Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mithradates’ Amazon coin type

(CNG, auction 61, 2002, lot 245)

Pictured above is a very scarce bronze coin struck by Mithradates the Great. It is usually described as depicting an Amazon wearing a wolf's scalp. We know that Mithradates' die cutters liked to engrave the face of Mithradates into his coins. There are Alexander-style tetradrachms depicting Herakles with the features of Mithradates. There are also bronzes which seem to show Perseus with the features of Mithradates.

Is it possible that the "Amazon" coins depict not a generic Amazon, but the one most important to Mithradates, his wife Hypsicratea? It would be wonderful to have a coin with the features of this legendary Amazon queen.

Many of Mithradates’ types seem to illustrate the myth of Perseus. There are tetradrachms with Pegasos reverse, large bronzes of Athena head/Perseus, large Perseus/Pegasos bronzes, this aegis/Nike bronze, and a small bronze Perseus/harpa. Barclay Head explained in 1911 the significance of the types: “On these coins the supposed Persian descent of Mithradates is emphasized by the types relating to Perseus.” Mithradates’ other bronze types include Zeus (who fathered Perseus) and Dionysos (who fought Perseus).

Warwick Wroth speculated in 1889 that the female head in ‘wolf’s skin’ type issued by Mithradates represents Andromeda. Wroth suggested that the ‘wolf’s skin’, which Mionnet called goat’s skin and James Millingen called griffin’s skin, is the skin of the ketos slain by Perseus. Mithradates’ other types are identified as “Ares” (?), “Head in leather cap”, and “Artemis”. These mythological figures are all identified by style; there is no certainty that Ares and Artemis are the correct identification. Those coins could depict other characters from Perseus’ cycle and we would not know.

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