The Classic gods of antiquity and modern advances in planetology collide to showcase Mercury

It goes without saying that regular readers have noticed the popularity of astronomy coins and also of issues tied to the myths and legends of old. There’s actually a lot of overlap between the two, not only with the binding of the planets into the beliefs of the old cultures, but in their naming. Mercury is a perfect example. The Romans were aware of seven bright objects in the night sky. The Sun and the Moon are obvious, along with the five brightest planets, and they named them after their most important gods. As the one that blazed the fastest trail across the sky, the smallest of them was given the name Mercury, after the messenger god.

Combining the god and the planet on a single coin is a neat idea and the way that Mint21 have done it is particularly attractive. The foreground is taken up with a representation of the Ancient Roman deity. Eschewing the intricate detail of some of the recent Mint of Poland coins with similar themes, the designer here has gone for a look reminiscent of the statues of classic antiquity. The antique finish is a nice choice.

The background is covered by a struck image of the planet done in digital colour. Humanity has actually photographed the surface quite closely, with NASA’s MESSENGER probe taking over 200,000 images of the surface during its thousands of orbits, and before crashing into the Mercury surface in 2015, leaving a little crater of its own. There’s considerable detail in the composite images and they make a great contrast to the figure of the Roman god.

The obverse is plain by comparison. Issued for Cameroon, it carries the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II, something not overly common on issues for this African nation. Packaging comprises an elegant box which will hold a certificate of authenticity. The mintage is capped at 500, quite typical for a three-ounce silver coin, and is being distributed by Top World Coins, although we expect availability to spread. Shipping at the end of June, it has debuted at €269.00 and is available to pre-order now. A very nice release that bodes well for the future of this planned eight-coin series.

REVERSEOBVERSE

MERCURY THE PLANET

Mercury is the smallest planet in the Solar System and the one closest to the Sun, with an orbital period of about 88 Earth days, which is much faster than any other planet in the Solar System. Seen from Earth, it appears to move around its orbit in about 116 days. It has no known natural satellites. It is named after the Roman deity Mercury, the messenger to the gods.

Partly because it has almost no atmosphere to retain heat, Mercury’s surface temperature varies diurnally more than any other planet in the Solar System, ranging from 100 K (−173 °C; −280 °F) at night to 700 K (427 °C; 800 °F) during the day in some equatorial regions. The poles are constantly below 180 K (−93 °C; −136 °F). Mercury’s axis has the smallest tilt of any of the Solar System’s planets (about 1⁄30 of a degree). However, Mercury’s orbital eccentricity is the largest of all known planets in the Solar System. At aphelion, Mercury is about 1.5 times as far from the Sun as it is at perihelion. Mercury’s surface is heavily cratered and similar in appearance to the Moon, indicating that it has been geologically inactive for billions of years.

Mercury is tidally or gravitationally locked with the Sun in a 3:2 resonance, and rotates in a way that is unique in the Solar System. As seen relative to the fixed stars, it rotates on its axis exactly three times for every two revolutions it makes around the Sun. As seen from the Sun, in a frame of reference that rotates with the orbital motion, it appears to rotate only once every two Mercurian years. An observer on Mercury would therefore see only one day every two years. Two spacecraft have visited Mercury: Mariner 10 flew by in the 1970s; and MESSENGER, launched in 2004, orbited Mercury over 4,000 times in four years, before exhausting its fuel and crashing into the planet’s surface on April 30, 2015. (Source: Wikipedia)

MERCURY THE ROMAN GOD

Mercury (Mercurius) was the Roman god of commerce, often serving as a mediator between the gods and mortals, his winged feet giving him the advantage of speed, and so was the patron of circulation in general – of people, goods and messages. Mercury protected both merchants, especially those dealing in grains, and travelers. Merchants would pray to him for high profits and protection of their trade goods. However, to many, he was also known for being cunning and shrewd as well as a deceiver, often pulling pranks on the unsuspecting, especially the god Apollo. Mercury was the son of the king of the gods Jupiter and purportedly Maia, goddess of the plains. Considered by some to be of foreign origin, he is often associated with his Greek counterpart Hermes. His Roman name Mercurius is probably derived from the Latin word for merchandise (merx).

Like Hermes, he escorted the dead to the underworld. Allegedly, while escorting the nymph Lara to Pluto’s realm, he fathered the twin Lares, guardian gods of Rome. A temple honoring him was built around 495 BCE and stood on the southwest slope of Aventine Hill near the Circus Maximus of Rome. Mercury’s festival day was celebrated on May 15 in commemoration of the founding of his temple. A cult paying homage to him existed outside the city of Rome in Campania and Latium as well as in Gaul and Britain. The god is frequently depicted holding the caduceus, a wand used to reconcile conflicts, and winged sandals for quickly carrying messages for the gods. The wand had been given to him by Apollo in Greek mythology. Besides the wand and sandals, he also wore a broad-brimmed hat, the Perasus, and carried a purse, a symbol of his duties as the god of commerce and profits. Like many of the Roman gods, a planet – the closest one to the sun – was named for him. (Wasson, Donald L. “Mercury (Deity).” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 06 Nov 2018. Web. 02 May 2019. )

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SPECIFICATION
DENOMINATION 3,000 Francs CFA
COMPOSITION 0.999 silver
WEIGHT 93.3 grams
DIMENSIONS 55.0 mm
FINISH Antique
MODIFICATIONS High-relief, colour
MINTAGE 500
BOX / COA Yes / Yes
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