Notes: A study of the coinage of Apollo and Ares and their emblems in the Hellenistic world, and comparing Babylonian and Hellenistic traditions

Ares as a Sun-God, and Solar Symbols” p. 50-54 Numismatic Chronicles

A solar character also belongs to the Zeus of Heliopolis in Syria and to the Asiatic deity adopted by the Greeks of Rhodes, and to the Lycian god whom the Greeks called Apollo.

We find even in Greece traces of an early worship of Ares as god of sun and sky, a rival of Zeus and Apollo. thus at Elis Ares was perhaps an older inhabitant than Zeus, who even adopted from him the epithet ‘Apeios. In Boetia the worship of Apollo was introduced at no early period: his place had been previously occupied by Ares, two of whose sons led to Troy the men of Aspledon and orcomenus, and whose daughter Harmona became the wife of Cadmus. Even at Athens we find a hill called the Areiopagus; and whatever explanation of that name may be given by late writers, it remains almost certain that it is a survival from a time when Ares was worshipped as a god of sun and weather on the hill-tops of Attica. The wolfe was in Greece the smbol alternately of the Lycian Apollo and of Ares.

At Argos Ares, who was called the son of the Argive Hera, was superseded in pre-historic times by Apollo, who appropriated his emblem, the wolf. In other parts of Greece the same change took place, until Ares, the god of the country of Orpheus, came to be regarded as entirely averse to culture and an enemy to the greater gods of the Hellenic Pantheon.

In Thrace, however, it would appear that Ares retained both his lofty position and his character of sun-god. He was regarded as the father of the rivers Hebrus and Strymo and the heroes Sithon and Oynthus. The Macedonian kings, when they wished for political reasons to be considered as Hellenes, called their sun-god Apollo or Herakles. The head of Herakles occurs often on the money of Archelaus, Perdiccas III., and other princes. On the coins of other kings we frequently find a young male head with a taenia, which may, perhaps be that of Apollo, although in cases when, as on the coins of Amyntas II. and the city of Scione (Pl. IV. No. 10), a young male head appears on one face of the coin and a helmet on the other, we are tempted to prefer the attribution to Ares. The money of Philippi, a city founded by Philip II. in the neighbourhood of the Thracian gold-mines, bears on one side the head of Herakles, on the other the Delphic tripod, thus combining the attributes of the two Greek sun-gods. But i the head on the plentiful gold staters of Philip II. which have a chiorot on the reverse, I certainly incline to see a represetation of Ares. This head has sometimes been taken for that of Apollo and sometimes for that of Herakles, and in fact it is in type midway between the two. But its true character will appear on confronting it with the Ares of the coins of the Mamertini, the children of Mamers or Ares. The inscription on their coins is APEO sideways M, and the head of the deity (PL. IV. No. 3) so nearly resembles in all details the head on the coins of Philip (Pl. IV. Nos 1,2) as to leave small doubt of the Mamertine coins being copied from the Macedonian. It should be observed that while the gold money of Alexander circulated largely in Asia, that of Philip was current in all parts of the West during the third century B.C. We may imagine that it was sufficiently familiar to the plundering Mamertine.
The Mamertine head bears a laurel wreath, and shows other signs of assimilation to Apollo. But the legend proves beyond a doubt that it was intended for Ares, and it appears to me that this evidence is sufficient to show the head on Philip’s coin to belong also to Ares. In addition we may remark that the thick neck and short clustering hair of the deity on both classes of coins set it quite apart from heads of Apollo, such as that on the coins of the Macedonian Chalcis. Another slight corroboration of thsi view in the specimen of the Mamertine coinage slected for my palte is to be found in the small Macedonian helmet inserted as a symbol behind the head of Ares. This may serve to give a clue to the real character of the deity with whom it is associated. A head of different character which may not improbably be meant for tha tof Ares, occurs on the silver coins of Chalcedon, on the obverse of a pieces which has on the resverse a radiate wheel, which is clearly, as we shall presently see, a solar type. This head is bare and bearded (Pl. IV. No. 18), as is the head of Ares on early vases. Chalcedon, it is true is not a Thracian city, being siutate o the other side of the straits, in Bithynia. But it was yet subject to Thracian influence, being, indeed, a mere dependency of the Thracian Byzantium, from the coinage of which city almost all the Chalcedonian types are borrowed.

