Saturday, March 5, 2011

Type 06: Eros with Upright Torch

There is a well-known coin from Corduba in Spain, a quadrans struck in the name of a certain Cnaeus Julius (ca. 50 B.C.?), with Venus on the obverse and a figure of Cupid with upright torch and cornucopiae on the reverse. Note how Cupid is portrayed here as a feisty teenager, rather than as the chubby cherub often encountered on later provincial coinage.

These coins are often of naïve style and in poor condition (those illustrated here are superior specimens, also heavier in weight than average), and are not part of this study because, like the Roman Republican denarii with Cupid motifs, they were issued before the era of Roman provincial coinage that we are concerned with. The Corduban coins circulated locally at the other end of the Roman world and will scarcely have influenced later provincial issues in the Balkans or Asia Minor. The types refer to Venus, patroness of the Julii (and so, indirectly, to Julius Caesar). For a dramatic mosaic of Eros (with Psyche) from Corduba, see Type 54.

What we might call the “normal type” on Roman Provincial coins is that of Eros standing l., with his weight on his l. leg and his r. leg bent forward slightly, holding an unlit torch upright in his extended r. hand and with his l. hand tucked behind his back. The peculiar position of the l. hand is surely a cheeky reference to the famous statue of the “Weary Heracles” by Lysippus, often known as the Heracles Farnese (after the copy probably made by Glycon of Athens for the Baths of Caracalla and now in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples). This shows Heracles resting after his many Labours, leaning on his club, which is covered by the skin of the Nemean Lion, and holding behind his back the Apples of the Hesperides. “Weary Heracles” appears on many Roman and Roman Provincial coins, and there is a catalogue of this numismatic type on the website of the museum in Kassel ( The coin shown here is the common VIRTVTI AVGVSTI antoninianus of Gordian III.


And here is the same type seen from behind, on a rare coin of Gordian III from Anchialus in Thracia (photos of this coin courtesy of H. D. Rauch):

References to Heracles occur in a number of statuary and numismatic types of Eros. The famous hero was the embodiment of strength and invincibility, but “Love conquers all”.

This attractive type is known from coins of Septimius Severus and his sons struck in Nicopolis ad Istrum and in Philippopolis. Despite the “Weary Heracles” gesture, this Eros, especially the jaunty-looking figure on the Nicopolitan coins, seems far from weary. The fact that in Nicopolis the torch seems to be unlit might, in the context of the double issue of this type for father and son, have dynastic connotations, in the sense that the boy prince is seen as almost (but not quite) sexually mature—Eros is about to set off on his journey, but the torch is not yet lit. There is a variant type of Severus in Philippopolis showing Eros advancing l. with upright, burning torch and an uncertain object (a wreath or bow?) in his l. hand.

Another variant type, known only from coins of Marcus Aurelius in Prusias ad Hypium (Mysia), shows Eros standing with legs crossed.

Eros with upright torch and bow also appears on of Aphrodisias (Caria), and on an a coin of Boeae (Laconia).

* Nicopolis ad Istrum in Moesia, coins of Septimius Severus, Caracalla, and Geta Caesar.

Æ 17, 7 h, 3.17 g. Obv. AV ΚAI [?] CΕVΗΡΟC. Laureate bust of Septimius Severus r. Rev. ΝΙΚΟΠΟΛΙ ΠΡΟC ΙCΤΡ. Eros standing l., his l. hand held behind his rump and an unlit torch held upwards in his r. hand (the “normal type”).

Æ 18, 8 h, 2.92 g. Obv. AV Κ Μ ΑΥ ΑΝΤΩΝΙΝ. Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Caracalla r. Rev. ΝΙΚΟΠΟΛΙ ΠΡΟC [ΙCΤΡ]. Normal type (Private collection, photos by permission).

Æ 17, 8 h, 2.84 g. Similar.

Æ 17, 7 h, 2.14 g. Similar.

Æ 17, 2.52 g. Obv. [Λ AVP K] ΓE[TAC]. Bare-headed bust of Geta Caesar r. Rev. ΝΙΚΟΠΟΛΙ ΠΡΟC ΙCΤΡ. Normal type (Private collection, photos by permission).

* Philippopolis in Thracia, coins of Septimius Severus and Caracalla Caesar.

Æ 19, 7 h, 5.02 g. Obv. AV Κ • Λ • C • CΕVΗΡΟC. Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Septimius Severus r. Rev. ΦΙΛΙΠΠΟΠΟΛΕΙΤΩΝ. Normal type.

Æ 18, 7 h, 3.95 g. Similar.

Æ 17, 7 h, 3.56 g. Obv. AV Κ Λ C CΕVΗΡΟC. Laureate bust of Septimius Severus r. Rev. ΦΙΛΙΠΠΟΠΟΛΙΤΩΝ. Eros advancing l., with a burning torch held upwards in his r. hand and an uncertain object (a bow? a wreath?) in his l. hand (Private collection, photos by permission).

Æ 19, 7 h, 3.76 g. Similar.

Æ 18, 7 h, 4.45 g. Obv. M AV KAI ΑΝΤΩΝEΙΝOC. Bare-headed, draped bust of Caracalla Caesar r. Rev. ΦΙΛΙΠΠΟΠΟΛΕΙΤΩΝ. Normal type (Private collection, photos by permission).

* Boeae in Laconia, coins of Caracalla (not illustrated). Eros is advancing l., holding a bow in his l. hand and a torch in his r. hand.

* Prusias ad Hypium in Mysia, coins of Marcus Aurelius (not illustrated). Eros has his legs crossed.

* Aphrodisias in Caria, c.200-235 (not illustrated), obv.: Bust of Roma. Eros is standing to front, head l., holding a torch, bow and chlamys.


Nicopolis ad Istrum / Septimius Severus
Reference: Hristova/Jekov
Rarity: R

Nicopolis ad Istrum / Caracalla
References: Pick (AMNG) 1591; Hristova/Jekov
Rarity: Scarce

Nicopolis ad Istrum / Geta Caesar
Reference: Hristova/Jekov
Rarity: RRR 

Philippopolis / Septimius Severus
Reference: Varbanov 1290
Rarity: R

Philippopolis / Septimius Severus (variant with wreath or bow)
Reference: Wildwinds (this coin), otherwise previously unpublished?
Rarity: RR

Philippopolis / Caracalla Caesar
Reference: Varbanov 1559 (but with wrong obverse legend given)
Rarity: RR

Boeae / Caracalla
Reference: Mionnet Supplement IV, 52
Rarity: RRR

Prusias ad Hypium / Marcus Aurelius
References: Waddington, Recueil général, 28; SNG von Aulock 894
Rarity: RRR

Aphrodisias / Roma
Reference: RPC III, 2255
Rarity: Scarce

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