Coinweek Ancient Coin Series by Mike Markowitz … ..
THE NIGHT SKY was specially crucial to ancient people. This can be hard for us to understand, living as we do in a global where light pollution denies us a clear view of the stars. What people saw in the sky – or think they saw – they expressed as myths, as symbols, and evening as designs on their coins. The crescent moon and peaky stars, for case, appear frequently on ancient coins .
Most ancient cultures believed in astrology – the notion that changes observed in the heavens above were powerfully linked to events on earth below. Along with the reassuringly predictable motions of the stars and planets, more trouble oneself things sometimes appeared in the flip. Rare and unpredictable, comets and meteors were peculiarly potent symbols, and their appearance on a few ancient coins has sparked the interest of historians and astronomers arsenic well as numismatists.
We know nowadays that comets are big “ dirty snowballs ” with bizarre orbits that sometimes bring them close enough to the sun that long tails of gas and debris reflect adequate sunlight to make them visible. The greek give voice kometes means “ long-haired ”. One latin terminus for comet was stella crinita – “ hairy leading ” .
Aristotle thought comets were the result of combustible flatulence inflame in the upper air. Some ancients believed they were wandering planets. But many believed they were omens of natural or political catastrophe – wars, plagues, famines, and particularly the death of rulers. This was a electric potential PR trouble if you happened to be a king and a comet appeared .
Mithridates VI “The Great” ( ruled 134–63 BCE ) was the king of Pontus, a kingdom on the southerly slide of the Black Sea. His lineage included both the rulers of Persia and the successors of Alexander. He ruled for 56 years, conquered a bang-up empire, and was a master of spin control. In a worldly concern where entirely a little elect could read, imagery on coins was an important official propaganda channel .
In the year Mithridates was born, a comet appeared in the constellation of Pegasus. Justinus, a fourth-century historian, reports that “ it burned so brilliantly for 70 days that the entire flip seemed to be on fire. ” In 119 BCE, when the 15-year-old Mithridates deposed his mother and seized the enthrone for himself, another comet appeared. Uh-oh !
On his flatware neologism, Mithridates made Pegasus his personal badge, an indirect reference book to the constellation where the comet of 134 was seen. A starburst and crescent in the airfield reinforce the celestial connection. little tan coins of this period, which bear no inscriptions, show a moonfish and starburst, and a starburst with a retentive tail. One invert, frequently catalogued as a “ decoration ramify ” ( a traditional symbol of victory ) looks very much like a comet .
Under Tigranes II ( 140-55 BCE ), Armenia became a great ability in the East, stretching from the Caspian to the Mediterranean Sea. Tigranes fought consecutive wars against the Parthian and Seleukid empires and the Roman Republic. On his abundant silver and bronze neologism, Tigranes appears wearing a distinctive armenian “ tiara ” or crown ornamented with an eight-pointed starburst between two eagles. On some rare issues, the starburst has a definite long tail. modern astronomers calculate that Halley’s Comet made its closest approach to the sun ( perihelion ) on 6 August 87 BCE. In Babylon, it was visible for a month .
By placing this image on his neologism, Tigranes, in effect, declared to his subjects that far from fearing the omen in the flip, he embraced it, and wore it as a symbol of his fresh earned run average .
Roman custom prescribed that funeral observances for brawny elect men be celebrated with gladiatorial “ games. ” Four months after Julius Caesar’s assassination ( 15 March 44 BCE ) his nephew and adopted son Octavian punctually organized a 10-day outstanding ( July 20-30 ) .
In his commentaries, augustus writes :
“ On the identical days of my games, a comet was seen for seven days in the northerly section of the sky. It arose about the eleventh hour of the day, and was bright and visible from all countries. The herd believed that this…signified that the soul of Caesar had been received among… the immortal gods… ”
chinese sources confirm this sighting–probably the brightest daylight comet in read history. It was “ non-periodic ” ( a comet that does not return ), and may have disintegrated as it approached the sun. By promoting the estimate that the comet was Caesar ’ south soul ascending to the heavens, augustus diminished the risk that people would interpret the event as an oman of impending sentence. He ordered gold stars affixed above the foreheads of deify Caesar ’ s cult images, as we see on a denarius of 17 BCE .
