Featured Ancient Ocean Men - Dolphin Riders of Antiquity

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by hotwheelsearl, Apr 2, 2021.

  1. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

    Since antiquity, men and boys have been portrayed as riding dolphins. I highly doubt this actually happened in real life, but there's certainly plenty of representations of such. I suppose a dolphin would probably let you ride if, but perhaps not straddled like a horse.

    Eros is the most common figure shown riding a dolphin, and representations exist in mosaic, bronze, marble, vase painting, and fesco paintings (though no paintings are extant far as I can tell).

    Representations are found in pretty much every Mediterranean culture, including Greek, Roman, Etruscan, and Minoan (though Minoans didn't seem to ride the dolphins).

    The fascination with dolphins may arise from the fact that dolphins are very helpful to fishermen, with reports of them leading fishers to where the large schools are. In addition, dolphins will often protect stranded humans and keep sharks away until the human can be rescued.
    Sometimes, though, they are a bit mean and will knock you off your surfboard:

    Overall, though, dolphins are some of the most intelligent animals on the planet, and the US government even tried to teach dolphins to communicate with humans at one point.

    Back to art, Cupid/Eros loves riding dolphins.

    Sometimes he treats it like a horse
    with a bridle and whip.

    Sometimes he holds onto the fin like its a wild mustang.
    Sometimes he even plays a flute.

    The fascination with dolphins was pretty extreme, and sometimes people wished they could transform into them!

    And of course, the most famous dolphin coin of all time is the popular one from Taras, where price is often dictated by how much of the dolphin is visible.

    Sometime the rider holds a trident and a beer:

    In modern times, people still try to ride dolphins, albeit with ethical concerns.

    You can pay to ride a dolphin in Cancun, and other places:

    You can pay to watch trainers ride the world's largest dolphin:

    Anyways, here's my coin with a dolphin:
    Commodus BCD Corinth 819.JPG Commodus AE unit of Corinth
    Bare head right. ---ANTONI---
    Eros riding dolphin right. CLICOR, D in right exergue.
    Ref: BCD Corinth 819
    (at least, that's the best I can come up with)

    Here's an excellent article on dolphins in ancient art:
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  3. Evan Saltis

    Evan Saltis College Dorm Collector Supporter

    Are you a Ween fan as well? Love the boys!
  4. expat

    expat Remember you are unique, just like everyone else

    The dolphin is also a symbol accompanying the Greek god, Poseidon, although I have never seen the image on a coin. The closest is this, where, for no apparent reason, the Franklin Mint decided to have a variety of baby whale shark in it's place. Go figure.
    DSC01419.jpg DSC01420.jpg
  5. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

    A pot of Dolphins:

    P1150021 (2).JPG

    P1150344 best.jpg
  6. akeady

    akeady Well-Known Member

    Yee haw!

    Lucretius Trio. denarius circa 76, AR 19mm., 3.92g. Laureate head of Neptune r.; behind, trident and control numeral. Rev. Winged boy on dolphin speeding r.; below, L LVCRETI / TRIO. Babelon Lucretia 3. Sydenham 784. RBW –. Crawford 390/2.


  7. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

    That would be so much fun.
    expat likes this.
  8. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    ...i love those coins...i'm bidding on one now, but its already, for me, kinda 'left the building'...
    expat and hotwheelsearl like this.
  9. romismatist

    romismatist Active Member

    Magna Grecia, in particular ancient Calabria and Lucania, had several cities with dolphin rider reverses, not just Taranto (Taras, later Tarentum). These include Poseidonia (Paestum), Tiati, Bitonto, Baletium and Brundisium (Brindisi). On the coinage of Brundisium, like Taranto, it is Phalanthos or Taras riding the dolphin, not Eros. Unlike the more majestic and well-executed Tarentine silver coinage, these cities often had more crudely crafted (and poorly preserved) bronze coinage which circulated locally.

    According to legend, Phalanthos was the leader of a group of Parthenes in Sparta who led a revolt against the ruling class which failed. He consulted the Oracle of Delphi on what to do, who directed him found a colony in the Ionian region of Puglia, where Sparta already had minor commercial operations. Prior to sailing there, he was shipwrecked on the Crisaean Sea and was rescued by a dolphin who returned him to shore carrying him on his back. In the historic records, he appears as an early government founder within both Taras and later Brundisium.

