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 06); figures of Eros 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) (for photographs of such coins see the ANS website); and there is 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 shown here).


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 (illustration, 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 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); 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.  


* A mysterious tessera, possibly from Sicily, second or third century (?), with Eros riding on a cockerel / Heracles and the Ceryneian Hind (Fritz Rudolf Künker GmbH & Co. KG, Osnabrück,, photos courtesy of Lübke & Wiedemann KG, Stuttgart).


* Here is Eros riding on a cockerel (?) again, this time on a lead seal.

* 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 standing l. / Hippocamp to r. (Emmett 4436).


* 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.

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