Excursion: The pig in antiquity

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Jan 18, 2021.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear Friends of ancient coins!

    I hope the following article contains something new for you.


    (1) Greek:
    sys, wild boar, domestic pig
    choiros, pig in general
    delphax, young sow
    sybros, boar
    molobrion, kolybrion, young pig = wild boar piglet
    (2) Latin:
    sus, porcus, pig
    aper, wild boar
    scrofa, sow
    verres, boar (male domestic pig)

    The large number of different names alone shows us the importance of the pig for the people of antiquity. And a clear distinction was already made between wild boar and domestic pig.

    The wild boar (Sus scrofa) was found throughout the ancient world north of the Mediterranean, but not in North Africa. Homer counted it among the animals particularly prized by the nobility because its hunt was dangerous and it was a way to prove oneself a brave hero. It was hunted with dogs and used nets, spits and pits. It has become part of many legends. The best known are those of Herakles and the Erymanthian boar, of Theseus and the Crommyonian sow, of the hunt for the Calydonian boar and of the death of Adonis.

    Socially more important was the role of the domestic pig (Sus scrofa domesticus), which had been known since the Neolithic period among all cultural peoples known to us. It had already been domesticated from the wild boar in the 3rd millenium BC and since it was easy to breed, it was an important source of food. It is never mentioned in Hesiod, only rarely in Homer's Iliad, but then frequently in the Odyssey. Thus Odysseus' most loyal friend on Ithaca was the "divine" Eumaios, who, as Laertes' sowherd, commanded a herd of over 1000 pigs, for which he needed 4 shepherds He himself was the son of King Ktesios of Syria, but had then come to Ithaca as a slave until Telemachos, Odysseus' son, gave him back his freedom.

    But the pig, as a herd animal, was not only owned by nobles, but also belonged to the property of the so-called "little man". This was also true for the countries of the Near East, where it was generally considered unclean for religious reasons. It was a staple food, especially the piglets were naturally popular, and there were special pork outlets. The cookbook of Apicius contains a large number of recipes for this. He also came up with the idea of fattening pigs with figs in order to contain a particularly tasty liver. This Latin ficatum then became French foie via Italian fegato, which is still found today in the name for foie gras.

    Originally, pigs were forest animals that could feed on beechnuts and acorns. This "acorn fattening" was exploited, for example, in the Reinhardswald in Hessia/Germany, where in the so-called "Hutewald" (= Herding forest) 200 years ago almost 6,000 pigs and 20,000 sheep and goats were herded at the same time, along with 3,000 horses and 6,000 head of cattle! But pigsties were already known in antiquity. In the Odyssey such pens were used for up to 50 animals, later in Rome for up to 150. Roman authors already recommended pens in which mother pigs could be isolated with their piglets. Castration to achieve a higher live weight was also common.

    Pigs were known everywhere as sacrificial animals. They were also not assigned to any particular god. Among the Romans, they were slaughtered as expiatory sacrifices and to confirm an oath when concluding a contract of all kinds, for state alliances, but also for marriage contracts. As a group sacrifice, they were the suovetaurilia. Unlike cattle, pigs, like sheep and goats, belonged to the private religious sphere.
    Veturia 1.jpg
    Denarius of Ti. Veturius from the Roman Republic, showing a swearing scene with a pig. Crawford 234/1

    The pig already appears in fables (Aesop!) and proverbs in antiquity, on the one hand as the epitome of filthiness, but on the other hand also as something valuable. The Athenians knew the old swearword "Boeotian sow" (Pindar), συοβοιωτος.

    Here I want to mention scrofula, a disease that got its name from scrofa, mother sow. In former times, this term was used to describe several different diseases of the lymph gland system with ulcers, especially of the neck and face, from which mother sows often suffered, a term that is obsolete today. In the Middle Ages, kingship, e.g. of the Merovingians, was associated with divine salvation, so that these kings could also cure scrofula by the laying on of hands. Thus thousands of sick people came to the royal court every year to be healed. These royal acts were still common under Louis XIV, the Sun King, and among English kings such as the Stuarts.

    Addendum: The porcelain
    The true etymology of the word "porcelain" will probably be unknown to most of us. But to round off this article on the pig, I will mention it here, even though it is somewhat obscene. This name was borrowed in the 15th century from the synonymous porcellana, the Italian word for cowrie or porcelain snail. The latter is so called after the Italian porcellano, an obscene name for the female sexual organ, because its shape is reminiscent of her. Actually it means "little pig" in Italian porco "pig". After the Europeans got to know the porcelain from China and its production was kept secret by the Chinese, many believed that it was made from cowries because of the shiny shell. There are even said to have been experiments on this. So the porcelain snails are not named after the porcelain, but it is the other way round.
    Photo of the cowrie snail Cypraea tigerina. Ventral side

    (1) Apicius, Cookbook
    (2) Friedrich Kluge, Etymological Dictionary of the German Language, 1989
    (3) The Kleiner Pauly
    (4) Wikipedia

    Best regards
  2. Avatar

    Guest User Guest

    to hide this ad.
  3. shanxi

    shanxi Well-Known Member

    Interessting write up.

