HomeAncient CoinsHera on Ancient Coins - Queen of the Gods

Hera on Ancient Coins – Queen of the Gods

Hera: Queen of the Gods
Image: Adobe Stock.

CoinWeek Ancient Coin Series by Mike Markowitz …..
 

HERA WAS REVERED as a protector by many Greek cities, and subsequently they tried to represent her surpassing beauty on their coins. While not as common on coins as the goddess of love Aphrodite, the nature goddess Artemis, or the war goddess Athena, Hera appears on dozens of different coin types. Her signature attributes are the polos[1], a decorated pillbox hat, or the stephanos[2], a sort of crown or tiara. She is sometimes depicted “veiled”, with a fold of her garment draped over her head. Hera’s companion animals were the cow, the cuckoo, and (especially) the peacock.

I sing of golden-throned Hera whom Rhea bare.
Queen of the immortals is she, surpassing all in beauty:
she is the sister and the wife of loud-thundering Zeus,
—the glorious one whom all the blessed throughout high Olympus
reverence and honour even as Zeus who delights in thunder.

–Anonymous, Homeric Hymn 12

Composed in the seventh or possibly sixth century BCE, the so-called Homeric Hymns offer poetic descriptions of ancient Greek deities. Hera is tagged as the queen of the gods, sitting alongside her husband and brother Zeus. It was not a happy marriage, since the randy king of the gods pursued many lovers and fathered numerous offspring.

She was the protector of marriage, and married women were her particular care… But when any account of her gets down to details, it shows her chiefly engaged in punishing the many women Zeus fell in love with, even when they yielded only because he coerced or tricked them. It made no difference to Hera how reluctant any of them were, or how innocent, the goddess treated them all alike. Her implacable anger pursued them and their children too (Hamilton, 22).

A temple of Hera was called a heraion (or heraeum). The most important heraion was located on the island of Samos in the Aegean Sea. Other major temples were near Argos, at Olympia, and at Cape Lacinium near the Greek city of Kroton in southern Italy (“Magna Graecia“).

Heraia

Heraia Hemidrachm. (c.) 500-495 BCE. Image: Numismatica Ars Classica.
Heraia Hemidrachm. (c.) 500-495 BCE. Image: Numismatica Ars Classica.
Heraia, Hemidrachm. (c.) 480-470 BCE. Image: LHS Numismatk AG.
Heraia, Hemidrachm. (c.) 480-470 BCE. Image: LHS Numismatk AG.

Heraia (or Heraea), a town in the Greek region of Arkadia, took its name from Heraios, one of the 50 sons of Lykaon, the mythical Arkadian king and first werewolf. Some of the earliest coins bearing the image of Hera were issued there around 500 BCE. A little silver hemidrachm dated to c. 500 BCE bears a rather awkward, veiled profile image of Hera (with the archaic “Egyptian” eye), pedigreed to the famous Weber and Jameson collections, brought almost $30,000 USD in a 2019 Swiss auction[3]. A somewhat later example, in better grade, described as “Extremely rare… Beautifully toned, a superb coin with a spectacular head of Hera of late Archaic style,” sold for over $59,000 in 2006[4].

Phokaia

Phokaia, Electrum Hekte. (c.) 478-387 BCE. Image: Nomos AG.
Phokaia, Electrum Hekte. (c.) 478-387 BCE. Image: Nomos AG.

A plump-cheeked head of Hera, wearing a decorated stephanos that looks rather like a beret, adorns an electrum hekte dated to c. 478-387 BCE from the city of Phokaia (or Phocaea)[5] in Ionia.

Kyzikos

Kyzikos, Electrum Stater. (c.) 400-350 BCE. Image: Roma Numismatics, Ltd.
Kyzikos, Electrum Stater. (c.) 400-350 BCE. Image: Roma Numismatics, Ltd.

Located on the Sea of Marmara[6] (called the Propontis in Greek) the wealthy city of Kyzikos (or Cyzicus) issued electrum staters that circulated widely. A magnificent head of Hera appears on a stater dated to c. 400-350 BCE.

Of such a coin, an auction cataloger writes:

“Near extremely fine, Struck from an obverse die of delightfully feminine style[7].”

Unusually, she wears the “mural crown”, which represents the walls of a city. This is more commonly worn by Tyche, a goddess of good fortune, or Kybele, an Anatolian mother goddess.

Samos

The Aegean island of Samos held one of the most ancient and important temples of Hera[8], repeatedly enlarged and rebuilt over the centuries. The temple, which has just one remaining column standing, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.

Samos. Bronze. (c.) 408/4-380/66 BCE. Image: Leu Numismatik AG.
Samos. Bronze. (c.) 408/4-380/66 BCE. Image: Leu Numismatik AG.

Hera figures prominently on Samian coinage[9], along with the scalp of a lion, which served as an emblem of the island, possibly because the cult image of the goddess had a lion reclining at her feet. Under Roman rule, Samos issued local bronze coinage bearing the head of Hera, with her companion, the peacock, on the reverse[10].

