by Bekircan TAHBERER
(First published in The Celator Vol. 18. No. 1, January 2004)
Tarsus is an unfortunate city like many others in Kilikia because
the settlement location has not been changed since the earliest
times, one coming on top of another and making it difficult for
archaeological research and excavations. Therefore, Tarsos coins,
which reflect many aspects of cultural and religious life, have
been tremendously important to the archaeological study of this
The ancient city was founded by the Kydnos River, as it was traditional to
establish settlements near rivers in ancient times. Tarsus, which has always
been the most important city of Kilikia, was called Tarša by the Hittites,
Tarzi by the Assyrians, Tarsos by the Hellenes and Tarsus (as we do today)
by the Romans. We don’t have firm information about the first settlers of Tarsus,
in spite of its strategically important position in the middle of the fertile
plain of Pedias. However, the civic coinage of the city depicts colorful images
of the foundation mythologies and religious life in Tarsus beginning as early
as the 5th century B.C. and extending to the second half of the 3rd century
A.D. The aim of this paper is to research the importance of a unique representation
of Apollo in Tarsus.
The results of
excavations at the Gözlükule Mound in Tarsus have revealed that
the history of settlement in Tarsus goes back to the end of the
Neolithic Period (8000-5500 B.C.). It was under the Hittite dominion
in the 17th century B.C. Later it became the capital of the local
Kizzuwatna Kingdom. A seal impression found in the mound and inscribed
“The Great King Išputahšu, Son of Pariyavatri” supports the theory
that Tarsus was the capital of the Kizzuwatna Kingdom. Tarsus was
captured by the Hittites again during the reign of Tuthaliya
II (1460-1440 B.C.) and later fell in the dominion of the Assyrians.
Kyros of the
Persian Kingdom invaded all of Anatolia, which was called Asia
then, after defeating the Lydians in 546 B.C. During the same time,
Kilikia was ruled by a local dynasty called Syennesis and their
capital was Tarsus. Dareios I (521-485) established the satrapy
system and Kilikia was ruled by the satraps and generals such as
Tiribazos, Pharnabazos, Datames and Mazaios until Alexander the
Great invaded the region.
After Alexander’s death, the Seleucids ruled Tarsus until it became the capital
of Kilikia again when the region fell into the hands of the Romans in 66 B.C.
At that time Tarsus was considered a harbor city since the Kydnos was navigable.
Tarsus had a colorful religious life as far as we can see from coins. The Gods
of the Eastern world like Ahuramazda, Baal and Melkart coexisted with the gods
and goddesses of the Western world like Athena, Aphrodite and Ares, which indicates
the existence of a mixed population in the city.
After Alexander’s conquest and during the time of the Seleucids, Tarsus discontinued
minting coinage in its own name, however the mint continued producing for the
Hellenistic kings. When civic coinage was allowed again during the reign of
Antiochos IV (175-164 B.C.), we see that Gods like Ahuramazda and Melkart disappeared.
Zeus took the place of Baaltars. Hero/god Sandan together with Herakles and
Tyke, the representation of the autonomy of Tarsus, were also popular deities
Athena, the Goddess
of wisdom and war, the God of wine Dionysos, the Goddess of fertility
Demeter, the God of healing Asklepios and his daughter Hygieia,
the hero Perseus, the Goddess Artemis the Huntress and her brother
Apollo, the God of light were also represented with their attributes
on Tarsus coins.
In the development of an ancient city, no religious fact was ever wholly lost.
When immigrants or colonists settled there, they brought their own religion
with them, but they did not destroy the previously existing religion any more
than they exterminated the older population. An amalgamation took place between
the religions of the old and the new people. It is certain that the early Ionian
immigrants found an older population and an older religion already installed
in the city. The Assyrian domination doubtless affected the religion of the
country. The Persian period left unmistakable traces, which appear on the coins.
The new foundation of the Hellenic Tarsus about 170 B.C. must inevitably have
given a distinctly more Hellenized aspect to the state cult. The Greek element
in the new population readily adopted the national cult, identifying their
gods with the Tarsian deities and merging their own rather formal religion
into the more realistic worship of the Tarsian gods.
Apollo, the subject of this paper is observed on Tarsus coins both with his
traditional representations and the representation unique for Tarsus.
One of the twelve Olympian Gods, Apollo is mentioned in the Iliad as Phoebos (or Phoibos), which means “brilliant – shining”. He is the son of Zeus
and Leto and twin brother of Artemis. He was born in Delos Island and is
known as the most Greek of the Greek Gods.