It is easy to understand why Alexander did not continue the types of his father’s gold coins. Deeply steeped as he was in the Iliad, he could never have endured to let Ares, the patron of Troy, appear as his guardian deity. In the place of the destroying avenger was subsittuted the truly Greek Pallas, the type of ordered war and scientific generalship.

Let us now turn to the coins of Macedon, to see what symbols of Ares and of the sun occur on them, and whether these are the same or different.
No one can have glanced even rapidly at the Macedonian coins without remarking the frequent recurrence of a peculiar helmet and a peculiar shield, both of which are specially characterized as Macedonian. If we look at the matter in the light of probability, we shall see that these emblems are very well fitted to a war-god like Ares who is seldom anywhere represented as unarmed. In one of the Homeric hyms (no. 7) Ares is secially spoken of as xpvoeopien Ane, or golden-helmeted, and as …, or shield-bearing. Possibly to the sun-god a helmet might not seem very appropriate, although to a primitive race the rising or setting might well seem —
“A golden helmet that shines far off like flame.”
But the round shield is still more evidently an appropriate emblem of the sun, as Scott may witness–
“With disk like battle-taret red,
He rushes to his burning bed.”
It is thus not wonderful that in many countries the sun-god has been thought of as armed. The bow was more especially appropriated to him in Greece; but the Carian battle-axe and the Thracian shied are equally suitable.

note p. 55~ Macedonian shield history – on the coins issued by Eupolemus, General of Cassander … the border of the shied consists of a series of crescents, each of which encloses a star or a series of crescents, each of which encloses a star or a pellet. The crescent and star on ancient coins stand, as Mr Thomas rightly remarks, for sun and moon. In the midst are a series of symbols or devices. In some cases these belong to the king who struck the coin; thus we find on pieces issued by Antigonus II., Demetrius II. and Pyrrhus the monograms of those kings; and on pieces issued by Antiochus I. of Syria his arms, the elephant.In some cases the symbol may refer to the arms of the mint- city, for we find in this position, on coins bearing the name of no king, the club, the caduceus, the torch and other well known Macedonian mint-marks. But there are other symbols which cannot be so explained. The eight-rayed star marks the coinage of Demetrius II. His successors substitute in the midst of the shield a wheel-like device. The form (shuriken (Pl. IV. No. 6) occurs on the money of Philip V. and Perseus, as well as on tetradrachms of Macedonia Prima and Amphaxitis, and svastika (Pl IV. Nos 7, 8) on the late coins of the Bottiaeans of Emathia as well as SS (Pl. IV. No. 9) ….

It is clear, then that both star and wheel pattern belong to the shield, not to the mint which issued the coins. And considering that the whole Macedonian shield is of astronomical pattern, and belongs specially to a deity who is worhsipped as the sun, it seems very reasonable to suppose that in all these devices the intention is to give a representation of the sun.

If still further evidence … On turnign to the imperial coins of Macedon, we find (Pl. IV. No. 4) a figure clad as a warrior wearing a helmet and holding a wreath and sword. In the field, detached as a symbol, is a shield. This figure has usually been described as a Roman emperor; but emperors do not appear helmeted on Greek coins, nor does the round shield seem a likely emblem for a Roman general. I prefer to see in this figure a full-length representation of the national deity Ares i hsi ordinary dress and holding the wreath with which he is to reward a victorious hero. In Roman times Ares identified with Mars would naturally win back the honour he had lost in the days when Palls was predominant in Greece.


