Roman Republican Denarius # 40 -- another "panther" that's really a leopard

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by DonnaML, Nov 20, 2020.

  1. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    This new arrival is a type that has been on my want list for almost as long as I've been actively collecting Roman Republican coins, and is certainly one of the nicer examples I've seen. It was expensive (at least for me!), although it cost me considerably less than what it sold for at its most recent auction -- or the most recent one I've found -- back in 2015. Still, as I mentioned elsewhere, I'm past my self-imposed coin budget for the year (fortunately, not to a disastrous extent!). So this may well have been my last purchase this year of a coin costing more than, say, $100 or so -- not counting a Republican coin I bought three weeks ago that's been stuck for the last 11 days, apparently in Customs, in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Why it was put on a plane to Cincinnati from Spain, instead being sent directly to New York, I'll never understand!)

    Since this will probably be my penultimate presentation of a new Roman Republican coin this year, my standard detailed description is even more so than usual, with not one, not two, but three separate footnotes accompanying it! For those without the patience to read all that I wrote, I hope you enjoy the coin anyway.

    Roman Republic, C. Vibius Varus, AR Denarius, 42 BCE, Rome Mint. Obv. Head of Bacchus (or Liber)* right, wearing earring and wreath of ivy and grapes / Rev. Spotted panther [leopard]** springing left towards garlanded altar on top of which lies a bearded mask of Silenus or Pan,*** and against which leans a thyrsus with fillet (ribbon); C • VIBIVS in exergue, VARVS upwards to right. Crawford 494/36, RSC I Vibia 24, Sydenahm 1138, BMCRR 4295, Sear RCV I 496. 17 mm., 3.60 g. Ex. Numismatica Ars Classica NAC AG, Auction 83, May 20, 2015, Lot 83; ex. Frank Sternberg Auction 17, Zurich, May 1986, Lot 519.

    Vibius Varus (Bacchus-Panther) NAC 2015 photo jpg image.jpg

    *The identification of the obverse head as Bacchus or Liber is essentially immaterial. See Jones, John Melville, A Dictionary of Ancient Roman Coins (Seaby, London, 1990) at p. 33 (entry for “Bacchus”): “For the Romans . . . . [Bacchus] was generally identified with the Italian deity Liber, whose name is probably derived from the same root as the word ‘libation,’ suggesting that in Italy he was an earth or vegetation spirit who could be worshipped by pouring offerings upon the ground. . . . Bacchus appears rarely upon Roman imperial coins (and when he is given a name, he is called Liber). He is shown as a youthful male figure, nude or partly draped, perhaps with a wreath of ivy leaves. He may bear a thyrsus and be accompanied by Ariadne, a bacchant or maenad, or a panther.”

    ** There is little doubt that the big cats generally referred to as “panthers” in ancient coin reference works are actually leopards (or, occasionally, cheetahs), particularly when their spots are visible, as on this coin. There is, of course no such separate species as a panther; even a black panther is simply a melanistic leopard (or, in the Western Hemisphere, a jaguar or cougar) with black fur obscuring the spots. The classical world was well aware that pantherae usually had spots. See the many ancient mosaics and other works of art depicting Dionysos/Bacchus with a spotted panther/leopard, such as this mosaic from the House of the Masks in Delos, from ca. 100 BCE, in the Archaeological Museum of Delos:

    Dionysos riding panther, Delos, House of Masks.jpg

    See; See also the following passage from Pliny the Elder’s Natural History at 8.23, concerning the spots on the panthera:

    “The spots of the panther are like small eyes, upon a white ground. It is said that all quadrupeds are attracted in a most wonderful manner by their odour, while they are terrified by the fierceness of their aspect; for which reason the creature conceals its head, and then seizes upon the animals that are attracted to it by the sweetness of the odour. It is said by some, that the panther has, on the shoulder, a spot which bears the form of the moon; and that, like it, it regularly increases to full, and then diminishes to a crescent. At present, we apply the general names of varia and pardus (which last belongs to the males), to all the numerous species of this animal, which is very common in Africa and Syria.” (Footnotes omitted.)

    For a detailed discussion of this passage in Pliny, and the terms panthera and pardus in general as used in the classical world, see the dissertation by Benjamin Moser of the University of Western Ontario, entitled The Ethnozoological Tradition: Identifying Exotic Animals in Pliny's Natural History (available at, Chapter 3.1 at pp. 86-96, “Identifcation of the Panthera and Pardus.” (Moser argues, among other things, that while the term pardus -- from which the word leopard derives, after being combined with “leo” -- was used in the ancient world in Pliny’s time to refer only to male pantherae, the term varia “was not reserved for females but [was] just another word to describe the panthera which arose from the spotted nature of these cats.”)

    ***The mask has more frequently been identified with Pan than with Silenus, but because the moneyer’s branch of the gens Vibia lacks the cognomen “Pansa” (a reason for the appearance of Pan on the coins of moneyers with that cognomen, as a pun), Silenus appears to be a more likely identification, especially given the association of Silenus with Bacchus. See Jones, supra at p, 289, identifying Silenus as “[a]n elderly attendant of Bacchus.” See also id. at p. 234 (entry for “Pan”), noting that “[a] bearded head which appears on [the obverse of] a silver sestertius of T. Carisius [46 BC), with a reverse type of a panther bearing a thyrsus, has been identified as Pan but is more likely to be a Silenus, matching the Bacchic reverse type.”

