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Dionysus the turbaned


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Maybe some of you knew, but I had no idea Dionysus was associated with a turban. My latest came with a bit of a surprise. After doing some research, I found every example of this type listed was using an old attribution. The coin is from the reign of Seleucus I. And until fairly recently the attribution was changed upon finding an excellent example of the type. 

The old attribution was male figure seated on rock. Pretty plain description, but safe as no one concretely knew who it was. Then came this amazing example from the collection of Petr Vesely.


Which shows a much clearer obverse and what appears to be a turban on his head. Some sleuthing from Lossif and Lorber were able to identify the man as Dionysus. Apparently he is credited with the conquest of India. Seleucus being a general of Alexander, this makes sense. Also depicted is an elephant, which he recieved around 500 of them from Chandragupta Maurya. This would make him the patron of the Seleucid elephant corps. The new attribution also changed the mint from Antioch on the Orontes to Apamea. 


From Wikipedia 

Black-figure skyphos. Dionysus with a turban among female musicians. Ritsona, 520-500 BC. Archaeological Museum of Thebes.

My win with some over zealous cleaning on the obverse. 


Seleucus I Nicator
300 to 281 BC
Obvs:Turbaned bearded Dionysus seated left on rock holding ancus (elephant goad) in hand. Dotted border.
Revs: BAΣIΛIEΩΣ above ΣEΛEYKOY below, horned elephant head right. Ξ in exergue, dotted border.
AE 17x18mm, 6.21g
SC C25; HGC 9, 78(R2)

Feel free to post reattributed coins or something related. 

Edited by Celator
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Very cool coin and thanks for sharing your research!

Here is a coin of mine that's either Seleukos or Alexander as the conqueror of India, Dionysos, wearing a horned panther skin helmet rather than a turban:


Seleukos I Nikator,
312-281 BC. Drachm (Silver, 16.5 mm, 4.25 g, 12 h), probably Seleukeia on the Tigris, after circa 305/4 BC . Bust of Alexander the Great (Seleucus?) to right, as Dionysos, wearing helmet covered with a panther skin and adorned with a bull's horn and ear, and with a panther's skin tied around his shoulders. Rev. ΒΑΣIΛΕΩΣ [ΣΕ]ΛΕΥΚΟΥ Nike standing to right, placing wreath on trophy; between Nike and trophy, monogram. HGC 9, 35. SC 197. Toned. Very fine. Ex: Nomos Obols

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Interesting coin. Here's one from Apameia from roughly the same period.


Seleukid Kings of Syria: Seleukos I Nikator
Apameia on the Axios
circa 300-281 BCE
AE 20 mm, 7.69g
Obv: Elephant standing right
Rev. ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΣΕΛΕΥΚΟΥ Horned and bridled horse's head to left; below, anchor to left.
HGC 9, 79. SC 35. WSM 1128


As @Deinomenidmentioned, the turban likely comes from Dionysos' mythical invasion of India, which is detailed in the Dionysiaca that I discussed in this post. When Alexander's army encountered the customs of the Indians, they assumed the worship of Dionysos. What I wondered upon reading it, was whether this confusion from the Macedonians was the origin of the myth of Dionysos' journeys, or whether there was an older myth. I don't believe this coin solves that question, though the skyphos does pose interesting questions.

As is well known, Seleukos signed a treaty with Chandragupta Maurya, ceding him a wide expanse of territory in exchange for 500 war elephants that Seleukos used to great effect against his European adversaries. As I understand, the primary "base" for these elephants was Apameia. Therefore, the city would certainly have had some Indian influence given the mahouts and caretakers which likely accompanied the elephants.


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That is a great type made after the battle of Ipsus utilizing those elephants. Apamea was certainly the hub for the elephantarchs. All of these pieces tie together nicely. 


Seleucus I
Apamea on the Axios
300 to 281 BC
Obvs: Elephant right, dotted border.
Revs: BAΣIΛIEΩΣ ΣEΛEYKOY, bridled & horned horse head left. Horizontal anchor below.
AE 19x20mm, 8.57g
SC 35; HGC 9, 79(R1)

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