Stater of Knossos - Female head (possibly Ariadne) [obverse]; Labyrinth [reverse], 400-350 BCE
Inscribed: I / R
Classical Period
Greece, Crete, Knossos
7/8 × 15/16 × 1/8 in. (2.2 × 2.4 × 0.3 cm)
3-D Object/Sculpture
CA 6611

Ca 6611 20220303 v02 m
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A slightly off-center rectilinear labyrinth appears on the reverse of this coin. The labyrinth was a common motif on coins that were minted in Knossos, Crete, especially during the Classical period (480–323 BCE). Knossos was the legendary location of the palace of King Minos and the home of the Minotaur, who had the head and tail of a bull, but the body of a man. In mythology, rather than sacrificing a white bull to the Greek god Poseidon, King Minos kept it for himself. As punishment, Poseidon had Minos’s wife Pasiphae consumed with desire for the bull, and their offspring was the Minotaur. As he grew, the Minotaur began eating humans, so following the advice of the Oracle of Delphi, the Minotaur was confined to an elaborate labyrinth, designed by the inventor Daedalus to keep all who entered trapped. Eventually the Minotaur was killed by the Athenian hero, Theseus, and the labyrinth remained an enduring symbol of Knossos.

On the obverse, there is a female head in profile facing to the right. She wears a rolled headband or circlet. In the past she has been identified as Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos who helped Theseus by providing him with a sword to fight the beast and thread to find his way out of the labyrinth. Alternatively it could be Hera, the queen of the Olympian gods, who appears on coins of Knossos as well because of her marriage to Zeus, Demeter, or Kore (also known as Persephone). The head on this coin shows heavy wear with its smoothed details and rounded edges making it difficult to determine her identity.

Knossos and other major Cretan cities began issuing coins around 470 BCE. This coin has a weight consistent with that of other silver stater coins from Knossos in the Classical period of around 11 grams. Two control marks, or letters related to the manufacturing of the coin, are visible today. An Ι (iota, the letter “I”) and Ρ (rho, the letter “R”). Similar coins also have a B (beta, the letter “B”) above the entrance to the labyrinth. Although there is one cross-bar of something partially preserved in that location on this coin, it is not preserved enough to confirm it is a B. It is thought that BPI (Bri) is used on these coins to represent ΒΡΙΩΝ (“Brion”), the name of a magistrate around 350 BCE in Knossos.