Featured Caesar's elephant and snake: what do they mean?!?

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Severus Alexander, Aug 3, 2019.

  1. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    (This post is expanded & reposted [by request] from last year's Imperator tournament... hopefully enough time has passed that it will seem fresh again! Plus I'd really like some feedback on the theory...)

    Here is one of the most famous and most enigmatic issues in ancient coinage:

    [​IMG]
    Julius Caesar, denarius 49-48 BCE, military mint traveling with Caesar
    Obv: Pontifical implements (simpulum, aspergillum, securis, and apex)
    Rev: Elephant advancing right, trampling on serpent, CAESAR in exergue
    References: Cr 443/1; Sydenham 1006; RSC 49

    Note: Most dealers have obverse and reverse the other way around, but since exergues are otherwise exclusive to the reverse on Republican silver, I have gone with the minority opinion. BTW, it's not a fourrée. The dark stuff in the edge crack at the top is dirt, not base metal. :cat:


    First, some historical context for this coin, which I think of as a numismatic Darth Vader: the denarius that destroyed the Republic and sowed the seeds of Empire.

    It is 49 BCE. Caesar has done the unthinkable: crossed into Italy with his army and thus plunged his world into civil war. Having scared off Pompey and the conservative faction, he has now entered Rome and is flinging his rhetoric at a sparse, nervous Senate. “The Gaulish threat is no more, so the sacred treasure no longer serves a purpose. Give it to me so I can defend the Republic!” Finally the senators are ready to concede, when a noisy tribune by the name of Lucius Caecilius Metellus shouts “Sacrilege!” and dares to interpose his veto.

    Caesar is not pleased. “Come to me with your petty scruples when armies no longer march the length and breadth of Rome’s dominions. As it is, Caesar shall simply take what is rightfully his.” At his command, soldiers gleefuly batter down the door to the storerooms beneath the ancient Temple of Saturn. Inconceivably, though, the odious Metellus again interposes, not his veto, but his very body!

    Caesar’s rage is monumental. (At the same time he is mystified why he envisions himself clad entirely in black, wielding a red sword of light, and slicing the hapless burlap-clad tribune in two. Feel the power of the Dark Side!) Drawing himself to his considerable height, with great difficulty he manages a venemous whisper: “Get. Out. Of. My. Way. Killing you will be easier than saying it.” An enveloping silence. Metellus pales, hesitates… and steps aside.

    The treasure now belongs to Caesar, who smiles. Let law and sacred duty be damned… he must win! *​

    Pliny reports that Caesar removed fifteen thousand bars of gold, thirty thousand bars of silver, and coins worth fifty million sestertii. The silver bars became elephant denarii, an estimated 22.5 million of them (based on the number of dies). Where did my coin’s silver originate? Carthaginean reparations? booty from Macedon or the East? Caesar’s enormous haul from Gaul enabled him to pay his debts, but it was the money from the state treasury that won him the war. In five years it would be passed down to his heir Octavian/Augustus, who used it to establish the Empire. The elephant denarius is truly one of the hinges upon which history turned.

    [​IMG]
    Site of the action, the Temple of Saturn (on the left)
    The state treasury that Caesar raided was in the basement. Some of the substructure visible in the photo may date from the time of the kings, so yes... you can walk around where Caesar did!

    With the obverse type (the accoutrements of his office as Pontifex Maximus), Caesar advertised his (alleged) legitimacy. The reverse type must also be some sort of propaganda, but what would Romans of the time have seen in it? I would like to offer some support for an intriguing theory recently proposed on Forvm by Michael Harlan, and further developed by “crispina.” I’ll add a couple thoughts of my own here. Given the problems attending other hypotheses, I really think this new idea should be taken seriously.

    Briefly: Previous elephants on Republican coins are most strongly associated, by far, with the Caecilii Metelli (see the coin pictured below). Now, it seems that Caesar regarded his principal enemy in the conservative faction to be Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio, upon whom he laid most of the blame for the civil war. Reasonably so; Scipio was behind the past few years’ moves to declare Caesar an outlaw and to deprive him of his troops, a consulship, and protection from prosecution. Remember also that our obstinate tribune was a Caecilius Metellus!

