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XXI

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Elephant

Representations of elephants occur frequently on Roman coins. Romans used elephants in war, in triumphs, in funerals, and in the amphitheater. For Romans, the elephant was a symbol for Africa, for eternity, and for honor.

Also see:
Cuirassed Elephant


DICTIONARY OF ROMAN IMPERIAL COINS








Please add updates or make corrections to the NumisWiki text version as appropriate

Elephant. (Elephantus). -- Representations of elephants frequently occur on Roman coins. The elephant, the elephant head, and sometimes the proboscis only of an Elephant, are symbols of Africa. The elephant scalp and trunk are worn by the female personification of Africa as a headdress

Libya was regarded as Elephantorum nutrix (nurse elephant).

On denarii of the Caecilia gens, elephants walking, both singly and in a biga are typified to attest victories gained by the Metelli, in Sicily in 250 and appear in the center of a shield on other coins of the same family, allusive to the successes of its celebrated members over the Macedonians in 148 B.C. -- See pp. 149, 150, 151.

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.

An elephant trampling a Celtic carnyx (war trumpet) is the well-know type on the first denarius type issued in the name of Julius Caesar. (The carnyx was traditionally but incorrectly identified as a snake.)


Independent of its uses in war and the amphitheater, the elephant was a symbol of honor. According to Suetonius (in Nerone, chap. 2), Cn. Domitius, the ancestor of Nero, after his victory, during his consulate over the Allobroges, was carried through the province on an elephant, preceded by a large body of troops, as in the solemnity of a triumph. Cornuficius, on account of having carried his soldiers off safely in Sicily, assumed such airs, that whenever he dined out at Rome, he used to ride home on an elephant. Julius Caesar himself, when his military toils were over, ascended the Capitol illuminated by forty elephants, bearing torches on either side of him. Lastly, there was the use of elephants to draw the imperial thensae at funerals, or the chariots of the Caesars, either in triumph or in their consular processions.

Elephants are represented on coins as an emblem of Eternity, because the ancients believed elephants lived two or even three hundred years. Because of the longevity of the elephant (exceeding, as Pliny, quoting Aristotle says, that of all other animals), they were employed in the funeral processions of emperors and empresses and on the occasion of their apotheosis.

On consecration medals, the elephant appears either singly, with or without a driver, or in a biga or quadriga pulling a vehicle on which an image of the deceased is attached. On a sestertius struck by order of the Senate in honor of Faustina Senior's consecration, she is figured sitting on a canopied biga of elephants, with the accompanying legend, AETERNITAS.


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