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Historical Article

Islands off Thrase, Thasos - Ritual Abduction in Greek Numismatic Art

Ritual abduction as a form of exogamy was, and is still, frequent in tribal society. The reference here is probably to the Dionysiac cult and is modeled on one of the stone reliefs for which Thasos is famous. For another archaic treatment on the same theme from Delphi (see Boardman, Greek Sculpture: the Archaic Period, fig. 210).

The overtly sexual displays seen on many early Greek coins can be disconcerting to the modern eye, viewing them through the lens of centuries of Christian fulminations against ‘paganism’ and its erotic excesses. These scenes are at their most graphic in northern Greece, for example, on the archaic coins of ‘Lete’ and the island of Thasos, showing the interplay of nymphs and satyrs. The towns and tribes of this region were only newly introduced to the ‘civilizing’ influences of the south, and were still close to their roots in farming and herding cultures. Their gods were not the Olympian super beings, but the spirits of nature, and the emphasis was on celebrating the fecundity of fields and flocks.

ISLANDS off THRACE. Thasos. Circa 525-500 BC. AR Stater (10.15 gm). Satyr advancing right, carrying off protesting nymph / Rough quadripartite incuse square. Le Rider, Thasiennes 1; SNG Ashmolean 3642; SNG Copenhagen 1007.

Very rare earliest issue of Thasos. This magnificent example of the first dies (Svoronos 1-5) of the long-running Thasos series of staters exudes power in the face of the satyr. Each of the heads is exceptionally detailed. The metal is superb.