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium, he wintered in Samos for the first time. He returned again in 22/21 and, finally, in 20/19.

This coin was probably struck around 20/19 BCE to honor Augustus and celebrate his decision to grant Samos independence (which it retained until Vespasian rescinded it in 72/3 CE).

The peacock on the reverse is for Hera, a patron deity of the island. Samos had an important Temple of Hera (Heraion of Samos), which dates to the 6th cent. BCE. (Mentioned again below for Myron's statues.)





Acts of Repatriation:

During Augustus' final visit, he prepared for war with Parthia (where both Crassus and Antony had failed).

Fortunately, though, in one of his greatest "victories," Augustus negotiated a settlement with Parthia instead. Most importantly, he achieved the repatriation of the famous lost Legionary Standards -- the golden Aquiliae -- that Persia had captured from Crassus in 53 BCE at the calamitous Battle of Carrhae.

And, lest we think cultural property disputes over antiquities are something new:

Augustus also repatriated to Samos a pair of famous colossal statues that Marc Antony had removed to Rome: the bronze Herakles and Athena by the famous 5th cent. BCE sculptor Myron, which belonged in the great Heraion of Samos. However, as Strabo reported, Augustus kept the third statue in the group, a great Zeus, placing it in the Captolium!

Like most Greek bronze statues, only Roman marble copies survive. The same applies to Myron's greatest masterpiece, his Diskobólos: small bronze and full-size marble Roman replicas show us how it looked.


Gold & Silver struck at Samos (c. 20 BCE) by Augustus. Myron's sculptures of cattle probably also inspired Augustus' bull Aureus and Denarius below, though they were located elsewhere (and also were subject to the requisitions of both Antony and Augustus).

     Denarius from the ANS Collection. ANS 1937.158.451
     Sadly, major museums seem not to have the Aureus. But Leo Benz had one (Lanz 94, Lot 1)




The Envoys from India:

Marc Antony and Cleopatra and their outrageous behavior had come to end a decade earlier. But, once again, Samos would witness the strange rituals of Roman royals and their princely peers from distant lands. I will let Eck describe the scene, as Augustus received emissaries from an Indian King Poros (or Pandion):

Eight slaves accompanied the envoys, clothed in nothing but scented loincloths, charged with conveying the king's gifts: tigers, a human "herm" born without arms, a number of large snakes, including a python, an enormous river-turtle, and a partridge larger than a vulture. There was also with them a Brahman called Zarmanochegas from Barygaza - from the class whom
the Greeks called naked philosophers... (Wiley, 2nd ed., trans. by D Schneider)

Writing a couple hundred years later, Cassius Dio marveled that the "boy who had no shoulders or arms" could nonetheless "use his feet for everything ... stretch a bow, shoot missiles, and put a trumpet to his lips. How he did this I do not know; I merely state what is recorded." (This, apparently, was the kind of astounding observation that needed to be recorded for the ages!)

The "naked philosopher" was also remarkable enough for comment:

One of the Indians, Zarmarus, for some reason wished to die, — either because, being of the caste of sages, he was on this account moved by ambition, or, in accordance with the traditional custom of the Indians, because of old age, or because he wished to make a display for the benefit of Augustus and the Athenians (for Augustus had reached Athens);— he was therefore initiated into the mysteries of the two goddesses, which were held out of season on account, they say, of Augustus, who also was an initiate, and he then threw himself alive into the fire. (Dio, Roman History, LIV)

Clearly, Dio was rather mystified. But those who were present seem to have appreciated the religious devotion and cultural exchange. As Eck wrote, "The Athenians showed due respect and gave the ashes a tomb with a commemorative inscription saying that he had committed suicide according to his ancestral tradition."

Edited by Curtis JJ
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Great write-up Curtis and that coin is sweet! 


This one needs new photos as I cropped the edges to close. (20 yrs ago)


Ionia, Island of Samos. Marcus Aurelius Æ32. Samian Hera

Ionia, Samos. Marcus Aurelius. AD 161-180. Æ32. 13.7g.
Obv: Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right, seen from behind.
Rev: CAMI WN. Cult figure of Samian Hera standing facing on wide base between two peacocks.
SNG Copenhagen 1735.


And one of those coins you wish you had never sold...


Ionia, Island of Samos. Geta Æ19

ISLANDS off IONIA, Samos. Geta. As Caesar, AD 198-209. Æ19.
Obv: Bare-headed and draped bust right
Rev: Cult statue of Samian Hera facing between two peacocks.
SNG Copenhagen -; SNG von Aulock 2309 (same dies); BMC 266.

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