Kyrene, Cyrenaica (First Period)
[B]Kyrene, Cyrenaica (First Period; 570-480 BC.)
AR hemidrachm (attic standard)[/B]
[u]Obv[/u]: Stylized silphium fruit/seed with linear border and dot (stigma).
[u]Rev[/u]: Zeus Ammon, facing right.
[u]Attribution[/u]: cf. BMC 29, Pl.4,25 (rev. die); Buttrey -; SNG Cop. -; SNG Milano -; Traite -.
[u]Weight[/u]: 1.88 gm.
[u]Maximal Diameter[/u]: 10.45 mm.
[u]Note[/u]: A rare archaic attic hemidrachm with a reverse die either the same as or a close exemplar to BMC 29 (Pl. 4, 25). No satisfactory die matches for the silphium fruit/seed obverse in any of the standard Cyrenaica references.
Regarding the fruit/seed featured on this archaic issue, Robinson (BMC Cyrenaica) writes, "the normal representation of the (silphium) fruit, which lends itself even more to stylization than the whole plant, may be described as follows: fruit with encircling ridge just before dehiscence, seen end-on, but distorted in such as way as to show the outer side of each mericap simultaneously in breadth, as if seen from the side. Stigma and the top of pedicel are represented by pellets or buttons."
Robinson further points out that the silphium fruit/seed appears on practically all First Period coinage (c. 570-480 BC.) with one exception, then it vanishes as a design motif at the beginning of the Second Period (c. 480-430 BC.) and never reappears except for one instance in the late 4th century.
There is some speculation about the connection between the stylized rendering of the silphium seed and the traditional heart shape. The symbol is remarkably similar to the Egyptian "heart soul." The sexual nature of that concept, combined with the widespread use of silphium in ancient Egypt for birth control, leads to speculation that the character for the Egyptian "heart soul" may have been derived from the shape of the silphium seed.
Contemporaneous writings help tie silphium to sexuality and love, as laserpicium (i.e., silphium resin) makes an appearance in a poem of Catullus to his lover Lesbia. As well as in Pausanias' Description of Greece in which he says: "For it so happened that his maiden daughter was living in it. By the next day this maiden and all her girlish apparel had disappeared, and in the room were found images of the Dioscuri, a table, and silphium upon it." (Pausanias 3.16.3) - wikipedia.org