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Diana the Huntress, Bringer of Light

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Pre-Hellenic "Artemis"

Diana was the Roman goddess of hunting, bringer of light, youthful and strictly virginal, and later, goddess of the moon. She had so many attributes in common with the Greek goddess Artemis that they are often treated as the same, though that is not strictly true.

A drawing of a coin of Claudius showing the cult figure of Artemis at Ephesus A drawing of a coin of Claudius showing the cult figure of Artemis at Ephesus.

Artemis had mixed origins. Hellenistic culture absorbed many local deities into the Olympian Artemis. There were cult statues and shrines to such "Artemis" figures in the Greek world long before the flowering of Hellenistic culture or the heyday of Rome, and the example best known today was also one of the seven wonders of the ancient world: the temple of Artemis in Ephesus.

This particular cult was very powerful locally, and those who are familiar with the Christian bible will no doubt know of the dealings the apostle Paul of Tarsus had with "Diana of the Ephesians."

The cult statue in this temple was far from Hellenistic in style, and it is not likely that the locals thought of her as Artemis, but the Hellenes happily incorporated her into the Olympian pantheon. So when more recent writers refer to "Diana of the Ephesians" they are making at least two jumps from the actuality: from "Lady of Ephesus" to Artemis, and from Artemis to Diana. The drawing on the right is of a coin of Claudius which shows the cult statue at Ephesus. (This image is from A Dictionary of Roman Coins and is out of copyright.)

A bronze coin of Perge showing a cult statue of Artemis in her temple on the obverse, and her bow and quiver on the reverse A bronze coin of Perge showing a cult statue of Artemis in her temple on the obverse, and her bow and quiver on the reverse.

Several cult images from earlier times are shown on coins of the Hellenistic and Roman periods. The rather vague image on this bronze coin of Perge, in Pamphylia, from the 2nd or 1st century BCE is another local goddess. Both her original and new identities are made clear by the reverse legend, APTEMIΔOΣ ΠEPΓAIAΣ, Artemis of Perge; though it is likely that this is not a direct representation of the goddess, but a sacred stone structure indicating her presence.

The cult statue is shown in a simple temple structure with a pediment decoration that is probably an eagle. This particular coin has been counterstamped with the image of a seated sphinx, and later coins sometimes show columns topped with sphinxes on either side of the goddess. On the reverse is a bow and an arrow case, symbols which Artemis had in common with Diana.

Here are three coins which show how similar the various cult statues of Artemis must have been, and how like that of Ephesus sketched above. Despite the similarity of the statues, and the fact that all of these goddesses were called "Artemis," they had quite different local interpretations.

The reverse of a bronze coin of Magnesia ad Maeandrum, showing a cult statue of Artemis Leukophryene The reverse of a bronze coin of Magnesia ad Maeandrum, showing a cult statue of Artemis Leukophryene.
The reverse of a bronze coin of Apameia, showing a cult statue of Artemis Anaitis The reverse of a bronze coin of Apameia, showing a cult statue of Artemis Anaitis.
The reverse of a bronze coin from Bargylia showing a cult image of Artemis Kindyas The reverse of a bronze coin from Bargylia showing a cult image of Artemis Kindyas.

Artemis Kindyas on the left of the row is veiled, and comes from a shrine on which, it was said, no rain or snow ever fell. This coin comes from Bargylia, in Caria, in the first century BCE.

In the centre is a coin of Apameia at around the same time or perhaps a little earlier, showing Artemis Anaïtis, a Persianised version of Artemis who had been identified in that area with the Indo-Iranian deity known to the Romans and Greeks as Anaïtis. This Artemis eventually became syncretised with the Mother Goddess, Cybele, in the minds of her worshippers. Apameia is in Phrygia, the original home of Cybele.

The coin on the right is from Magnesia-on-the-Meander in Ionia, and this cult statue is of Artemis Leukophryene, meaning "White Eyebrows." This cult appeared in Magnesia around 221 BCE, following a reading from the oracle of Apollo at Delphi, and was linked with the institution of a series of games in honor of the goddess, for worshippers dwelling in Asia, with a gold crown as the prize. The proclamation of the new games also requested that the town should be recognised as sacred and inviolable. This was completely ignored at first, but seems to have met with some success at a second attempt about 12 years later. The coin was struck sometime after 190 BCE.

The reverse of a provincial coin of Augustus showing Artemis riding a bull The reverse of a provincial coin of Augustus showing Artemis riding a bull.
The reverse of a bronze coin of Anazarbus, showing a bust of a local goddess equivalent to Artemis The reverse of a bronze coin of Anazarbus showing a bust of a local goddess equivalent to Artemis.

