As Hermes stole cattle, the Thracian coin designers “stole” an
image from Greek mythology, evidence of the fluid nature of both
mythology and coinage.
A Thracian silver octodrachm depicting a Greek legend highlights
Gorny & Mosch’s March 10 to 14 auctions in Munich. The coin speaks
to growing influence, in the era, of Greek mythology beyond the Greek world.
The Edoni were a Thracian tribe who inhabited the region around
the lower Strymon River, east of Lake Kerkinitis, in northern
Macedonia. The town of Myrkinos was their chief center. They claimed
to have descended from their founder Edonos, grandson of Ares.
The tribe is known only from its coins, and all known coins of the
Edoni are in the name of King Getas, whom researcher-author Colin
Kraay, writing in Archaic and Classical Greek Coins, suggests is a
slightly younger contemporary of Alexander I of Macedon (498 to 454 BC).
The coin features on its obverse Hermes, depicted as a shepherd
wearing a petasos (a sun hat common to the region), carrying off two
cattle. Hermes reportedly represents the mythical Thracian priest of
Hermes, Anax, to whom the Thracian dynasty traced its lineage.
Anax as Hermes on the coin has a completely Hellenized appearance,
illustrating clearly how well-acquainted the Edoni had become with
Greek thinking, according to the auction house.
In the myth, the day Hermes was born he found a lyre and stole 50
head of cattle from Apollo. When approached about the crime, his
mother, Maia, pointed to the peaceful baby in his cradle and claimed
he was too young to perpetrate the act. Though Hermes covered his
tracks, Zeus had seen the act and told Apollo. Hermes was going to
have to return the cattle. Instead, he picked up the lyre and offered
it to satisfy the debt. Apollo agreed, and peace between the gods was restored.
The reverse of the coin shows a four-part incuse box with a wheel.
Researcher Kraay suggests that this exceedingly rare type, with a
reverse inscription translating as “a coin of Getas, King of the
Edonians,” is the earliest Edoni coinage.
Getas, who had this coin minted, was one the most powerful rulers
in Macedonia. He was a contemporary — and rival — of Alexander I, king
of the Macedons. Getas ruled a territory with immense natural
resources, including both the silver and the gold mines in the
Pangaion Hills. The silver from there was used to mint the large octodrachms.
It is still unclear why the coins were issued, as they weren’t
suited for the local retail trade, the auction house said.
Many specimens were found at places that were ruled by Persians in
the days of Getas.
Kraay believes the coins were struck to pay Persian tribute,
between 513 and 479 B.C., as Persian troops had tried to gain control
of rich northern Greece around that time.
After their victory over the Persians in 476 B.C., the Athenians
tried to gain control over the same treasures. The Edoni got caught
between two enemies, the Macedonian king on the one side and the
Athenians on the other side. In 424 B.C., the last Edonian king died
and the Edoni disappeared into history.
This coin, which has a pre-sale estimate of �75,000 ($102,518
U.S.), remains a vivid piece of history, a testament to the blending
of Greek and Thracian culture as reflected through coinage. ■
Circa 513 to 479 B.C. silver octodrachm of Getas, king of the Edoni
Nearly Extremely Fine
Well-preserved coin shows Hermes stealing cattle from Apollo