First coin of 2021 - Caesar Elephant denarius

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Clavdivs, Jan 15, 2021.

  1. Clavdivs

    Clavdivs Supporter! Supporter

    Big day for me as the first coin of 2021 arrived this morning. December was really not a great time to buy coins with the mail situation (COVID + Christmas volume + holidays).. so this took a long meandering course. The coin actually arrived in Canada on December 17 and crisscrossed this very large country for some reason (flying over my house at least twice!) before finally hitting the mailbox this morning. I was very worried as this was the most money I have ever spent on a coin. But this has been worth the wait!

    I have been admiring these coins since I started collecting. Always with an eye out for an affordable(ish) example - but I did not want to spend the money unless the coin had a very clear "CAESAR" and was generally pleasing .. I knew the example would have problems in order to meet my price point.. so it was about finding that balance (as we all do with our coin purchases). This example was offered by a fellow CoinTalk member - and I jumped at the chance.

    The coin is much more pleasing in hand than the photo below. The test cut (or damage) is not deep at all (more of a deep scratch) - so they coin is extremely solid and has deeper toning than displayed here.

    Caesar_Elephant pic.png
    Ex-Marc Breitsprecher 2015/ Ex-Jordan Montgomery 2020

    Researching the coin has been fun.. every single aspect of the coin is debated with various opinions on the symbolism for each device (there is not even universal agreement (as far as I can tell) as to which side is the obverse).

    I really like this explanation from Joe Sermarini from Forvm Ancient Coins:
    "Minted after his invasion of Italy and crossing of the Rubicon on 10 January 49 B.C. until his defeat of Pompey at Pharsalus, this was the first coin type issued in Caesar's name. The elephant was the symbol of the Caesar family. According to legend, an ancestor received the name Caesar after single-handedly killing an elephant, probably in North Africa during the first Punic War, and "Caesai" was the name for elephant in the local Punic language. The obverse was long described as an elephant trampling a snake, symbolizing good triumphing over evil. For the Romans, however, the snake was a symbol of healing, not evil. The image [below] is ornamentation on the side of the Gundestrup cauldron (c. 150 - 1 B.C.) depicting three Celtic warriors sounding their carnyx war trumpets. Clearly, Caesar's elephant is trampling a carnyx and the obverse symbolizes Caesar's victory over the Celtic tribes of Gaul. The reverse refers to Caesar's office of Pontifex Maximus, the high priest of Rome, a title now held by the Pope."

    Thank you for your interest.
    Please let me know your opinions on the symbolism around this coin and of course post any examples you have or any coin you like..

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  3. Alegandron

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

    Big cograts, @Clavdivs ! I really like that Denarius! That write-up about the Caesar name is very interesting. I also understand the Romans first encountered Elephants in battles with Pyrrhus near Tarentum.

    Here is mine

    RR Julius Caesar AR Denarius 49 BCE Traveling Mint Elephant-Pontificates Sear 1399 Craw 443-1 RUBICON
  4. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    The two elephants above show the two major groups of these coins. The first is barrel shaped while the next is more slender. I assume this indicates two different die cutters. Do any of our Caesar specialists have anything to say on this?
    Tony1982, Curtisimo and Clavdivs like this.
  5. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Dombes collector Supporter

    Despite some flaws, it's a very nice example of the "small" elephant type

    Here's my own fatty one :

    Julius Caesar, Denarius - minted in Italy, c.49 BC
    CAESAR, elephant walking rigth, trampling on snake
    No legend, Simpulum, sprinkler, axe and apex
    4.05 gr
    Ref : HCRI # 9, RCV #1399, Cohen #49

  6. Alegandron

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

    Cuke, yours always reminded me of a happy, strutting, dancing elephant! :D Great coin!

  7. jdmKY

    jdmKY Well-Known Member

  8. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Dombes collector Supporter


    +VGO.DVCKS and Alegandron like this.
  9. Orielensis

    Orielensis Supporter! Supporter

    A wonderful new acquisition, @Clavdivs ! That's an important type for every Roman collection.

    I was in a somewhat similar situation when I bought mine, yet I had different priorities. The legend "CAESAR" wasn't too important to me, but I definitely wanted a clear and well-engraved elephant. For that, I was willing to compromise on the areas of weak striking, the off-center reverse, and the banker's marks:

    Römische Republik – RRC 443:1, Denar, Julius Caesar, Elephant.png
    Roman Republic, Imperatorial Coinage, Julius Caesar, AR denarius, 49–48 BC, military mint moving with Caesar. Obv: [CA]ESAR; elephant walking r., trampling snake. Rev: priestly implements: culullus, aspergillum, axe, apex. 20mm, 3.70g. Ref: RRC 443/1.
  10. Clavdivs

    Clavdivs Supporter! Supporter

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  11. Limes

    Limes Supporter! Supporter

    Congratulations @Clavdivs! A coin worth the wait indeed.

