Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The gorgons of Mallos part 2

Part 2: The uninscribed Earring Gorgons

See Part 1.

In 1883 Imhoof-Blumer published a rare gorgon/sphinx obol in his book Monnaies grecques and proposed that it was minted at Nagidos. 130 years later there is still no agreement on the mint of origin. In the catalog for Obolos 5, Alan Walker speculated that the sphinx/gorgon obol type could be from Mallos.

This is the type I wish to discuss:

Classical Numismatic Group e-Auction 174, October 2007, lot 57

Mallos has been suggested before. Jan Six offered Mallos as a possible mint for the gorgon/sphinx and gorgon/head obols in his 1885 thesis. Although his suggestion is no longer cited I believe his attribution is correct. This gorgoneion greatly resembles the gorgoneion on bronze coins of Mallos. The arrangement of the hair is identical, and the triple earring matches. Those bronze coins are dated to 400-300 BC. It’s tempting to assign these fractions to the same period due to the resemblance and the lack of an incuse reverse. These pieces lack an ethnic and could perhaps be earlier.

The bronze type with ΜΑΛ inscription has the same style gorgoneion

Six’s suggestion of Mallos was not accepted. George Hill pointed out in 1900 that the sphinx is depicted identically to the throne-supports on the staters naming a Persian satrap Pharnabazus with inscription ΝΑΓΙΔΙΚΟΝ for Nagidos "confirming" the Imhoof-Blumer's Nagidos attribution and overshadowing Six's. Imhoof-Blumer’s recanted the Nagidos attribution in favor of the mint Aphrodisias in 1931. Mallos was not mentioned again.

The throne supports depict a similar sphinx

This style of gorgon is unusual. It also occurs on similar obol.
SNG Levante #249

There are two unique coins that also match the style, a tiny fraction gorgon/sphinx and a unique gorgon/eagle from the D. Klein collection.

It's tempting to consider the uninscribed gorgoneion obols as originating at Mallos based on similarity of style to the bronze coin. The obols of Mallos demonstrate huge variety so it is clear the mint had the desire to make a lot of different issues instead of repeating the same type. Yet it would be more satisfying if we could connect the gorgoneion to Mallos for some reason so let us now enter the realm of wild speculation.

Homer’s Odyssey places the gorgoneion in Hades. A hot spring may seem to be an entrance to Hades. The scholar J. H. Croon believed coins depicting gorgons correlate with mints near hot springs. Croon noted twenty-seven Greek cities with Gorgoneion coins; out of these there are eleven where hot springs occur. Croon followed E. S. Hartland’s theory that Perseus was linked in ancient times to hot springs and believed those legends confirm his hypothesis. (The folktale connection is dubious; Hartland’s chapter on wells includes only tales far removed from the Perseus myth.) Croon managed to get a paper into the Journal of Hellenistic Studies in 1955 connecting hot springs and Greek mints striking gorgon types.

Was there a real, physical entrance to the mythic underworld at Mallos? I am not sure. The location of Mallos is unclear. It was at the month of the Pyramus river but the river has since moved. The mouth has silted up and thus the coast itself also moved. There is a hot spring at Duzici Haruniye Ilicasi on the Pyramus but I have no idea how far it was from ancient Mallos.

Mallos was founded by the seer Mopsus. The editors of Wikipedia write that at Mopsoukrene, the "spring of Mopsus", [Mopsus] had an oracular site. Was this a hot spring or even a spring emitting mysterious underworld narcotic gasses similar to the set-up at Delphi?

The idea that Mallos used the gorgon as its type to advertise its hot spring or oracle is probably nonsense. I am not suggesting that a hot spring proves Mallos struck the uninscribed gorgon obols, merely adding another mint possibility to Croon's list.

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