    If the elephant represents the enemy Caecilii Metelli, what is it trampling? There are a few possibilities, not mutually exclusive: 1) Salus, the health of the Republic; 2) the People, whom Caesar always claimed to champion; and/or 3) Caesar’s household genius. I suspect the snake represents all three.

    Its connection with Salus is straightforward, we've all seen examples. Representations of the People’s guardian spirits (their household “genii locii”) and the genius of the paterfamilias are less familiar to us because they were not public; but they would have been familiar to every Roman. According to unrv.com, “the genius was a kind of spiritual double, often portrayed as either a snake or a stately male in a toga and covered head. Somehow connected with the family line, the genius imbued the individual with procreative and inspirational powers. The genius was a kind of tether to the family line which, through the act of procreation, a paterfamilias was able to pass to the next generation.” You can see an example below, from Pompeii, of this very common household representation… a crested and bearded serpent, exactly as on the coin! I find this to be a very convincing detail.

    In Caesar’s view, the Caecilii Metelli had assaulted the Republic’s health, trampled on the People, and dealt a mortal insult to Caesar’s personal and family dignitas, which was the fundamental cause of his crossing the Rubicon. Moreover, these messages would be decipherable by everyday Romans of the time. Note that Scipio was also deeply jealous of Caesar’s position as Pontifex Maximus, as depicted by Caesar in the Bellum Civile, so both sides of the coin would do a tremendous job of pushing Scipio’s buttons. Coincidence? I think perhaps not! It is natural for us to assume that the name in the exergue must denote one of the animals on the coin, but there was no such convention at the time. In fact, quite the opposite was true. Representing a clan was one thing, but a living individual, whether figurative or otherwise? That was unheard of on Roman coinage. (Of course, Caesar would upend that convention eventually, but it would take a few more years!)

    Screen Shot 2019-08-04 at 10.16.31 AM.jpg

    [​IMG]
    Painting from a house in Pompeii showing the head of household’s “genius” or guardian spirit (just to the left of the niche).

    Interpreting a coin's iconography always takes the form of an inference to the best explanation, which means you can't evaluate a theory without comparing it to its competitors. I think the other theories of the elephant/snake symbolism have some fairly major problems:

    Conquest of Gaul, with the snake being a carnyx: The biggest problem I see with this is that the snake simply doesn't look like a carnyx! There are several other examples of Gaulish war trumpets on RR coins and they never look like this (see an example below), whereas the household genius representation is exactly right. (Also see below for problems with the idea that the elephant represents Caesar.)

    Screen Shot 2019-08-04 at 10.30.10 AM.jpg

    Triumph over evil (Crawford): This is simply anachronistic. There's no evidence the snake represented evil to the ordinary person at this time.

    Elephant vs. snake = the civil war tussle: There's an element of this in my favoured hypothesis (the familial conflict), but there's a specific snake-elephant trope that some have proposed as a basis for contemporary understanding of the image. From Pliny and one or two others comes the idea that the snake and the elephant are iconic enemies in constant conflict. One problem is that this belief does not seem to have been widespread. Another is that it doesn't actually tell us who or what families the snake and elephant actually represent. Third, Pliny says the two end up killing each other, so there is no victor. Fair enough, war has no winners... but this is not exactly great propaganda! (At least not without an element of my favoured Harlan/crispina hypothesis as well.)

