White Gold: Revealing the World's Earliest Coins | Curator: Haim Gitler     Israel Museum
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Warrior

Phocaea. Ca. 500–480 BCE. Hecte (2.57g). Phocaic standard. Bearded male head left in helmet ornamented with bud and two tendrils on long stem, small seal left under neck truncation.

Warriors and helmets were frequently depicted on the electrum coinage of Cyzicus, Phocaea, and Mytilene. Their prominence reflects the high esteem in which warriors were held in Greek civilization. The Homeric epics provided aristocratic warrior heroes as models for later generations, leading to an assumption that soldiering was the most honorable of male occupations. In fact, almost no other male occupation was found worthy of artistic representation in the Archaic and Classical periods.

Phocaea. Ca. 500–480 BCE. Hecte (2.57g). Phocaic standard. Bearded male head left in helmet ornamented with bud and two tendrils on long stem, small seal left under neck truncation.

Warriors and helmets were frequently depicted on the electrum coinage of Cyzicus, Phocaea, and Mytilene. Their prominence reflects the high esteem in which warriors were held in Greek civilization. The Homeric epics provided aristocratic warrior heroes as models for later generations, leading to an assumption that soldiering was the most honorable of male occupations. In fact, almost no other male occupation was found worthy of artistic representation in the Archaic and Classical periods.

Cyzicus. Ca. 400–375 BCE. Stater (15.94g). Phocaic standard. Nude, beardless warrior in crested Corinthian helmet half-kneeling right, his left knee raised, his right knee on ground, examining arrow held before him in both hands, bow hanging from left hand; behind, tuna, head downward.

Warriors and helmets were frequently depicted on the electrum coinage of Cyzicus, Phocaea, and Mytilene. Their prominence reflects the high esteem in which warriors were held in Greek civilization. The Homeric epics provided aristocratic warrior heroes as models for later generations, leading to an assumption that soldiering was the most honorable of male occupations. In fact, almost no other male occupation was found worthy of artistic representation in the Archaic and Classical periods.

Clazomenae(?). Late seventh – sixth century BCE. Stater (13.97g). Lydo-Milesian standard. Two bearded figures, nude, standing confronted, holding between them a cantharus in their right hands and a wreath in their left hands.

This stater provides a very early representation of human figures. Three staters with related obverse types were present in a hoard that appeared under mysterious circumstances during excavations at Clazomenae, purportedly found by workmen at a time when the archaeologists were not present. That controversial find may perhaps imply that the present stater was struck at Clazomenae. The incuse of this stater, however, is of a type perhaps to be attributed to the Thraco-Macedonian region. The cantharus (drinking cup) and wreath both appear on Thraco-Macedonian silver coins in association with Dionysian imagery. Alternatively, the cantharus and wreath may be prizes in a contest, in which case the two men could be understood as competitors, perhaps athletes, contemplating the prizes for which they will vie. The wreath, in particular, was the victor's prize in the most prestigious Greek games.

Cyzicus. Ca. 400–375 BCE. Stater (15.89g). Phocaic standard. Beardless warrior, nude but for crested Attic helmet, standing right on short ground line, his knees flexed, his head and torso bent forward, his left arm supporting a large round shield, his right arm extended above vertical tuna, head downward.

Greek athletic competitions included a foot race for hoplites (heavily armed warriors), which was a very popular subject for artistic representation. The type of this stater represents a hoplite racer taking his stance at the starting line. Hoplites ran with different degrees of encumbrance depending on the place and date of the athletic competition. In the games held at Plataea they raced in full armor. In the Olympic games they originally wore helmets and greaves and carried a round shield, but in the Panathenaic games the greaves were abandoned after 450 BCE. It has been suggested that the Cyzicene coin type may reproduce a statue on the Athenian Acropolis by the famous sculptors Kritios and Nesiotes, which depicted the victorious Athenian hoplite runner Epicharinos practicing his start (Pausanias 1.23.9; the statue base with its dedicatory inscription was found in excavations on the Acropolis in 1838). These sculptors were active ca. 480–460 BCE.

Cyzicene sixth stater (Hecte) depicting a Scythian archer in native dress.

Stater of Cyzicus showing a bald, bearded man crowned with a laurel wreath. The individuality of the features suggests that this is a real portrait.

It has been suggested that this might be a portrait of Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, but the head clearly depicts a bald-headed man, something that Philip was not. A more convincing identification would be to recognise in this portrait the features of the Athenian general Timotheos who had raised the siege of Cyzicus in 363 BCE and whose marble portrait in the Capitoline Museum shows similarities with this coin depiction.

Sixth stater of Phocaea showing a female head wearing a pendant earring, her hair confined by an accessory called a sphendone (sling).

Stater of Cyzicus showing a helmeted warrior in a semi-kneeling position, examining an arrow before he nocks it to the string of his bow. In the field behind him is a tuna, the civic badge of the mint city Cyzicus.

Stater of Cyzicus showing a man on foot restraining a bridled horse.

Forty-eighth stater of Phocaea showing the helmeted head of a warrior. Below is a small seal, mintmark of the city of Phocaea.

Sixth stater of Phocaea showing the head of a helmeted warrior. Below is a small seal, the civic badge of the mint city.

This Cyzicene stater shows the head of a young man wearing a kausia, a broad-brimmed hat typical of Macedonia.

The idealized approach to portraiture was dominant on Greek coinage until the mid-4th century BCE, when the first individualized portraits began to appear. The electrum coins usually portray idealized types, such as the archetypical (or generic) youth, matron, warrior, or mature man. However, it is possible that some of these men and women actually represented gods, which, lacking clear attributes, we cannot identify today.

Sixth stater of Phocaea showing the head of a black African.

The majority of human images appearing on electrum coins represent idealized figures, not specific people. The women are young, beautiful, and turned out in the most sophisticated manner; their hairstyles are elegant, and they frequently wear fine jewelry or other fashionable accessories. The males fall into a few categories: the handsome youth, the armed warrior, or the bearded male in the prime of adulthood. The desire for the ideal appears to be something deeply rooted in human nature; indeed, the same emphasis on good looks and fine qualities is found in today's popular culture, from cinema and television to advertising and beauty contests.