Featured A Now-Extinct Animal on a Roman Coin

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by TIF, Nov 30, 2016.

  1. TIF

    TIF Always learning.

    THRACE, Hadrianopolis. Gordian III
    AE 18 mm, 2.59 gm
    Obv: AVT K M ANT ΓORΔIANOC AVΓ; laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right.
    Rev: AΔPIANOΠOΛEITΩN; ostrich running like @stevex6 is chasing it with a basting brush
    Ref: Varbanov 3833, rare

    But ostriches aren't extinct, you say. True, but I believe the bird on this coin is Struthio camelus syriacus, the Arabian ostrich.

    The common and extant Struthio c. camelus lives in the southern Sahara and northern subsaharan Africa. Its habitat is shown in orange on the map below. Struthio c. syriacus's approximate habitat at the time of the Roman Empire was in the areas shown in pink. The Arabian ostrich was extinct by the mid 20th century.

    The two types are similar in appearance, with the Arabian ostrich being perhaps a bit smaller.

    I'm not terribly familiar with the extent of Romans' travels but it seems the location of Arabian ostriches (the cluster near what is now the junction of Saudia Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, and Syria) would be a much more convenient location for ostrich acquisition.

    Exotic animals seemed to be be used as status symbols by various emperors. If an empire is wealthy enough to acquire animal from afar for mere amusement, the message would be that the empire is doing very well. Perhaps imported sports cars are the equivalent for modern man?

    In addition to sometimes being used in fights in the Colosseum, ostriches were kept in aviaries, stocked in reserves for local safaris, used to draw chariots, and- my favorite- occasionally given away as dinner party door prizes by everyone's favorite wacky weirdo, Elagabalus.

    From Historia Augusta, The Life of Elagabalus, chapter 22:

    At his banquets he would also distribute chances inscribed on spoons, the chance of one person reading "ten camels," of another "ten flies," of another "ten pounds of gold," of another "ten pounds of lead," of another "ten ostriches," of another "ten hens-eggs," so that they were chances indeed and men tried their luck. These he also gave at his games, distributing chances for ten bears or ten dormice, ten lettuces or ten pounds of gold. Indeed he was the first to introduce this practice of giving chances, which we still maintain. And the performers too he invited to what really were chances, giving as prizes a dead dog or a pound of beef, or else a hundred aurei, or a hundred pieces of silver, or a hundred coppers, and so on. All this so pleased the populace that after each occasion they rejoiced that he was emperor.

    Of course, they were also eaten.



    I think sautéed with a robust red curry sauce sounds tastier :D


    Anyway, extinct bird or not I'm delighted to have this unusual coin.

    Please join in with any weird animal coins you are especially fond of, or any coin you think fits this thread :)

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2016
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  3. green18

    green18 Unknown member Sweet on Commemorative Coins Supporter

    Not mine. Not an ancient, yet it fits the bill (I think).........:)

  4. green18

    green18 Unknown member Sweet on Commemorative Coins Supporter

  5. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    @TIF : Thanks for your thorough discussion of the ostrich coin you showed a while ago. I remember I asked why a Thracian would show an ostrich on a coin, and you have answered about as thoroughly as you can without writing a doctoral dissertation on the topic ;) I saw quite a few ostriches when I did a safari in Tanzania in 2015, and can confirm that the other subspecies is far from extinct:
    As for cooking ostrich, I have actually eaten ostrich meat (though not on the safari, this was in a fancy restaurant some years ago). It was cooked like a roast beef, with cornichons, and indeed the meat tasted somewhat like beef (and not like chicken, surprisingly). I still plan on getting my own ostrich coin eventually, it's definitely a conversation starter!
  6. stevex6

    stevex6 Random Mayhem

    Wow, TIF => man, that's a fantastic ostrich-winner!! (very cool)

    Ummm, sadly I don't have any ostrich examples to flaunt (*sigh*) ... stupid coin-budget!!

    SapphireSilver, Theodosius and TIF like this.
  7. TIF

    TIF Always learning.

