Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Type 15: Eros with a Hare

The reverse type of Eros holding a hare is known from coins of Philippopolis in Thracia and Cyzicus in Mysia; there is also a mysterious reverse type of what might be an Eros with a hare on coins of Corcyra.

The author of the Eros article in RE describes the first of these reverses as “purely a genre type” (i.e. Eros as hunter), but the randy hare was traditionally associated with Aphrodite. Philostratus the Elder (Imagines, 1.6) describes a scene of Cupids hunting, and notes that “there is no shooting of arrows at the hare, since they are trying to catch it alive as an offering most pleasing to Aphrodite. For you know, I imagine, what is said of the hare, that it possesses the gift of Aphrodite to an unusual degree”. (Live) hares were favoured gifts for attractive young boys from their admirers. Philostratus again: “perverted lovers have found in the hare a certain power to produce love, attempting to secure the objects of their affection by a compelling magic art” (transl. Arthur Fairbanks). 

On rare coins of Gordian III (year 4) from Viminacium, Moesia is shown holding up a hare in much the same way as here, a type that (on those coins) is difficult to interpret. Why should (for example) the “abundance of hares” in Moesia (Behrendt Pick in AMNG, quoting Neumann) suddenly need to be celebrated on the local coinage? And why is Moesia holding the hare, rather than it being at her feet? Hares appear on coins of Marcianopolis, accompanying what may be a personification of the province (AMNG 755 f.), and in neighbouring Thrace, in the exergue of a coin of Commodus for Crispina at Philippopolis (Varbanov 1145). Regarding the Cyzican coin, a certain sharing of types and motifs among the European and Asian cities of the Black Sea provinces has sometimes been observed.

Commodus on the obverse of the Philippopolitan coin is still a youngster. He was raised to the rank of Caesar at the age of about five, and made co-emperor by his father Marcus Aurelius when he was still only sixteen. Might the hare perhaps refer indirectly to a young prince upon whom (with the blessings of Aphrodite and Eros) hopes of the founding of a stable imperial dynasty were placed by many of his subjects? 

* Philippopolis in Thracia, the following coin of Commodus (illustration).

Æ 19, 7 h, 4.25 g. Obv. ΑΥT KA[in ligature]I M [AY?] KOMOΔOC. Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Commodus r. Rev. ΦIΛIΠΠOΠOΛEITΩN. Eros standing l., holding a hare by the hind-feet in his r. and a wreath in his l. 

* Cyzicus in Mysia, an elegant little coin of the late second century (there are Cyzican coins on which the bust of Kore Soteira has the features of Faustina Junior) (illustration).

Æ 21, 5 h, 4.91 g. Obv. KOPH CΩTEIPA. Draped bust of Kore Soteira r., wearing a wreath of corn-ears. Rev. KYZIKHNΩN. Eros standing l., holding up a hare by the hind-feet in his r. (Photos courtesy of Lübke & Wiedemann KG).

* The second reverse type, on coins of Caracalla from Corcyra, shows a wingless infant l. approaching (and trying to catch?) a hare. The type is discussed and illustrated in an article by Dario Calomino on the Severan coinage of Corcyra in the Revue numismatique (2014). There are specimens of the coin in Vienna, Berlin, Turin and Verona. Given that there are similar scenes shown on a Roman gem in Berlin and on a mural painting in Pompeii, but with a clearly winged Eros in each case, an identification of the figure on this coin with Eros is plausible, though not certain.  


Philippopolis / Commodus
Previously unpublished?
Rarity: RRR

Cyzicus / Kore
References: RPC IV, 765, 777 
Rarity: RR

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