    Pigs on coins are much rarer than boars. Here is one example:


    Attica. Athens
    Circa 322/17-307 BC
    Eleusinian festival coinage
    Obv.: Triptolemos, holding grain ears, seated left in winged chariot drawn by two snakes
    Rev.: AΘE, Pig standing right on mystic staff, Plemochoe in exergue
    Æ 15.5mm, 3.31g
    Ref.: Kroll 40; SNG Copenhagen 419

    and another:


    C. Vibius C.f. Pansa
    AR Denarius, 90 BC, Rome
    Obv.: PANSA, Laureate head of Apollo right, symbol below chin
    Rev.: C VIBIVS C F, Ceres walking right, holding two torches, pig in front
    Ag, 17.5mm, 3.99g
    Ref.: Cr. 342/3a, Sear 241
  4. NewStyleKing

    NewStyleKing Beware of Greeks bearing wreaths Supporter

    During the Thesmophoria pigs were sacrificed, and their remains were put into pits called megara at this all women event,the festival was dedicated to Demeter and her daughter Persephone-a bit like the Eleusinian mysteries.
    DonnaML likes this.
  5. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Great write-up, @Jochen1. Here are some pigs/sows, as opposed to wild boars:

    Roman Republic, Ti. Veturius, AR Denarius 137 BCE. Obv. Helmeted head of Mars right, TI. VET (monogrammed) and X behind head. / Rev. Youth holding pig, kneeling left, head right, between two soldiers who touch the pig with their swords, ROMA above. RSC I Veturia 1, Crawford 234/1, Sydenham 527, Sear RCV I 111 (ill.), BMCRR Italy 550. 18 mm., 3.8 g. [First Republican denarius to have head of anyone other than Roma on obverse.]

    (This was the first ancient Roman coin I ever purchased as an adult, back in the 1980s.)

    COMBINED Ti. Veturius - pig.jpg

    Roman Republic, C. Sulpicius C.f. Galba, AR Serrate Denarius, 106 BCE. Obv. Jugate heads of Dei Penates left, D•P•P [Dei Penates Publici] beneath heads / Rev. Two soldiers facing each other, holding spears and pointing at sow lying down between them; S above; in exergue: C•SVL•ICI•C•F. [Indication of undertype on right of reverse, causing loss of detail.] RSC I Sulpicia 1, Crawford 312/1, Sydenham 572, BMCRR Rome 1324, Sear RCV I 189 (ill.) 18.12 mm., 3.83 g. [See Sear RCV I at p. 108: “Crawford’s interpretation of this interesting type seems the most convincing: it refers to Aeneas’ [landing at and founding of] Lavinium (home of the Sulpicia gens) with the Penates, and the subsequent miracle of the great white sow [giving birth to 30 piglets], which foretold the founding of Alba Longa,” where the soil was more fertile, 30 years later.] (Ex. Madroosi Collection [Joe Blazick]).

    Sulpicius Galba - Sow 2.jpg

    Titus Caesar (son of Vespasian). AR Denarius 77=78 AD. Obv. Laureate head right, T CAESAR VESPASIANVS (counterclockwise from lower right) / Rev. Sow standing left with three piglets, two standing below her and one behind; in exergue, IMP XIII. RIC II.1 986 (Vespasian) (2007 ed.), RSC II 104, Sear RCV I 2443, BMCRE 227. 18.5 mm., 3.17 g.

    Titus - Sow & Piglets.jpg
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2021
  6. ambr0zie

    ambr0zie Dacian Taraboste

    The coin that made me switch to ancient coin collecting.

    Titus AD 79-81. Rome
    Denarius AR
    20 mm., 2,43 g.
    Obverse Legend: T CAESAR VESPASIANVS
    Type: Head of Titus, laureate, right
    Reverse Legend: IMP XIII
    Type: Sow left, with three piglets
  7. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Supporter! Supporter

    C. Hosidius Geta Ar Denarius 68 BC Obv bust of Diana right draped with bow and quiver over shoulder. Rv. The Calydonian boar standing right being harassed by a hound. Crawford 407/1 3.99 grms 18 mm Photo by W. Hansen 407-b.jpg I love the realism of this scene. You could almost think that this was engraved from a memory of an event. Everything seems right. The hounds efforts to find a advantageous position so that he can harass the boar and the boar though seriously wounded attempting to defend himself. There is an almost palpable tension in this scene as the outcome is still very much in doubt.
  8. Archeocultura

    Archeocultura Well-Known Member

  9. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Yes, you show us that pigs ar playing a big role in Roman history too.
    DonnaML likes this.
  10. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    A beautiful example of this type, and I feel the same way about the scene presented. Here's mine:

    Roman Republic, C. Hosidius C.f. Geta, AR Denarius, 68 BCE. Obv. Draped bust of Diana R., wearing crown and stephane[?], with bow and quiver over shoulder, GETA before, III VIR behind/ Rev. Wild boar of Calydon r., pierced in shoulder by spear and attacked by hound beneath, C. HOSIDI C F in exergue. RSC I Hosidia 1 (ill.), Crawford 407/2, Sear RCV I 346 (ill.), Harlan, RRM I Ch. 32 at pp. 189-194, BMCRR Rome 3388. 18 mm., 3.91 g.

