118 and 119 out of 410 days: Pyrrhus and Thetis

Yesterday late afternoon whilst reading about sources for the Pyrrhic Wars for this book review (It’s a really good book thus far! But slow going because I want to look everything up and enjoy the fun along with the author.) I became obsessed with the image of Thetis on the hippocamp. Above is the ANS specimen of coin of Pyrrhus with this reverse type. Below is a rather beautiful specimen in trade:

This is often attributed to the Locrian mint in Italy c. 279-274 B.C. The obverse is identified as Achilles (Pyrrhus’ ancestor) and the “portrait” is sometimes thought to be assimilated to Alexander or maybe even Pyrrhus himself. Perhaps the best thing to read on Pyrrhus’ use of the Trojan War narrative is Erskine, Troy Between Greece and Rome, p. 157-161. It’s basically a take down of the idea that Pausanias 1.12 can be taken as actual evidence that Pyrrhus used ‘anti-Trojan’ type propaganda against the Romans. The interesting thing is the relationship of Pyrrhus’ coin type to that of Larissa in Thessaly:

There are also an number of illustrated specimens in the ANS collection. Note how on this specimen below the obverse head has the “whale spout” hair style so often associated with Alexander and also the AX monogram on the reverse shield standing for “Achilles”.

What does Pyrrhus have to do with Thessaly? Well it was his next stop after Italy. So Pausanias, and with references at Plutarch, and Diodorus, and the dedicatory inscription he set up is in the Greek Anthology attributed to Leonidas (6.130). Some discussion of his memorable dedication and his choice of sanctuary can be found in Graninger’s Cult and Koinon in Hellenistic Thessaly. The dedicatory inscription in fact emphasizes his decent from Achilles:



Of course, the image was generally popular, a popularity often ascribed to a lost statue group of Scopas thought to be referenced in Pliny. An Attic Red-Figure Bell Krater c. 350 BC in the BM show the basic image. And, the iconography is also known on Italic ceramics as well:

Black glazed pottery askos with a ribbed body and in relief on the top, Thetis or a Nereid on a hippocamp to the left with Achilles spear in right hand and in left a shield, the hippocamp has a fimbriated fish's tail.

Just to make things more confused there are some little understood finds said to be from Thessaly near Larissa including this:


There is a decent discussion here about this comparative evidence as it relates to Thessalian jewelry and gems.

I guess I’ll just have to mug up on the literature on Larissa and Thessalian numismatics starting with:

C. C. Lorber, Thessalian hoards and the coinage of Larissa, In: American journal of numismatics second series, vol. 20, 2008, p. 119-142, pl. 41-46.

Other literature of interest: Lücke, S. 1995. ‘Überlegungen zur Münzpropaganda des Pyrrhos’. In Brodersen, K., and Schubert, C. (eds.). 1995. Rom und der griechische Osten: Festschrift für Hatto H. Schmitt: 171–3. Stuttgart. As well as, Franke, P. R. 1989. ‘Pyrrhus’. CAH2 7.2: 456–85.


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