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Inverted anchor cross. A cross with slightly widened ends, with two anchor flukes coming out of the top and curving left and right, also with slightly widened ends.

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Head of river god Gelas, right Script: Greek Lettering: ΓΕΛΑ Translation: Gela

Gela Æ Tetras 420-405 BC

An ancient Greek river god.

Head of river god Gelas, right

Script: Greek

Lettering: ΓΕΛΑ

Translation: Gela

Gela, a city on the southern coast of the Italian island of Sicily, was founded in 698 by Greek colonists from Rhodes and Crete. The name comes from the Sicilian-dialect word for “winter frost”.

This coin features “Gelas”, a local river god. Each river had its own god. Looking at the map of Sicily, the Gela river originates in Disueri lake, flowing 59km (36 mi) past Gela, to the Strait of Sicily. Many river gods appeared as bulls, perhaps because of the way they charged ahead with unstoppable momentum. The version of Gela on this coin looks rather mild and man-like, aside from relatively small horns coming out of his forehead. Some representations show him as a bull with a human face (not mine):

Like my Aes Grave featuring Janus, the fact that my coin dates to around 420 – 405 BC, nearly 2,500 years ago, is amazing to me, and it is history like this which inspires me to learn and share what I learn here.

Where the obverse of this coin features a bull god in almost-man form, the reverse features a bull:

Original coin has: "Bull right, olive branch above, three pellets (mark of value = 1/4 litra) in exergue". On mine, basically only the bull is visible.

The coin is made of bronze and is about 19mm diameter.

Looking back at the map, I wondered if the gentler Gelas may have been because the Gela river doesn’t appear to be all that wide:

Map of Gela, showing the river snaking to the top-right

Perhaps the fiercer image on some coins was done in years with excess rain and flooding? Or maybe in years of drought and fire when they WANTED more water? Or maybe just done by a different engraver with a different image of how gods should look. We’ll likely never know, but it’s interesting to consider.

Finally, I actually can’t find too many photos of the river at all. If you have a photo of the Gela river, you’d be happy for me to share (with credit), please do get in touch!

Head of river god Gelas, right Script: Greek Lettering: ΓΕΛΑ Translation: Gela





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