Here are two rather different representations of Artemis. On the far right, on a coin from Amphipolis, in Macedonia, Artemis Tauropolis rides a bull, her garment flying above her head. This coin is actually from Augustus' time, but the image predates him.

A matronly figure carrying a torch is likely to be Demeter (identified with Ceres by the Romans), who searched for her daughter in the underworld. The coin of Anazarbus in Cilicia, on the near right, is a bit ambiguous. It shows either Demeter, or a local deity known as Artemis Perasia. She is accompanied by a lit torch, probably a symbol of her role as bringer of light. The local deity was archaic in origin, and this image wears a headdress of an obscure type which is probably local and traditional; but this is not the image of a cult statue and is more in the Hellenistic style.

Unlike most of these coins, this one can be dated precisely because the makers usefully included the date in a known format: ΓΛP (GAR), year 133 of the city era, which corresponds to 114-115 CE.

The obverse of a bronze coin of Syracuse showing the head of Artemis with her quiver behind her shoulder The obverse of a bronze coin of Syracuse showing the head of Artemis with her quiver behind her shoulder.

Hellenistic Artemis

The cult of the Lady of Ephesus may have been active from before 1000 BCE, and it lasted up to 401 CE, when the temple was destroyed for the last time by St Paul Chrysostom. During this time, the Hellenistic Artemis became firmly established.

This bronze from Syracuse, 317-289 BCE, is a very Hellenic interpretation of Artemis compared with the older cult figures. The image of a beautiful yet somehow remote woman seems very romantic to us and has lost all connection with the wooden cult images of the ancestors. You can just see the huntress's arrow case behind her shoulder. The legend, ΣΩTEIPA, means "saviour."

Roman Republican Diana

The reverse of a replica of a Republican denarius with a cult image of Diana The reverse of a replica of a Republican denarius with a cult image of Diana.

The Roman cult of Diana was also of ancient origin, even from the viewpoint of the Roman empire. A sanctuary to Diana was established on the Aventine Hill early in the 6th century BCE by the sixth king of Rome, Servius Tullius. It was created for use by the early Roman kingdom's Latin allies, and was intended to regulate Rome's relations with them and maintain its dominance. But at that time, the Aventine was outside the pomerium (the formal and ritual city boundary), and so despite being deep-rooted and well established, the cult of Diana never became officially "Roman."

There were other Roman temples to Diana. For example, there are inscriptions in Rome mentioning a temple of Diana Planciana. This may refer to the name of the temple's founder. There was also an annual festival, the Nemoralia or Festival of Torches, which celebrated her role as bringer of light.

A silver denarius of C Postumius TA showing Diana and her hunting dog. A silver denarius of C Postumius TA showing Diana and her hunting dog.

Even Roman republican coins could show cult statue images, and on the left is one. Actually, this coin is, I am afraid, only a replica in base metal of a silver denarius from 48 BCE. It shows Diana grasping a stag by the horns, with a spear in her other hand. Deer were sacred to Diana. The stiff, upright posture of this figure is reminiscent of the Ephesian Artemis.

The reverse of a silver denarius of P. Clodius M. f. Turrinus showing Diana as lightbringer and huntress. The reverse of a silver denarius of P. Clodius M. f. Turrinus showing Diana as lightbringer and huntress.

On the right, on a coin from 74 BCE, Diana is shown as young woman with a simple and practical hairstyle and carrying her bow and her arrow case. On the reverse is her hunting dog and spear.

This coin type commemorates prayers at the shrine of Diana in 496 BCE, prior to the battle of Lake Regillus, when one of the consuls was an ancestor of the moneyer.

The bow is a compound type, laminated of horn and sinew. The projections at the end are probably to fix the bowstring. The waterproof arrow case seems to have been a standard design, judging from many different coins of this general period – for example, the coin of Perge at the top of this page.

On this later coin on the left, from 42 BCE, Diana is shown both as huntress, and as bringer of light. Her two torches are clear, and above her shoulder you can see her bow and arrow case. Later, on coins of the Empire, these two attributes were normally kept separate.

Although this is not really a very different representation from the earlier cult images, Diana's stance, with bent knee, has a fluidity that makes her look much less like a statue.

Diana in the Empire

The reverse of an antoninianus of Gallienus showing Diana with bow and hound The reverse of an antoninianus of Gallienus showing Diana with bow and hound.
The reverse of an antoninianus of Claudius II Gothicis showing Diana with bow and stag The reverse of an antoninianus of Claudius II Gothicis showing Diana with bow and stag.
The reverse of a bronze coin of Severus Alexander from Deultum showing Artemis with bow and hound The reverse of a bronze coin of Severus Alexander from Deultum showing Artemis with bow and hound.