    If anyone is interested, they can see my earlier presentation of the numismatic panther = leopard argument at, in connection with my posting of this Republican Provincial AE 17 coin from Philadelphia in Lydia (Seaby II 4720), dating to the late 2nd/early 1st Centuries BCE, depicting Dionysos on the obverse and a spotted panther (leopard), carrying a thyrsos, on the reverse:

    Lydia, Philadelphia AE 17 (Dionysos-Panther).jpg

    Feel free to post your ancient coins depicting Bacchus/Liber/Dionysos, or masks of Pan or Silenus, or panthers -- especially spotted ones! -- or anything else you think is relevant.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2020
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  3. John Conduitt

    John Conduitt Well-Known Member

    The question about panthers and leopards reminds me of a similar puzzle in heraldry over leopards and lions. A 'leopard' on a coat of arms is simply a walking lion with its head turned to full face (a lion 'passant guardant'):


    The heraldic 'leopard' has no spots but does have a mane, since it is actually a lion.

    Lions, however, were depicted 'rampant':


    Presumably, what might have originated in confusion turned into a standard way of referring to big cats in different attitudes.
  4. jdmKY

    jdmKY Well-Known Member

    E20CA2F0-2E1D-41F7-92DC-42C1B8C71A0D.jpeg 8292BDEC-1942-42F8-97C2-DA78CB45C7E2.jpeg
  5. jdmKY

    jdmKY Well-Known Member

    Great write up, DonnaML!
  6. Ryro

    Ryro They call me the 13th Caesar Supporter

    LOVE this coin and it's very informative write up! I'd never seen/noticed the type, but am enamored :woot:
    I don't know a ton of leopards:
    But I've met bacchus plenty of times
    Pan is a favorite
    Now the mask of Silenus... the original creeper. A classic
  7. Alegandron

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

    Very nice, thoughtful write up, @DonnaML ! I am really enjoying your Animal Collection.

    As requested:


    RR AR Quinarius 89 BCE M Porcius Cato Liber Bacchus - Victory- Crawford 343-2. Sear 248


    RR Porcius Cato AR Quinarius 89 BC Bacchus Liber Victory seated S 248 Cr 343-2
  8. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Fascinating; thank you!
    John Conduitt and +VGO.DVCKS like this.
  9. happy_collector

    happy_collector Well-Known Member

    That is another cool coin, Donna.
    DonnaML likes this.
  10. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    Well, I don't want to start a whole dogs v. cats thing here, but I think we all know what is really on this coin:
    A very nice coin and write-up @DonnaML and I'll stay open to the possibility that this is a leopard.
    C. Vibius Varus panther.jpg
    Imperatorial Rome, C. Vibius Varus, 42 BC, AR Denarius, Rome mint
    Obv: Head of young Bacchus, wearing wreath of ivy and grapes, hair collected into a knot behind, one lock and fillet of wreath falling down his neck
    Rev: Panther springing left toward garlanded altar surmounted by bacchic mask and thyrsus; C • VIBIVS in exergue, VARVS upward to right
    Ref: Crawford 494/36
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2020
  11. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    Spectacular coin and mosaic, DonnaML!
    DonnaML and ominus1 like this.
  12. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    i'm wif @PeteB ...kool stuff Donna! :)
    DonnaML likes this.
  13. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    This, by the way, is the only mask of Silenus/Silenos that I own other than the one on the reverse of my coin:

    Hellenistic molded Pottery Mask of Silenos, ca. 3rd century BCE, grapevines in hair, traces of original black and white pigment. 5" H. Purchased from Artemis Gallery, Colorado USA, May 31, 2011; ex. Collection of Harvey Sarner, Palm Springs, CA (1934-2007), acquired 1984:

    Hellenistic Pottery Mask of Silenos (Silenus), 3rd Century BCE.jpg

    See this link to descriptions of the 13 antiquities in the Getty Museum collection acquired from Harvey Sarner: .
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2020
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  14. dltsrq

    dltsrq Grumpy Old Man

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  15. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    I'm afraid that I have to say that that's unusually absurd for a Wikipedia article. It refers to "ancient legend" but describes only a medieval legend. And says nothing about ancient coins. And cites no scholarly sources whatsoever. Sorry, I'd rather rely on what Pliny has to say. Please don't be so eager to debunk someone's analysis without having any basis for doing so. When Romans wanted to depict "mythological beasts," they knew how to do so, whether by adding, highly exaggerating, andor combining features of known animals. The depictions of the leopard on my coin, and in the mosaic, do none of those things, except perhaps (in the mosaic's case) inflating the animal's size. But that was fairly common in portrayals of large animals, and of humans or deities riding them, and doesn't make those animals mythological. The many coins showing people or deities riding enormous lions don't mean they aren't intended to be lions, or make those lions mythological, or cause us not to call them lions when we describe the coins.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2020
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  16. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Entertaining and informative post, @DonnaML, and a lovely acquisition for your collection, too!