Apollo is the second most important God after Zeus. He represents the Greek
spirit, the symbols of civilization, for he is associated principally with
the arts, poetry, music, youthful health, respect to law, orderliness and temperateness.
Among his attributes are the laurel tree, laurel crown, dolphin, tripod, lyre
Apollo bears many powers and titles. He plays the golden lyre as a master musician.
He is also the master of the silver bow and famous for shooting the farthest
among the other gods. Because of his healing power, he is known as the god
that taught men the art of healing. Therefore, he was worshipped together with
his son Asklepios in many places. But most important of all, he was associated
with prophecy and had temples in many places where his priests conveyed his
In art, he is represented as a nude young male figure with the ideal form of
manly beauty, generally standing, holding his bow, a laurel branch, or the
The Apollo temple in Delphi was one of the most remarkable temples in Greece.
The place of the oracle was the center of the world and many pilgrims came
to Delphi not only from Greece but from all around the world as well. The temple
was the place where pilgrims who looked for the truth found answers.
In the Iliad, Apollo openly sided with the Trojans from the beginning. This
is the most important sign that he came from an Anatolian root. That is one
reason why some scholars claim that the title Lykeios means “Lycian”.
Oracle of Apollo
Predicting the future has been an obsession of humankind throughout history.
It was inevitable that this demand would be satisfied for gain and compensation.
Apollo was the most important god of prophecy. Therefore, his oracles fulfilled
an important need. Socrates and Plato accepted the power of Delphi:
…but to Apollo, the God of Delphi, there remains the ordering of the greatest
and noblest and chiefest things of all.
There are many ideas on the meaning of the word Lykeios going back to the earliest
times. According to one claim, it was probably created from lykos =
wolf and it indicates that the God was worshipped as the Wolf God
in early periods. According to another claim, it comes from the word lyke
= light. Another says it comes from Lykia, a province in southwestern
Anatolia. And still another premise is that Apollo got the Lukeios title as
the god of the shepherds, protector of the flock from wolves.
We can see then that even in ancient times there was not a firm consensus on
the meaning of the word Lykeios. It was interpreted either as wolf slayer,
god of light, or god of Lykia. Theophrastus in Idylls (145) says: Lykian
God, be too much wolf to the enemy! This sentence points out the relationship
of Apollo both with Lykia and wolf and it proves that Lykeios had more than
Lykeios in Athens
naked god statue, with right hand on his head and left hand resting
on a tree trunk around which a serpent entwines, was found in Lyceum
near Athens and dated to the 4th century B.C. It was identified
as Apollo Lykeios. However, this statue doesn’t bear any attribute
of a wolf god, which means the title Lykeios meant something other
than wolf in the case of this statute.
The Mycenaean Civilization had also collapsed after the Trojan War and a great
immigration had started towards the shores of Anatolia. The reason for the
collapse is not clear but it is told that many Greek palaces were plundered
and torn down by mysterious sea people. Apollo, as the god of the colonists,
had informed his priests in Delphi during the colonization period (750-500
B.C.) where the colonists could immigrate.
reverse subject of a series of obol coins, believed to be struck
in Tarsus in the 4th century B.C., is the forepart of a wolf. No
historical conclusion has been made about these coins until now.
The existence of the Argives in Tarsus explains it because the
wolf is the fundamental coin subject in Argos beginning from the
5th century B.C. There must have been a significant number of Argives
living in Tarsus because Dio Chrysostom mentions that the people
of Tarsus were proud to be colonists from Argos.
Hellenistic cities of that time loved to invent an origin for themselves
in remote Greek mythology. The Tarsians claimed to be descended
from the Argives who had gone forth along with Triptolemos in search
of the lost Io, the beloved of the god, who was transformed into
a cow by the anger of Hera. The Argives and the god of their ancestors
Apollo are also mentioned on a statue base in the Adana Museum.
Nevertheless, the same people who spoke of themselves as descendants
of those ancient Argive wanderers felt no inconsistency in declaring
that Tarsus was the foundation of Sardanapalos and an old Oriental
city. This is an indication of the colorful mixture of peoples
who lived in Tarsus.
The wolf disappears on Tarsus coinage for a long time. On the other hand, an
Apollo-wolves representation, which appeared during the Roman Imperial Period,
is unique in every way.
Fig.1 Time of
Hadrianus (117-138 AD)
14,01 gm – 29 mm (SNG Paris 1437)
mythological founder of Tarsus, Perseus, was pictured holding a
statue of a naked Apollo, standing on an omphalos, holding two
wolf-like animals by the forelegs on the reverse of a coin struck
during the time of Hadrianus (98-117) (Fig. 1).