    Any theory proposing the elephant = Caesar or (better) Caesar's family: There's very little to associate Caesar's family with elephants. A few much later authors, in trying to explain the issue, state that one of Caesar's ancestors killed an elephant, or that the name "Caesar" resembles the Punic word for elephant. These writings have an air of desperately trying to make sense of something that makes no sense to the author. I actually think this desperation supports the Harlan/crispina idea. The family of the Caecilii Metelli were reduced to nonentities soon after Caesar's victory, and disappeared from history in the first century CE. As a result, the association that was obvious in Caesar's time was utterly gone a couple centuries later, causing puzzlement to numismatists ever since. (Harlan also mentions that the type exists with "HIRTIVS" in place of "CAESAR" on an issue of Aulus Hirtius, one of Caesar's lieutenants, further weakening the link to Caesar's family.)

    There is one theory that dovetails with Harlan/crispina's: that Caesar was referring to and mocking Pompey by means of the elephant. Pompey had a couple of rather embarrassing and very public experiences with elephants, one where he tried to enter Rome in his triumph pulled by elephants (they got stuck!), and another where the games he sponsored involved the slaughter of elephants, much to the chagrin of the viewing public. Unfortunately for him, poor Pompey was sardonically associated with elephants in the public's mind, so the coin could imply criticism not only of the Caecilii Metelli but also of Pompey, who was equally trampling on the health of the Republic, the People, and Caesar's genius. That would leave only one of Caesar's principal enemies unalluded to on the coin, namely Cato. He was perhaps impossible to attack due to his reputation for uprightness. Plus his power was rather limited as he didn't have much money... in a way, he just didn't matter much at this point.

    I should note that these issues and others are nicely discussed by Debra Nousek in her paper “Turning Points in Roman History: The Case of Caesar’s Elephant Denarius,” Phoenix, 2008, 62:290-307. She highlights Pompey's embarrassing elephants in particular, and also suggests that Caesar was appropriating the imagery of the Caecilii Metelli and using it to represent himself in a positive way. I doubt this since it seems a stretch to suppose the general public would appreciate such a subtle move; but it was Nousek's paper that gave Harlan his original idea.

    Overall conclusion: The type represents the "enemies of the Republic", particularly the Caecilii Metelli and perhaps Pompey, trampling on the health (Salus) of the Republic and the household genii of both the People and their champion, Caesar. The overall message is: see why I'm embarking on civil war? It's for my own dignitas, yes, but also for the People of Rome and our Republic!

    So... what do you think? An enigma solved? or merely deepened? Plus: post your coins from Caesar and the civil war!


    ---------------------
    * True story! Well OK, I made up the light sabre bit. Sources: Plutarch (Caes. 35, Pomp. 62), Lucan (Phars. III.153-168), Pliny (Hist. Nat. XXXIII.17), Cassius Dio (XLI.17). Unsurprisingly, Caesar himself skims over the episode. :rolleyes:
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2019
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  3. Alegandron

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

    Well written, and great coin @Severus Alexander ... enjoy the mysteries...we may never truly know. However, I feel it is a combo of them! Oops! I have my obv-rev backwards!

    [​IMG]
    RR Julius Caesar AR Denarius 49 BCE Traveling Mint Elephant-Pontificates Sear 1399 Craw 443-1
    (Copper surface deposit, probly from coin cache.)
     
  4. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

    Great post @Severus Alexander . I have often wondered about the meaning of the imagery on this coin. i have read many theories. None of them seem particularly convincing. I do not think we shall ever know the meaning behind this enigmatic coin, but it will still be an interesting coin.

    CAESAR Elephant NEW.jpg
     
  5. furryfrog02

    furryfrog02 Well-Known Member

    I've read several of the theories that @Severus Alexander posted above. My favorite by far is the one with the coin mocking Pompeii. I doubt this is the true reason behind the design, but it does make me chuckle every time I am reminded of Pompeii trying to ride into Rome and getting his elephants stuck in the gate.
    JC Denarius.jpg
    (I too, have my obv/rev backwards!)
     
