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Religion in Greek Coins: Zeus and other gods


Zeus (Iovis - "Jove") was the supreme god, ruler of the heavens, the gods and of mankind, father (pater) of gods and men.

In Latin, his name "god and father" is conventionally contracted as "Jupiter." His principal attribute is a stylized bolt of lightening - a thunderbolt or fulmen - while the animal most associated with him is the eagle.

The famous Games held at Olympia were celebrated in his honor. His easily recognized image as a mature, bearded man wearing a wreath on his head is found on a host of coins.

Demeter (Ceres) was the goddess of agriculture, growing things and marriage. Like Here, which whom she may sometimes be confused, she was an older sister of Zeus.

Her worship is primarily associated with the changing of the seasons and the myth of the abduction of her daughter, Persephone, by Hades. She is sometimes referred to as the "Great Mother" goddess, and as such she had a temple at Olympia along with Zeus and Hera.

 
  Herakles fills the obverse and Zeus the reverse of this drachm of Alexander the Great
 
  Demeter, or Persephone, graces the obverse of a stater of Metapontum.

 

 

Ares (Mars), the god of war, was the son of Zeus and Hera. When represented in ancient numismatic art, he was typically bearded and helmeted.

Hermes (Mercury), a son of Zeus by the Titan Maia, was the messenger/herald of the gods and the god of commerce, communication and invention and the patron of shepherds.

Hermes conducted the dead shades of those who had received proper burial to the underworld. He was normally shown wearing a large traveler's beret (called a petasus) and winged sandals, and carrying a caduceus, a magic staff decorated with vines, two snakes, or wings. Hermes was the god of business - of both merchants and thieves.

Ares in helmet is shown on a bronze issued by the Brettian League.
A diobol of Aenus shows messenger god Hermes.
 

Aphrodite (Venus) was the goddess of beauty and love (and thus of sex), born from the foam of the sea at her Island of Cyprus. The sea turtle was her particular animal. She was probably originally an oriental deity, worshipped under the name Astarte. Aphrodite's image was usually that of a nude or semi-nude adult woman.

Poseidon (Neptune) was the god of the seas and the lands - in particular as the god of earthquakes. He was a brother of Zeus, and horses and bulls were sacred to him. He is usually associated or shown with a fishing spear (trident).

Dionysus (Liber), sometimes called Bakchos (Bacchus), was the god of fruits, in particular the vine, its cultivation and associated practices. He was son of Zeus by a Theban princess, and his cult revered ecstasy; theatrical presentations were part of his worship (as were, perhaps, certain sorts of drunken frenzies). He and his followers carried a staff called a thyrsus, wreathed with vines and topped with a pine cone. Savage nymphs, the maenads, were associated with him.

Goddess of beauty Aphrodite appears on the reverse of this drachm of Corinth.
A tetradracm of Antigonus Dosson of Macedonia features ocean and land god Poseidon.
Dionysos shows up on the obverse and Herakles on the reverse of this tetradrachm of Thasos.
 

Some of the lesser "Olympians," also figured in numismatic iconography. Hephaistos (Vulcan), god of mountains, metals and vulcanism, was the craftsman of the gods. He was the son of Zeus and Hera, and the husband of Aphrodite. His regular symbol is his pileus,, or workman's cap.

Herakles (Hercules), originally the human son of Zeus, became the strongest man in the world; he was harried by Hera and misled into committing crimes for which he was required to undertake great labors in expiation. He is always depicted as a powerfully built man, with or without a beard, normally wearing or carrying the scalp and part of the skin of the Nemaean lion, the slaying of which was one of his famous labors. Herakles' constant attribute is a knobby club.

This page is copyrighted. This page contains a portion of a copyrighted article. The text and photos are reproduced with the permission of Krause Publications, publisher of Numismatic News, World Coin News and Bank Note Reporter, where the article first appeared, and by the American Numismatic Association and the article's author, Bob Hoge, curator of the ANA Money Museum, 818 N. Cascade Ave., Colorado Springs, CO, 80903.