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The Pythian Games in Heliopolis

290, Lot: 295. Estimate $300.
Sold for $900. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

SYRIA, Coele-Syria. Heliopolis. Valerian I. AD 253-260. Æ (28mm, 15.82 g, 12h). Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right / SA[C]R CAP OIC ISE across field, COL HEL in exergue, reclining male figures, one leaning against a rock, the other a vine, supporting agonistic crown containing two palms; grain ear below. Sawaya 655 (D103/R238); BMC - (but cf. 32 under Gallienus for same rev. die). VF, dark grayish-green patina, some light deposits and minor roughness.

Although the main Pythian Games were held at Apollo’s sanctuary at Delphi, many other cities throughout the eastern portion of the Roman Empire periodicially held smaller versions of this event. Like their Delphic original, these smaller versions included a number of athletic contests, as well as music and poetry competitions. Often such events were associated with other deities, based on the important civic cults of each city. At Heliopolis (modern Baalbek), the site of a massive temple complex dedicated to Jupiter-Zeus-Baal-Hadad, Venus-Aphrodite-Astarte, and Bacchus-Dionysus, these games were known by the as the certamina sacra Capitolia Oecumenica Iselastica Heliopolitana. Here, celebrations were held in honor of Jupiter-Zeus-Baal-Hadad, not only associating this god his counterpart at Rome, but also the city with the Empire as a whole. Owing to the scarcity of this issue, it is possible that these games were held in the presence of Valerian himself, who was certainly in the east at this time, preparing for his war against the Sasanians. Consequently, Heliopolis could feel especially honored at its presence for this for this important moment upon the imperial stage.