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The Barley Coins from Metapontum

The rich, fertile lands of Italy and Sicily were irresistible for Greek colonists. Hundreds of new cities were founded during the 1st millennium BC, along the coastlines of Southern Italy and Sicily. Some became hugely successful trading centres and, as in mainland Greece, there were rivalries and ultimately clashes between the various city-states which vied for power over parts of the peninsula. These swathes of new cities gave Italy and Sicily the name ‘Magna Graecia’ or Greater Greece.

Coins originally emerged from Lydia and Ionia around 650 BC and within a century the most powerful cities in the Greek world were issuing their own coins. These included a handful of states in Magna Graecia. The coins of Metapontum in Lucania are some of the most instantly recognisable from the ancient world. This particular city owed most of its vast wealth to the abundance of barley it was able to produce in its fertile land. The inhabitants chose to adorn their coins with a large grain-ear, either as a reference to their wealth, or an etymological link (as Monterio suggests) to the Greek word for the autumn harvest, metoporinos, which would have seen the gathering of the city’s grain crop.

Silver nomos struck at Metapontum, c. 510-470 BC. Note the unusual incuse design.

The earliest coins of Greek Italy share a unique feature in their design. Working on their own weight standard, the silver nomos coins issued by Croton, Sybaris and Metapontum featured their various designs on both sides of the coin. Looking at the obverse, the coins appear much like any other but when turned over, it is obvious that the reverse exhibits the same design but in an incuse (concave) form. The result is a coin which looks as if its design had been stamped right through, almost like a seal. Exactly why the cities of Southern Italy chose to make their coins in this way is uncertain. It has been suggested that the great mathematician Pythagoras was responsible – he had, after all, lived in all three of the cities which produced the earliest of these incuse coins. This theory is considered somewhat farfetched, and Monterio suggests it is more likely those responsible for creating these had no concept of what would later become the traditional model of a coin – the head of a deity/ruler on one side and a design on the other. The die engravers of Magna Graecia were in effect pioneers, creating what they saw fit in this new medium, coinage, which was barely a century old.

Incuse silver nomos from Croton in Bruttium. Along with Metapontum it was one of the earliest cities to produced coins of this type. The tripod was an emblem of the city.  c. 550-500 BC.
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Given the city’s apparent reliance on the grain, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Demeter, the Greek goddess of the harvest, appears on later coins produced in Metapontum. The head of Demeter is always represented as a young woman, frequently engraved in exquisite beauty to a very high level of quality. Demeter appears in a variety of different styles, leading Hill (2012) to suggest that the artists responsible for her engraving may have taken inspiration from real life.

A later silver nomos from Metapontum featuring the obligatory ear of barley juxtaposed with the goddess Demeter. c. 330-280 BC.
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The helmeted head of a bearded man appears on nomos coins struck in Metapontum, around the 4th Century BC. The portrait that of Leukippos, the alleged founder of the city, though later historians from the ancient world ascribe the foundation of Metapontum to various other figures. Regardless, the artistically accomplished portraits of the bearded Leukippos depict the man wearing a Corinthian Helmet, and the trademark ear of barley still appears on the coin, as it had in the centuries before. The Leukippos issues are some of the few coins from the Greek world to depict the portrait of a city’s founder and are, as such, fascinating.

The city-founder Leukippos, depicted bearded and helmeted. Silver nomos, c. 340-330 BC.
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Hill, P (2012) The Prospero Collection. London. Baldwin’s

Monterio, L. D. (2006) A Silver Stater from Metapontum in the Kelsey Museum. Michigan. University of Michigan

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Edward the Black Prince

The Black Prince was known as Edward of Woodstock during his lifetime. It is traditionally said that his nickname came from his armour, but there is no contemporary evidence for this; it was first quoted in documents in the 1530’s.

Edward the Black Prince (1330-76) was the oldest son of Edward III (1327-77), and consequently heir to the throne. However he pre-deceased his father, so his father was succeeded by the Black Prince’s son Richard, who was crowned as Richard II.

