Saturday, March 12, 2011

Type 24: Miscellaneous Erotes

Eros appears on a number of Greek or Roman Republican coins.  

For example, on the reverse of late third century B.C. bronzes of Barium, Apulia, crouching on the prow of a ship and drawing his bow (photos courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group).


He is also on the reverse of Roman Republican bronze coins issued by L. Memmius Galeria in 106 B.C., where he is reaching up to crown the prow of a vessel decorated with the head of Venus (photo courtesy of Andrew McCabe). 

But there are few “stand-alone” figures of Eros on ancient coins before the Roman imperial period. A few rare Roman Republican silver coins spring to mind, such as the unique quinarius (Julia 7) showing Cupid breaking a thunderbolt over his knee—Cupid is an indirect reference to the connection between the Julian gens and the goddess Venus, and the breaking of Jupiters thunderbolt might be an illustration of the Love conquers all theme, parallel to Eros playing with the weapons of Heracles, see Type 19), or at least of Eros’s fearless playfulness.


Also, the extremely rare AR sestertii of Mn. Cordius Rufus (46 B.C.), with Eros running, holding the victors wreath and palm, here two variants (photos courtesy of Andrew McCabe).


Then there are the coins from Corduba (see Type 6); and the attractive reverse type of Eros playing on a cithara or lyre on coins of Hyria (Orra), Calabria, c. 219-89 B.C. (two variants of the reverse are shown here).


Figures of Eros can be found on small (and rare) Æ of some of the kings of Parthia, e.g. Phraates IV (38-2 B.C.) and Artabanus II (10-38, shown here; for photographs of other such coins see the ANS website).

Clive Stannards fascinating provisional catalogue of the Local Coinages of Central Italy in the Late Roman Republic (2007) contains a number of Æs and struck leads with images of Cupid/Eros: Bust of Cupid (series 5a, cf. Type 1); Cupid shooting an arrow (5b, cf. Type 4); Cupid with two torches (17a,c, cf. Type 6); Cupid bound to a column and awaiting chastisement (35a-c, see description at Type 55); Cupid seated r. (86); Cupid striding r. with bow and arrow (102a-b); Cupid on lion r. (117, cf. Type 22); Boy (not obviously winged) on a dolphin l. (197, cf. Type 21).

There is a most peculiar reverse type on certain  Æ coins of Gallienus from Serdica, showing a winged male figure holding uncertain objects. The cataloguers of this type (Moushmov, Ruzicka, Varbanov and Hristova/Jekov) offer diverging identifications of the figure (Genius (Apollo?); winged Genius; winged male figure; Genius) and of the object held in its extended r. (nothing; a small figure with mantle and raised hand; a statuette; a Muse). I shall go out on a limb and suggest that the figure is Harpocrates, or a Harpocratic Eros”, for the following reasons: (1) The shape of the head (2) The object held in the extended r. looks to me like a hawk (3) The object held in the lowered l. might be a branch, likewise an attribute of Harpocrates, rather than a bow, quiver, arrows, etc. (4) Winged Harpocratic Erotes” are not unknown in ancient art (5) Isis, Sarapis and Harpocrates all appear on coins of Serdica. This leaves the reverse inscription ΦΙΛΟΜΟΥCΟC unexplained, of course. If it is not a personal name (and why should it be, on a late coin of Serdica?), could it be a reference to Apollo (but why not then portray Apollo, rather than an ambiguous winged figure?) or even a flattering reference to the emperor (but wouldnt that be on the obverse, like the mysterious epithet ΧPΥCΟΓΟΝΗ sometimes given to his wife Salonina, unless the reverse actually showed Gallienus?). 
The coin illustrated here is Æ 27, 1 h, 20.32 g (Private collection, photos by permission).


Eros the musician doesnt appear on Provincial coins, with the possible exception of a mysterious coin of Antoninus Pius from Miletopolis in Mysia (Æ 16, 2.27 g), the reverse of which might show Eros advancing r., playing a cithara (photos courtesy of Numismatik Naumann GmbH).

However, there are musical motifs on other artefacts, such as the following:


* A lovely signet ring (fourth century?) of Eros tuning a cithara (photos courtesy of Ancient Caesar).


* A lead seal, with a seated Eros playing the lyre on one side, and an eagle, head turned back and  a wreath in its beak, on the other (photos courtesy of Gert Boersema).


* Gert Boersema also drew my attention to this uniface lead seal, with Eros playing or tuning a lyre or cithara.


* An oil lamp from Aquitania or Italy, first or early second century, showing Eros riding on a dolphin and playing a flute (photo courtesy of Lars Rutten).




* A similar motif on a round plaque probably used as a garden decoration, suspended between the columns of the portico.