    New Hosidius Geta Diane-Boar COMBINED.jpg

    Like you, I really like the dynamism of the reverse. I can almost see the spear entering the boar's flesh.
  11. Ryro

    Ryro They call me the 13th Caesar Supporter

    Thanks so much for your contributions @Jochen1 !
    Here's a Roman Imp pig ;):
    ancientone, ambr0zie, Jochen1 and 4 others like this.
  12. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    @Ryro, it took me a minute to get it! I kept staring at the reverse, and then looked at the obverse.
    Ryro likes this.
  13. Ryro

    Ryro They call me the 13th Caesar Supporter

    I almost went with Nero... but hes more of a wild boar :p
    DonnaML likes this.
  14. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    I always pick up some interesting new information from your posts, @Jochen. I will add that the Romans were not the only ones in Italy who appreciated a good member of the pig family.
    Apulia Arpi Boar.jpg Apulia, Arpi, circa 325-275 BC, AE
    Obv: Laureate head of Zeus left, thunderbolt to right
    Rev: Bristle-backed boar running right, spear above; APΠANΩN in exergue
    Note: Arpi was located in a spot about 5 miles north of modern Foggia. Arpi was an ally of Rome and provided support in the war with Pyrrus (see Pyrrhic Victories and Battle Elephants) and in 213 BC was captured by Quintus Fabius Maximus.
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2021
    Jochen1, Bing, Alegandron and 3 others like this.
  15. 7Calbrey

    7Calbrey Well-Known Member

    Interesting and curious write-up. The following coin was struck under the Aitolian League circa 260 AD. Obverse shows Apollo, whereas reverse exhibits the jaw-bone of a boar under a spear-head.

    Aitolia Gr O    Apollo.JPG AitoLeague R  260 BC.JPG
    Jochen1, Bing, Alegandron and 2 others like this.
  16. Alegandron

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


    PIGS of OATH

    Marsic Confederation
    Social War
    AR Denarius
    90-88 BCE
    Corfinium mint
    Bust of Italia
    Oath scene swords to pig
    Eight Italic Tribes Rebelling - Marsi, Picentines, Paeligni, Marrucini, Vestini, Frentani, Samnites, Hirpini

    Roman Republic
    Veturius 137 BCE
    AR Denarius
    Mars X
    Oath Scene swords over pig
    Sear 111 Craw 234-1
  17. Volodya

    Volodya Junior Member

    Crawford 121/2, 200-195 BC


    Phil Davis
    Jochen1, Bing, Johndakerftw and 2 others like this.
  18. Alegandron

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



    Campania CAPUA
    AE Uncia
    2nd Punic War - Hannibal promises Capua as Capital of Italia after Rome destroyed
    Attribution: SNG ANS 210
    Date: 216-211 BC
    Obverse: Bust of Diana right, with bow and quiver over shoulder
    Reverse: Boar right, one pellet above, KAPV (retrograde) in exergue
    Size: 20.72 mm
    Weight: 6.56 grams
    Rarity: [​IMG] 7
    Description: VF. A rare city.
    Ex: Ancient Imports (Mark Brietsprecher)

    IBERIA. Castulo.
    Quarter Unit (Late 2nd century BC).
    Obv: Diademed male head right.
    Rev: KAŚTILO (in Iberian).
    Boar standing right; star above.
    ACIP 2152; SNG BM Spain 1354-7.
    Condition: Good very fine.
    Weight: 3.27 g.
    Diameter: 16 mm.
    Ex: Pecunum
    Jochen1, Volodya, Bing and 2 others like this.
  19. Alegandron

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


    Roman Sows

    Roman Republic
    circa 206-195,
    AR 16.5mm., 2.61g.
    Laureate head of Jupiter r.
    Rev. Victory crowning trophy; in centre field, sow r. and in exergue, ROMA. Sydenham 253. Russo RBW 554. Crawford 121/1.
    About Very Fine.
    Privately purchased from L. Simonetti Firenze. - From the E.E. Clain-Stefanelli Collection
    Ex: Naville Auction

    RI Titus 79-81 CE AR Denarius Sow piglets
    Jochen1, Volodya, Bing and 2 others like this.
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page