    Here are some of my Dionysus/Liber with panther coins:

    Faustina II, AD 147-175.
    Roman provincial triassarion, 6.34 g, 23.4 mm, 7 h.
    Thrace, Pautalia, AD 161-175.
    Obv: ΦΑVCΤΕΙΝ-Α CΕΒΑCΤΗ, draped bust of Faustina II, right; band of pearls around head.
    Rev: ΟVΛΠΙΑC-ΠΑVΤΑΛΙ-ΑC, Dionysus seated on panther walking, r., resting r. arm on panther, holding thyrsus.
    Refs: RPC IV 8811; Ruzicka 99.
    Notes: Double die match to RPC IV 8811(4) = Ruzicka 99(4) = Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum 8775.

    Septimius Severus, AD 193-211.
    Roman AR Denarius, 3.22 g, 16.5 mm, 11 h.
    Rome Mint, AD 194.
    Obv: L SEPT SEV PERT AVG IMP III, laureate head, right.
    Rev: LIBERO PATRI, Liber standing facing, head left, cloak over left shoulder, holding oenochoe and thyrsus; at feet left, panther standing left, catching drips from the jug.
    Refs: RIC 32; BMCRE 64-65; Cohen 301; RCV 6307; Hill 84.

    This one isn't well preserved, but it's a Faustina I provincial, and you don't see those every day!

    Faustina I, AD 138-140.
    Roman provincial Æ 19.0 mm, 4.90 g, 1 h.
    Cilicia, Flaviopolis, CY 94 = AD 166/7.
    Obv: ΦΑΥСΤЄΙΝΑ CЄBACTH, bare-headed and draped bust, right.
    Rev: ΦΛΑOΥΙΟ-ΠOΛЄΙΤΩΝ ЄΤOYC / Ϟ - Δ, Dionysos standing front, head to left, holding kantharos over panther in his right hand and thyrsos in his left.
    Refs: RPC IV.3 online 10281 (temp); SNG Levante 1541 v. (year); Ziegler 1246-7; BMC --; SNG Paris --.
    Notes: Double die-match to the specimen in the Ashmolean Museum (RPC example).

    Julia Domna, AD 193-217.
    Roman provincial Æ tetrassarion, 13.76 g, 26 mm.
    Moesia Inferior, Nicopolis ad Istrum; Legate Aurelius Gallus, AD 201-204.
    Obv: ΙΟVΛΙΑ ΔΟ-ΜΝΑ CΕΒΑ, bare-headed and draped bust, right.
    Rev: VΠ ΑVΡ ΓΑΛΛΟV-ΝΙΚΟΠΟΛΙΤΩΝ | ΠΡΟC ΙCΤΡΟ, Dionysos standing left,
    naked except for boots, holding bunch of grapes and thyrsos, panther at foot left.
    Refs: AMNG I 1456; Varbanov 2897; H&J, Nikopolis corr. (rev. legend); Mionnet Sup. 2, p. 134, 457 and pl. III, no 6.
  17. octavius

    octavius Well-Known Member

    Very nice going Donna. Your RR collection seems to be growing very handsomely!
    My Vibius....

  18. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Fascinating stuff, @DonnaML. First thing this elicited was what @John Conduitt said about the more or less corresponding 'taxonomy' in heraldry. --Nope, he covered it. In a no less medieval vein, I was struck by the parallels between Pliny the Elder and the no less folk-mythological element (please read, most of it) in medieval bestiaries.
    ...And, Oh No, the Coin! Good enough for your writeup. I'm continually amazed at how many conspicuously late Republican ones you find, at this frankly amazing level. The dealers are paying you for your research. (Oops, wish there was a strike-through function here ...that I could find.)
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2020
  19. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    I wish they were! It's more like I'm paying them, not only for the coins but for giving me the opportunity to do the research. For whatever reason, there seem (to me, at least) to be more things to research and write about the average Republican coin than the average Imperial coin. Or perhaps it's just that there were so many fewer different Republican than Imperial coins issued each year, and most of the ones that interest me were issued over a period of 100 years or so about which more is probably known than any other period of equivalent length until early modern times. Therefore, more has probably been written about each Republican coin and its background, and there's more to find.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2020
  20. dltsrq

    dltsrq Grumpy Old Man

    I wasn't debunking anything, merely amplifying and clarifying that the word has a special connotation in classical mythology as a trope of "wildness" and as the mount of Dionysus (as illustrated in the Wikipedia article). For that reason, we often read "panther" rather than "leopard" in this context. In the Greek, panthera literally means "all hunting" or perhaps "all beasts" (παν + θηρα). Sorry you misunderstood my intent.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2020
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  21. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    That impressionistically, @DonnaML, your preference of Roman Republican over Imperial evokes where I am with medieval European 'feudal' over royal issues. Yes the imperial issues, including the provincial ones, admit of seemingly inexhaustible, often very specific allusive detail. But I want something that refers to dynamics which are on a smaller scale in the first place. Individual moneyers have that level of affinity with individual sseigneurs, counts, dukes, and so forth.
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