2 Macedon was as much the home of Ares as Thrace, as may be judged from the epitaph of Demosthenes: …


On how the Seleucids derived and syncretized Babylonian solar deity traditions and derived Zeus and Apollo into their own pantheon, see:

Zeus and Apollo in the Religious Program of the Seleucids1* by Eva Anagnostou-Laoutides

“….on a few double darics we come across a horseman wearing a horned helmet and riding a horned horse (related either to Seleucus who
was thus trying to allude to Alexander or Alexander himself).86 Although the horns may evoke the Siwan representation of Zeus Ammon87 or Dionysus or Apollo, the ‘two-horned’ god of Orphic hymns,88 horned caps of divinity were often worn by Shamash and his royal  protégés in near eastern representations,89 while on Hammurabi’s stela the god is portrayed with both rays and horns.90 Hence, Seleucus most probably appreciated the Mesopotamian images that had for centuries associated kings with the horned Shamash.91

Seleucus also dedicated a sanctuary to the god at Daphne, near Antioch92 which was later represented on a special issue of Antiochus IV (215-164 BCE),93 and he started rebuilding the famous oracle of Apollo at Didyma.94 Yet, his offerings to the temple and to the θεοῖς τοῖς Σωτῆρσι (the saviour gods) most probably included Zeus Soter.95 In addition, Seleucus returned to the temple bronze statue of Apollo that Darius I had removed in 494 BCE 96 in an attempt to replicate Cyrus’ return of the statue of Marduk, recorded on his famous Cylinder. According to the text, Cyrus accepted an invitation by the god Marduk who fed up with Nabonidus was in search of a righteous king. As a result of divine favour, Cyrus entered the city peacefully and significantly returned to its temples statues of gods that Nabonidus had previously removed thus provoking divine anger.97 Hence, it could be argued that while Seleucus’ gesture has been understood as a nod to the particular god, when placed in its wider politico-historical context, it promotes his alliance with a divine benefactor of kings who in Babylon was notably linked with Marduk.

Given the solar associations of Bēl Marduk (p.5 above) and Seleucus’ careful predilection for Zeus, the notion of promoting one god over the other as the result of gradual immersion into local traditions by the time of Antiochus fades away.98 Rather, Antiochus’ more exclusive association with Apollo was possibly designed to mirror the divine father-son relationship of Zeus with Apollo on their royal protégés.99 Apparently ‘Zeus and his son Apollo modelled the world of earthly sovereigns’100 and they fitted perfectly the royal ideology that was current in first millennium BCE Babylonia when the task of the king was to create prosperity under divine orders.101 Hence, an inscription from the reign of Seleucus IV (187-175 BCE) indicates that there was a priest of Seleucus Zeus Nicator together with Antiochus Apollo Soter.102

The next generation

After Seleucus’ death, Antiochus entombed his father’s ashes in Seleucia and ordained his veneration as Zeus Nicator.103 However, as we saw, the path to ruler deification was subtly but surely strewn for Antiochus I who also received cult at Erythrai, possibly during his lifetime.

104 In turn, Antiochus seems to have held the city in special esteem and a surviving decree records privileges that Antiochus (or his son) offered to the city for their loyalty.105

The king, posing as a close reflection of Apollo Soter (and hence named Antiochus Soter after the god), introduced the coins of the god sitting on the omphalos with an arrow.106

In the Babylonian context, Antiochus’ interest in his cultic duties is exemplified in BCHP 5 (obv.8-12) where the king is shown as visiting temples, making offerings for the moon god Sin and ordering the dust cleared from Esagila.107

In the reverse of the tablet which is badly damaged we read about dedications to Bēl Marduk, Nabû and Beltia(?) (lines 12-14).

Apart from the temple of Bēl, Antiochus re-founded the temple of Nabû at Borsippa.108 In his famous cylinder dedicated to the god Antiochus leaves no doubt of the universal aspects of his royal status in line with Babylonian royal ideology. The text reads (lines 1-15):109

Antiochus, great king, mighty king, king of the world, king of Babylon, king of the lands, provider for Esagil and Ezida, foremost heir of king Seleucus, the Macedonian, king of Babylon, am I. When I decided to (re)build Esagil and Ezida, I moulded the bricks of Esagil and Ezida in the land of Hatti (=Syria) with my pure hands, using the finest oil, and for the laying of the foundations of Esagil and Ezida I brought them. In the month of Addaru, on the twentieth day, in year 43 (=251 BC), I laid the foundations of Ezida, the true house, the temple of Nabû which is in Borsippa.

