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Herakles, Slave to Omphale

My coin today comes with the story of Herakles and Omphale and is a very rare coin that is impressively well engraved, struck and well preserved.

Herakles and Omphale (Greek Mythology), Photogravure Print from the Original 1862 Painting by Marc Charles Gabriel Gleyre, The Masterpieces of French Art by Louis Viardot, Published by Gravure Goupil et Cie, Paris, 1882, Gebbie & Co., Philadelphia, 1883

Pseudo-Autonomous AE of Lydia

This coin is a pseudo-autonomous bronze (AE) coin issued when Lydia was a Roman province, but not referencing the ruler. For more on the implications of pesudo-autonomous see this post: The Votive Deposit in Field 49. Not having a named ruler or magistrate makes it harder to pin down the date of this coin, but based on other related coins with portraits or magistrates identified, the rough time period is close the reign of Septimius Severus at the end of the 2nd century AD and beginning of the 3rd. There can be shared dies between coins naming the emperor and pseudo-autonomous coins.

There aren’t very many of this coin known. Variations in spelling make it a bit tricky to find the coin. A{k,c}as{o,u}s and Hera{c,k}les or Hercules – ACSearch (two with slight legend difference - one, two), none in Asia Minor coins, none in RPC, not in Lindgren and one in wildwinds which is the same coin as this one from Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF):

This coin certainly the best example of type with <4 others that I have found so far:

Lydia, Akrasos, AE 13, 1.66 g, Pseudo-autonomous issue, c. 2nd-3rd century AD near the time of Septimius Severus

Obv: Bearded head of Herakles right wearing lion skin around neck

Rev: AKPAC-IΩ-TΩN, lion standing right

Ref: SNG Cop 3, BMC 10.8

Similar pseudo-autonomous coins were minted by or for other cities of Lydia (none of which seem to be in RPC):

Where is Acrasus?

Some notes on Acrasus are available in the British Museum book on coins of Lydia, as well as a reference to this coin on page 162.

Acrasus was in the upper valley of the river Caicus (Bakırçay river), and the exact location is today not known. It is somewhere along the road between Thyatira to Pergamum and the western edge of modern Türkiye.

Herakles and Lydia

Herakles has an interesting connection to Lydia. According to Greek myth, Hermes sold Herakles into slavery to the Queen of Lydia, Omphale. This was a sort of penance urged by the ORACLE at Delphi for the killing of Iphitus. It was also held that Heracles was both slave and lover to Omphale and thus the rulers of Lydia were descended from Herakles.

“…Hermes sold Hercules, and he was bought by Omphale, daughter of Iardanes, queen of Lydia, to whom at his death her husband Tmolus had bequeathed the government. Eurytus did not accept the compensation when it was presented to him, but Hercules served Omphale as a slave, and in the course of his servitude he seized and bound the Cercopes at Ephesus; and as for Syleus in Aulis, who compelled passing strangers to dig, Hercules killed him with his daughter Xenodoce, after burning the vines with the roots.”

- Apollodrus, Library 2.6.3

“Most of that time he was held in Lydia as he himself declares, not free, but sold to servitude. (This word must not offend you, lady: Zeus was the author of the deed. He says he spent a year of thraldom (servitude) there slaving for the barbarian Omphale.”

- Sophocles, Trachiniae 252

Herodotus adds a story about Herakles and a slave girl before he became to lover of Omphale.

“The kings of this country before Agron were descendants of Lydus, son of Atys, from whom this whole Lydian district got its name; before that it was called the land of the Meii. The Heraclidae, descendants of Heracles and a female slave of Iardanus [father of Omphale], received the sovereignty from these and held it, because of an oracle; and they ruled for twenty-two generations, or five hundred and five years, son succeeding father, down to Candaules son of Myrsus.”

Ovid takes things a step further, enjoying the idea of big, strong Heracles as subservient to the barbarian Queen, with Omphale dressing Hercules in her clothes.

“While the attendants were making ready the viands and the wine for the wassail, she arrayed Alcides [another name for Hercules] in her own garb. She gave him gauzy tunics in Gaetulian purple dipped; she gave him the dainty girdle, which but now had girt her waist. For his belly the girdle was too small; he undid the claps of the tunics to thrust out his big hands.”

-Ovid, Fasti, 303

Artists have had fun with this image through centuries. This fresco from 1st century Pompeii through the opening image from the 19th Century.

A fresco found in Pompeii on 20-Feb-1851 in the "House of the Prince of Montenegro" in the oecus on west side of atrium, adjoining the tablinum. A drunken Hercules with Omphale and cupids who are stealing his club. Cut from the wall and taken to Naples Archaeological Museum. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Antony & Octavian

Parallels are made between Omphale and Cleopatra by Octavian and his propagandists. Propertius writing late first century BC - he was born ~50 BC - draws clear connections.

"Omphale, the Lydian girl bathing in Gyges’ lake, gained such a name for beauty that Hercules who had established his pillars in a world at peace, drew out soft spinner’s tasks with hardened hands."

and he goes on describing the awfulness of Cleopatra, leading to the thought:

"What was it worth to have shattered Tarquin’s axes, whose life branded him with the name of ‘Proud’, if now we had to endure this woman? Celebrate a triumph Rome, and saved by Augustus beg long life for him!"

- Propertius, Elegies, III.11

Fifth king of Rome, Tarquin's tyrannical reign motivated the end of the monarchy. Plutarch, writing in the early 2nd century, drew strong connections between Herakles and Antony e.g.

"He had also a noble dignity of form; and a shapely beard, a broad forehead, and an aquiline nose were thought to show the virile qualities peculiar to the portraits and statues of Hercules. Moreover, there was an ancient tradition that the Antonii were Heracleidae, being descendants of Anton, a son of Heracles." -Plutarch, Lives, Antony 4.1 I am curious about the timing of the stories connecting Anthony-Cleopatra / Herakles-Omphale and how the telling of story of Herakles may have evolved with the story of Cleopatra and Mark Antony.

References (others linked in context)

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