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A rabbit hole of investigations on a coin from Abydos


kirispupis

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Recently, I came across this intriguing bronze at auction and picked it up without much resistance.

Abydos_2.jpg.545ac5c5b73fab7c38d81a76a793e3da.jpg

Abydos, Troas
320-200 BCE
Æ 12mm, 2,11g
Obv: Laureate head of Artemis right, bow and quiver over shoulder.
Rev: A - BY. Crossed torches; star above; poppy head below.
BMC 44; Coll. Weber 5278

 

While it's not super-rare, it's definitely not one of the more common Abydos releases, and I was curious about the symbolism concerning the different elements depicted. To investigate, I took a bit different approach. I asked question to ChatGPT, then when it gave me something interesting, I requested a source. I then validated that the source agreed with the statement.

I'll start with the obverse, which depicts Artemis. Granted, I don't think this is an image one would pick out of a lineup, but Artemis was heavily associated with Abydos throughout its coinage, so she makes sense. Interestingly, there is no evidence in either archeology or historical references to a temple to Artemis in Abydos (ChatGPT made an error here stating the temple to Artemis Amarysia was in Abydos, but it was instead in Euboia), but there is widespread evidence for a cult to Artemis in the Troad region.

This paper discusses the cult and in truth, in a bit of a circular dependency, ancient coinage is the primary source. Not just Abydos but many cities in the region featured her. Stolba and Peter also mention that the cult appeared to be stronger during Roman times, though this coin comes obviously earlier (though how much earlier is uncertain). The specific cult most popular was that of Artemis Ephesia, for whom cult-statues have been found. Intriguingly, the map provided by Stolba and Peter shows that Abydos was a bit of an outlier, with her worship primarily centered in Ionia. The paper mentions Abydos specifically, where the images of Artemis differed from those found around Ephesos, but where numerous evidence makes it clear that she was favored in Abydos.

Moving on, I at first dismissed the eight-rayed star found on so many other coins, but it's symbolism here is deliberate. While it didn't have a singular meaning across all cultures, it often symbolized life and fertility and was therefore heavily associated with Aphrodite. The story of her worship is best told by Kleanthos via Strabo.

There is also a temple of Aphrodite the Prostitute (πόρνη) at Abydus, as Pamphilus asserts:- "For when all the city was oppressed by slavery, the guards in the city, after a sacrifice on one occasion (as Cleanthus relates in his essays on Fables), having got intoxicated, took several courtesans; and one of these women, when she saw that the men were all fast asleep, taking the keys, got over the wall, and brought the news to the citizens of Abydus. And they, on this, immediately came in arms, and slew the guards, and took possession of the walls, and recovered their freedom; and to show their gratitude to the prostitute, they built a temple to Aphrodite the Prostitute."

It seems likely, therefore, that the star on this coin symbolized Aphrodite, whose temple was well known. My suspicion is there aren't too many coins with a reference to both Artemis and a prostitute.

The poppy generally symbolized both death and sleep, since poppies were used to put Persephone to sleep as she traveled to and from the underworld (in other legends, it was to aid Demeter in sleeping when she was mourning). They have been found on pottery in the region, though the specific religious meaning is poorly understood. Certainly, the flowers were widespread in the area. What I wonder is the juxtaposition of these two elements across the coin, with the star denoting life, while the poppy denotes death.

The meaning of the crossed torches is even more difficult, and the following possibilties were presented:

  • Symbolizing death or mourning, perhaps in commemoration of a deceased ruler
  • Reference to a mystery cult
  • As a symbol of divine or regal authority
  • Recognizing a victory or triumph
  • Signifying unity

In terms of mystery cults, there was a well-known cult to Osiris in Abydos. It's referred to by Eusebios.

For to say that he will batter the heavens, and publish the secrets of Isis, and show the forbidden mystery at Abydos, and stop the sacred boat, and scatter the limbs of Osiris for Typhon.

Torches were part of the procession for Osiris. For those unacquainted like myself, the basic legend was that Osiris was murdered by his brother Seth and his body scattered. Isis then played an ancient version of "Operation" and found all his parts except for his penis, because she only had the PG version of the game. She then put him back together and reanimated him.

