It has been over 2 years since I posted a new "coin of the month". So, here is the bi-yearly coin of the month.
This largish coin illustrates the Temple of Aphrodite in Paphos, Cyprus. The temple had roots that stretch at least to 1200 BCE when Mycenean Greeks erected the first shrine to mark the birth place of Aphrodite, or at least her landfall site after being birthed in the sea. Charms and amulets have been found dating to the 3rd millennium BCE which infers that the site was a site of continuous worship for several thousand years up until the year 391 when Theodosius banned pagan worship. The town itself was occupied in the Neolithic period. The centerpiece of the temple was a Baetyl (Bethel in the bible), a stone housing the essence of the goddess. This is pictured at the center of the distyle temple on this coin of Trajan. What makes this baetyl unique is that it has survived. It was discovered by British Archaeologists in 1888. It is generally believed that Baetyls were meteorites, given that a stone observed falling from the sky would generate a sense of awe and connection to unseen regions of the sky. However, this stone turned out to be of local origin. It is a mystery as to how this stone acquired its status as the embodiment or home of Aphrodite.
The scene on the reverse of this coin represents an attempt at perspective drawing. The semi-circular design at the bottom is believed to be a courtyard or reflecting pool with the temple at the back. Coins of this type in better condition sometimes show stars flanking the baetyl, again adding to the misconception of cosmic origin.
Although I have never seen anything in writing suggesting that the structure is anything but the Temple of Aphrodite, the scale and the distyle form of the temple might make one question this assumption. Tacitus describes the altar on which the baetyl sat as "Out in the open air, but never wet from rain". The north side of the temple had a colonnade of 18 pillars. I don't have access to all of the research carried out at excavations of the site, but I have looked at several reconstructions trying to visualize (unsuccessfully) the angle on which the coin image is based. The stone is also pictured at several times its size - if this is the front of the temple. It makes more sense that this image is of the altar itself - sort of the "Holy of Holies". The fact that it never got wet is easy to explain as the stone was often covered in oil during rituals.For more information follow this link to a discussion on one of the fora at Ancientinfo.com