Argos

Argos, Silver Stater. (c.) 370-350 BCE. Image: Classical Numismatic Group.
Argos, Silver Stater. (c.) 370-350 BCE. Image: Classical Numismatic Group.

The city of Argos in central Greece honored Hera as its patroness. A wistful portrait of Hera wearing the polos appears on a rare silver stater dated to c. 370-350 BCE. Pedigreed to the famous BCD Collecttion, this coin brought over $50,000 in a 2013 U.S. auction[11].

Tarentum

Tarentum. Gold Stater. (c) 325-320 BCE. Image: Numismatica Ars Classica.
Tarentum. Gold Stater. (c) 325-320 BCE. Image: Numismatica Ars Classica.

Founded as a colony of Sparta around 700 BCE, Tarentum in southern Italy became a major regional power in the fourth century BCE. A rare gold stater issued c. 325-320 bears a majestic image of Hera, with a tiny dolphin, the city’s emblem, below her chin. The reverse, depicting the sea god Poseidon with his son Taras (for whom the city was named) is considered a masterpiece of Greek coinage. In numismatist and coin dealer Harlan J. Berk’s 100 Greatest Ancient Coins (2nd ed., 2018), this type is #32 (Berk, 62). In a 2019 Swiss auction, an example of this coin brought over $300,000[12].

Elis

Elis, Olympia. Silver Stater. Struck at Hera Mint, 376 BCE. Image: Numismatica Ars Classica.
Elis, Olympia. Silver Stater. Struck at Hera Mint, 376 BCE. Image: Numismatica Ars Classica.

The city of Elis managed the nearby site of Olympia, where the ancient Olympic Games were held every four years. Greeks attending the games had to exchange their money for special Olympic coins that were minted by the two temples of Zeus and Hera. These coins are often heavily worn; they were probably taken home and cherished as keepsakes for generations by sports fans.

Elis, Olympia. Silver Stater. Struck at Hera Mint, 344 BCE. Image: Roma Numismatics, Ltd.
Elis, Olympia. Silver Stater. Struck at Hera Mint, 344 BCE. Image: Roma Numismatics, Ltd.

Coins from the temple mint of Hera bear the image of the goddess, with an eagle on the reverse; the eagle is usually surrounded by a wreath of wild olive – the award presented to winners at the Olympic Games. A silver stater dated to the 101st Olympiad (376 BCE) bears an image of Hera described by a cataloguer as “A superb portrait of exquisite late Classical style struck in high relief[13].” An even more sensitive portrait appears on a later example, dated to the 109th Olympiad (344 BCE)[14].

Knossos

Knossos Silver Drachm. (c.) 300-270 BCE. Image: Classical Numismatic Group.
Knossos Silver Drachm. (c.) 300-270 BCE. Image: Classical Numismatic Group.

Knossos on the island of Crete was famous for its labyrinth[15], a maze constructed to imprison the mythical Minotaur, a terrible man-eating beast who was half man, half bull. The labyrinth features prominently on many of the city’s coins such as a silver drachma dated to c. 300-270 BCE. The obverse bears the head of Hera wearing her distinctive stephanos[16].

Amisos

King of Pontos. Mithradates IV Philopator. Gold Stater. (c.) 155-152/1 BCE. Image: Leu Numismatik AG.
King of Pontos. Mithradates IV Philopator. Gold Stater. (c.) 155-152/1 BCE. Image: Leu Numismatik AG.
Pontos, Amisos. Silver Siglos. (c.) 5th - 4th C. BCE. Image: Leu Numismatik AG.
Pontos, Amisos. Silver Siglos. (c.) 5th – 4th C. BCE. Image: Leu Numismatik AG.

Amisos (today Samsun, Türkiye, on the Black Sea coast) was settled by Ionians from Miletus in the sixth century BCE. It came under Persian rule in the fifth century and when it became an independent city, it continued striking coins on the “Persic” standard – the silver siglos of about 5.7 grams. A type dated to the late fifth or early fourth century BCE bears the head of Hera, facing left, wearing an ornamented stephanos and pearl necklace[17]. The reverse shows a facing owl with spread wings.

Kromna

Paphlagonia, Kromna. Silver Tetrobol. (c.) 4th C. BCE. Image: Nomos AG.
Paphlagonia, Kromna. Silver Tetrobol. (c.) 4th C. BCE. Image: Nomos AG.

The small city of Kromna on the southern coast of the Black Sea was abandoned around 300 CE. During the fourth century, it issued silver tetrobols[18] (about 3.6 grams) – some quite ordinary, others engraved with extraordinary skill. While the obverse bears the head of Zeus, the reverse depicts a goddess usually identified as Hera. She wears an elaborate stephanos with “turrets” that suggest towers on a city wall.

American numismatist Wayne Sayles writes:

“[T]he delicacy of style in this issue demonstrates that even some of the smaller, more remote cities were able to acquire the services of a master celator (Sayles, 56).”

Kroton

Kroton. Silver Stater. (c.) 400-325 BCE. Image: Numismatica Ars Classica.
Kroton. Silver Stater. (c.) 400-325 BCE. Image: Numismatica Ars Classica.