It was common in religious mythology to identify a hero as a god. Because of
his Argive background, Perseus was brought to Tarsus as an alternative of the
native hero/god Sandan. Perseus represents the new people and their power.
Therefore, it is not unusual that Perseus is depicted together with the god
of the new people.
Fig. 2 Maximinus
23.57 gm – 37 mm – (SNG Paris 1590)
is curious that all the so-called Apollo Lykeios representations
on Tarsus coinage are pictured as a statue while other deities
including the other forms of Apollo are depicted alive (Fig.2).
The Apollo representations on short or long column type bases indicate
that there were a number of statues of Apollo in Tarsus.
Fig. 3 S. Severus
74.63 gm – 48 mm (SNG Levante 1024)
Fig. 4 S. Severus
26 gm – 37 mm (SNG Paris 1478)
a coin of Septimius Severus, Perseus is depicted standing before
an altar, holding a phiale over an altar in front of a statue of
Apollo with wolves on top of a column, (Fig. 3 and 4).
Fig. 5 Caracalla
19.56 gm – 34 mm (SNG Paris 1540)
took the place of Perseus on a coin struck in his name (Fig. 5).
This representation, which must have been produced during a visit
of the emperor to Tarsus proves the importance of the Apollo-wolf
cult in Tarsus.
Fig. 6 Traianus
18.59 gm – 33 mm (SNG Levante 1165)
coin of Traianus Decius (240-251) presents a very interesting religious
ceremony: Perseus is standing at right holding a harpe, Gorgoneion
and phiale over a garlanded altar; a humped bull lies in front
of the altar; behind the altar is the upper part of a figure holding
a shield and spear (emperor?); at left is Demeter, holding in each
hand torches pointing towards a high column with a cult statue
of Apollo holding two wolf-like animals by the forelegs and probably
asking the whereabouts of her lost daughter Persephone (Fig. 6).
Even the Goddess of agricultural fertility, Demeter, comes for
the prophecy of the Tarsian Apollo, which is a kind of an advertisement
of the Apollo cult in Tarsus.
Fig. 7 Severus
48.51 gm – 43 mm (SNG Levante 1087)
a similar coin struck for Severus Alexander (222-235), Apollo is
addressed as PATROOC –
the god of our ancestors (Fig. 7). The title Patroos was used especially
for the old Ionian Apollo .
Fig. 8 Gordianus
30.32 gm – 38 mm (SNG Levante Sup. 288)
a coin of Gordianus III (238-244), Perseus, in his usual gesture,
holds a harpe in one hand and an Apollo - wolves statue in the
other upraised hand; before him is a fisherman with fishing net
and some fish in his hand (Fig. 8).
Fig. 9 Severus
28.18 gm – 36 mm (SNG Paris 1574)
must be associated with the Perseus mythology, in which the infant
Perseus and his mother were saved by Dictys the
fisherman. PA/TRW/OC -
Patroos legend right under the Apollo statue holding the hand of
Perseus on the same subject coin of Severus Alexander refers to
Apollo and indicates the respect of the Tarsians to the God of
their ancestors through Perseus (Fig. 9).
Fig. 10 Severus
26.48 gm – 36 mm (SNG L Sup. 275)
that depicts Apollo holding two animals by the forelegs in a distyle
temple might be the indication of the existence of a temple in
the name of Apollo (Fig. 10).
26.52 gm – 36 mm (SNG P 1575)
naked Apollo representation that holds a bow in the left hand and
an animal (stag ?) by the forelegs in his right hand, which we
see very often on Tarsus coins, is a completely different interpretation
of Apollo and must not be mistaken for Apollo-wolves representations
(Fig. 11). The statue of Apollo with bow and stag was carved by
Kanachos for the Dydima Apollo temple and it was called Apollo
Philesios. But it is known as Apollo Dydimeus or Apollo of Dydima.
This distinguished representation can be seen on Miletos coinage
but the Tarsus examples are interestingly more remarkable than
the Miletus ones.
The animals that Apollo holds by the forelegs on Tarsus coinage have been considered
by numismatists to be wolves and the god was identified as Lykeios – the Wolf
God. But it is evident that in the Hellenistic Period the animals were regarded
to be dogs, for Lychopron, a third century B.C. poet, calls the two prophets
Mopsos and Amphilochos, “the dogs of Apollo”. The poet adopted a popular identification
of the two Apolline prophets with two animals whom the god holds in his hands.
