Monday, March 21, 2011

Type 53: Hero and Leander

One of the most romantic of the Greek legends is that of Hero of Sestus and her lover Leander of Abydus. Separated from each other not only by social convention (Hero was a virgin priestess of Aphrodite) but also by the choppy waters of the Hellespont (the Dardanelles), Leander would swim across to her at night, guided by a lamp, and then swim back again. One night, the lamp was blown out by the wind, and Leander drowned. When Hero saw his body the next morning she threw herself into the sea and perished.

The tale of the doomed lovers has continued to exert a certain fascination. In the late sixteenth century, Christopher Marlowe wrote a homoerotically charged poem about the story:
His body was as straight as Circes wand;
Jove might have sipt out nectar from his hand,
Even as delicious meat is to the tast,
So was his neck in touching, and surpast
The white of Pelops shoulder: I could tell ye,
 How smooth his breast was, and how white his belly; etc.
In 1810, Lord Byron became the first person in modern times known to have swum across, commenting afterwards that the immediate distance is not above a mile but the current renders it hazardous, so much so, that I doubt whether Leanders conjugal powers must not have been exhausted in his passage to Paradise”.

Today there is an annual swimming race across the Hellespont, for which all shipping in the sea-lane is temporarily (and no doubt expensively) halted.  

It is hardly surprising that the two cities of Sestus in Thracia and Abydus in Troas should have issued coins to celebrate the legend, though there has been discussion among numismatists about why they should have been issued by certain rulers and not by others. Martin Price speculated that the Commodus issue in Abydus celebrated the imperial betrothal to Crispina in the year 177, but taking into account how ill-fated the lovers were known to be this would have been tactless and therefore most unlikely. Another theory is that the issues were connected with notable imperial crossings of the Hellespont, for instance in the context of military campaigns. Admittedly, Maximinus is not known to have made the crossing; however, given how troubled his short reign was, the coins struck in Abydus might well have reflected wishful thinking on the part of its frightened citizens, who, ever fearful of Eastern aggression, anticipated a campaign by Maximinus to secure the eastern borders (Mark Fox, Hero and Leander, in The Numismatist, September 2014, pp.59-61). 

* Sestus in Thracia, coins of Caracalla and Severus Alexander (illustration). Leander, his clothes and sword on a rock behind him, is shown swimming r. through the sea, in which fish can be seen, towards Hero standing l. in her tower, holding out an oil-lamp that is being lit by Eros, flying r., from his torch. For a detailed coverage of these coins, see Mark Foxs forthcoming catalogue of the coinage of Sestus in the Roman period.






13.49 g. Obv. AY • K M A[Y C]E • AΛEΞANΔPOC. Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Severus Alexander r.  Rev. [C]HCTIΩN. As described above. - Varbanov 2987 (Photos courtesy of Lübke & Wiedemann KG).

 

* Abydus in Troas, coins of Commodus, Caracalla (illustration), Severus Alexander (illustrations) and Maximinus I (illustration). Similar reverse type as for Sestus. Notice the mixture of Latin and Greek legends on the coins of Severus Alexander.



Æ 38, 6 h, 26.29 g. Obv. AY KAI M AYPH ANTΩNEINOC. Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Caracalla r. Rev. ABYΔHNΩN HPΩ, in ex. ΛAIANΔPOC. As described above (Photos courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc., www.cngcoins.com).



25.78 g. Obv. IMP CIA AVIP SEV ALEXANDRO AVG. Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Severus Alexander r. Rev. ABYΔHNΩ, N in ex. As described above. - Münzen & Medaillen GmbH, auction 40, 354 (Photos courtesy of Münzen & Medaillen GmbH).







Æ 33, 7 h, 22.83 g. Similar. 





Æ 36, 21.09 g. Obv. AYΓ IOY OYH MAΞIMEINOC. Laureate draped bust of Maximinus I r. Rev. ABYΔHNΩ[N]. As described above. - Günther Schlüter, Hero und Leander auf den antiken Münzen von Abydos und Sestos, p.67, no.19.






Corpus

Sestus / Caracalla
Reference: SNG Fitzwilliam 1787
Rarity: Scarce

Sestus / Severus Alexander
Gorny & Mosch, auction 125, 302 = Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger, auction 226, 1969; otherwise previously unpublished?
Rarity: RRR

Abydus / Commodus
Reference: RPC IV, 30
Rarity: RRR

Abydus / Caracalla
Münzen & Medaillen, auction 11, 62; Triton, auction 11, 477; otherwise previously unpublished?
Rarity: RRR

Abydus / Severus Alexander
References: SNG von Aulock 7543; Kraft, Das System der kaiserzeitlichen Münzprägung in Kleinasien, plate 49, 1
Rarity: RR

Abydus / Maximinus I
Reference: Günther Schlüter, Hero und Leander auf den antiken Münzen von Abydos und Sestos, p.67, no.19
Rarity: RRR

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