  6. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Supporter! Supporter

    Denarius of Julius Caesar. 49 B.C. Obv Elephant trampling serpent Rv Priestly implements. Cr 443/1 CRI 9 3.82 grms 18 mm Ex Bruce Brace Collection 443-c.jpg
     
  7. Alegandron

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

    I also have one for Pompey in the later Civil Wars:

    [​IMG]
    RImp Pompey 42-38 BC AE As Janus Prow Magnus Sear 1394 Craw 479-1



    [​IMG]
    RImp Spain Lepida-Clesa Lepidus - mon C Balbus L Porcius Colonia Victrix Ivlia Lepida Victory - Bull holed RPI 262 plate 19

    Lepidus was Consul with Caesar in 46 BCE
    Lepidus was a Triumvir with Octavian and Marc Antony 43-36 BCE
     
  8. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Wow! What a thought-provoking and educational write-up!! Well done and lovely coins!
     
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  9. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    I didn't read the entire writeup (too long), but basically, you're saying Caesar is the elephant, right? Dude, I thought everyone already knew that. :facepalm:

    J/k. :D Your writeup on the type was hands down my favorite in the entire Imperator tournament. Given the prominence of the elephant and Caesar's name on the coin, it's tempting to make the simple association between the two. Throw in the snake and frame the whole scene in its proper historical context, however, and our reading of the reverse becomes completely different. I think you've laid out your arguments persuasively, so I'm 100% with you on this - the elephant is Caesar. Err, no, scratch that... whatever you said! :p

    RR - Julius Caesar - Elephant Ex Kelly 2987.jpg
    JULIUS CAESAR
    AR Denarius. 3.91g, 18.4mm. Military mint traveling with Caesar (in northern Italy?), April - August 49 BC. Crawford 443/1; Sydenham 1006. O: Elephant advancing right, trampling on horned serpent; CAESAR below. R: Emblems of the pontificate: simpulum, aspergillum, securis, and apex.
    Ex Michael Kelly Collection
     
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  10. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Thanks for the comments, and great coins everyone! Hopefully @Cucumbor's awesome example will show up at some point.

    Also still hoping for some rip snortin' arguments against me. Let me have it! :hurting:

    Though actually this is a pretty good argument against. In any inference to the best explanation one of the competing theories is always "Something else that makes sense but that we just haven't thought of yet." If someone forced to you bet, is this really what you'd say? or would you pick one of the known hypotheses? Or maybe you'd pick: it doesn't make sense and never did? (Not asking Orfew specifically, that's meant for everyone. Should've done a poll!)

    Here are a couple more civil war issues to get people thinking along those lines. Basically anything between 49 BCE (Caesar crosses the Rubicon) and 45 BCE (Battle of Munda in Spain) is fair game.

    Screen Shot 2019-08-03 at 10.10.15 PM.jpg
    Plautius Plancus AR denarius, 47 BCE

    Screen Shot 2019-08-03 at 10.12.12 PM.jpg
    Cato AR quinarius, 47-46 BCE, African mint

    And here's an Acilius Glabrio, normally dated to 49 BCE, and (interestingly) sporting a snake... though that is Valeduto, not Salus. Harlan thinks this coin is from 50 BCE and that Caesar removed millions of them from the temple of Saturn, but I'm somewhat skeptical of this point:
    Screen Shot 2019-08-03 at 10.18.21 PM.jpg
    This particular example is from the Quidenham hoard (Norfolk, England), buried at the time of Boudica's revolt. Stolen by Caesar, passed on, and then buried by a Roman who died in Boudica's revolt a hundred years later? Fun to think of, anyway. :D

    :hilarious: And thanks, buddy. In connection with that tournament you are no doubt wondering whether this coin also comes with its own action figure. I am pleased to report that yes, it does:
    Screen Shot 2019-08-03 at 9.48.08 PM.jpg

    :cigar:

    :D
     
  11. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo Temporarily Away Supporter

    This was indeed a fantastic article (one of many during a masterful tournament run!). I remember being engrossed by it then and I was equally so rereading it now.

    You do a great service to this theory. It is also a beautiful coin.

    Okay, I’ll play ;) below are just some of my very in-expert thoughts on the type.