Edward The Black Prince was one of the original Knights of the Garter and was the first Duke created in England, as the Duke of Cornwall in 1337; he was later created Prince of Wales in 1343 and Prince of Aquitaine in 1362. In the previous year he had ignored marrying as a diplomatic tool, and married in a love match his widowed cousin Joan, Countess of Kent, who was famed for her beauty. He moved with her from their home in Berkhamsted, Herts to live in his new domain in France.

Edward was renowned in his own lifetime as one the greatest knights of his age, a model of chivalry and one of the outstanding commanders of the Hundred Years War. At the battle of Crécy (1346), aged just 16, Edward was in the forefront of the fighting and provided charismatic leadership, while his father commanded his men from the height of a nearby windmill. Towards the end of the battle, the blind king John of Bohemia defiantly charged towards the melée bound to his knights by ropes, and the whole group were killed. Edward was so impressed by this that he adopted John’s badge and motto, an ostrich feather and the words Ich Dien, which is probably the origin of the Prince of Wales’ feathers and motto.

Edward campaigned in France for the next ten years, and at the battle of Poitiers (1356), in a major victory, he defeated and captured the French king John II (the Good), for whom a huge ransom of £500,000 was paid. English archery again proved decisive.

In 1367 he lead an expedition to Spain to restore the deposed Don Pedro of Castile to the throne, which he achieved in another notable victory at the battle of Najerá, in northern Castile. He contracted an illness there, as did many of his troops – it was said that scarcely one in five of his soldiers returned home – and Edward returned to his home in Aquitaine. While there he was not a successful administrator, leading to a revolt, which resulted in the brutal sacking of Limoges (1370). He returned to England in the following year in poor health, gave back the rule of Aquitaine to his father in 1372, and died in 1376 at the age of 45.

Pavillon d’or of Edward the Black Prince

This gold Pavillon d’or was struck at Bordeaux in Gascony, Aquitaine, of which Edward was Prince. No coins were struck in England in his name.

The coin was introduced near the beginning of his reign, in or before 1364. It was valued at 60 sterlings or 25s 0d bordelaise (a currency system of Aquitaine), and was originally known as a Noble Guyennois. The letter B at the end of the reverse legend denotes the mint of issue.

In a design reminiscent of the age of chivalry and the feudal system, we see the celebrated military commander standing below a gothic arch or portico, a device used extensively in the beautiful series of gold coins in the Gothic style in France and the Low Countries in the 14th century. The arch on this coin is particularly elaborate, with a tower, Geometric tracery windows and flying buttresses. The abbreviated legend translates as Edward, first-born of the king of England, Prince of Aquitaine. The four ostrich feathers on either side of him are the newly adopted badge of the Prince of Wales, borrowed from John the Blind of Bohemia whom he defeated at the battle of Crécy. The Prince is holding a sword, and wears an ermine mantle; two leopards are visible at his feet.

The elaborate, highly decorated design on the reverse is barely recognisable as the original form of a simple cross from which it was ultimately derived. The English and French symbols of a leopard and lis appear in the angles. In the centre of the cross a small letter E (for Edward) indicates that this is from the second, slightly later issue, replacing a small rosette in the centre of the first issue coins. The design of the second issue differs marginally from the first, in the detail of the Gothic arch and particularly in the improved clarity of the leopards at the Prince’s feet.

These attractive coins are rarely found in really good condition and clearly struck. This specimen is particularly well preserved, and very well struck for the issue. It has a distinguished pedigree, dating back to the famous Montagu collection of the late nineteenth century, one of the largest and most famous of all British collections.

France, Anglo-Gallic, Aquitaine, Edward the Black Prince (1362-72), gold Pavillon d’or or Noble Guyennois, second issue, Bordeaux, the Black Prince standing facing below a gothic portico, holding sword, left hand raised, ostrich feathers on either side, two leopards at his feet. Rev. Floriate cross within tressure, leopards and lis in angles, leopard in first angle, E in centre, 4.82g (Boud. 508; Dupl. 1120A; Elias 154c; F. 5; PA 2932; S. 8125; Schneider III, 51).Almost extremely fine, a superb specimen, rare.

