Star & Crescent Coins

The Moon and Stars!

The star and crescent symbols have a long history in art, astronomy, astrology, and numismatics. On coins of the Roman era, the depiction of these symbols would seem to indicate celestial arrangements of the planets. There are never more than seven stars depicted, which would account for all of the "roaming" objects in the heavens (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars. Jupiter, and Saturn). Almost all of the appearances of the star/cresent motif occurred during the reigns of Hadrian, Commodus, Septimus Severus, Caracalla, Geta, and Percennius Niger. The Severan dynasty was particularly taken (obsessed) by astrology. The provincial coins of Septimus Severus seem to be centered at Nikopolis. Interestingly, all 5 of the visible planets were aligned in the night sky just recently. Furthermore, the grouping of these coins in the latter part of the 2nd century may have significance. Computer models have suggested that two eclipses, one annular the other total, occurred in the northern hemisphere in 186 CE. This would place it in the reign of Commodus. Two eclipses in the same year (July 4, and Dec. 28) would have been exceedingly rare and noteworthy especially with the Annular eclipse occurring almost at the new year (the July 4, eclipse was total). All of the emperors mentioned above ruled within 19 years of each other. Whether the purpose of the crescent/star motif is related to eclipses (in which planets become visible by day), lunar or planetary conjunctions of the Plaeidies (7 sisters) and/or other planets, or simple repesentation of Roman cosmology may never be known for sure. The coin with Zeus on the obverse and a leaping ram on the reverse represents a planetary conjunction in the constellation Aries. According to Michael Molnar, the now famous "Star of Bethlehem" coin supposedly depicts Jupiter's occultation of Aries twice in April 6, BCE. A later coin from Antioch with a similar theme - Tyche on obverse with Venus(?) occulting the moon in Aries. Another famous depiction of a planetary conjunction is Julian II's two stars in Tarus reverse. Celestial objects depicted on coins makes for a very interesting focus for collecting.
The last two coins are from the Middle East. The Parthian coin of Orodes II depicts two stars and the crescent moon. Other coins of his have one star with the crescent while others do not have the crescent. The final coin is from the Artuqid dynasty and dates from the 12th century. The two figures on the obverse represent the Sun and Mercury. Other Artuqid coins have personifications of different combinations of planets and/or the sun. For more information on Astronomical representations on coins visit my site and Marshall Faintich's site on Symbolic Messengers.

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