    9BD8BB68-C88E-48BA-AC0E-C19452398DCC.jpeg

    One thing that just doesn’t sit right about the new theory is that I just don’t see Caesar giving such pride of place on his coins to anyone other than himself. I don’t doubt that Caesar wasn’t above a petty jab at his enemies but the elephant on the coins comes across to me (and I would assume most casual observers) as the dominant figure of the whole coin design. It certainly seems to be dominating the “snake” figure and looks powerful and formidable. The coin would be more of a compliment in that way than a put down to a supposed enemy. We are talking about the first living Roman to put his portrait on a coin... is it really likely he simply deferred that same real estate to an enemy that was still a threat?

    If I were forced to give an opinion on meaning I would guess there is a connection to Caesar’s name.

    You mention this above but I think it deserves some additional context. The etymology of Caesar’s name is not known but some of the theories proposed in ancient times are that he got the name because he was balding (derived from the Latin word for hair) or that he was born by Caesarian section (from the Latin “to cut”). Neither of these is particularly flattering and may have been propaganda by his enemies to mock him. The other known ancient etymology is that he got the name from an ancestor who killed an elephant in the Second Punic war against Hannibal. This would be a prestigious reference whether it was true or not and Caesar was not above self aggrandizing (especially if he was aware of the mockery of the name). It may be telling that the name Caesar is right under the elephant which would be as strong a corollary as you could make!

    It’s also worth noting that Caesar used elephants as part of his triumph that he celebrated for his victory over Gaul so he clearly had an affinity for the animal.

    As for the snake...
    Well it could still be a symbol of the civil war or it could even be a Carnyx even though it doesn’t look like one. Either way I think it is probably more likely that the snake represents an enemy in some way and not the other way around.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2019
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  12. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    The elephant is certainly dominating the snake figure on the coin. And if the average Roman were to associate the snake with the Salus of the Republic, or the benevolent genius of the People, then there would be no mistaking that Caesar was casting the elephant (ie., Pompey and Metellus) as the foe here. The 'real estate' given to the elephant in this bit of numismatic propaganda would be an intimation of how much of a threat they should still be considered and why Caesar needed to fight them. If the fight had already been won and this type was issued to brag about Caesar's victory, perhaps we would have seen the elephant in chains or under a trophy, like how poor Vercingetorix was depicted on another issue of Caesar's (below, not my coin).

    00caesar3349911.jpg

    If it doesn't look like a Carnyx, then I think it's safer to suppose that it isn't one.
     
  13. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Supporter! Supporter

    I am not so sure. What is interesting about the design is that the snake seems to be in the act of striking back against the advance of the elephant. One of the more interesting aspects of Caesars early issues is that his name and his alone appears on the coinage. This is in stark contrast to that of his enemies. One could see this as admission that he is in fact a rebel, but he is in fact forced into fighting against an unjust ruling system that is trying to crush him. On this issue the elephant is clearly the aggressor, attacking the snake while its back is turned. The elephant could very well be seen as representing the optimates. Some like Pompey, Scipio as well as others would have associations with that animal. I suspect that the imagery is that elephant attacking could represent the political maneuvering that forced this conflict and as a good servant of the state Caesar had no choice but to fight. If the chronology is correct, this would be his first issue. I think he would want to make a statement. Denarius of Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio Minted in Africa 47-46 B.C. Obv Head of jupiter right Rv Elephant adv right. Cr 459/1 CRI 45 4.14 grms 17 mm 459-c.jpg
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2019
  14. Pavlos

    Pavlos You pick out the big men. I'll make them brave!

    What a great write up! Thank you, it is very interesting! Sadly I have only 0.0 provincial coins to share :(
     
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  15. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    One of my favorite writeups among the many great articles you submitted during the Imperator contest! I'm in a tizzy with a too-long to-do list and wish I had time to put serious thought to your questions. Maybe next week month. :sorry::shy:
     
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  16. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Dombes collector Supporter

    Great writeup, and I can't but turn your dreams into reality ....

