37th DPS Meeting, 4-9 September 2005
Session 8 Motions of The Planets, Eclipses and Transits
HAD Oral, Monday, September 5, 2005, 2:00-3:30pm, Umney Theatre, Robinson College

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[8.03] The Double Heads of Istrus: the Oldest Eclipse on a Coin

W. Saslaw (Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge and the Astronomy Department, University of Virginia), P. Murdin (Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge)

The ancient city of Istrus was situated in the delta of the River Danube on the western edge of the Black Sea near what is now Constanta in Romania. From the late fifth and through most of the fourth century B.C. it minted silver coins whose remarkable obverse shows two young male heads, inverted with respect to each other. The heads are essentially identical, and always anti-parallel. The image of the double, anti-parallel heads appears to be unique, not only in numismatics but also in general. We searched the Warburg collection of iconography without finding any similar example. We propose that these are images of the sun-god Apollo and that their inversion was inspired by a nearly total eclipse of the Sun visible at Istrus in 434 B.C.

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 37 #3
© 2004. The American Astronomical Soceity.