The best-known representation of Caesar ’ s comet, and possibly the most detail comet persona on any ancient mint, appears on a denarius of about 19 BCE from the mint of Emerita ( Merida, Spain ). The comet, accompanied by the inscription “ Julius the God ” is depicted as a shot with eight rays, one of which extends as a shagged tail .
The Black Stone of Emesa
ancient people regarded stones that fell from the flip as objects of wonder, and much as manifestations of the godhead. Some of the earliest-known iron weapons were forged from pieces of nickel-iron meteorites. The syrian town of Emesa ( now the war-torn city of Homs ) had a temple enshrining a conic black stone that was about surely a rocky meteorite. On 8 June 218 CE, through a bizarre series of dynastic intrigues, the 14-year-old familial high priest of this temple, Sextus Varius Avitus Bassianus, became the emperor of Rome. He is known to history by the Latinized name of his god : Elagabalus .
His first official dissemble was to transfer the consecrated meteorite to Rome ’ s independent temple, the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus ( “ Jupiter Best and Greatest ” ) on the Capitoline Hill. This is commemorated on a beautiful gold aureus, showing the stone wear on a four-horse chariot, or quadriga. A shroud, high embroidered with an eagle and stars, covers the stone, while an eight-pointed star in the field above alludes to its celestial lineage .
The conic condition is often seen in meteorites that have survived the ardent passage through the atmosphere.
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Following the character assassination of Elagabalus in 222 CE, the rock was deported spinal column to Emesa, but it makes a brief reappearance in 253 on the rare neologism of Uranius Antoninus, an obscure usurper known only from his coins. He may have been another temple priest. The rock was credibly destroyed in the fourth hundred CE, when surviving heathen temples were converted into churches. A mosque now occupies the web site .
The Great Comet of 1106
The best-documented appearance of a comet on a Byzantine coin is the reverse of a very rare electrum aspron trachy hit at Thessaloniki for Alexios Komnenos. Alexios ’ daughter Anna was a talented historian, and she reports that the comet was the largest ever seen ; it appeared in the day, and remained visible for 40 days .
From other sources we know the comet was first base sighted on 2 February 1106. Michael Hendy, a leading adept on the neologism of this period, wrote :
“ [ T ] he star of the specimen in question …is placed in a most inconvenient position between the Emperor and the Virgin who is attempting to crown him – it seems to be about an reconsideration despite its rather elaborate form. ”
Astronomers now think this comet, designated X1106/C1, was a “ sunday grazer ” that broke up, with parts returning as the Great Comet of 1882 and Comet Ikeya-Seki in 1965 .
It ’ south besides deserving noting that some numismatists believe the Supernova of 1054 ( SN 1054 ) is recorded on Byzantine coins of Constantine IX .
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Barrett, A.A. “ Observations of Comets in Greek and Roman Sources Before AD 410. ” Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada 72:2 ( 1978 ) .
Bellemare, Pierre M. “ Meteorite Sparks a Cult. ” Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada 90:5/6 ( 1996 ).
Caesar ’ second Comet ( hypertext transfer protocol : //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesar ’ s_Comet ). Web. Accessed 7 June 2014 .
Gurzadyan, V.G. and R. Vardanyan. “ Halley ’ s Comet on the Coins of Armenian King Tigranes ? ” Astronomy and Geophysics 45 ( 2004 ) .
Hendy, Michael. coinage and Money in the Byzantine Empire 1081-1206. Dumbarton Oaks ( 1969 )
Molnar. Michael R. “ Mithradates Used Comets on Coins as Propaganda Device. ” Celator 11:6 ( 1997 )
Ramsey, John T. “ Mithridates, the Banner of Ch ’ ih-Yu and the Comet Coin. ” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 99 ( 1999 )
Scott Kenneth. “ The Sidus Iulium and the Apotheosis of Caesar. ” Classical Philology 36:3 ( 1941 )
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Mike Markowitz is a penis of the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington. He has been a good collector of ancient coins since 1993. He is a wargame graphic designer, historian, and defense analyst. He has degrees in history from the University of Rochester, New York and Social Ecology from the University of California, Irvine. Born in New York City, he lives in Fairfax, Virginia.