View the coin

Ex Montagu collection, Sotheby, 17 July 1897 (lot 336) (realised £4/4/-)
Ex Hirsch auction XX, lot 327

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The Crab coins of the Ancient World

Coins from the ancient world are nothing short of fascinating. Anyone with even a passing interest in history, art or archaeology will almost certainly find coins minted in Greek and Roman times worthy of intrigue. This may be down to the particular emperor on a Roman coin, or the deity, or in this case animal, that takes pride of place on the metal.

Text Box: Silver Didrachm of Akragas, c. 480-470 BC.
Silver Didrachm of Akragas, c. 480-470 BC.

Crab coins are some of the most instantly recognisable from antiquity. The constellation Cancer is, of course, a crab. The animal was also associated with the sea god, Poseidon. Minted in the ancient city of Akragas (modern day Agrigento) in Sicily, the elegantly engraved design of an eight-legged crustacean never fails to draw attention – at museums or coin fairs. This may be for one simple reason; how often do you see a crab on a coin? The answer is, rarely. The Carian island of Kos also issued coins with a similar motif. The name ‘Kos’ comes from the ancient Greek word for crab and hence, it was chosen as an emblem of the island.

Text Box: Silver Tetradrachm of Kos, c. 350-345 BC, issued under the magistrate Nestoridas.
Silver Tetradrachm of Kos, c. 350-345 BC, issued under the magistrate Nestoridas.
View the coin.

Kos’ connection to the crab leaves little room for debate, but why did the inhabitants of Akragas choose to adorn their coins with the creature? Symbols of power and wealth in the ancient world, coins were a method of spreading the political ideals and values of the societies that produced them. Akragas, a relatively young city-state, was founded around 580 BC, and within only a few decades was issuing its own coinage. The city found prosperity in fertile farmland, and focused on strengthening its naval power. The crab was likely chosen as a symbol of Akragas’ strength: a master of the land and the sea. By the turn of the 5th Century BC, Akragas had grown in power and, on Sicily, was second only to the enormous city of Syracuse.      

Text Box: Large Silver Tetradrachm of Akragas, minted c. 465-446 BC, exhibiting a beautiful cabinet tone. Ex Glendining’s, 1982.
Large Silver Tetradrachm of Akragas, minted c. 465-446 BC, exhibiting a beautiful cabinet tone. Ex Glendining’s, 1982.
View the coin.

The city’s coinage, like many of the Greek world, consisted of silver Tetradrachms, Didrachms and smaller denominations. Also issued was a short-lived series of exceptionally rare decadrachms. Bronze coins were also issued for use as small change. The crab motif is actually the reverse of the coin, and appears in a shallow concave (or ‘incuse’) circle. Some rare pieces depict a crab with its carapace taking the form of a human face. The local river god may be behind this strange addition to the design. On the obverse an eagle, representing Zeus, the king of the Greek pantheon, takes pride of place.

Unfortunately for Akragas, following the period of prosperity in the 5th Century the city was sacked by Carthaginian forces in 406 BC. While it would never recover its status as a powerful ancient Greek city, its legendary crab coinage harks back to a time when Akragas held power over land and sea.

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Gold coins of King Charles I

The second Stuart King

Charles I was King of England, King of Scotland, and King of Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. He was born into the House of Stuart as the second son of King James VI of Scotland. After his father inherited the English throne in 1603 as James I, he moved to England. After the death of his older brother Henry Frederick in 1612, he became heir apparent to the three kingdoms. Charles I ascended to the throne in 1625, the same year he married the Bourbon princess Henrietta Maria of France, who was a Roman Catholic.

Charles I Unite, Tower mint, 1625. On the obverse, the King is depicted in coronation robes. View the coin.

