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 Circe’s 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 surpastThe white of Pelops’ shoulder: I could tell ye,How smooth his breast was, and how white his belly; etc.
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 Fox’s 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.
Reference: SNG Fitzwilliam 1787
Sestus / Severus Alexander
Reference: RPC IV, 30
Abydus / Severus Alexander
Abydus / Maximinus I