Kroton in southern Italy was founded by Greek colonists in 710 BCE. The city flourished, with a population estimated as high as 80,000 by 500 BCE. Famed for the skill of its physicians and the strength of its athletes, Kroton boasted of many Olympic winners. A lovely facing image of Hera in high relief, her face framed by tight curls of hair, appears on a silver nomos of the city dated to c. 400-325 BCE. The reverse features a reclining figure of the hero Herakles.

A cataloger writes:

“The designs on this masterful nomos are boastful celebrations of the issuing city, as Kroton controlled the famous sanctuary of Hera on the nearby Lacinian promontory, and it counted Herakles as its founder[19].”

Chalkis

Euboia, Chalkis. Silver Tetrobol. (c.) 180-146 BCE. Image: Nomos AG.
Euboia, Chalkis. Silver Tetrobol. (c.) 180-146 BCE. Image: Nomos AG.

A striking facing head of Hera, draped with strings of pearls, adorns the obverse of a little silver tetrobol (2.74 grams) from the city of Chalkis on the island of Euboia. Dated to c. 180-146 BCE (just before the Roman takeover) the coin’s reverse depicts the prow of a warship.

A cataloger writes that the “rather emotional, albeit vapid look of Hera on this silver coin is similar to the way she is shown on many of Chalkis’s earlier bronzes which began to be issued during the last third of the 4th century BC…[20]

Collecting Hera on Ancient Coins

A type collection of ancient Greek coins featuring images of Hera would be challenging to assemble, since many of the most beautiful and famous types are rare and costly, especially the highly prized issues of Olympia. The Roman equivalent of Hera was the goddess Juno (IVNO in Latin) who appears on an enormous number of Imperial and Provincial issues.

But that’s a subject for another day…

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Notes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polos

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephanos

[3] NAC Auction 114, May 6, 2019, Lot 166. Realized CHF 30,000 (about $29,478 USD; estimate CHF 30,000).

[4] LHS Numismatik Auction 96, May 8, 2006, Lot 1352. Realized CHF 72,500 (about $59,034 USD; estimate CHF 10,000).

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phocaea

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_of_Marmara

[7] Roma Numismatics Auction XVIII, September 29, 2019, Lot 628. Realized £15,000 (about $18,500 USD; estimate £15,000).

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heraion_of_Samos

[9] Leu Numismatic Auction 11, May 14, 2022, Lot 132. Realized CHF 650 (about $651 USD; estimate CHF 750).

[10] Numismatik Naumann Auction 63, March 4, 2018, Lot 649. Realized €60 (about $74 USD; estimate €50).

[11] CNG Auction 94, September 18, 2013. Realized $50,200 USD (estimate $40,000).

[12] NAC Auction 116, October 1, 2019, Lot 11. Realized CHF 300,000 (about $300,782 USD; estimate CHF 150,000).

[13] NAC Auction 124, June 23, 2021, Lot 170. Realized CHF 17,000 (about $18,468 USD; estimate CHF 7,500).

[14] Roma Numismatics, Auction XX, October 29, 2020, Lot 99. Realized £14,000 (about $18,067 USD; estimate £12,500).

[15] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labyrinth

[16] CNG Triton XXV, January 11, 2022, Lot 206. Realized $32,000 USD (estimate $10,000).

[17] Leu Numismatik Web Auction 19, February 26, 2022, Lot 955. Realized CHF 1,500 (about $1,616 USD; estimate CHF 100).

[18] Nomos auction 2, May 18, 2010, Lot 106. Realized CHF 3,000 (about $2,647 USD; estimate CHF 2,250).

[19] NAC Auction 138, May 18, 2023, Lot 36. Realized CHF 50,000 (about $55,230 USD; estimate CHF 15,000).

[20] Nomos Auction 27, May 22, 2023, Lot 1082. Realized CHF 7,000 (about $7,760 USD; estimate CHF 4,000).
 

References

Berk, Harlan. 100 Greatest Ancient Coins. Whitman: Pelham, AL (2019)

Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. New York (1942)

Evelyn-Whyte, H.G. (translator). Homeric Hymns. Cambridge, MA (1914)

Kraay, Colin. Archaic and Classical Greek Coins. New York (1976)

Melville Jones, John. A Dictionary of Ancient Greek Coins. London (1986)

Sayles, Wayne. Ancient Coin Collecting II: Numismatic Art of the Greek World. Krause: Iola, WI (1997)

Sear, David. Greek Coins and Their Values, Volume 1: Europe. London (1978)

–. Greek Coins and Their Values, Volume 2: Asia & Africa. London (1979)

Seltman, Charles. Greek Coins. London (1955)

* * *

Mike Markowitz
Mike Markowitz
Mike Markowitz is a member of the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington. He has been a serious collector of ancient coins since 1993. He is a wargame designer, historian, and defense analyst. He has degrees in History from the University of Rochester, New York, and Social Ecology from the University of California, Irvine. Born in New York City, he lives in Fairfax, Virginia.

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