The gold Unite denomination was first produced during the reign of King James I and named after the legends on the coin that indicated the king’s intention of uniting the two kingdoms of England and Scotland. Numerous issues of gold unites, valued at twenty shillings, were produced at the Tower Mint throughout the reign of Charles I, both when the mint was under the king’s control and later when it was under the control of the Parliament.

Mounting discontent towards the King

Charles I Unite, Tower mint, 1627-1628. The reverse features faithful words: FLORENT CONCORDIA REGNA – Through concord kingdoms flourish. View the coin.

As King, Charles firmly believed in the divine right of kings to govern according to their own conscience. His actions were viewed by many as the actions of an absolute monarch and generated mistrust. He was fiercely opposed by the Parliament that sought to curb his royal prerogatives – multiple quarrels ensued. King’s policies were widely opposed, especially the levying of taxes without parliamentary consent. Because he was married to a Roman Catholic, his religious policies were widely opposed as well and ignited the opposition consisting of Reformed English Puritans and Scottish Covenanters. His views were deemed ‘too Catholic’ especially since he failed to help the Protestant forces successfully during the Thirty Years’ War. The position of the English and Scottish parliaments was strengthening and the discontent was mounting.

Start of the War and Wellington Declaration

An 1845 painting by Charles Landseer, The Eve of the Battle of Edge Hill. It portrays King Charles I before the battle of Edgehill that occurred on 23 October 1642.

In 1642, both sides began to raise arms. Charles raised an army using the medieval method of commission of array, and Parliament called for volunteers for its militia. Needless to say that the attempted negotiations led to no success and Charles I raised his royal standard at Nottingham on 22 August 1642. The King and the Parliament were now at war. King’s forces controlled (approximately) the Midlands, Wales, the West Country and northern England. His court was now set up at Oxford. The Parliament forces controlled London, the south-east and East Anglia, as well as the English navy.  

After raising his standard, the King proceeded into Shropshire, arriving in Wellington on 19 September 1642. On 20 September he issued the famous Wellington Declaration declaring that he would uphold ‘the Protestant Religion, the Laws of England, and the Liberty of Parliament’.

Charles I Triple Unite, Oxford mint, 1642. Few of these huge coins exist today; they are widely prized as some of the most impressive artistic expressions of the turbulent era in English history.  View the coin.

This Triple Unite represents the largest hammered gold coins ever made. This is coin was minted in Oxford and issued in 1642. This was because the Tower mint fell into the hands of the Parliament – Charles was forced to open mints in Royalist western England, at Oxford and Shrewsbury and even further west. This extraordinary coin features a crowned and armoured half-length portrait of the King, holding a sword and an olive branch. On the reverse is a continuous scroll with the abbreviated motto from the declaration. This piece was struck with a goal to reinforce the image and the waning power of the King. The motto from the Wellington Declaration appears on many of his coins, however, in largest form on the famed Triple Unites, which carried immense ‘face value’.

Charles I Halfcrown, Oxford mint, 1644. The so-called ‘Declaration Issue’ depicting Charles I on horseback and the motto from the declaration. An example of the Wellington Declaration motto struck on lesser coin denominations. View the coin.

The aftermath and the road to Parliamentary Monarchy

After a series of defeats from 1644-1646, the King surrendered to the Scottish forces at Newark. In June of the same year, his headquarters at Oxford were captured as well. On 30 January 1647, the Scottish forces handed the King to the English Parliament forces. Charles attempted to exploit the growing divisions between various opposition forces, bargain and negotiate with interested parties, although most of the efforts led to little or no avail. The King refused to accept his captors’ demands for a constitutional monarchy. He even managed to even briefly escape and forge an alliance with Scotland in 1648 to invade England. However, Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army consolidated its control over England and crushed Royalists chances of winning the war, successfully defeating them at the Battle of Preston in August 1648.

A painting by Edward Bower, Portrait of King Charles I of England at his trial, January 1649, from c. 1650.

