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Introduction » Erotic coins
Erotic coins, tokens and medals
A collection of coinages from the Antiquanova medal workshop for the exposition „100000 years of sex” organized by the Museum of Brno in the Špilberk castle (Brno, Czech Republic)
and which took place during the days 14th November 2008 and 15th February 2009
The ancient Greeks did not generally have problems with depiction of naked human bodies. Nakedness was considered as a natural life side in the antique period. A number of preserved artistic and craft artefacts show evidence of it – sculptures, pottery and also coins. Indeed, pictures of figures in obvious sexual positions are more valuable, e.g. a satyr and a nymph displayed on archaic coins come from Greek Macedonia and the island of Thasos.
Direct illustration of sexual motives on coins (circulating medium) is not known from the Roman period in spite of the fact that naked figures were commonly depicted on coins. The Romans minted except for standard coins also special „coupons“ – metal tokens called tesserae which were distributed during various occasions and served e.g. as a ticket for circus performance. Specific tesserae from 1st century AD are valued erotic tokens called „spintriae“ [spintrije] which were originally coined from bronze. One side of the token depicts a love act – always a man with a woman, 2nd side bears the Roman numeral in a wreath. Numbers from I. to XVI. are known whereas numbers higher than 13 are very rare.
Nowadays we only anticipate why these tokens were coined. Some experts present that the main function of tokens was the entry into a brothel and „employment of a service“ depicted on the token. Reputedly, service depiction should have overcome a language barrier among nations of the whole Roman Empire; e.g. a Syrian sailor, who just arrived to Rome and did not know a word in the Latin language, knew exactly what he could expect according to the picture. According to other specialists, these tokens are special playing stamps similar to present erotic cards or numerical tokens used for some board games.
Parallels for these erotic tokens are Roman tokens serving as tickets for circus or supply „coupons“ for food. These tokens contained usually Caesar’s portrait on one side. However it was unthinkable to depict the Caesar on the token with erotic topic therefore the verso of spintriae bears a numerical mark, perhaps the value of token. According to the current most extended opinion, tokens were really coupons for sexual services and were distributed free but not to such an extent as tokens for bread and games.
The original of this medal with the diameter of 41 mm is made of bronze. The obverse displays bust of a horned man in toga from the left side. On the verso there is depicted the head of satyr from the left side, it consists of penises, one of them ejects under the chin.
Renaissance tried to pick up on antique Greek and Roman art and drew from it. The resemblance of man’s penis was a symbol of fertile natural force for the Greeks and phallus itself was a symbol of the Satyrs – guides of the God of wine, Dionysus. These Satyrs as well as Pan, the God of herds and hunt who Satyrs blend with, represented then appetence in Renaissance. They are demons of wild savage nature. The Greek word „pan“ means everything – it permeates all things. The head composed of penises shows that its owner does not think of anything else; the medal represents natural uncultivated sexuality which possesses men. The motive was unusual in Italy in 16th century, e.g. Francesco Urbini decorated a comical majolica plate from 1530 - 1537 with the head composed of penises.