    [​IMG]

    For your pleasure, below are a denarius of Cnaeius Pompey Jr

    [​IMG]
    Cnaeus Pompey Jr, Denarius
    Denarius minted in Corduba ? in 46-45 BC
    M [POBLICI LEG] PRO PR, Helmeted head of Rome right
    CN MAGNVS IMP, Spain standing right, presenting palm branch to a soldier (Pompey ?) standing left on a prow of galley
    3.65 gr
    Ref : HCRI # 48, RCV #1384, Cohen #1

    ...and one of the characters involved in Caesar assassination :

    [​IMG]
    Albinus Bruti F., Denarius
    Rome mint, 48 BC
    PIETAS, head of Pietas right
    ALBINVS BRVTI F, clasped hands holding winged caduceus
    3.83 gr
    Ref : HCRI # 26, RCV # 427, RSC, Postumia # 10

    Q
     
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  17. Ryro

    Ryro You'll never be lovelier than you are now... Supporter

    This was at least the third time I've read this very enjoyable post. I wish I could say with even half certainty.
    But I couldn't reply any better than @Orfew did "None of them seem particularly convincing. I do not think we shall ever know the meaning behind this enigmatic coin, but it will still be an interesting coin."
    That said, if you twisted my arm, as entertaining and accurate as your hypothesis is, I revert back to what I was first told. It's Caesar and Rome as the elephant stomping out the Gaulic threat as the horned serpent/Carynx.
    E65EFDA7-82AF-4845-AD9D-75DD0B9E2815.png
    Julius Caesar 49-48 BCE AR denarius (18 mm, 3.43 g, 2 h). Military mint traveling with Caesar. CAESAR in exergue, elephant advancing right, trampling on horned serpent / Simpulum, sprinkler, axe (surmounted by a dog's head), and priest's hat. Crawford 443/1; HCRI 9; Sydenham 1006; RSC 49. Banker's mark on obverse, porous. Near fine. From the Expatriate Collection.
    DA77A061-8DD6-4883-9A4C-197AECEA0B7F.png
    L. Cosconius M.f.
    118 BCE. AR Serrate Denarius (17 MM, 3.53g, 6h). Narbo mint. Helmeted head of Roma right; X (mark of value) to left / Gallic warrior (Bituitus, king of the Averni?)driving galloping bigaright, hurling spear and holding shield and carnyx. Crawford 282/2; Sydenham 521; Cosconia 1.

    Here's my latest RR purchase! The second 2 I add to show that at the time the Carynx was very symbolic of the Gauls.
    E05E5BCF-0465-467B-88ED-78DDA3FF45B8.png

    HOSTILIA
    (48 BC) Lucius Hostilius SasernaDenarius, Rome, 18mm, 3.66g.
    Degree of rarity: R1
    Anépigraphe.
    Obverse: Female head disheveled on the right (Gaul); behind, a carnyx.
    Reverse: L HOSTILIVS / SASERNA.
    Diana of Ephesus standing from the front, holding with her right hand a deer and from the left, a vertical javelin.
    Ex: Savoca

    This coin commemorates both the victories of Caesar over the Gauls and the siege and capture in 49 BC of Marseille who had not wanted to choose between Pompey and Caesar. L. Hostilius Saserna is best known for another denarius representing a Gallic warrior, identified as Vercingetorix (RCV 418). The carnyx behind the female head is a Gallic trumpet. On the reverse the statue of Diana of Ephesus also recalls the worship that the massaliètes rendered to the goddess (Artémis), and the temple that they had raised. Lucius Hostilius Saserna was originally from Cremona in Cisalpine Gaul. He owed his career to Julius Caesar he had followed throughout the war of Gaul (58-50 BC). In the fratricidal struggle between Caesars and Pompeians, he remained faithful to.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2019
  18. Ancient Aussie

    Ancient Aussie Supporter! Supporter

    Great expansion of your tournament article Sev, my coin probably makes the meaning even more confusing, is the snake demonstrating Caesar's power marching with Minerva?Or Caesar's demolition of Pompey forces (snake) IMG - Copy.jpg
    JULIUS CAESAR, 44 BC.
    AE Dupondus, 45 BC. Mint in Italy, Rare
    Roman Republic
    Dia.: 26 mm
    Wt.: 13.05 g
    Obv.: Bust of Victory right
    Rev.: C CLOVI PRAEF Minerva advancing left, snake, spear and shield.
    Ref.: Cr 476.
     