On 30 January 1649, King Charles I was tried, convicted, and executed for high treason. After his demise, the ancient divine right of kings, that Charles I so eagerly believed as the foundation and justification of his power, ended across the land. The Commonwealth of England was now established as a republic. However, within a decade from Charles I execution and Cromwell’s rule as the Lord Protector, monarchy would be restored to Charles’s son, King Charles II. Upon Restoration in 1660, Charles II entered London in triumphal manner – England became a parliamentary monarchy in both name and powers granted to governing bodies.


Carlton, C. (1995), Charles I: The Personal Monarch, Routledge

Cust, R. (2005), Charles I: A Political Life, Pearson Education

Gregg, P. (1981), King Charles I, Dent

Loades, D. M. (1974), Politics and the Nation, Fontana

This article is written by Ema Sikic.

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We’re still open

Our store may be closed but our teams are working from home as much as possible, as per the government guidelines, in order to help halt the spread of Covid-19.

We are still very much open for business, taking orders, answering queries and despatching goods. We have implemented a new structure which will allow our teams to operate effectively remotely. Our colleagues and customer safety remain our top priority and we thank you for your understanding in this unprecedented situation we find ourselves in.

You can still:

Speak to our experts

If you would like to speak to our experts, please call +44 (0)20 7930 6879.

Send us an email

If you would rather email us, you can do so at and your query will be forwarded to the correct department.

Browse our newest stock

And of course, there is our website which is being updated with new items as they come in– feel free to browse our departments:

Learn about coins

Alternatively, if you are still new to the hobby or would like to introduce someone to numismatics why not visit our new-to-coin guide.

We look forward to assisting you however we can during these difficult times, please stay safe and healthy.

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Published: March 20

Like many businesses in the UK and all over the world, Stanley Gibbons is taking measures to adapt to the fast-evolving Coronavirus situation. The following is a message from our Group CEO.

To all of our friends in the coin collecting world

As a near 150-year-old organisation, Baldwin’s has seen many challenging moments throughout its history. Witnessing the developments of Covid-19 has saddened us while at the same time has re-enforced our commitment to the two most important elements of our business, namely our colleagues and our customers. 

Over the last few weeks, we have been working continuously to ensure that we do all we can to protect everybody as much as possible while providing you with the best, most comprehensive service possible. 

The situation continues to change day by day, if not hour by hour. For the majority of this week, many of our staff have been working from home and this proportion will increase further. We have also operated a policy of staggered attendance on a team-by-team basis.

Throughout this time, all areas of our business have remained open but in order to further protect both our colleagues and customers, as of today we have reluctantly closed our shop in Central London on a temporary basis. The Baldwin’s team, however, remain willing and able to assist you by phone or email and distribution of our products, all of which are available online, is currently unaffected. We would love to hear from you if you are interested in buying, selling, or simply discussing the wonderful world of coin collecting. 

It is important to us that during this difficult time, we are seen to be doing all we can to help our customers and support our cherished hobby and we will continue to work tirelessly with this aim in mind. We are very aware that many of our clients will likely have to spend much more time at home than normal and we will endeavour to entertain you with more educational articles and blogs, posts on social media, informative and captivating videos and to continue to offer any advice or help that we can. 

This situation places a huge burden on all of us but by tackling and sharing that burden collectively, the hobby will emerge with a stronger sense of community and purpose than ever before. From everybody at Baldwin’s, we wish you and your family good health during this difficult time. 

Graham Shircore
Group CEO
Neil Paisley
Managing Director

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Coins of the Bible

Coins of the Bible are some of the most popular of all ancient coins and appeal to a wide audience. They demonstrate how coins can connect with ancient literature in ways that other artefacts simply cannot.

At Baldwin’s, we are pleased to be able to offer a selection of Biblical coins relating to this fascinating era of history.

The Shekel of Tyre

The story of the coin in the fish’s mouth. Augustin Tünger, 1486. Public Domain.

A large and important trading centre in antiquity, the Phoenician city of Tyre was located to the north of Judaea. The city had issued an extensive coinage of silver shekels since the late 2nd Century BC. These distinctive pieces featured a portrait of the Phoenician Herakles-like demigod, Melkart, and an eagle. Shekels of Tyre were adopted widely by the inhabitants of Judaea and half-shekels were used to pay the religious ‘Temple Tax’.

