Monday, 21 March 2011

A Gorgeous Gorgoneion

AE12 of Mallos in Cilicia, 4th century BCE
This is a small bronze coin from the town of Mallos in the ancient region of Cilicia, now part of Turkey just north of the island of Cyprus. It's enlarged here; the real thing is only 12 mm across and weighs just over a gramme. It dates from the 4th century BCE.

AE12 of Mallos in Cilicia, 4th century BCE
The obverse or heads side, above left, shows a wreathed head. When I first got this coin it was not identified. I could see to the left of this head two letters in Greek, an old style of the letter Pi and an Upsilon, as shown on the left. I spent some while searching for a coin like this from a city with a name that started with these letters, and I didn't get very far.

Luckily for me, I was able to ask for help from the members of the Forum Classical Numismatics Discussion Board. There, I was pointed to the town of Mallos. The PY is actually the beginning of the name of the character depicted, not the town. It is the head of the river god Pyramos. By coincidence, I have recently written about another coin showing Pyramos here.

The reverse of the coin shows a round female face with curling locks looking out towards the observer. This is a gorgoneion, the face of a gorgon. There are many ancient coins with such a face, most of them much more contorted and horrific than this, often with the tongue sticking out. A gorgon's gaze was said to turn its object to stone, so this image was supposed to ward away evil influences.

The gorgoneion on this coin does not seem in the least frightening, and although not everyone likes this sort of thing, I think it has been made even more lovely by the range of warm colours that have developed during its patination.


  1. As sweet a 12mm as can be. I just got myself a Krannon water wagon.

  2. They're interesting. Raven or no raven? Krater or "hydria"?