Antiochus' elephants

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by GinoLR, Nov 20, 2023.

  1. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    Seleucid bronze coins are underrated collectibles. In the 3rd and 2nd c. BC the Seleucid kings minted not only silver tetradrachms - which are much sought after coins and relatively expensive - but also a great quantity of middle and small bronze coins. Not only the kings, many Syrian and Phoenician cities had bought their liberty from the Seleucid Kingdom and minted their own civic coinage. These bronze coins are sometimes all that is left of these cities in the Hellenistic period : modern visitors can see only medieval, Byzantine, sometimes Roman remains, but nothing Hellenistic...

    These coins are usually very affordable, even in good condition. This one is just average, it has no big value and I like it for this...

    Antiochos 4 épiphane.jpg Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Laodice IV (175-172 BC), denomination C, AE 16 mm, 2.99 g, Antioch mint
    Obv.: veiled, diademed bust of Laodice IV right
    Rev.: BAΣΙΛΕΩΣ ANTIOXΟΥ, elephant head left, to r. tripod, exergue Δ
    Seleucid Coins (part 2) 1407. Very similar to ANS 1944.100.75250
    ... but I couldn't find any other one with the Δ mark...

    Laodice IV was a Seleucid princess, daughter of Antiochus III the Great. She married successively her three brothers. First she married the crown prince Antiochus, and had a daughter. Second, she married her other brother Seleucus IV and had 3 children. When he died she married her younger brother Antiochus IV who had been an hostage in Rome, but came back to reign in Antioch. She had 2 children with him.

    I'd like to write something about the Seleucid elephant force. War elephants became a real craze in the 3rd and early 2nd c. BC. Alexander's army had discovered war elephants in India, and later all Greco-Macedonian armies wanted to have some. The founder of the Seleucid Kingdom, Seleucus I Nicator, made a deal with the Indian emperor Sandrakottos (Chandragupta Maurya) who sent him 500 war elephants. They were raised in a large ranch at Apamea, in central Syria. All other powers in the Mediterranean wanted their own elephants too, the Ptolemies of Egypt who organized elephant hunts in today's Eritrea and Somalia, Pyrrhus king of Epirus, Carthage... But the Romans never fell for this fashion. Eventually the Romans defeated everybody without a single elephant, and the fashion was forgotten...
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  3. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    Gotta love those Seleucid elephants. I have some countermarked elephants, as follows:


    Seleucid Kingdom Æ 24
    Antiochos III the Great
    Military mint in Ekbatana
    c. 210 B.C. / countermarked in Coele-Syria c. 202-198 B.C.

    Antiochos III as Apollo right / [ΒΑΣΙΛEΩΣ ΑΝΤΙΟΧΟΥ], elephant & mahout right, [tripod & monogram?]. SC 1272
    Countermark: Horse head.
    (14.06 grams / 24 mm)

    Here another one with a smaller horse head and an anchor:


    Seleucid Kingdom Æ 21
    Antiochos III the Great Military mint in Ekbatana c. 210 B.C. / countermarked in Coele-Syria c. 202-198 B.C.

    Antiochos III as Apollo right / ΒΑΣΙΛEΩΣ ΑΝΤΙΟΧΟΥ, elephant & mahout right.
    CM: Anchor & Horse’s Head
    SC 1084e; ESM 656; Spaer
    (8.01 grams / 21 mm)

    Here are the two of them together - note the size/weight difference:


    For both of these I am attaching this note:

    "The...bronzes were apparently countermarked first with a horse head, and later with an anchor...The Seleucid army needed to impose the use of this fiduciary
    coinage on the population of Ptolemaic Coele Syria during the Fifth Syrian War in order to ensure provisions for its troops."
    SC I, Appendix 2, (p. 66)
  4. Carl Wilmont

    Carl Wilmont Well-Known Member

    Nice article, @GinoLR, about Seleucid coins, Laodice IV, and elephant forces! My coin that is similar to your example is below. This one was minted in the port city of Ptolemais and has a prow on the reverse beside the elephant.

    Seleucid Kingdom. Antiochos IV Epiphanes (175-164 BC).
    Serrate AE (15 mm. 3.22 g, 1h).
    Ptolemaïs (Ake) mint. Struck 175 to circa 173/2 BC.
    Diademed, veiled and draped bust of Laodice IV right; monogram behind. / BAΣIΛE[ΩΣ] ANTIOXOY, head of elephant left with monogram above trunk; below right, prow left.
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2023
  5. Carl Wilmont

    Carl Wilmont Well-Known Member

    Interesting Seleucid countermarks, @Marsyas Mike!
    Your coins with the horse head countermarks applied to reverses featuring an elephant remind me of my later Seleucid coin of Demetrius I Soter since it has a horse head on the obverse and an elephant on the reverse.