The first appearance of this important coin in the Bible occurs when Jesus instructs the Apostle, Peter, to catch a fish and pay the Temple Tax – the ‘four-drachma coin’ in fact being the Tyrian Shekel.

But so that we may not offend them, go to the sea, cast a hook, and take the first fish you catch. When you open its mouth, you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for you and Me.”

Matthew, 17:27

These large silver coins also gained notoriety as they were most likely offered to Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus Christ, as this passage recalls.

Then one of the Twelve, the one called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I hand Him over to you?” And they set out for him thirty pieces of silver. So from that time on Judas looked for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

Matthew, 26: 14-16
Judas receiving the thirty pieces of silver, Simon Bening, c. 1483 – 1561. Public Domain

Shekels of Tyre, crucially, bear the year they were issued. Coins dated to the year of the crucifixion of Jesus are highly sought-after by collectors of all disciplines, not only those seeking ancient coins. While the exact date of the crucifixion is uncertain (it is believed to have taken place between 30-33 AD), shekels bearing any of these dates always carry a substantial premium, as tangible, dated artefacts from this fascinating period of history.

The Tribute Penny

Jesus confronts the Pharisees. Bartolomeo Manfredi – Il tributo a Cesare, c. 1610-1620. Public Domain.

Render Unto Caesar. The ‘Tribute Penny’ is one of only a handful of coins which appear in the Bible. It is a key element of the gospels Mark and Luke, in which Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees;

Then the Pharisees went out and conspired to trap Jesus in His words… “So tell us what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” But Jesus knew their evil intent and said, “You hypocrites, why are you testing me? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. “Whose image is this,” He asked, “and whose inscription?”. “Caesar’s,” they answered. So Jesus told them, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”.

Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:19-26

The coin Jesus used may have been one of these: a silver denarius of the Emperor Tiberius (AD 14-37). His fierce portrait appears on the obverse, and a depiction of either his mother, Livia, or the goddess Pax, on the reverse. The denarius was an international currency at the time – circulating in all corners of the Roman Empire.

The Pilate Coin

Pontius Pilate is notorious for his position as the Roman Prefect of Judaea, ruling the province from AD 26-36 and ultimately overseeing the crucifixion of Christ. This bronze Prutah, issued in AD 29, was struck mere months before the event.

Pilate washes his hands, Gian Giacomo Manecchia, 1597-1657. Public Domain

Minted in Jerusalem, in the name of Tiberius and his mother, Livia, the design is simple. The obverse depicts three ears of grain – crucial for the continuing growth of the Roman Empire. The reverse shows a simpulum, a ladle-like priestly implement used during Roman rituals. This may be interpreted as Pilate’s attempt at enforcing Roman religion in the province and would surely have been seen as provocative towards the Jewish inhabitants.  Two other designs were issued during Pilate’s tenure, also bearing Roman religious objects.

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Gods on Coins

The symbols struck on coins were chosen carefully. They reveal the agendas and priorities of the rulers at the time and, more importantly, represent the ideals by which they ruled.

Mythologies of Roman and Greek deities were used to provoke associations between the ruler’s sovereignty and the divine powers of the gods and goddesses that appeared on their coins.


God of the sky and thunder

Zeus was the son of Cronus, a Titan ruler overcome with fear of being overthrown by his offspring. As a result of this obsession, Cronus devoured all his children as soon as they were born but his sixth son survived and freed his siblings including Poseidon and Hades with whom he divided dominion of the world.

While he was married to Hera, Zeus had numerous mistresses  and many heroic offspring including Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, Persephone, Dionysus, Perseus, Heracles, Helen of Troy, Minos, and the Muses.

Zeus’s symbols include the thunderbolt, eagle, bull and oak. As the ruler of all gods, he was the most important deity in official religion and came first when rulers paid their respects and religious sacrificies. This is why Jupiter features on numerous Greek and Roman coinage. However, his appearance on the coins of Alexander the Great is probably related to the story of his divine lineage, which his mother Olympias promulgated claiming that a thunderbolt stroke her womb when she was pregnant with Alexander, making Zeus his father.

