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Dolphin





Dolphin (Delphinus). - The representation of this fish offers itself on ancient coins in more than one fashion; sometimes in a quiet and fixed position, at others in a state of movement.  The dolphin was consecrated to Apollo, who, according to Homer, had transformed himself into one.  Hence we see a Delphic tripod with a dolphin upon it, on a silver coin of Vitellius, that emperor having, as the inscription teaches us, been one of the XV. viri appointed to the care of sacrificial ceremonies.  A similar type appears on a denarius of Titus, but not with the same legend. -- See XV VIR. SACRis FACiundis.

     The Dolphin was also sacred to Neptune, the deity who presided over the sea and affairs of navigation; hence we find the dolphin in the hand of that god, on coins of Agrippa, Auugustus, Caligula, Vespasion, Hadrian, and other Roman Emperors.

     The Dolphin was likewise sacred to Venus.  On early Roman money the figure of a dolphin occurs on the triens, the quadrans, and sextans.  Thus the dolphin, with four globules under it, is the mark of the triens.

     The Dolphin, with Cupid on its back, appears on coins of the Cordia and Lucretia families; and, bearing Melicerta, is frequently repeated on the colonial mintages of Corinth.

     The Dolphin and an eagle, with a sceptre etween them, form the reverse of a denarius of the Terentia gens, struck in honour of Pompey the Great, with legend MAGN. PRO. COS. -- In this instance, the sceptre indicates the supreme power, and undivided command; the fish referring the sea, and the bird to the land.  -- See Eagle.

     The Dolphin, entwined round an anchor, was at one time a symbol of Augustus.  It is also seen on coins struck by princes of the Flavia family, sons of Vespasian.

     In Morel. Thesaur. Impp. Rom. T. iii. TAB. vi. No. 64, there is an engraving of this type, from gold of Titus (TR. P. IX. IMP; XV. COS. VIII.) also one from silver of the same emperor, and with the legend of reverse (TAB. miii. No. 84).  Moreover, amongst the silver coinage of Domitian, engraved in the same standard work, we find two examples of the dolphin and anchor (COS. VII. DESIGN. VIII.)  see T. iii. TAB. viii. Nos. 36 and 39.  The subjoined cut is from a first brass of Domitian, having on its obverse--

     IMPerator CAESar DIVIVESPasiani Filius DOMITIANus AVGustus Pontifex Maximus.  Laurcated head of Domitian the right.

 

The legend is continued on the revese, viz IMperator VIIII. TR. P. COnSul VIII.  Below, Senatus Consulto.  The type -- Delphinus auchorae implicitus.

     [The cast, after which this cut is engraved, was purchased of Mr. Doubleday.  The impression of both obverse and reverse vouch for the original being in good condition.  And although in none of the numismatic books, either by old or modern writers, to which the compiler has access, does this type appear as a brass coin, yet there seems to be no reason whatever to doubt the authenticity of the specimen in question.  This not inelegant device has, down to our own times, been constantly adopted as a naval emblem; and to say nothing as to the confirmation of the fish, it presents, doubtless, a correct delineation of the Roman ship anchor].



...
The emblem of a dolphin wrapped around an anchor appears on the reverse of silver denarii produced by the Rome mint during the reigns of the Flavian emperors Titus and Domitian between AD 79 and the early 80s. (So far as I am aware, it does not appear on the coins of Augustus, pace the Dictionary of Roman Coins text above [though there is an Augustus denarius with the reverse showing a dolphin wrapped around a trident [RPC 4536] -- and beware of a modern forgery with a Hadrian obverse and a Titus dolphin-and-anchor reverse,  illustrated on the forumancientcoins.com fakes pages).

Domitian silver denarius AD 81 Rome mint Cohen 63 (from Doug Smith's website)

Dolphin-and-anchor denarii seem to be at best of only moderate interest to most collectors of Roman coins, and to writers on the subject. To students of the history of books and printing, however, the story is a quite different one: Aldus Manutius began using the Flavian dolphin-and-anchor emblem on his title pages beginning in about 1501. Aldus was the greatest of all Venetian printer/publishers, and certainly the best-known one; his convenient editions of the Greek and Latin classics had widespread distribution throughout Europe during the first half of the c16. The dolphin and anchor became the best known of all printers' devices, and it remains so to this day. It was used by the English publisher William Pickering in the first half of the c19, and by the American publisher Doubleday  throughout the c20. 

Erasmus discusses Aldus's adoption of the dolphin and anchor motif in the 1528 edition of his Adagia [i.e. Adages]:

" From the ancient coins minted by Vespasian we can easily gather that this same proverb [festina lente] pleased him, too. Aldus Manutius showed me a specimen, a silver piece of old and clearly Roman workmanship, which he said was sent to him as a gift by the Venetian nobleman Pietro Bembo, who honored the youthful Aldus as an example of the foremost students and diligent investigators of literary antiquities in his time. The impression stamped on the coin was like this. On the obverse was the portrait of Vespasian [i.e. Titus] ]with his titles; on the reverse was a dolphin curving around and embracing the shank of an anchor." [Otto Steinmayer's translation]



View whole page from the Dictionary Of Roman Coins