    Seleucid Kingdom. Demetrius I Soter (162-150 BC).
    Serrate Æ (17 mm, 3.35 g). Antioch on the Orontes.
    Horse’s head left / Elephant’s head right; above; BAΣIΛEΩΣ; below: ΔHMHTPIOY.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Nov 21, 2023
  6. philologus_1

    philologus_1 Supporter! Supporter

    Thanks @GinoLR for the OP write-up and thanks @Marsyas Mike for sharing the c/m examples! I like Seleucid coinage and elephants. When they go together it's a win-win in my book!

    I've posted my other elephant coins in previous threads, but I have yet to share this one:

    Last edited: Nov 22, 2023
  7. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    The Seleucids imported their elephants from India. The Ptolemies, Seleucid's arch-rivals, could not rely on the same commercial connexion. They sent elephant-hunters to Nubia (some of them carve their names on Ramses II statues in Abu Simbel), worked with the Kingdom of Meroe, but they sent also hunters south of the Red Sea, on the Sudanese, Eritrean and probably also Somali coast. The elephant hunters were Greek white hunters, for the locals, according to Agatharchides I think, just hunted elephants for ivory and did not master the techniques of catching them alive, taming them and bringing them into captivity.
    These East African elephants were brought to Greek ports on the Red Sea, for example Ptolemais Theron ("Ptolemais of the Hunts") south of today's Port Soudan, but there were many others further south bearing the names of great hunters : the Hunting Ground of Pythangelos, the Lookout Post of Leon, the Lookout Post of Demetrios, the Grove and Harbor of Eumenes, etc. There, the elephants were embarked aboard special large ships called "elephantegos", "elephant-carrier". There were not many ships of this class, a letter on papyrus of the early 3rd c. BC told the crew of a wrecked elephantegos stranded somewhere that they had to wait for rescue until another elephantegos was repared and made ready in Berenike.
    The elephants disembarked in Berenike and had to walk to the Nile through the Oriental desert.
    In 217 BC a great battle was fought at Raphia (Today's Rafah, at the south border of the Gaza strip), Ptolemy IV vs Antiochus III. Antiochus had 102 elephants, Ptolemy had 73. Curiously, the historian Polybius (2nd c. BC) wrote that Antiochus' Indian elephants were taller than Ptolemy's African elephants. That's not what we can see now, African species are taller. Specialists still do not agree about this : was Polybius mistaken? Did the Egyptians use a now extinct smaller species?
  8. Homer2

    Homer2 Active Member

    I really love these bottle cap coins and have been trying to get some good examples. Lots of them are out there.

    Not sure the mint on it:
    Seleucid Kingdom Serrate AE
    Obv. veiled, diademed bust Laodice IV facing right
    Rev. BAΣΙΛΕΩΣ ANTIOXΟΥ Elephant head left

    Great detail on the elephant head. It was in a lot of 12 random AE coins for 24 Euro. Still haven't ID'd the rest.

  9. Curtis

    Curtis Well-Known Member

    Nice elephant coins! I've got a couple of these and agree that they are very underrated coins. Both of the coins below were extremely affordable.

    I particularly love the Demetrios Horse Head/Elephant Head Serrate:
    CONSERVATORI Demetrios I Elephant Horse Ex Clain-Stefanelli Collection.png
    Seleukid Kings of Syria, Demetrios I AE Serrate (3.74g, 16mm, 2h), Antioch on the Orontes, 162-150 BCE.
    Obv: Horse's head left; border of dots.
    Rev: BAΣIΛEΩΣ ΔHMHTPIOY. Elephant head right.
    Ref: SC 1646.
    Prov: Ex Elvira Clain-Stefanelli (1914-2001) Collection

    I've been trying for years to get the type in the name of Seleukos IV, which is similar to the one below, but scarcer, and usually hotly contested at auction. I'd also love to have the Antiochos IV that's non-serrate (as in the OP coin).

    Here's my Laodike IV & Antiochos IV:
    CONSERVATORI-Antiochos IV Serrate AE Laodike IV, Elephant & Prow.png
    Seleukid Kings of Syria, Antiochos IV Epiphanes & Laodike IV AE Serrate (4.3g, 17.5mm, 1h), Ptolemaïs-Ake mint, 175-172 BCE.
    Obv: Veiled and diademed bust of Laodike IV right.
    Rev: BAΣIΛEΩΣ ANTIOXOY (ANTI·X·Y) in two lines, above & below. Head of elephant left; galley prow behind.
    Ref: SC 1477; HGC 9, 686.
    Prov: Uncertain group lot, c. 2000-2013.

  10. rooman9

    rooman9 Lovin Shiny Things

    My one nice Seleucid bronze. From Antiochus VII, sadly does not have an elephant. Obverse has a beautiful war galley with the caps of the Dioscuri above. The reverse has a trident and palm. Not near my books right now so I can’t give better information.
  11. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    Very nice coin !!! No elephant but a war galley? The message is the same. In Hellenistic kingdoms, elephants and war galleys were the symbols of military might. When you read (in Polybius) the peace treaties Rome dictated to conquered enemies, Carthage in 201, the Macedonian kingdom in 196, the Seleucid Kingdom in 188, there is always the order to relinquish elephants and fleet.
    philologus_1 and Carl Wilmont like this.
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