Pegasus of Corinth
Among the loveliest of the ancient coins is the silver stater minted in Corinth, commonly known now as the Pegasus because it bears the image of the winged horse on the front of the coin. The Greek city-state of Corinth was one of the largest of the ancient cities, a large, bustling center of trade. Its location allowed it to control access to the Peloponnesus overland, and to the maritime paths between the east and the west Mediterranean.Their central location and the need for a standard of exchange led to Corinth being one of the earliest cities to adopt the minting of coins, about the 7th century B.C.
The Corinth Pegasus bears the winged horse Pegasus, aligned with both Athena and with Poseidon, on its front. On the reverse, it bears the head of Athena, Greek goddess of both wisdom and war. The artwork on the coins is quite refined in contrast with other ancient coins of the time, the Athens Owl and the Aegina Turtle. Even the earliest examples of the Pegasus stater show well-defined features on Athena's head, and a suggestion of feathered lines on the wings of the Pegasus.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Corinthian Pegasus (called colts' in their own time) is the inclusion of tiny symbols on the reverse of the coin, generally behind the head of Athena. The purpose of these symbols has never been clear, though one might suppose that each was the mark of the engraver who created the original mold, or that they might mark coins minted by a specific entity. Even in miniature, the symbols are quite well-defined and easily recognizable. Many have mythological significance, or are connected with worship in some ways. They may also have simply been depictions of everyday items in Corinthian life, but given the symbolism that is inherent in the coinage of nearly any nation or state, it's difficult to believe that the symbols were not carefully thought out, and chosen to represent a specific purpose or person.
The Greek coins often carried a symbol that was representative of the city in which they were minted - the better to identify the coinage as being official tender from that city. The Corinthian Pegasus is no exception. Pegasus was born from the blood of Medusa when she was slain by Perseus, offspring of Medusa and Poseidon. The beautiful horse was wild and answered to no one, until Bellerophon, with the aid of a golden bridle given him by Athena, tamed the horse. Bellerophon later became King of Corinth, entwining the city forever with the flying horse, the goddess of wisdom and the god of the sea.
Pegasus appears on many coins from the ancient world, but it is the Corinthian silver stater that is most highly prized, both for its beauty and for its history.
Pegasus on ancient coins
While the Corinthian Pegasus coin is the most well-known coin carrying the image of the winged horse, it was far from the only one. Pegasus, with his ties to so many ancient gods and cities, and the beautiful symbolism of flight and spirit, was a very popular image on the coins minted between 600 B.C. and 41 B.C. Below is a partial list of ancient coins that bear a Pegasus.
Corinthian Stater A silver Corinthian coin that is one of the earliest coins ever minted. It weighed approxiamately 8 grams, and was minted between 600 and c. 300 B.C. There are many different variations, but all bore the likeness of the winged horse who was the symbol of Corinth.
Corinthian bronze There are many examples of smaller denominations of Corinthian coins bearing a Pegasus, in both copper and bronze. These coins of lesser value would have most likely been used in day to day commerce and trading, while the silvers would have been exchanged for larger trades or as salaries.
Syracuse bronze Pegasus Syracuse was founded by Corinth on the island of Sicily. The smaller bronze coins bear a Pegasus on the front, and the head of Apollo on the back.
Carthaginian bronze Pegasus The study of coins can make history fascinating. The Carthaginian Pegasus was also minted on Sicily, but by the Carthaginians, who attempted to take over the island c. 350-310 B.C. The Carthaginian Pegasus is distinguished by the palm tree on the reverse of the coin instead of the head of Apollo.
Thracian Bronze Dekalchion Minted in the city of Pantakapiaon, the bronze dekalchion bears the front forequarters and head of Pegasus on the front, and the image of Pan on the back, giving the name of the city even to those who couldn't read.
Silver Denarius A Roman coin minted under Q. Titus, the silver denarius weighed about 3 grams. A Pegasus in full flight is depicted on the front, and the head of Bacchus on the back.
Silver Quinarius A Roman coin that was worth about half the value of the denarius, weighing about 1.6 grams. Again, a Pegasus in flight on the front, and the head of Winged Victory - or Hermes - on the back.
Pegasus also appeared on the coinage of the Roman emperors Hadrian, Domitian and Augustus, and even made his way to the British Isles to appear on coins minted at Caer Collun. A noble steed and a high ideal, he marks some of the most collectible coins ever struck.