Ionia, Ephesus. Contemporary Imitation. c. 390-325 BC

Ionia, Ephesus. Contemporary Imitation. c. 390-325 BC


AR Tetradrachm, 15.19g (22mm, 1h). Bee / Forepart of stag right, head left; palm tree to left, [magistrate name to right?]

Pedigree: CNG Auction 403, lot 179

References:  Near VF, lightly toned, slightly off center

Grade:  Good VF, toned, slightly soft strike on reverse. Struck from fresh dies

(gk1168 -C)

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The coinage of Ephesus with a bee symbol are beautiful coins that are beloved by collectors. So what is the connection between the bee and the city of Ephesus which housed the Temple of Artemis, an important mecca in ancient Greek times? Through the study of literary texts, philology, one can start to unravel how the names of Greek city states bear significance to certain holy symbols of the time. The symbol of the bee can be traced back to the Mycenaean period. The beehive and honey were elements that were directly associated with the cult of the dead. When someone died their soul joined others together in a beehive and the bees were another symbol of the souls of the dead. Ancient mythology has a story of a woman named Melissa who refused to divulge the mystery of the cult of Demeter. For this refusal she was torn to pieces by an angry group of women in which case Demeter came to her defense by having a swarm of bees emerge from her body. Another reference of the souls of the dead coming to her defense. The honey that bees produced were yet another mystical aspect were revered by the ancients. It is believed that honey was used to preserve the bodies of the dead. 

The polymastoid figure of the Artemis has always been associated with breasts but in reality those “breasts” may actually be symbolism of beehives which look remarkably like this. The relationship between Artemis, bees, honey and the souls of the dead make these coins all the more interesting.

For further reading on this interesting relationship see G. W. Elderkin, The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 60, No. 2 (1939), pp. 203-213.