Roman Republican Coins #'s 69-70: Centaurs & Elephants

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by DonnaML, Apr 25, 2022.

  1. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    New Roman Republican coins have been rather scarce for me this year. The more common types I already own, the more difficult it seems to be to find nice examples of the many additional types I'd like to buy, especially at a price I can afford. But here are two. [The first description is edited to change the attribution from DNW's Crawford 229/1a to the proper Crawford 229/1b, based on @Fugio1's comment below.]

    1. Roman Republic, M. Aurelius Cota [Cotta], AR Denarius 139 BCE. Obv. Head of Roma right, wearing winged helmet ornamented with stylized representation of gryphon’s head [N.B.: I don't see it], earring with three pellets, and necklace of pendants [not beads]; hair arranged in three symmetrical locks; to right below chin, COTA; behind, mark of value X / Rev. Hercules in biga of centaurs right, holding reins in left hand and club in right hand; centaurs each carry branch in left hand; below, M•AVRELI (AVR ligate); in exergue, ROMA. 19 mm., 3.78 g. “Removed from a ring mount; otherwise very fine.” Crawford 229/1b; BMCRR I 916-917 (& Vol. III Pl. xxvi. 2); RSC I Aurelia 16; Sear RCV 1 106, RBW Collection 959 (ill. p. 201). Purchased from Dix Noonan Webb Auction 253, 13 April 2022, Lot 1240; ex. Spink Numismatic Circular May 1984, No. 2625 at p. 125 (ill. p. 137).*


    The image from Spink Numismatic Circular, May 1984, together with
    the original Spink tag accompanying the coin:



    * Moneyer & Date

    According to Crawford (Vol. I p. 263), the moneyer “is perhaps M. Aurelius Cotta, father of C. Aurelius Cotta, M. Aurelius Cotta and L. Aurelius Cotta, Co[nsuls] 75, 74 and 65; he may also be a younger son of L. Aurelius Cotta, Cos. 144 . . . , born therefore c. 160 or later.”

    Mattingly agrees with Crawford’s date for this issue: “M. Cotta. . . should go in 139. He was the father of three consuls of the 70s and 60s, and as the younger brother of the consul of 119 [another L. Aurelius Cotta], he must have been born ca. 160. Like C. Scribonius, he would have been moneyer at an unusually young age.” See the chapter entitled “Roman Republican Coinage ca. 150-90 B.C.” in Harold B. Mattingly, From Coins to History: Selected Numismatic Studies (2004) pp. 199-226 at p. 216.

    Grueber notes (BMCRR I p. 128 n. 1) that the L. Aurelius Cotta who, according to Crawford, may have been the moneyer’s father and was consul in 144, was also tribune of the plebs c. 154. He states (id.) that the moneyer may also have been descended from the M. Aurelius Cotta who was legate of L. Cornelius Scipio, B.C. 189, during the war against Antiochus the Great.

    Reverse Design

    Insofar as the reverse design (Hercules in a biga of centaurs) is concerned, Grueber stated in 1904 that it “has not been satisfactorily explained” (BMCRR I p. 128 n. 3). 70 years later, Crawford characterized it as still “extraordinarily obscure” (Vol. I p. 263). See also John Melville Jones, A Dictionary of Ancient Roman Coins (Seaby, London, 1990), entry for Centaur at pp. 50-51: "A denarius of 139 BC (M. Aurelius Cot(t)a) has the unusual reverse type of Hercules driving a biga drawn by centaurs. If this is anything more than a variant on the regular scene of Hercules driving a chariot as a symbol of victory, the reference is not now understood." [TLDR: "We have no idea what this is all about."]

    Perhaps surprisingly given the rather prominent place held by centaurs in Greco-Roman mythology -- including more than one battle or other encounter between Hercules and various centaurs such as Chiron and Nessus (see;; -- this coin is the second and last of only two occasions on which a centaur or centaurs appeared on a Roman Republican coin. (The first was Crawford 39/1, a bronze triens issued ca. 217-215 BCE with a reverse depicting Hercules fighting a centaur.)