In the procession in Osiris' honor, torches were used to light the path back into the afterlife. My suspicion is these torches refer to this practice.

Therefore, on the reverse we have references to the three main religious practices at Abydos - the cult of Artemis, the sanctuary to Aphrodite the Prostitute, and the cult of Osiris.

The last question involves the 'M' on the obverse. These are mostly attributed to mint marks, but I'm growing to feel they signify rulers and tyrants more often than proposed. From a quick search, not all copies of this coin contained the 'M'. They either have an 'M', or nothing. While a few tyrants are known from around the time of Philip II, we have practically no history of the city from 350 BCE to 200 BCE, outside of Alexander's visit and occupation. I agree with the attribution, though, that this coin was unlikely to come from 350 BCE to 320 BCE, and it's nearly impossible to narrow it down further.

I believe this signifies someone of importance in the city, perhaps a tyrant, but I haven't been able to locate any records from this period indicating the political situation, so we'll probably never know.

Overall, this is an extremely interesting coin in my opinion that tells a lot about Abydos.

Feel free to show your own coins of Abydos or featuring anything shared with this coin!

 

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Fascinating write up. When I first read about Aphrodite Porne I assumed it was an error! 

Here's quite a nice coin from Abydos that I just saw in the new  NAC sale. Lot 2212. I'd be tempted but Artemis is a little off-center. And so is her portrait here. Under/over is apparently $800k.

Screenshot_6-4-2024_202531_.jpeg.1f614e74e0da7f68bd6b452ca95b86af.jpeg

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4 minutes ago, Deinomenid said:

Fascinating write up. When I first read about Aphrodite Porne I assumed it was an error! 

Here's quite a nice coin from Abydos that I just saw in the new  NAC sale. Lot 2212. I'd be tempted but Artemis is a little off-center. And so is her portrait here. Under/over is apparently $800k.

 

I saw that one! Mine has a poppy, crossed torches, and a star that this one doesn't have. So, I'll have to pass.

Is it my imagination or does Artemis look miserable on that coin? 🙂

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 4/4/2024 at 1:02 PM, kirispupis said:

Recently, I came across this intriguing bronze at auction and picked it up without much resistance.

Abydos_2.jpg.545ac5c5b73fab7c38d81a76a793e3da.jpg

Abydos, Troas
320-200 BCE
Æ 12mm, 2,11g
Obv: Laureate head of Artemis right, bow and quiver over shoulder.
Rev: A - BY. Crossed torches; star above; poppy head below.
BMC 44; Coll. Weber 5278

 

While it's not super-rare, it's definitely not one of the more common Abydos releases, and I was curious about the symbolism concerning the different elements depicted. To investigate, I took a bit different approach. I asked question to ChatGPT, then when it gave me something interesting, I requested a source. I then validated that the source agreed with the statement.

I'll start with the obverse, which depicts Artemis. Granted, I don't think this is an image one would pick out of a lineup, but Artemis was heavily associated with Abydos throughout its coinage, so she makes sense. Interestingly, there is no evidence in either archeology or historical references to a temple to Artemis in Abydos (ChatGPT made an error here stating the temple to Artemis Amarysia was in Abydos, but it was instead in Euboia), but there is widespread evidence for a cult to Artemis in the Troad region.

This paper discusses the cult and in truth, in a bit of a circular dependency, ancient coinage is the primary source. Not just Abydos but many cities in the region featured her. Stolba and Peter also mention that the cult appeared to be stronger during Roman times, though this coin comes obviously earlier (though how much earlier is uncertain). The specific cult most popular was that of Artemis Ephesia, for whom cult-statues have been found. Intriguingly, the map provided by Stolba and Peter shows that Abydos was a bit of an outlier, with her worship primarily centered in Ionia. The paper mentions Abydos specifically, where the images of Artemis differed from those found around Ephesos, but where numerous evidence makes it clear that she was favored in Abydos.

Moving on, I at first dismissed the eight-rayed star found on so many other coins, but it's symbolism here is deliberate. While it didn't have a singular meaning across all cultures, it often symbolized life and fertility and was therefore heavily associated with Aphrodite. The story of her worship is best told by Kleanthos via Strabo.

