Thursday, March 19, 2009

Rare Greek portrait coins: Thraso

The Wikipedia entry for the Indo-Greek king Thraso describes his coinage:
... in a style similar to those of Menander I, has the same type of Athena, and shares one of Menander's mint marks. On the coin, the title of Thraso is "Basileus Megas" ("Great King"), a title which only Eucratides the Great had dared take before him and which is seemingly misplaced on the young boy Thraso ...
The Thraso coin has never been photographed. Wikipedia cites R. C. Senior, Decline of the Indo-Greeks (1998) and says "The coin belonged to a secretive coin-collector, who did not allow Senior to photograph it, and it remains unpublished."

Not only is the coin unpublished, it may represent a portrait of Thraso whose appearance is otherwise unknown. The bronze coinage of Menander is described as having Athena's head on the obverse. This description comes from James Prinsep (“New Types of Bactrian and Indo-Scythic Coins, Engraved as Pl. XXXII”, Essays on Indian antiquities vol. 1 (1858), p. 399). Prinsep named the obverse bust as “Athena” and this has stuck although the features greatly resemble those of Menander himself!

Not to scale. The coin on the left depicts “Athena”, the right Menander. That Athena sure looks a lot like the first Greek Buddhist king.

(Images used without permission, but are from, the the tetradrachm is available in CNG's web store.)


lwht said...

The resemblance of the head of Athena to that of Menander on the coins is probably coincidental.

Many of the square bronze units do not bear a head with such a resemblance and some have a far more feminine featured obverse head; Refer Mitchiner Volume 2 The Apogee of the Indo-Greeks for the full range of portrayals. Athena Pallas was the patron goddess of Menander, figuring on the reverse of his silver issues, so the presence of her head on the obverse of the bronze issues accompanied by either the owl of Athena (Mitchiner Type 235) or more frequently Nike Mitchiner Type 235 – 244) on the reverse is to be expected and is consistent with the imagery of the silver coinage.

The portrayal of Athena with ahead of somewhat masculine features wearing a Boeotian cavalry helmet worn by Alexander’s Companion Cavalry and identifiable with the Greco-Macedonian conquerors of Bactria has a long history, dating back to the Seleucid era. An example of the masculine featured Bactrian Athena from the reign of Antiochos I can be seen at


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