Here Antiochus (esp. ll.1-2) clearly subscribes to the Babylonian formula of presenting the king as ruler of the world.110 On line 28 of his dedication the king prays for victory against his enemies and for a just kingship (LUGALu₂-tu mi- a₂-ri pa-le-e) following a long list of Mesopotamian rulers before him.111

In addition, the king had identified Nabû – despite his gender being either male or female – with Apollo,112 probably because Nabû was believed to be the son of Marduk.113 By aligning himself with Apollo/ Nabû, Antiochus promotes the idea of Marduk being identified with Seleucus. Thus, the royal family perfectly replicated the world of the gods…

Concluding Remarks
The religious policy shaped under the Seleucus I and Antiochus indicates not only the interest of the Hellenistic kings in appealing to their eastern subjects while retaining their Macedonian-Greek identity, but it additionally highlights their intense understanding of local traditions. This was especially important during the founding period of the dynasty and therefore, Seleucus and Antiochus seem to have negotiated between them their royal profiles.

While Shamash, the Babylonian sun-god who sustained his royal protégés through his benefaction, was readily associated both with Zeus and Apollo in the Greek context, in Babylon he was exclusively linked with Marduk who was identified with Zeus Belos (Lord Zeus). Therefore, possibly from early on, Seleucus surnamed Nicator promoted his special relation with Victorious Zeus/Marduk, while Antiochus assumed the role of his son Apollo/Nabû. Although the picture seems to be complicated by the tradition of Apollo as the father of Seleucus and founder of the dynasty, a closer look at the sources indicates that Seleucus differentiated between the sun-god and Apollo, although the two were inevitably syncretized.

This development is perfectly exemplified in the case of Antiochos I of Commagene (86-38 BCE): on his tomb at Nemrud Dağ the king introduced himself as ‘Antiochos the Great King, eminent and just god, friend of the Romans and the Greeks’ (Βασιλεὺς μέγας Ἀντίοχος Δίκαιος Ἐπιφανὴς Φιλορωμαῖος καὶ Φιλέλλην),116 who had set up godly statues of ‘ZeusOromasdes, Apollo-Mithras-Sun-Hermes, and Artagnes-Heracles-Ares’ (Διός τε Ὠρομάσδου
καὶ Ἀπόλλωνος Μίθρου Ἡλίου Ἑρμοῦ καὶ Ἀρτάγνου Ἡρακλέους Ἄρεως…καθιδρυσάμην …).
Nevertheless, the distinction seems to have been retained in Babylon where Antiochus III the Great (223-187 BCE) celebrated local ceremonies,117 while passing legislation under the direct guidance of (solar) Apollo, in the steps of Hammurabi.118″

* (Wikipedia entry) The Seleucid Empire (pron.: /sɨˈluːsɪd/; from Greek: Σελεύκεια, Seleύkeia) was a Greek-MacedonianHellenistic state ruled by the Seleucid dynasty founded by Seleucus I Nicator following the carve-up of the empire created by Alexander the Great following his death.[3][4][5][6] Seleucus received Babylonia and, from there, expanded his dominions to include much of Alexander’s near eastern territories. At the height of its power, it included central Anatolia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, Persia, Afghanistan,Turkmenistan, Pamir and present-day Pakistan.

The Seleucid Empire was a major center of Hellenistic culture that maintained the preeminence of Greek customs and where a Greek-Macedonian political elite dominated, mostly in the urban areas.[6][7][8][9] The Greek population of the cities who formed the dominant elite were reinforced by emigration from Greece.[6][7] Seleucid expansion into Anatolia and Greece was abruptly halted after decisive defeats at the hands of the Roman army. Their attempts to defeat their old enemy Ptolemaic Egypt were frustrated by Roman demands. Much of the eastern part of the empire was conquered by the Parthians under Mithridates I of Parthia in the mid-2nd century BC, yet the Seleucid kings continued to rule a rump state from Syria until the invasion by Armenian king Tigranes the Great and their ultimate overthrow by the Roman general Pompey. — Wikipedia

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