There is also a temple of Aphrodite the Prostitute (πόρνη) at Abydus, as Pamphilus asserts:- "For when all the city was oppressed by slavery, the guards in the city, after a sacrifice on one occasion (as Cleanthus relates in his essays on Fables), having got intoxicated, took several courtesans; and one of these women, when she saw that the men were all fast asleep, taking the keys, got over the wall, and brought the news to the citizens of Abydus. And they, on this, immediately came in arms, and slew the guards, and took possession of the walls, and recovered their freedom; and to show their gratitude to the prostitute, they built a temple to Aphrodite the Prostitute."

It seems likely, therefore, that the star on this coin symbolized Aphrodite, whose temple was well known. My suspicion is there aren't too many coins with a reference to both Artemis and a prostitute.

The poppy generally symbolized both death and sleep, since poppies were used to put Persephone to sleep as she traveled to and from the underworld (in other legends, it was to aid Demeter in sleeping when she was mourning). They have been found on pottery in the region, though the specific religious meaning is poorly understood. Certainly, the flowers were widespread in the area. What I wonder is the juxtaposition of these two elements across the coin, with the star denoting life, while the poppy denotes death.

The meaning of the crossed torches is even more difficult, and the following possibilties were presented:

  • Symbolizing death or mourning, perhaps in commemoration of a deceased ruler
  • Reference to a mystery cult
  • As a symbol of divine or regal authority
  • Recognizing a victory or triumph
  • Signifying unity

In terms of mystery cults, there was a well-known cult to Osiris in Abydos. It's referred to by Eusebios.

For to say that he will batter the heavens, and publish the secrets of Isis, and show the forbidden mystery at Abydos, and stop the sacred boat, and scatter the limbs of Osiris for Typhon.

Torches were part of the procession for Osiris. For those unacquainted like myself, the basic legend was that Osiris was murdered by his brother Seth and his body scattered. Isis then played an ancient version of "Operation" and found all his parts except for his penis, because she only had the PG version of the game. She then put him back together and reanimated him.

In the procession in Osiris' honor, torches were used to light the path back into the afterlife. My suspicion is these torches refer to this practice.

Therefore, on the reverse we have references to the three main religious practices at Abydos - the cult of Artemis, the sanctuary to Aphrodite the Prostitute, and the cult of Osiris.

The last question involves the 'M' on the obverse. These are mostly attributed to mint marks, but I'm growing to feel they signify rulers and tyrants more often than proposed. From a quick search, not all copies of this coin contained the 'M'. They either have an 'M', or nothing. While a few tyrants are known from around the time of Philip II, we have practically no history of the city from 350 BCE to 200 BCE, outside of Alexander's visit and occupation. I agree with the attribution, though, that this coin was unlikely to come from 350 BCE to 320 BCE, and it's nearly impossible to narrow it down further.

I believe this signifies someone of importance in the city, perhaps a tyrant, but I haven't been able to locate any records from this period indicating the political situation, so we'll probably never know.

Overall, this is an extremely interesting coin in my opinion that tells a lot about Abydos.

Feel free to show your own coins of Abydos or featuring anything shared with this coin!

 

Not a coin, but relevant. 

 

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  • 4 weeks later...
On 4/6/2024 at 8:38 PM, kirispupis said:

does Artemis look miserable on that coin

A view shared at the auction this week. One of the few to go  under estimate. 400k of misery rather than 500.

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1 hour ago, Deinomenid said:

A view shared at the auction this week. One of the few to go  under estimate. 400k of misery rather than 500.

Yeah, I just couldn't go for that coin given all its defects. I did pick up a much happier Artemis from Abydos recently and am waiting for it to ship. I'll post it when I finally receive the coin.

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3 hours ago, Nerosmyfavorite68 said:

 

What's the gunk on the reverse of the Artemis

 

Gunk?! That’s called added character!

Also it went wholly unmentioned in the description so it might be a figment of our less refined than NAC imaginations -

 vine-tendril with bunch of grapes. For similar reverse type. cf. Traite II, 2449 and pl. CLXVIII, 2 (eagle standing r.).

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