    Crawford rejects Babelon’s theory that the reverse refers to family history, namely the victories of M. Aurelius Cotta, Scipio’s legate, over Antiochus at Thermopolyae in 191 BCE, by means of an allusion to the mythical battles of Hercules with the Centaurs in the same geographical area: “It is not recorded that the Legate played any major part in the victory nor is it likely that he was senior enough to do so.” Id. Instead, Crawford cites parallel examples of Hercules drawn by centaurs as an artistic motif, and suggests that the coin type “should be regarded as an artistic variation of a normal Hercules in a biga type, perhaps chosen to highlight Hercules as a conqueror.”

    At BMCRR I p. 128 n. 3, Grueber cites Babelon as noting “a certain resemblance” between this reverse and the reverse type of Juno in a biga of goats issued by C. Renius at around the same time (see Crawford 231/1, minted in 138 BCE), and suggesting that the two moneyers could have been colleagues at the mint. Or, I would suggest, perhaps they merely shared the sense of the absurd – and/or connectedness to myth -- that appears throughout the history of Roman Republican coinage, in depicting bigas drawn by a wide variety of animals and mythical creatures other than horses.

    2. Roman Republic, C. Caecilius Metellus Caprarius, AR Denarius 125 BCE. Obv. Head of Roma right wearing winged Phrygian helmet with crest in form of head and beak of eagle (i.e, griffin); behind, ROMA downwards; before, mark of value * (= XVI) [off flan] / Rev. Jupiter, crowned with wreath by flying Victory above, in biga of elephants left, holding thunderbolt in left hand and reins in right hand; in exergue, C•METELLVS (ME ligate). 17 mm., 3.90 g. Crawford 269/1, BMCRR I 1180-1182 (& Vol. III Pl. xxx 8), RSC I Caecilia 14, Sear RCV I 145. Purchased from Dix Noonan Webb Auction 253, 13 April 2022, Lot 1247; ex. Spink Numismatic Circular Dec. 1985, No. 8404 at p. 334.*


    The image from Spink Numismatic Circular, Dec. 1985, together with
    the original Spink tag accompanying the coin:



    *The moneyer “is presumably C. Caecilius Metellus Caprarius, Cos. 113” (Crawford Vol. I p. 293), who was born ca. 160 BCE, and served under Scipio Aemilianus at the siege of Numantia in 133 BCE in the Third Punic War; he died sometime after 102 BCE. BMCRR I p. 182 n. 1;

    For the biga of elephants on the reverse, Crawford refers (see Vol. I p. 293) to his explanation (id. p. 287) of the elephant head on the reverse of Crawford 262, a coin issued by another moneyer from the Caecilius Metellus family: the reference “recalls the victory of L. Caecilius Metellus, Cos. 251, over Hasdrubal at [the Battle of] Panormus in 250 [BCE], and the capture of Hasdrubal’s elephants.” As Grueber notes in his discussion of the elephant biga design, the captured elephants were afterwards exhibited at Metullus’s triumph at Rome. BMCRR I p. 182 n. 2.

    In addition to C. Caecilius Metellus Caprarius, a number of other moneyers belonging to the Caecilii Metelli issued denarii with elephants or elephant heads to commemorate their ancestor’s famous victory. See Crawford 262/1 (Anonymous, probably Caecilius Metellus Diadematus or Caecilius Metellus Delmaticus, 128 BCE); Crawford 263/1 (M. Caecilius Q.f. Metelllus, 127 BCE); Crawford 374/1 (Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius, 81 BCE); and Crawford 459/1 (Q. Caecilius Metullus Pius Scipio, 47-46 BCE). Here are my examples of those four:

    Crawford 262/1


    Crawford 263/1:


    Crawford 374/1


    Crawford 459/1:


    Please post your centaurs and elephants, Roman Republican or otherwise.

    And please share any brilliant, novel insights you may have on the meaning of the reverse of the M. Aurelius Cotta denarius!
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2022
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  3. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    I might as well start by sharing my only two other ancient coins depicting a centaur, both part of Gallenius's Zoo Series:

    Gallienus, Billon Antoninianus, 267-268 AD, Rome Mint (7th Officina). Obv. Radiate head right, GALLIENVS AVG / Rev. Centaur walking right, holding bow with right hand and drawing arrow and bowstring with left hand, left front leg lifted, APOLLINI CONS AVG; Z [Zeta = 7th Officina] in exergue. RIC V-1 163, RSC IV 72), Wolkow 2a7 (ill. p. 41), Göbl MIR [Moneta Imperii Romani] Band 36, No. 735, Sear RCV III 10177. 20 mm., 2.96 g. Purchased Jan. 2022 from Ingemar Wallin Utveckling AB, Uppsala, Sweden.


