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New City hemidrachm

Phorcys and Ceto were the father and mother of the Gorgons (Phorycides), three sisters, Sthenno, Euryale, and Medusa. When Perseus killed Medusa the brothers Pegasus, a flying horse, and Chrysaor, a winged boar, were born. Pegasus & Chrysaor are brothers and the children of Poseidon and Medusa. Hesiod connects Pegasus' name with πηγαί (pegai = waters) in the original Greek.

The Phorcydes, by G. Kreull after E. Vedder, wood engraving, image public domain from Linton, William James. The history of wood-engraving in America.

"the Gorgons who dwell beyond glorious Ocean at the edge toward the night, where the clear-voiced Hesperides are, Sthenno and Euryale, and Medusa who suffered woes. She was mortal, but the others are immortal and ageless, the two of them; with her alone the dark-haired one [Poseidon] lay down in a soft meadow among spring flowers. When Perseus cut her head off from her neck, great Chrysaor and the horse Pegasus sprang forth; the latter received his name from being born beside the waters of Ocean, the former from holding a golden sword in his hands. Pegasus flew off, leaving behind the earth, the mother of sheep, and came to the immortals; he dwells in Zeus’ house and brings the thunder and lightning to the counselor Zeus."
-Hesiod, Theogeny, 270-286

Gorgon on a coin

The Art Institute of Chicago has in its collection this coin (hemidrachm) of Neapolis, Macedon from 411-356BC, which has a gorgon on the obverse and a nymph, Parthenos, on the reverse.

Where is Neapolis?

Neapolis was the name of many Greek cities (nea polis = new city). The ancient city of Neapolis in Macedon is today the city of Kavala in modern Greece.

Neapolis was founded in the 7th century by settlers from Thasos, who declared independence in the 6th century BC and began minting their own coins. During the Peloponnesian war (431-404 BC), Neapolis supported Athens against Thasos for which it received recognition (410/409 BC) as a faithful ally and source of financial and military support to Athens.

Neapolis was a member of the Second Athenian League a federation of Greek city-states that existed from 378 to 355 BC. The alliance was something of a revival of the Delian league that disbanded at teh end of the Peloponnesian War (404 BC) with Athens' defeat. A Social War (357-355 BC) or War of the Allies broke out in and the alliance broke apart. Philip II of Macedonia opportunistically expanded the Macedonian Empire, and the Persians seized the opportunity to push Athens out of Asia Minor.

The coin: Hemidrachm

My latest addition is this beautiful coin of the same type. Martin Price describes the coins of Neapolis, contrasting the archaic and late fifth century coins in Coins of the Macedonians", British Museum Press, 1974:

"An important coinage of the archaic period, which begins at the end of the fifth century is that of Neopolis, the modern Kavalla, south of Mount Pangaion, which was founded by Thasos to guard her mining interests on the mainland.  The city type is the grotesque head of the Gorgon, whose coarse grimaces, and protruding tongue were intended to ward off evil spirits.  It is interesting to compare the archaic and later versions of the same type.  The practical function is clearly expressed in the creased features and slit eyes of the earlier piece, but this has become less meaningful, and consequently more picturesque, during the fifth century, and the protruding tongue and bared teeth are almost the only fierce features retained.  The head on the reverse of Pl. VI 31 is a masterpiece of its age.  The soft delicate features, and minute attention to detail create a refined head of exquisite charm."

Neapolis, Macedon; 411- 348 B.C.; AR Hemidrachm (14mm; 1.78 gm; 9h).

Obv: Gorgon's head facing, with tongue protruding.

Rev: ΝΕΟΠ; Young female head (Artemis Parthenos?) right, of exquisite style!

Ref: SNG Cop 227

Who is Parthenos or Athena Parthenos?

An old reference from Imhoof-Blumer, 1935, highlights variations on this coin and attribute the obverse to Artemis, who was worshiped in Neapolis as Parthenos, and also notes similarities to the nymph of Thasos and Arethusa from Syracuse. "Parthenon" comes from the Greek word parthénos (παρθένος) which means maiden, girl, virgin, and unmarried woman. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites also makes this link to Artemis:

"Notable was the sanctuary of the patron goddess of Neapolis, the Parthenos, probably a Hellenized figure of the Thracian Artemis Tauropolos or Bendis."

my coin looks closes to #26 in this plate (#12 in the catalog):

There is an fragments of a Hymettan marble stele with a decree in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens (Accession Number: 1480) from the conclusion of an alliance between Athens and Neapolis (Kavala) during the archonship of Elpinos (dated 366/5 BC). In this relief, Athena shakes hands with Parthenos, the patron goddess of Neapolis. Athena on the left and Parthenos on the right in this drawing from Schöne, Richard (Editor), Griechische Reliefs aus Athenischen Sammlungen, Leipzig, 1872.

There was also a statue of Athena Parthenos by Pheidias, which was erected in the Parthenon in 438 BC. A 3rd century AD copy of this statue, on a smaller scale, can be seen in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens (Accession Number: 129).

This Statue of Athena is references by Strabo in Geography 9.1.16: "and the Parthenon built by Ictinus, in which is the work in ivory by Pheidias, the Athena".

Plutarch also references the statue and Athena as "Parthenos" (the virgin) in his "Life of Demetrius". Demetrius Poliorcetes (the Besieger), lived from 336 to 283 BC and was king of Macedonia from 294 to 288 BC.

"For instance, they assigned him the rear chamber of the Parthenon for his quarters; and there he lived, and there it was said that Athena received and entertained him, although he was no very orderly guest and did not occupy his quarters with the decorum due to a virgin."
"Hence Philippides, in his abuse of Stratocles, wrote:— “Who abridged the whole year into a single month,” and with reference to the quartering of Demetrius in the Parthenon:— “Who took the acropolis for a caravansery, And introduced to its virgin goddess his courtesans.”"
-Plutarch, Demetrius, 24 and 26

It seems inevitably ambiguous the nymph or goddess portrayed, with a reasonable guess that this is the city goddess Parthenos.

Why would the Neapolitans use this imagery?

John Griffiths Pedley in Greek Art gives this explanation for why this imagery might appear on this ancient coin:

"Perseus killed Medusa with Athena's help, and got the use of Pegasus while Athena kept the magical head to put on her aegis as a means of overcoming evil. The god of healing, Asclepius, was said to use Medusa's blood to cure or to kill men.

Why would a Macedonian city want Medusa's head on their coinage? Macedonia, on the northern fringe of the Greek world, was in horse-breeding territory, and Neapolis itself was on the coast. What better protective deity than a marine goddess who specialized in horses? Besides, the same protective virtue of Medusa that appealed to Athena would also be useful to the mercenary soldiers paid with these coins. In later Hellenistic art, Medusa was sometimes portrayed as intensely beautiful, except for her snaky hair; here, her face is comically, almost affectionately fierce, and without the disturbing snakes."
-Pedley, Greek Art, 1994

There is more recent research on the coins of this region coin from Papaevangelou, C. 2000. H Nομισματοκοπία της Nεαπόλεως. Unpublished PhD dissertation. Thessaloniki. So far I have not been able to get a copy of this thesis.


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