World Coins

Ancient silver coin shows legend of baby Hercules

Circa 405 to 404 B.C. silver double siglos of Ephesus recalls the myth of Herakles (Hercules) strangling two serpents sent to kill him.

Coin images courtesy of Nomos Ag.

When Hercules (or Herakles, or Heracles) was a baby, ancient Greek myth recounts, he strangled two poisonous serpents that had been sent by the Greek goddess Hera to kill him in his cradle.

The snakes, instead, met their final demise in the hands of the half-man, half-god.

This powerful mythological imagery appears on a silver double siglos coin being offered for sale during Nomos Ag’s auction No. 18 May 5 in Zurich. 

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The coin was issued circa 405 to 404 B.C. in Ephesus, a town in Ionia. It shows the child kneeling to right, strangling two snakes, one in each hand, as they twine around his arms. 

The reverse depicts a bee, a common design motif for coins of Ephesus. 

Early in the fourth century, Ephesus together with Byzantion, Kyzikos, Samos, Iasos, Knidos, Rhodes, and perhaps Lampsakos, formed a league. This entity issued coins bearing the common obverse type seen here, the infant Hercules strangling the serpents, which might be a symbol of the league’s struggles against an aggressor. 

According to the Leu Numismatik auction catalog No. 76 from Oct. 27, 1999, “There is, however, some uncertainty as to who the aggressor was. It was long assumed that the league was formed in 394, after the Athenian naval victory off Knidos, and was directed against Sparta.”

Modern research suggests that the league may have been formed during the final phase of the Peloponnesian War, when several cities of Western Asia Minor revolted against Athens. 

The coin measures 20 millimeters in diameter and weighs 11.19 grams, meaning it is slightly smaller than a Jefferson 5-cent coin, but more than twice as heavy.

Also of note is the fact that the coin is overstruck on a stater of Aegina.

It has a provenance through multiple auctions dating back to 1961, and most recently has been part of an American collection. 

Both Nomos and Leu grade the coin as Very fine.

It has an estimate of 7,500 Swiss francs ($7,521 U.S.). 

For information about the auction, visit the firm’s website

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