    The Gordian III isn't my first ostrich. It's small, but there is one on this Circus Maximus denarius:

    Septimius Severus
    Rome, CE 206
    AR denarius, 3.41 gm, 20 mm, 12h
    Obv: SEVERVS PIVS AVG, laureate head right
    Rev: LAETITIA TEMPORVM, the spina of the Circus Maximus decorated as a ship facing left, with the turning posts at its prow and stern, a sail mounted on the central obelisk, and the spina's other monuments visible in between; above the ship, four quadrigas racing left; below, seven animals: an ostrich at left and a bear at right; between them a lion and a lioness chasing a wild ass and a panther attacking a bison
    Ref: RIC 274; BMC 343
    ex Colosseo Collection
  8. chrsmat71

    chrsmat71 I LIKE TURTLES!

    that ostrich is awesome! i didn't know there was an arabian ostrich! that's an awesome little provincial!

    this is probably the weirdest animal ancient/medieval coin i have, they say it shows a snow leopard.


  9. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic

    Great post and wonderful coin TIF! It made me dust off my copy of A Taste of Ancient Rome. It's a shame the author didn't include a recipe for roasted ostrich. :p
    TIF likes this.
  10. TypeCoin971793

    TypeCoin971793 Just a random guy on the internet

    Thank you for the fascinating history lesson @TIF !
    SapphireSilver and TIF like this.
  11. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Lol, nice writeup and even cooler reverse. Never seen an ostrich on an ancient before.

    I have had ostrich meat a few times, only in burger form though and thought it was pretty good.

    Same with Bison and various others I rarely get to eat.
    TIF likes this.
  12. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE

    I, too, have enjoyed Ostrich several times. It is a nice succulent meat, akin to a light, tender beef. It is excellent.

    @TIF your coin and write up are excellent! I do not have any extinct animals on any of my ancients.
    TIF likes this.
  13. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    Sometimes I just hate you @TIF. You always show these nice and hard to obtain coins, and then I have to find one for myself. That's a constant problem on this forum.:mad:

    I do have to say that is one amazing coin @TIF.
  14. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

    A great coin Tif. I always wonder if the elephant on some Roman coins depicts an extinct species as well.
  15. Carthago

    Carthago Does this look infected to you?

    As usual TIF, your depth of interests confirms you are a Lady of Parts. Very interesting write up and super coin. Thanks for sharing.
    Smojo and TIF like this.
  16. Ardatirion

    Ardatirion Où est mon poisson

    @TIF - did I recommend that cook book to you? Its a good one! I particularly recommend the olive paste and the melon with vinegar. Its a refreshing, minty spin on a tapenade.

    Love the reverse description, btw.
    stevex6 and TIF like this.
  17. TIF

    TIF Always learning.

    I think you did :)
  18. Mikey Zee

    Mikey Zee Delenda Est Carthago

    WOW!!! Such a fantastic coin and---as usual---a wonderful write-up!!

    BTW: I hate you too TIF;):p
    PMONNEY and TIF like this.
  19. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    Actually several sub species of creatures from what was then the Roman Empire are now extinct, possibly from environmental changes, or possibly wiped out by venatores supplying the arenas with exotic (to the Romans) animals. Lions were then found in North Africa, and had been in on the Greek Peninsula a bit earlier. The Caspian Tiger could be found in Parthia, and the elephants used by Hannibal and perhaps, the one on a Julius Caesar denarius, could also be found in North Africa (somewhat smaller than the Sub Sahara extant species of elephant).
  20. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark all my best friends are dead Romans Dealer

    Here is the Dux Arabiae section of the Notitia Dignitatum in Munich which shows two Arabian ostriches

    DuxArab-M.jpg DuxArabiaeOstriches.jpg
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2016
  21. Smojo

    Smojo dreamliner

    Elephants, eagles, snakes & lions even wolves I have. Zeroing in on an owl & thought that was about it as far as animals were concerned.
    Can now add another to the want list.
    Also I've eaten several animals some say are delicasies others not so much but I've never considered eating as ostrich. I do see people peddling there eggs, oils & feathers. Emus as well.
    PMONNEY and TIF like this.
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