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Coin of the Month

March 2024: Aphrodite Paphia in Pergamon

The Coin of this Month is presented by Andrea Gorys und Bernhard Weisser


During the Hadrianic period, under the strategos Iulius Pollio, Pergamon minted a coin that stands out in two significant ways within the city's coinage. Its obverse features the hero Eurypylos, while the reverse displays the sanctuary of Aphrodite of Paphos.

On the obverse of the coin, a youthful head with cascading, curly hair is depicted facing right. An accompanying inscription identifies the figure as Eurypylos, the son of the mythical city founder Telephos. Eurypylos held importance for Pergamon, notably appearing in the Odyssey (11.519-522) as an adversary of Neoptolemos, confirming the involvement of Mysians in the Trojan War. However, Eurypylos posed challenges for the followers of Asklepios in Pergamon, as Pausanias recounts his slaying of Machaon, the son of Asklepios, during the Trojan battles. This led to his explicit condemnation in the Pergamene Asklepieion (Paus. 3.26.10). The Asklepieion, the main sanctuary of the city since the Flavian period, was undergoing architectural expansion under Hadrian due to its regional importance.


The portrayal of the sanctuary of Aphrodite Paphia on the reverse resembles those found on early imperial coins from Cyprus: a shrine with a baetyl, an aniconic, conical cult image of Aphrodite, flanked by two thymiateria. In front lies is a semi-circular courtyard with the inscription ΠΑΦΙΑ. The assumption that this represents not the main sanctuary in Old Paphos but rather a local subsidiary sanctuary from pre-Roman times stems from literary references to an Aphrodite sanctuary near Pergamon. Its restoration after destruction during the Second Macedonian War in 201 BC is documented (see Polyb. 18.2.2; 18.6.4 and Livy 32.33.5 and 32.34.9).


The commissioner of the Hadrianic coin must have recognized the unusual nature of both iconographic themes for the inhabitants of Pergamon. Eurypylos is depicted as a youthful hero, necessitating an identifying inscription due to the coin’s unspecified iconography. Similarly, the word “Paphia” appears prominently and clearly on the reverse side, prompting questions. While users of Cypriot coins would have readily recognized the sanctuary of Aphrodite of Paphos, depicted similarly on Pergamene coins since the Augustan period, the Pergamenians seemingly required an explanatory inscription.


The combination of obverse and reverse imagery hints at a connection between Eurypylos and the Aphrodite sanctuary. Could this subsidiary sanctuary suggest that Eurypylos relocated the cult from Paphos to Pergamon? While a plausible interpretation, it lacks further support from additional sources.


References:

Holger Schwarzer, Heiligtümer der Aphrodite Paphia in der antiken Münzprägung in: Boreas, Münstersche Beiträge zur Archäologie 26, 2013, 19-46.

Bernhard Weisser, Die kaiserzeitliche Münzprägung von Pergamon (Dis. Phil. 1996) 133 f.



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