  19. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Thank you!!

    I think you've put your finger on exactly why some find the Harlan/crispina theory hard to swallow. But I also think @zumbly has exactly the right response. At this point in history, the biggest criticism that Caesar had to be wary of was that he was acting out of arrogance. I mean, the reason he crossed the Rubicon was fundamentally to avoid prosecution by the optimates. (They wouldn't allow him to maintain immunity to prosecution by running for consul in absentia, and he couldn't cross into Italy without losing his immunity from prosecution either.) Causing civil war for one's own self interest, just because you think you're so awesome? It really doesn't look good. (And has been central to Caesar criticism ever since.) So it was essential that his propaganda 1) not aggrandize him, 2) focus on his role as defender of the people, ideally by representing him and the people as essentially one and the same and 3) make his enemies look like the bad guys.

    Imagine him trying to figure out how to portray all this on his first civil war coin issue. I challenge you to come up with a better way to do it than this exact design, which meets all the desiderata!

    Of course, that's assuming the strongest associations for your average Roman paterfamilias would be 1) the elephant --> the Caecilii Metelli, and 2) that sort of snake --> a household genius. I made the case for these associations in the OP, but I think the further discussion has only made that case stronger.

    Strengthening the case for (1): Do a search on acsearch for denarii with elephants, and eliminate all the later (imperial) coins. The result? Every single coin is issued by a Caecilius Metellus! No kidding. That's an awfully strong association!

    By contrast, the case for an elephant --> Caesar association is very weak. Who at the time knew that Caesar's name vaguely sounded like the Punic word for elephant, or that his ancestor killed an elephant? Nobody, as far as we can tell. Our source for this stuff appears to be the notoriously inaccurate 4th or 5th century Historia Augusta, plus Servius at the same very late juncture. (It's sometimes said that this was Caesar's own theory of his name's origin, but I can find no direct evidence of this... that's coming from Servius I think.) We have so much contemporary literature about Caesar, including scads of stuff written by Caesar himself, and nothing (other than this coin type) to associate him especially with elephants. Let's just say that if Caesar meant to associate himself with elephants on the coin, it would have been the first time for the man on the street. Now, there's a first time for everything, but wouldn't the man on the street be a bit puzzled? [scratching head] "Geez, why is Caesar representing himself with the symbol of his enemies?" :confused:

    Strengthening the case for (2):
    A very interesting observation, thank you! I agree.
    Thanks for this AA! I hadn't actually noticed that the bronze has exactly the same style snake on it, having focused on the silver. It's looks exactly like the genius of the paterfamilias again! I think the way it's depicted strengthens the case for the Harlan/crispina theory. Minerva is clearly striding forward with the snake at her side. The snake is an ally, which would only make sense if it represents Caesar and the People of Rome. The iconography would be utterly baffling if on the denarius the snake is the enemy, but here it is a friend. (I note that this dupondius is normally dated from late 46 while the civil war was ongoing.)

    I would be interested to hear if your skepticism has lessened at all, @Curtisimo, @Ryro, and @Orfew. But I greatly value that skepticism! And I should say that while I would bet on the Harlan/crispina theory, I wouldn't bet that much. I certainly wouldn't bet my elephant denarius on it! :D
     
    tenbobbit, Justin Lee, eparch and 5 others like this.
  20. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

    Great post and great coins all
     
    ominus1 likes this.
  21. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    OK, Curtis "liked" my last comment so case closed. :p (There are benefits to tl;dr-ing. :D)
     
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