Zeus seated left on throne on this Kingdom of Macedon silver drachm, holding eagle and sceptre, spearhead behind.

Zeus seated left on throne on this Kingdom of Macedon silver drachm, holding eagle and sceptre, spearhead behind.


Queen of the Gods

Also the offspring of Cronus and Rhea, Hera is the sister-wife of Zeus. In the Greek mythology, she is the jealous wife of a king with numerous lovers and is thus seen as the protector of weddings and marital unions.

Hera is the mother of Ares, god of war; Hebe, goddess of youth; Eileithyia, goddess of childbirth; and Hephaistos, god of metallurgy.

Her symbols include the pomegranate, peacock feather and sceptre; however, she is represented on coins far less frequently than Zeus. The coin below depicts the cult image of Hera from her sanctuary on the island of Samos, Greece, where it stood since 8th century BC and was renewed in Roman times. Worshippers came to the temple with offerings such as pomegranates and wooden votive.

The statue of Hera appears on this Bronze unit of Perinthus



Apollo was the son of Zeus and known for being the god of archery, music and dance, truth and prophecy, healing and diseases, the Sun and light, poetry, and more. He was the perfect embodiment of physical superiority and moral virtue and is depicted in many works of art to be the most beautiful of the gods. As the “averter of evil,” he is often depicted with a laurel, a bow and arrow, or a lyre in his hands.

He appears at intervals on Imperial coinage from Augustus to Carausius and then falls out use in the 4th century.

On this Octavian coin, a nude Apollo is seated upon a rock, holding lyre with both hands.

Octavian considered Apollo to be his patron deity and built the famous temple of Apollo on the Palatine Hill in Rome, close to his residence.  He was grateful to the god for his victories over Sextus Pompeii and Antony and Cleopatra.


Warlike goddess of wisdom, war and patroness of the arts

Greek mythology portrays Athena to be the goddess of wisdom and strategy and one of the twelve main Olympian gods. She is the protector of the city of Athens, where her most famous temple – the Parthenon on the Acropolis is situated. For Romans Athena’s identity is linked to the Etruscan deity Minerva, who is said to have emerged from her father’s head as a fully developed adult dressed in armour. The Greco-Roman deity thus represented both wisdom and strength as she became evoked in times of triumphs and military successes.

She is often depicted with an owl, an olive tree or a snake, symbols of knowledge.

The coins of Corinth are famous for their imagery of Athena and Pegasos, tied to the myth of Athena helping the hero Corinthian Bellerophon tame Pegasos, the winged horse, with the help of the golden bridle and subdue him.

Helmeted head of Athena facing left, torch behind.


God of strength and virtue

While Hercules was the son of Zeus, his mother was a wise and beautiful mortal named Alcmene. Hera, the wife of Zeus, is said to have been so angered by Hercules’ birth that she sent witches and snakes to kill the infant. In an attempt to protect her child from these attacks, Alcmene abandoned Hercules in the woods.

Goddess Athena found the recently orphaned child and brought him to Hera for nourishment and it was eventually her breast milk that imbued him with the strength with which he is famous in all Greek and Roman mythology.

On the coin below from Tarsos there is a rare depiction of Herakles facing forward. He is wearing the lion headdress, a skin of the Nemean lion which had the impenetrable golden fur. Herakles stunned the beast with his club and strangled him to death.

Head of Herakles facing, inclined slightly to right, wearing a lion’s skin headdress.


God of war

In Greek mythology, Ares represent a wild recklessness in his approach to war—a striking contrast to his sister Athena, a wise and strategic general. While admired for his valour, the god of war is also seen as a dangerous force capable of savage destruction.

The Roman counterpart of Ares, Mars, is seen as more important and dignified figure however. Its mythology names Mars as the father of the founders of Rome and is second in importance only to Jupiter (Zeus in Greek mythology).

