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Herakles' First Labor - Nemean Lion

Herakles wrestling the Nemean lion on Tarentine diobol

Herakles wrestling the Nemean lion
on Tarentine diobol

The first and most famous of the Twelve Labors, this is also the one whose results are readily visible, as the iconography of Herakles typically includes the skin, often as a head-dress, of the vanquished beast. It is rather curious that the "king of the jungle" - today associated only with sub-Saharan Africa - was chosen as the lead foe of the legendary Mediterranean hero; indeed, lions generally appear quite often in antiquity - from depictions on the the earliest known coinage from the 7th c. BC, through Persian mosaics to Roman gladiator arenas. Yet, they once inhabited not only most of Africa, but parts of Europe and Asia as well, and as such are interesting to compare to the hippopotamus of the Nile, whose real appearance was unknown even to the famous historian Herodotos of the 5th c. BC.

However, the Nemean lion is honored as more than just a skin on some coinage, like that of Herakleia and Tarentum in southern Italy, whose masterfully executed and dynamic scenes of Herakles' combat rank among the finest Greek coin art.

Search for coins depicting Herakles fighting the Nemean lion.