Diana with bow and hound can be seen on the far left coin, an antoninianus of Gallienus struck in Rome during the middle Empire, 338 years later than the coin of C Postumius TA. The strike is a bit flat, but you can see her recurved bow and the hound's long ears. She is also holding a spear, point down. The bow is still the small compound type, more powerful than you might expect in relation to its size, but I see no arrow case on this coin.

The reverse of a denarius of Hadrian showing Diana with bow and arrow The reverse of a denarius of Hadrian showing Diana with bow and arrow.

You can't see the arrow-case on the middle coin, either, but its presence can be deduced. On this rather nice antoninianus of Claudius II Gothicus, Diana is reaching into it for an arrow, perhaps to shoot the stag you can see in front of her.

The right-hand coin of those three is an eastern provincial coin of Severus Alexander from Thrace, so although this is the Roman Diana she would have been called Artemis.

The composition is the same as on the roman bronze to its left, and in fact this coin was struck at a Roman colony, but here the creature at her feet is her hunting hound, racing forward to the prey. The quiver and reaching fingers are quite clear here.

There is certainly an arrow on the denarius of Hadrian to the right – Diana is holding it in her right hand, while her bow is in her left. Despite these potent symbols, this pose seems more decorative than active.

Many images of Diana on coins of the Roman Empire showed her as the bringer of light. On the denarius of Julia Domna below on the far left, she is wielding her long torch.

The reverse of a denarius of Julia Domna showing Diana carrying a lighted torch The reverse of a denarius of Julia Domna showing Diana carrying a lighted torch.
The reverse of a denarius of Julia Domna showing Diana as a moon goddess carrying a lighted torch The reverse of a denarius of Julia Domna showing Diana as a moon goddess carrying a lighted torch.
The reverse of an antoninianus of Gallienus showing Diana as a moon goddess carrying a lighted torch The reverse of an antoninianus of Gallienus showing Diana as a moon goddess carrying a lighted torch.

Diana's torch is often seen to be made up of several sections, which are visible to differing degrees on different coins. The end is either cone-shaped or has a round flat plate from which the flame rises.

In the middle is another Julia Domna denarius. Diana's absorption of the properties of Luna, the moon goddess, is demonstrated by the large lunar crescent on her shoulders. Apart from this, she has the same torch and is in the same light-bringing stance as the last coin.

To the right of that coin is a later antoninianus of Gallienus, on which the image differs only in that the crescent is smaller and is used as a headdress. The legend says that this is Luna, but the image is of Diana and is usually documented as such. It would seem that the two are being treated as interchangeable.

The reverse of an antoninianus of Postumus showing Diana carrying a lighted torch The reverse of an antoninianus of Postumus showing Diana carrying a lighted torch.
The reverse of a denarius of Gordian III showing Diana carrying a lighted torch The reverse of a denarius of Gordian III showing Diana carrying a lighted torch.

On the right are two quite different interpretations of what is essentially the same Diana. The near right is a denarius of Gordian III from 240 CE. This pleasant Roman Diana poses gracefully in flowing robes. To her right is a Diana from the breakaway Gaulish "Roman" empire, in the 260s CE. She is a lively and quite barbarous image, with unusual spikes of hair.

Unusually for the light-bringer, she has her quiver at her shoulder, and in fact she looks as though she has just come from a hunt, wearing a short, practical skirt and boots, with satchels for game around her waist. Her torch is built like a spear shaft, in one piece with a knob at the end. The bend in the middle is probably just to make it fit into the composition. Diana has one finger actually touching the base of the flame; but this extended forefinger was the normal way for these Gaulish coins to show a high grip on a spear or sceptre, and there is probably no other meaning than that behind the overheated finger.

The skirt looks quite stiff, unlike the flowing garments of the other Dianas, and more like the skirts sometimes worn by Virtus. So, the end result is a combination of Diana the light-bringer and Diana the huntress, with the addition of some Gaulish stylistic elements.

The reverse of an antoninianus of Gallienus showing a stag The reverse of an antoninianus of Gallienus showing a stag.
The reverse of an antoninianus of Gallienus showing a doe The reverse of an antoninianus of Gallienus showing a doe.

Other imagery

Gallienus issued a whole series of coins, in his wife Salonina's name as well as his own, asking protection from various deities. Diana was among them, and her coins showed deer, her sacred animal, like the stag or the big-eared doe on these billon antoniniani.

The legend on these coins is DIANAE CONS AVG, "To Diana, Preserver of the Emperor". This is more or less equivalent to the British national anthem's "God save the Queen," though Gallienus had a more urgent need for divine aid.


The content of this page was last updated on 18 February 2010

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