His attributes include spear, trophy and shield.

On this coin of Constantine I, Mars is depicted advancing right, holding shield and spear. This iconographic solution for depicting Mars was hugely popular and featured on numerous Roman coins throughout the empire. Mars is shown heroically nude, with his attributes, in battle stance.  Emperor Augusts was the first one to integrate Mars into the Imperial cult and created the cult of Mars Ultor – Mars the Avenger. Thereafter, the temple became a point of departure of magistrates into the military campaigns.

Mars advances right, holding shield and spear, in this Constantine I.



Also known as the god of boundaries and protector of travellers, Hermes was the deity who moved freely between the worlds of the mortals and the divine and served as a mediator to them both. He is often depicted in ancient art wearing winged sandals, winged cap or holding the caduceus, two snakes coiled around a staff, a visible sign of authority. As the god of traders and financial gain he is often depicted with a small money purse. The Romans adopted this figure into their religion through the identity of Mercury.

Hermes was adopted by only a half-dozen Roman provincial cities, appearing without name or title.

On the reverse of this bronze serrated coin of Septimius Severus, Hermes is pictured nude holding a caduceus and a coin purse, his main attributes as a deity of commerce and protector of traders

On the reverse of this dark green Septimius Severus, Hermes is pictured naked holding a caduceus.


God of the sea, storms

Poseidon served as a protector of seafarers and is regarded to have power over both land and sea. Like Zeus, Poseidon was the son of Cronus, a cruel Titan who ate his offspring in the fear of being overthrown.

After the fall of the Titans, Poseidon drew lots for the division of cosmos with his brothers and got the sea as his domain. He is depicted in art riding a chariot pulled by seahorses. His symbols include a a trident, he is often depicted in the company of sea creatures and sea nymphs.

He is depicted in art riding a chariot pulled by horses that could ride on the sea. His symbols include a three-pronged fish spear or a trident.

Poseidon is depicted on this silver starter holding a trident, a horse standing behind him.

This particular coin relates to the myth when Poseidon entered a contest with the goddess Athena for dominion over Athens and produced the very first horse as a gift. However, the king refused him the prize and in anger Poseidon afflicted the land with drought.


Goddess of beauty and love

Aphrodite was a symbol of perfect female beauty. She is often depicted nude and symmetrical and was said to be desirable and unattainable.

Many myths surround Aphrodite’s birth. While some say that she might have been the daughter of Zeus and Titaness Diona, other myths portraying her emerging from the waters on a scallop shell, fully-grown and lovelier than any woman before her.  

Although married to Hephaestus, the god of blacksmiths and metalworking, Aphrodite is romantically linked to many other Olympians, most famously Ares, but also Poseidon and Hermes as well as three mortals.

Venus standing left on this Silver Denarius holding victory and sceptre resting on shield.

Julius Caesar chose Venus as the divine ancestor of Julio-Claudian Dynasty, with an epithet Venus Genetrix . On the coin below, there is a portrait of Julius Ceasar with his divine ancestor – Venus – holding a Victory and sceptre. In Rome, on the Forum of Caesar he built a temple dedicated to Venus Genetrix with her cult statue.

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The king who became a God

Alexander the Great, the renowned King of Macedon, pushed the boundaries of exploration and ruled over one of the largest empires the world has ever seen.  From a young age, he was told of his divine right to conquer Persia and the world as the son of the sky and thunder God Zeus.

Continued military success and confirmation by the Oracle at Siwah led him to believe these myths. Alexander’s victories and the spoils of war made his kingdom’s economy indestructible and his reign was cemented in gold and silver.

Alexander was so popular that his image continued to appear on coins even after his death. On this solid silver coin, minted around 290 BC, he’s depicted as nothing less than a God with distinctive horns representing the king’s nature as a divine being.

The other side of the coin may appear familiar. A very similar depiction graces our money to this day: The majestic, seated Athena is said to be one of the inspirations for Britannia.

Over two thousand years later, Alexander the Great remains a symbol of victory and success.