    The first coinage of Brundisium was struck around 215-214 BC, and was most likely initiated to finance the military operations of the first Macedonian War. In total, there were five different nominals, all in bronze and all struck on the Roman ponderal system: uncia, biuncia, triuncia, quadruncia and semiuncia (semis). There were also five different series struck, with coinage continuing until the end of the second century BC, when the region was absorbed by Rome and began using Roman coinage. Others speculate that the semis coinage continued until the end of the Social War, around 89 BC.

    Here's my semis from Series F (auction house pictures, as I am not especially good at photography):

    Obv: Head of Neptune right. "S" (sign of value = semis) below head, trident to left below nape of neck, Nike above, crowning him (not visible on my example)

    Rev: Youth riding dolphin left, holding Victory which crowns him in left hand and lyre in right, "S" behind. "BRVN" ethnic below dolphin.

    This last semis series (Series F) has an extensive array of magistrate monograms and symbols displayed on either the obverse or reverse; this one has a club (?) on the reverse to the left of the dolphin's head.

  10. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    My only dolphin-riders belong to a couple of the better-known types:

    One from Tarentum:

    Tarentum AR Nomos.jpg

    And one Lucretius Trio (with Cupid grinning and the dolphin scowling):

    Lucretius Trio (boy on dolphin).jpg
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  11. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Supporter! Supporter

    Taras Ar Nomos 390-385 BC Obv Nude youth on galloping horse right. Phalanthos nude riding dolphin right Vlasto 375 Fischer-Brossert Group 28 398d This coin cited. 7..81 grms 21 mm Photo by W. Hansen taras21.jpg I find that the most interesting part of this story is that he is rescued by a dolphin and dropped off at the only real good harbor in that region of southern Italy. Dolphins is so smart:happy:
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  12. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    My only dolphin rider is Venus. It may not look like much but it's the only known example. It's now the "plate coin" at RPC:

    Faustina II, AD 147-175.
    Roman provincial Æ 5.84 g, 22.0 mm, 7 h.
    Bithynia-Pontus, Apamea.
    Obv: FAUST[INAC AUG], draped bust of Faustina II, right.
    Rev: UЄNU[S ... C]ICA dd, Venus seated right, head left, on dolphin swimming left, resting right arm on dolphin, uncertain object in left hand.
    Refs: RPC IV.1, 11815 (temporary); Waddington RG --; BMC --; Sear --; Mionnet Suppl 5 --; Lindgren --; Wiczay --.
    Notes: Previously unpublished. Obverse die match to Waddington RG, pl. XXXIX.1, which has a Neptune reverse type.
  13. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Dombes collector Supporter

    I have only a few dolphins to illustrate this informative post

    Agrippa :

    Vitellius :

    Titus :

  14. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

    I wonder why so many of these coins depict the dolphin with a prehensile tail. Last I checked dolphin tails were rather more stiff and wouldn’t be able to curl around things like a snake.
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  15. Keith Twitchell

    Keith Twitchell Active Member

    For as many depictions of dolphins as they are through the ages, including being a frequent theme these days, it's amazing how poorly they are often depicted -- as hotwheelsearl noted, the tails are often wrong, and many times they have these giant, bulbous heads -- sometimes even with whiskers. The Taras coins are so wonderful in large part because the dolphins are so beautifully portrayed. Many Syracusan coins also have good representations. The Roman coins, usually not so much. As a co-founder of a research project studying wild dolphins, who has swum with them (ethically, thanks for pointing out that these captive dolphin swims are extremely questionable), I can say that they are inquisitive, intelligent and sometimes very funny. I think the video is hilarious, I suspect that the dolphin had no idea that the surfer was there. Riding waves is a favorite dolphin pastime, but they could not have seen the surfer on the surface of the water. So the dolphin was probably every bit as surprised as the human!
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  16. maridvnvm

    maridvnvm Well-Known Member

    Here are a few dolphins from me.....

    Italy, Herculaneum, Central Thermae

    The tepidarium has a vaulted ceiling. The floor has partly collapsed, showing sections of the hypocaust beneath, but is decorated with a fine mosaic depicting a triton surrounded by dolphins


    Sinope drachm (eagle on dolphin)


    Istros (eagle-dolphin)
    L. Papius denarius - Dolphin wrapped around anchor symbol on obverse

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  17. Limes

    Limes Supporter! Supporter

    Neptune holding a dolphin. Or, better, a dolphin riding Neptune:
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