Reinterpreting the reverse: Lycaon receiving oracle from Apollo
Lot 202
CILICIA. Isaura. Caracalla, 198-217. Diassarion (Bronze, 25 mm, 7.82 g, 7 h), 205-209. AY K M AY ANTΩNЄINOC Laureate and cuirassed bust of Caracalla to right, breastplate decorated with gorgoneion. Rev. MHTPOΠOΛЄΩC ICAYPΩN Lycaon, laureate and on the left, standing right in military attire, holding long scepter in his left hand and receiving a tablet from Apollo, on the right, standing left, nude, holding laurel branch in his left hand; between them, wolf recumbent to left, head to right, holding human hand in his mouth; in exergue, altar. SNG Levante 262 (same dies). SNG Paris 494-495 var. (differing reverse legend arrangement and wolf reclining right). SNG von Aulock 5410-5411 var. (differing reverse legend arrangement and wolf reclining right). Rare and undoubtedly the finest known example. A magnificent coin of wonderful style, very sharply struck from fresh dies and with a beautiful brown patina. Small flan fault on the reverse edge, otherwise, good extremely fine.

Ex Leu 7, 24-25 October 2020, 1474 corr. (reverse reinterpreted).

The reverse of this magnificent issue was hitherto interpreted to be showing the emperor and Apollo (see also the note when we last offered this coin in Leu 7 (2020), 1474). However, the small animal recumbent to left is key to the interpretation of the scene, as it became clear to this cataloguer that the object held in the animal's mouth is not a branch, but in fact a human hand! Similar depictions are known from Laranda in Lycaonia, where a wolf walking to left with a human hand in his mouth appears on coins of Philip II (SNG von Aulock 5401. For a longer discussion, see Peter Weiss: Mythen, Dichter und Münzen von Lykaonien, in: Chiron 20 (1990), pp. 222-235), the meaning of which is revealed by the Byzantine author Eustathius of Thessalonica (circa 1115-1195/6), who says that:

'The Lycaonians are named after a certain Lycaon, an Arcadian, who, according to an oracle, founded a city on the spot where a restless wolf appeared, holding a human hand in his clutches - this was, what Apollo had foretold.' (Eustath. comm. Dion. Per. 857).

With this reinterpretation, it now becomes clear that our coin shows exactly the myth of Lycaon, who appears on the left in military attire, receiving the prophecy from Apollo on the right, with the wolf holding a human hand in his jaws in between. Furthermore, close inspection of lot 201 above reveals that the same wolf also appears at the feet of the city-goddess on that coin, a detail also overlooked in any discussion of Isaura's coinage to date.

Isaura thus traced its origins back to the mythical Lycaon, the eponym of Lycaonia. It is worth noting, in this regard, that the numismatic convention of assigning Greek cities to specific and invariable provinces such as Lydia, Phrygia or Cilicia does not provide an accurate picture of the historical realities, for the boundaries of Asia Minor's geographical regions were often not clearly defined, and the borders of Roman provinces were subject to numerous changes over the centuries. Thus, the fact that we assign Isaura to Cilicia today does not preclude that its citizens felt as Lycaonians in their own day. Identity, after all, is self-determined and self-defined, regardless of outside attributions.
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