    Gallienus, Billon Antoninianus, 267-268 AD, Rome Mint (8th Officina). Obv. Radiate head right, GALLIENVS AVG / Rev. Centaur walking left holding a globe in extended right hand and a reversed rudder in left hand, with right front leg lifted, APOLLINI CONS AVG; H [Eta = 8th Officina] in exergue. RIC V-1 164, RSC IV 73 (ill.), Wolkow 1a8, Göbl MIR [Moneta Imperii Romani] Band 36, No. 738, Sear RCV III 10178. 20 mm., 3.42 g., 12 h.


    More ancient Elephants, in no particular order:






    Bonus elephant, from an old Pidcock farthing token from the period 1795-1801 (Dalton & Hamer/Withers 1067), depicting a cockatoo on the reverse:

    Last edited: Apr 25, 2022
  4. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Nice ones Donna!
    Carl Wilmont and DonnaML like this.
  5. Ryro

    Ryro Trying to remove supporter status

    Stunning additions and entertaining and well researched write up:artist::bookworm::cigar:
    Centaurs and elephants oh my:wideyed:

    2177110_1631475796.l-removebg-preview.png Screenshot_20200919-165302_PicCollage-removebg-preview.png IMG_1712(1).PNG IMG_3886(1).jpg IMG_2833(1).jpg 1219963_1591198091-removebg-preview.png Screenshot_20210529-094231_Chrome.jpg IMG_1323(1).JPG Screenshot_20210407-161015_PicCollage-removebg-preview.png
  6. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Well-Known Member

    Donna, Your centaur denarius is a beautiful & fascinating coin :happy:. Your elephant zoo is amazing :jawdrop:! What is your allure to these animals o_O?
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  7. robinjojo

    robinjojo Well-Known Member

    Here's a coin that demonstrates how a western-based mythological figure, the centaur, migrated into eastern coinage, in this case Turkoman, the Artuquids.

    This coin, an AE dirhem, AH 597-637 (1201-1239) of Nasir al-Din Artuq Arslan, depicts a Centaur on the obverse, who is aiming his arrow at a dragon emerging from the Centaur's tail.

    This coin is the variety of the Centaur facing left (SS 38.1). Another variety has him facing right (SS 38.2). Dirhem 1201-1239 Islam Artukiden von Mardin Nasr al-Din Artuq Arslan, AD 1201-1239.jpg
  8. Ignoramus Maximus

    Ignoramus Maximus Nomen non est omen.

    Nice coin! I didn't see the griffin either, but it's there. It's easier to spot here on the top of Roma's helmet.

    Auction Lot (
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  9. Fugio1

    Fugio1 Well-Known Member

    Donna, The Cotta is at the very top of my want list. Especially RRC 229/1b, which is characterized by finer style than RRC 229/1a. Yours is RRC 229/1b, mis-attributed by DNW. I was very excited when I first saw this offered, but did not bid at the last moment because of uncertainty about the ring mount issue.

    Both of your new treasures are among the most interesting RR types. Congratulations.
    DonnaML likes this.
  10. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    Thank you. From Crawford, the difference between 229/1a and 1b is that Roma's necklace consists of beads on 1a, and of pendants on 1b. Because I wasn't sure which mine showed (although I admit I thought that they might look more like pendants) I decided to go with DNW's attribution -- even though Spink back in 1984 didn't say which it is; see no. 2625, instead citing generally Crawford 229/1 (although Spink does cite BMCRR 914, a specimen with a bead necklace; 916-917 have pendant necklaces):


    I'll have to take a look to see what's in the Schaefer die studies at CRRO. Apparently there are a total of only 10 different obverse dies for 1a and 1b combined. I certainly can't tell the difference from the photos in my copy of Crawford Vol. II.

    I can't even really tell where the ring mount was, unless it was where one can see small chips at around 1:00 and 3:00. It certainly doesn't affect any of the devices so far as I can see.
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2022
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  11. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    What can I say? I've always loved elephants ever since I was a small child and first saw them at the Central Park and Bronx Zoos. Even before I learned what amazing, intelligent animals they are.