Under these conditions the god that numismatists identified as Lykeios, and
whom we frequently see on the Greek Imperial coinage of Tarsus, must be considered
as a completely different evaluation of Apollo. This god has intermingled with
the local mythology because it is pictured completely different from the other
Apollo representations in Tarsus. It is a pity that we cannot see any actual
Apollo-dogs statues, but only those depicted on coins. For that reason we must
rely on the coins for the answers to all questions about the Lykeios cult in
The prophet Mopsos that Poet Lychopron mentions is a son of Apollo and Manto
Amphilokhos is the son of Amphiaraus and Eriphyle of Argos. King Amphiaraus
was respected like a god because of his prophecy and healing powers and he
was a priest of Apollo. This means both Amphilokhos and Mopsos had a close
relationship with Apollo.
According to the legend famous prophecy giver prophets Amphilokhos and Mopsos
came to Kilikia and founded the city of Mallos where they had a famous oracle.
The people that came to the temple for prophecy would write their questions
on a wax tablet and spend the night in the temple sleeping on a fleece. They
would get the answer to their questions in their dreams.
Mopsos and Amphilokhos ruled the temple together. Amphilokhos went to Greece
for about a year and Mopsos ruled the temple alone. When he came back and wanted
to rule the temple together again, Mopsos objected and they killed each other
during a fight. They were buried in Mallos.
Having a temple of prophecy was a very important source of revenue for a city.
There was a tremendous rivalry among the cities close or far, like Tarsos,
Mallos, Aigeai, Adana, Mopsuestia and Anazarbos in ancient Kilikia in those
days and this rivalry reached to an unbelievable stage during the Roman period.
Each city was ready to do anything to be superior to the others.
As a result of this rivalry, which can be observed best on coins, Tarsos got
the titles AMK (PRWTH, MEGISTH, KALLISTH =
first, biggest, the most beautiful) and Metropolis. Later Anazarbos assumed
the same titles and tried to be superior by adding ENDOXOS magnificent.
Aigeai, the third biggest city of Kilikia possessed an extremely important
Asklepios temple, which was a great privilege for them. Mallos struck coins
on which they proudly advertised that prophet Amphilokhos was the founder of
their city and they also had the Athena Magarsis temple. Trying to emphasize
the importance of its oracle, Mopsuestia struck coins with a tripod and a burning
altar, which meant that Mopsuestia was the oracle of the prophet Mopsos.
Numerous travelers, armies, traders, and pilgrims visited these cities as they
were situated on the main road coming from Mesopotamia and Syria and leading
to the western Anatolia. Temple offerings, statuettes, crowns and votive animals
could bring considerable amount of income. They could earn money for the services
given in cities and temples such as curing an illness or giving prophecy in
temples. Therefore, it is quite natural that coins, which travel from hand
to hand like a brochure, bear the representations of the city attractions.
That way the cities were advertising their temples, gods, goddesses and oracles.
Finally, according to what has been explained above, Amphilokhos and Mopsos
were the most famous prophecy givers of the world and by having their temples,
Mallos and Mopsuestia were superior to the other cities. Aigeai also received
many visitors because of its Asklepeion.
When the oracle of Apollo is brought to the city with a unique way (his naked
figure holding two dogs by forelegs), Tarsus would have a temple that could
rival all the cities nearby or even be superior to them. As the first god to
teach the healing art to men, Apollo would primarily rival Asklepeion in Aigeai
because of his healing power. Asklepios was already a secondary god and could
not match the skills of Apollo. The prophecy giving Apollo would certainly
be superior to the prophets Amphilokhos and Mopsos and the dogs that Apollo
holds by the forelegs really represent Amphilokhos and Mopsos, a way of despising
them as the poet Lycophron stated, which brings Tarsus ahead of Mopsuestia
There is no information on any coin or document that tells about any cult called
Lykeios in Tarsus. The Ionian Apollo must have come to Tarsus with the immigrants
and was identified with a native god of Tarsus with similar powers as that
In this case, it is clear that the title Lykeios is a modern ascription. The
animals, which Apollo holds by the forelegs have nothing to do with wolves
and it is quite logical to identify them with Amphilochos and Mopsos. As the PATROOC legend
indicates on the coins in fig. 8, 12 and 13, it is the cult of Apollo
Patroos but not Lykeios in Tarsus.
temples in ancient cities were both popular and rich places because
of offerings and money that was paid for the services given. For
this reason they were robbed or plundered many times. Unfortunately,
we have no information about the destiny of the temples in Tarsus.
They were probably either converted to a church or completely destroyed
when the Romans adopted Christianity in the early 4th century.
That might also be the reason why no Apollo/wolves statue survived
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