The coins, the official seal, the medals and the stamps
(Summary) The 4th century BC coins, the 19th century (1800-1813) official seal of the United States of the Ionian Islands, the emblematic and Ithacan medals, and the 1939 and 1964 stamps, all portraying the head or the figure of Odysseus, comprise an original and undeniable element of official witness to Homeric Ithaca, such as no expert in Greek literature or history easily dares to challenge. Those who choose to ignore or distort their significance are openly deluding themselves or are lying historically. Ithaca, through its coins, secured its position as Homeric Ithaca in the 4th century BC with the mutual acceptance as such by its neighboring islands.
(a) The Odyssean coins of Ithaca of 350-250 BC
Official testimony of the island’s identification.
Ithaca, parallel to other islands of the ex-kingdom of Odysseus (4th century BC), locally minted its own copper coins inscribed with the letters ΙΘΑ, ΙΘΑΚΩΝ (of Ithacans), thus declaring its inalienable right to a glorious Odysssean past. The obverse on the coins depicts the Ithacan hero Odysseus, while the reverse either Athena protector goddess, the cock – symbol of Ithaca, the prow of a ship or a fulmen surrounded by a wreath of laurel leaves.
Mrs. Eugenia Vikela, Professor of Archaeology at the Ionian University, states on the subject: “The coins minted by Ithaca in the 4th century BC with the head of Ulysses, the thunderbolt and the figure of Athena, do not simply constitute a revival of the epic, or a delayed effort to acquire identification through the myth, but a continuity of the actual history of the island and an imprint of a local and classical symbol. Moreover, the rest of the Ionian would have found it difficult to take up this challenge and this is why they have not contended Hellenistic Ithaca with such a claim.”
The ‘‘gift’’ of this collection is substantial and the coins can be found in full series at the Numismatic Museums of Athens and London, while some of the coins are shown in the Archaeological Museum in Vathi, Ithaca. The series of coins minted in the Cephalonian Tetrapolis and in Leucas are of great interest for comparison and juxtaposition with the Ithacan coins. Most of the coins found in Ithaca were discovered in the then prosperous south (area of Alalkomenai), while only a few were found in the declining north. Collectors fell upon the coins with such interest that very soon there were no more to be had, which paved the way for substitution with forgeries minted in Italy (written testimony).
The coins constitute:
Undeniable testimony of a society of Odyssean conscioussness.
A 2400 year old official recognition of the island’s mythical status.
Testimony strengthened and secured irrefutably through the parallel minting of coins on neighbouring islands, thus narrating their own mythical and historical recounts.
(b) The official seal of the United States of the Ionian Islands (1810-11).
The seal, which was apparently in use immediately after the British occupation in 1810-11, affirmed the mythical past of the islands, with their well-known respective and commonly accepted symbols. Ithaca, as always, is represented by the head of Odysseus. The conical shape of the combined seven symbols inclines towards the British royal coat of arms, which appears in the center of the seal (Georgios Roussos: Modern History of the Greek Nation 1826-1974).
(c) The emblematic medals of the Ionian Islands
The islands’ emblematic medals, which were included on the official stamp of the United States of the Ionian Islands, were originally designed by the British Governor of Cephalonia and Ithaca, General and coin collector, Charles-Philippe de Bosset. Only his texts survive (Matthias Steinhart und Eckhard Wirbelauer, Aus der heimat der Odysseus (2002), pp. 104-106; and Οι Αρχαιολογικοί θησαυροί της Ιθάκης (The archaeological treasures of Ithaca), pp. 782-785). Of similar inspiration and design were the medals of Sr. Pizzamano published in the book Travels in Italy, Greece and the Ionian islands by W.H. Williams.
(d) The Odyssean medals of Ithaca of the 1800s.
2200 years after the ancient coins were minted the medals appear, portraying historical myth and Ionian Island titles, as they were fashioned by the scholarly European culture of that time. The main inspiration for themes depicted on the medals came from ancient Greek literature and the then recently discovered 4th century BC coins. Symbolically representing each of the islands, their purpose was to honour various personalities amongst the conquering nations (probably an imposed choice) who contributed to well-meant political and social advancement of the islands. Characteristic is the series designed by artist Pizzamano, presented in this exhibition.
Ithaca’s medal, called the ‘‘the crown of Ithaca’’ (or coat of arms) depicted Odysseus in a modernistic version inscribed with the legend “the island grateful”, and was bestowed on historical personalities that had supposedly served Ithaca. The obverse depicted Odysseus and the reverse the honored person. At least two were designed and minted by Tsanetos Arsenis, sole goldsmith in Ithaca at the time.
Six Ithacan medals have been recorded historically, although the total number bestowed remains unknown until the union of the Ionian Islands with Greece, in 1864.
The first historically recorded gold metal was awarded in 1799 to the Russian major Tiesenhausen for his effort in organizing the application of the island’s new regime (Russian-Ottoman occupation).
The second gold medal was awarded to the Russian admiral Fyodor Ushakov (one of the two representatives of the allied protective forces, Russia and the Ottoman Empire) after a resolution by the council of Ithaca on March 2nd, 1800 ‘‘for his continuous concern for the people of Ithaca’’.
The third medal was awarded, in 1800, to the Governor of Ithaca Angelos Orios as a sign of gratitude of the people of Ithaca.
The forth medal was awarded to the British General John Oswald, first Governor of the Ionian Islands during the temporary British occupation. A resolution to bestow the medal was made by the council of Ithaca on 25th of January 1811.
The fifth medal was awarded in 1812 to British Major Hudson Lowe, Governor of Ithaca during the temporary British occupation.
The sixth medal was awarded, in 1813 (?), by order of the British occupants to Captain A. Guittera, the, according to A. Lekatsas, most notorious of the grave robbers and pillagers.
Official State identification. The stamps.
(e) The stamps issued in 1939 and 1964 for the anniversary of the Ionian Islands’ Union with Greece.
The Greek State twice, in 1939 and 1964, by issuing two different series of stamps, commemorating the anniversary of the Ionian Islands’ union with Greece, honours the island by using as a symbol for Ithaca the head of its hero Odysseus, similar to the one depicted on the coins of the 4th century BC Ithacan state.