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Research Coins: Feature Auction

 
88000904

Participating in the Mysteries of Dionysus

CNG 88, Lot: 904. Estimate $3000.
Sold for $2400. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

LESBOS, Koinon of Lesbos. Marcus Aurelius. AD 161-180. Æ Medallion (38mm, 26.03 g, 6h). Mytilene(?) mint; K[...]inigrinos/es(?), strategus. AV K MAP AVPH ΛI ANTΩNEINOC A Y, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right / EΠI CTPA K[...]INI ΓPINO[Y], KOI ΛECBIΩN in exergue, Athena, with shield at side and holding spear, standing right and Dionysus, holding cantharus and thyrsus, standing left; between them, large draped terminus of Dionysus Phallen standing facing on prow. RPC Online -; SNG München -; SNC von Aulock -; SNG Copenhagen -; SNG Rhigetti -; BMC 1; Mionnet III 20. VF, rough dark green surfaces with areas of earthen encrustation. Extremely rare.


Owing to the poor preservation of the known specimens, it is nearly impossible to reconstruct the full name of this magistrate.

What the reverse may signify is a matter of speculation. In the British Museum, a second medallion for Marcus Aurelius (BMC 2) shows the emperor in the presence of Demeter and Dionysus. Dionysus was particularly important on Lesbos, where a number of mysteries associated with him took place (for a further discussion of the importance of Dionysus to Lesbos, see published dissertation of E.L. Shields, The Cults of Lesbos (Menasha, WI, 1917), pp. 65-7 and note [referencing the Mionnet medallion]). Given Marcus Aurelius’ intellectual proclivities, it is quite possible that he made a brief sojourn to the island to participate in the local mysteries there as a respite from the wars he was compelled to fight.

The images of Athena and Dionysus first appear on the earliest electrum issues of Mytilene. The terminus or xoanon of Dionysus on the prow has also long been associated with the coinage of Mytilene, appearing on its bronze issues. According to Pausanias (10.19.3), an unusual olive-wood “head of unusual features” was caught up in the nets of some Methymnian fishermen off the coast of Lesbos. Although they threw the head back into the sea, they nevertheless picked it up in their nets again and again. Finally, the Methymnians travelled to Delphi to ask the Pythia for assistance on what they should do. She responded, “worship Dionysos Phallen.” Subsequently, a cult was established on Lesbos, including a festival in which the object was processed through the streets of Mytilene. Likewise, the city of Krounoi in Moesia was renamed Dionysopolis in Moesia when a similarly unusually-shaped piece of wood was recovered from the sea near there.