Bicorporates on Coins. Reflections on their Occurrence and Use
This paper focuses on coins with bicorporates – composite animals with one head and two bodies – a fascinating but rather neglected category of numismatic objects. The first known bicorporates appeared on Mesopotamian cylinder seals around the third millennium BC. They subsequently appeared in Aegean, Greek, Etruscan and Roman art as well as that of pre-Islamic Syria and Iran. In medieval Europe, they flourished in Romanesque churches in Southern Europe and Scandinavia, in particular Denmark. Furthermore, they also emerged in India, China and Southeast Asia. Bicorporates exist across a remarkably wide geographical and chronological range. However, art historians and archaeologists alike mostly disregard them. Only a few scholars have carried out serious research into bicorporates and then focussed almost exclusively on their presence in Romanesque sculpture. Nevertheless, they are almost ubiquitous in Eurasian visual culture. Bicorporates are also found on coins, even though these are extremely rare. This paper will explore how, when and where bicorporates emerged on coins, and – since this question is raised whenever bicorporates are the issue – discuss whether bicorporates really depict two bodies or one. Finally, the meaning and significance of bicorporates will be discussed in the context of different scholarly interpretations.