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Hercules as Founder of Heraclea Pontica

521049. SOLD $5250

BITHYNIA, Heraclaea Pontica. Pseudo-autonomous issue. Circa AD 200-250. Æ (35mm, 21.82 g, 6h). TON KTICTAN (for the founder), heroic bust of Hercules left, wearing taenia and lion skin, holding club over shoulder; quadrate C in legend / [H]PA[K]Λ[EΩ]TA[N] MATPOC AΠOIKΩN ΠO VTΩN [sic](of Heraclea Pontica, the mother of colonies), Hercules seated left on rocks draped with lion skin, resting hand and extending other to Eros kneeling right, holding club; behind, tree containing second Eros right, drawing bow. RG 78 (same dies); LIMC 3448; cf. Tradart December 2014 Auction, lot 133 (for obv.; same die). Green and red-brown surfaces. Near EF. Very rare.

Scenes of Hercules interacting with Erotes were widely produced in various media from the Hellenistic through Roman periods, although their meaning is not always clear. While no exact literary parallels are known, some have suggested that such motifs may have functioned as abbreviations of mythological scenes such a Hercules dallying with Omphale, queen of Lydia, or the hero in the Garden of the Hesperides (where the Erotes would stress the idyllic nature of the Garden). Others have instead interpreted the scenes as being allegorical in nature, illustrating how the power of love could conquer brute strength. Such an interpretation would fit well with scenes of Erotes binding Hercules’ hands or legs or, as on this piece, carrying off his weapon.

The obverse names Hercules as the ktistes, or founder, of the city of Heraclea. It was believed that the hero entered the underworld at a cave at nearby Cape Baba.