Erotes figure quite frequently on Roman and provincial tesserae, on gemstones, and on seals and seal impressions; here are a few more examples. Further information can be found in M. Rostowzew, Tesserarum Urbis Romae et Suburbi Plumbearum Sylloge (St. Petersburg, 1903); M. Overbeck, Römische Bleimarken in der Staatlichen Münzsammlung München (Munich, 1995); O. Gülbay & H. Kireç, Efes Kurşun Tesseraelari / Ephesian Lead Tesserae (Selçuk, 2008); James H. Schwartz, “Engraved gems in the collection of the American Numismatic Society II: Intaglios with Eros”, in the American Journal of Numismatics, 11, 1999, pp.13-45; Clay Seal Impressions of Zeugma (Gaziantep, 2007);  K. Emmett, Alexandrian Coins (Lodi, WI, 2001); and so on.


* A spintria (“brothel token”) from Rome showing Eros advancing with a sword (photos courtesy of Ancient Byways).
Some readers of this blog have expressed doubts about the genuineness of this item. It is often difficult of course to be sure without being able to examine the piece in hand—though spintriae, which tend to command inflated prices on the market, have been faked very frequently.


* A crude lead tessera, also from Rome, with Eros standing l., holding a filleted wreath in his r. hand and with his l. tucked behind him in the weary Heracles pose (see Type 6) (the other side of the tessera shows a palm-branch).


* A lead tessera, from Rome, showing Eros advancing l., holding a wreath in his r. and a strigil (?) in his l. (Rostowzew 2006). If the uncertain object is indeed a strigil, that would indicate a connection to a bath-house. One suggestion, because of the wreaths on both sides, is that the tessera evokes a successful sportsman (charioteer or gladiator), favoured also in love (lots of lady admirers) and about to enjoy a visit to the baths after his exertions!



* A lead seal, with a tiny Eros advancing l., holding a wreath (or a whip).


* A larger lead seal, showing Eros l. facing Pan r. (Numismatik Lanz, photo courtesy of Lübke & Wiedemann KG).




* Here is a tiny Roman agate gemstone from a signet ring (photo courtesy of Gert Boersema) with the fascinating design of Eros trying to snare a swan (the swan being one of the birds associated with Aphrodite, along with the dove, the goose, the sparrow, and the iynx). He may not find it easy, and in a moment Eros himself, who traps humans in love, may ironically be tangled in his own snare.  


* Here is Eros riding on a cockerel (cockerels were seen as being very highly sexed), on a lead seal. I am grateful to Clive Stannard for pointing out that this type also appears on the reverse of Italian tesserae of the first century B.C., and occasionally on ceramics and gemstones. There is no obvious numismatic precedent for the type, and he suggests that it may be an image from popular culture.

And here is such a tessera, with Heracles and the Ceryneian Hind on the reverse (Fritz Rudolf Künker GmbH & Co. KG, Osnabrück,, photos courtesy of Lübke & Wiedemann KG, Stuttgart).


* An even more exotic figure of Eros riding can be found on this lead seal (photo courtesy of Münz Zentrum Rheinland), which shows a gryllos, or mythical creature that is part human, part animal: Eros is riding on a horse (?) with the face of Silenus (the head of the animal might however be that of a goat rather than a horse), with the whole ensemble supported by what could be tiny horse-legs but looks more like a little elephant standing on rams horns! Grylloi were magical and talismanic, and are often found on ancient seals and gems.


* More conventionally, here is Eros riding on a horse, on a tiny Roman cornelian gemstone from a signet ring (photo courtesy of Gert Boersema).

* A little lead tessera from Egypt, ascribed (logically enough) by Milne to Aphroditopolis, with Eros advancing l. / Hippocamp to r. (Emmett 4436).
What is Eros doing here (or, what is he advancing on?). Clive Stannard has drawn my attention to a charming lead piece in the British Museum that shows Eros, in a similar pose, sneaking up on a grasshopper (a type also known from gemstones). 



* A small uniface lead, Roman, but of uncertain origin, and probably not a tessera (although this motif does occur on tesserae), showing two cherubic Erotes. The design is uncertain. The Erotes are standing either side of a fountain, perhaps of the kind found in sanctuaries of Aphrodite, from which the doves sacred to the goddess could drink, or they are holding between them a vessel containing what might be poppies—which (if they are poppies) would suggest a funerary connection.

* Although no provincial coins have yet come to light that show Eros with Nike, he appears on several of the so-called Aboukir medallions, struck in gold in the first half of the 3rd century, perhaps at Beroea in Macedonia or Perinthus in Thracia, and found at Aboukir near Alexandreia, and is represented helping to support a shield held by Nike.


* A similar motif (though with Victoria seated) appears quite frequently on late Roman gold coins, here on a solidus of Constantius II (photos courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc., The little figure is usually described by cataloguers as a Genius, or sometimes even as a smaller Victoria (despite being naked), distracting from the interesting thought that here is yet another instance of the survival of pagan types and motifs in Roman iconography long after the triumph of Christianity (the appearance of the Tyche of Antioch on Byzantine bronzes is another example).


Serdica / Gallienus
References: Moushmov 4955; Ruzicka 479 var.; Varbanov 2636; Hristova/Jekov
Rarity: RR

Miletopolis / Antoninus Pius
Previously unpublished?
Rarity: RRR

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