Roman Coin Showing Bellerophon Slaying the Chimaera
Coin Room Lobby,
Gallery 36, First Floor.

 

Historical Background

This coin was minted in Alexandria in Roman Egypt in AD 141/2.

At this time the Roman Egyptians had started making great use of Greek mythology for their coin designs. This was in response to a greater emphasis on Greek culture and identity which was a feature of the second century AD. Other designs from Greek mythology to appear on Egyptian coins at this time include the 'Labours of Heracles' and 'Orpheus and the Animals'. Many of these coins, including ours, use a very unusual pictorial style, perhaps copied from paintings or sculptures by an artist more used to working with other media.

The story of Bellerophon slaying the chimaera first appears in Homer's Iliad (written down c.750BC).
In the myth it is claimed that Bellerophon resisted the attentions of King Proteus
' wife, who retaliated by telling the king that Bellerophon tried to seduce her. As a result the king sent the hero away to Asia Minor with a coded message for the King of Lycia stating that he should be killed. The King of Lycia set him some seemingly impossible tasks, rather like the Labours of Heracles, the first of which was to slay the chimaera, a monster composed of 'a lion in front, a snake behind, and a she-goat in the middle'. In later versions of the myth Bellerophon is helped by the winged horse Pegasus, which you can see on this coin.