    Neither zoo had any centaurs, but I find them interesting anyway. I did see the revival of "Fantasia" in a movie theater when I was 7!
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  12. Fugio1

    Fugio1 Well-Known Member

    The gryphon on the back of the helmet of Roma is a characteristic ornamentation of more than 60 years of the early denari. It's on nearly every coin with helmeted Roma and it's quite abstract. The head at the top of the helmet is usually just an eye, long pointed ears and a beak. The "spikes" on the back of the helmet are the feathery or hairy tufts on the back of the gryphon's neck. Many artistic images do not show these tufts, but here is a perfect example of ancient artistic representation of these tufts from a lovely coin of Tomis in your own collection:

  13. Fugio1

    Fugio1 Well-Known Member

    If that is all it is you got a rare bargain in today's market for high quality RR silver.
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  14. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    Thanks. Plus the eagle's/griffin's head and beak (complete with tufts!) are extraordinarily clear at the top of Roma's Phrygian helmet in my new Metellus Caprarius, Crawford 269/1.
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  15. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    The Schaefer die studies at CRRO don't appear to include Crawford 229 in their index, either for the binders or the "processed clippings." Possibly they're actually there, just not indexed, but I haven't checked yet.

    As with Crawford, it isn't possible to see the difference between the two types of necklace in the photos in Plate xxvi in BMCRR Vol. III, even though I have one of the well-done hardcover reprints.

    I do see a visible difference in the RBW Collection plates (see p. 201, nos. 958-959), as well as in some of the 50+ examples of 229/1 at ACSearch (16 of which are classified as 229/1b), and it's clear to me that mine is much closer to the "pendants" illustrations than to the beads. So, with thanks again to you, I have revised my attribution from Crawford 229/1a to Crawford 229/1b, both in the OP and in my personal catalog.
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2022
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  16. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    those are dan-Dees Donna! :)
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  17. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    As I suspected, there is a page of clippings for Crawford 229 in the CRRO Schaefer Die Project database; it's at Like so many other types, though, it's missing from the index:


    Also, it can't be found on the Crawford 229 pages at CRRO, which have no links for "Annotations" -- the other method by which the Die Project pages for particular Crawford numbers are supposed to be findable. See;

    When the Project went online originally, I used to email them every time I noticed a Crawford number that was either unindexed or entirely missing. I stopped after a while, because it didn't always seem to do much good.
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2022
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  18. happy_collector

    happy_collector Well-Known Member

    Great additions, Donna! :)

    Your centaur biga is very beautiful with great details. Very lifelike. Wonderful elephant biga also, with design all within flan. Nice pickups!

    I only have one coin with a centaur. No elephant yet.
    Bithynia Prusias II AE23 Centaur.jpg
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  19. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    What an interesting coin. Would you mind identifying it? Thanks!
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  20. happy_collector

    happy_collector Well-Known Member

    No problem, Donna. :) Here it is:
    Bithynia S.jpg
    Kings of Bithynia, Prusias II (182-149 BC)
    Æ 23mm, 5.85g
    Obv: Wreathed head of Dionysos facing right.
    Rev: Centaur advancing right, playing lyre.
    RG 26; SNG Copenhagen 635; HGC 7, 629
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2022
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  21. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Well-Known Member

    What a fun thread, @DonnaML!

    I have a Caprarius, too:

    C. Caecilius Metellus Caprarius, 125 BC.
    Roman AR denarius, 3.89 g, 18.4 mm, 1 h.
    Rome, 125 BC.
    Obv: Head of Roma, right, wearing Phrygian helmet; XVI monogram below chin, ROMA behind.
    Rev: Jupiter, crowned by flying Victory, in biga of elephants left, holding thunderbolt in left hand and reins in right hand; C METELLVS in exergue.
    Refs: Crawford RRC 269/1; Sydenham CRR 485; RCV 145; RSC Caecilia 14.

    And of course there's this one of Philip I:

    Philip I, AD 244-249.
    Roman AR Antoninianus, 3.73 g, 22.4 mm, 7 h.
    Rome, AD 247.
    Obv: IMP PHILIPPVS AVG, radiate and draped bust, right.
    Rev: AETERNITAS AVGG, elephant guided by mahout with goad and wand, walking left.
    Refs: RIC 58; Cohen 17; RCV 8921; Hunter 31.

    And though not ancient, I do like this Conder token:

    Great Britain (Conder) Warwickshire, Coventry Halfpenny 1792
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