    Here's my example with the 'rounder' elephant:

    About the symbolism, I don't know. I do wonder if it's necessary to chose: would the symbolism perhaps allow multiple explanations? I like the thought about the carnyx, I have not read that explanation before. Although I do wonder if the die makers would have made the 'snake' more thin, longer, and more straight? Also, the 'snake' on the coin consists of several dots, or rings. I don't see those in that manner on the carnyx, where the rings are present, but with space between and thinnner. Oh well, what do I know, my uneducated opinion is worth not even a quadrans....

    Below is my example of one on a coin (struck during Caesar's 'war' (mass murder...) in Gaul).
  12. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter


    That is an excellent acquisition! Congrats on adding this great piece to your collection.
    Clavdivs likes this.
  13. Scipio

    Scipio Well-Known Member

    B35CAF34-E664-48CD-A6F2-49FE6FB4D931.jpeg A374E945-9A0D-4462-AD29-9F6E747248E4.jpeg About the snake, someone say it could actually be a dragon, kind of a Gallic symbol...
    Here is my elephant, with some area of weakness
  14. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Wonderful coins, all. If I were to buy an example, I, too, would want a complete, readable "CAESAR" legend, and to be able to see both the elephant and the [snake or carnyx] reasonably clearly. Unfortunately for me, I haven't seen one yet that I can afford.

    @Severus Alexander had a fascinating thread last year on the meaning of the coin, presenting the theory (also expounded by Michael Harlan, I believe) that the snake is in fact a snake, but that -- if I understand correctly -- the elephant would have been immediately recognizable (based on a lengthy Republican and Imperatorial numismatic tradition) as representing Caesar's enemies, the Metellus family. Whereas the alleged connection between Caesar's family and elephants was remote and dubious, and would have been unlikely to be recognized. Under this theory, then, the elephant is the bad guy and the snake is the good guy, with which Caesar was associating himself. See
  15. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    It's not my coin, but I think that this one looks like a pig with a trunk.

    Julius Caesar pig elephant O.jpg Julius Caesar Pig elephant R.jpg

    Here is the coin in my collection. The elephant denarius is by far the most common Julies Caesar coin.

    Julius Caesar Ele O.jpg Julius Caesar Ele R.jpg
  16. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Great coin with excellent detail, congrats @Clavdivs! Always good to see more of these coming to Canada too. :)

    Thanks for linking my thread @DonnaML, and the kind words. That ain't no carnyx, nope. :D The case for the elephant representing Caesar's Roman enemies, with the bearded & crested snake representing Caesar and the common people, is strengthened here.

    I think one thing that pulls people into the erroneous carnyx interpretation is that funny beard and crest. But magic/spiritual/divine snakes are always represented as bearded/crested at this time. Weird to us (so easy to say "oh, must be a carnyx then? o_O") but not at all weird for this coin's intended audience. They knew what it meant.

    Well, I'm not a Caesar specialist by any means, but as I recall from when I was researching these the thought is that the dumpy cartoonish elephant comes from a completely different mint (or set of mints?) from the the more realistic looking elephant. One speculation (based on find spots?) is that the dumpy elephant is from Spain.

    Screen Shot 2021-01-15 at 11.42.17 AM.jpg
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2021
  17. 1934 Wreath Crown

    1934 Wreath Crown Well-Known Member

    The first one looks like a baby elephant which grew up to be like the one in the second coin. I bought a couple online a few years back (when I knew even less about ancients) but they were not accurately described by the auction house. They had edge cuts, light graffiti and in one case a banker's mark which was much more prominent than in the pictures. Anyway, I'm thinking now is a good time to sell them and upgrade to a nice clean example;)

    Here's one of them:

    Julius Caesar Elephant Dinarius.JPG
  18. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I stand corrected 'pig with a trunk' is a much better description of what I called 'barrel shaped'. While there is a 'weight' variation on the normal elephants as shown on the other coins here, to be classed a 'pigiphant' the underside of the body should be straight. I strongly prefer elephants more athletic than rotund.
  19. Clavdivs

    Clavdivs Supporter! Supporter

    That's what makes it so fun... many people I respect have differing views. I do not claim to be an expert and certainly do enjoy Joe Sermarini's explanation as well as yours (among many more .. that thread is great). Dumpy elephant or no... I certainly love everything about the coin - it's already made the office wall.

  20. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    I definitely do not think the dumpy elephant is a detracting feature of the coin, not in the least! I doubt I'll be able to resist eventually getting one of each. :D

    Exactly! It's a must-have coin partly for this reason. For those of us who can't afford perfect examples I think you've made a doozie of a purchase. The accident this coin had probably took a bunch of the price while subtracting only a tiny amount of detail, and it's still a very attractive coin. Right up my alley. :)
  21. Tony1982

    Tony1982 Well-Known Member

    Mine has an "R” countermark , but doesn’t detract too much from the design !
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