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The Liber Pater Coins of Gallienus ' "Zoo"

By Jim Phelps

The ram, the dolphin, the serpent, the tiger, the lion, the lynx, the panther, the ox, the goat and the ass are sacred to Liber Pater. Of these, only one seems to show up on the coins: the panther, according to common attribution. One myth tells of how Liber (or the Greek Dionysus or Bacchus) was captured by pirates who mistakenly thought he was the son of a rich king and intended to ransom him. He took the form of a panther, and the pirates leapt overboard and were turned into dolphins.


The reverse of a coin of Septimius Severus showing Liber Pater with a panther (or tiger?)

Looking closer at some of Gallienus ' panther coins can bring a different conclusion, however. There appear to be two distinct varieties. Some of the cats appear very sleek and compactly built and are unmarked, following the "Panther" body type. Another variety shows a nursing female cat of a more bulky build, and on well preserved examples sometimes a "ruff" of fur at the neck. This type also shows vertical stripes along the side of the cat. Even more worn coins sometimes show hints of the striping, indicating it wasn 't just an engravers error, but seems to have been a deliberate part of the design.

Census Information

TypeLegendObverseCunetio Gbl
Tigress walking leftGALLIENVS AVGhead198123
Tigress walking leftGALLIENVS AVGcuir. bust511
Tigress walking leftIMP GALLIENVS AVGhead32
Tigress walking rightGALLIENVS AVGhead

All of the Liber Pater coins in the Cunetio Hoard were described as the tigress type, while almost every other reference calls them panthers. If we try to separate the two types they seem equally common, and make up a very popular type in the Zoo series.


This type was minted in both Rome and Siscia. Rather uncharacteristically, RIC lumps almost all Rome-mint varieties (obverse and reverse) of the tigress coins together under the same number: RIC-230. Therefore, I do not recommend RIC for identification purposes for these particular coins, though otherwise it is outstanding.

Obv: GALLIENVSAVG - Head right with radiate crown.
Rev: LIBERO.P.CONSAVG - Tigress walking left. B in exergue.
Though referred to as a panther, look close - it has stripes! It also appears to be a nursing female. Also, note the dots in the reverse legend on many of the "Tigress" types.
RIC V 230, Van Meter 153, SRCV 2978, RSC IV 586, Cunetio 1341, Gbl MIR 713b (123 examples)

Obv: GALLIENVSAVG - Head right with radiate crown.
Rev: LIBEROPCONSAVG - Panther walking left. B in exergue.
RIC V 230, Van Meter 153, SRCV 2978, RSC IV 586, Cunetio 1341

Obv: GALLIENVSAVG - Head right with radiate crown.
Rev: LIBERO.P.CONSAVG - Panther walking left. B in exergue.
Odd posture for the panther, plus dots in the reverse legend.
RIC V 230, Van Meter 153, SRCV 2978, RSC IV 586, Cunetio 1341, Gbl MIR 713b

Obv: GALLIENVSAVG - Head right with radiate crown.
Rev: LIBEROPCONSAVG - Tigress walking left. Retrograde B in exergue.
A very worn example, but the reversed "B" officina mark is quite clear.
RIC V 230, Van Meter 153, SRCV 2978, RSC IV 586, Cunetio 1341, Gbl MIR 713b

Obv: [GALLI]ENVSAVG - Marvelously detailed cuirassed bust right, viewed from behind, with radiate crown.
Rev: LIBERO.P.CONSAVG - Tigress walking left. B in exergue.
Very bulky tigress with neck ruff on the reverse, but the real attention-grabber is the obverse - A very strong, confident portrait with well-detailed cuirassed bust, viewed slightly from behind. This type of bust was extremely rare in the Cunetio Treasure for the "Zoo" series, only appearing on a single coin from the XII workshop.
RIC V 230, Van Meter ---, SRCV -, RSC IV 590a(sim), Cunetio -, Gbl MIR 713w (same dies as in the plate. 5 examples)

Obv: GALLIENVSAVG - Head right with radiate crown.
Rev: LIBEROP.C.ONSAVG - Tigress/panther walking left. B in exergue.
An interesting error. Note that on many of the other coins, the "P" in the reverse legend is separated from the rest of the legend by dots. In this example, the engraver put the dots in the wrong place, around the "C". The coins do not share dies either on the obverse or reverse, but the style of the lettering is remarkably close, perhaps being cut by the same hand. Note especially the "S" 's on each side of each coin.
RIC V 230, Van Meter 153, SRCV 2978, RSC IV 586, Cunetio 1341, Gbl MIR 713b

Obv: GALLIE[NVSAVG] - Head right with radiate crown.
Rev: LIBERO.P.CONSAVG - Tigress/panther walking left. Retrograde B in exergue.
A barbaric copy of a popular type. Both front and back are somewhat crude, yet are easily recognizable. The designs seem to have been stamped into the die with a punch, leaving the tigress with an almost spotted look, like a leopard! Notice also the zig-zag border line on the reverse.
Prototype: RIC V 230, Van Meter 153, SRCV 2978, RSC IV 586, Cunetio 1341, Gbl MIR 713b

Obv: [GALLIEN]VSAVG - Head right with radiate crown.
Rev: APOLLINICONSAVG - Tigress walking left. Hints of the officina mark, probably a B, in exergue.
A fascinating and enlightening error. The reverse legend is mismatched from the animal. The animal type is clear and deliberate, yet seems unlike other tigresses. Notice the very well-defined stripes. Let 's imagine a possible scenario - The beta workshop is in need of some extra help. They borrow a worker from the delta workshop, who is used to cutting gryphons into the coin dies. The animals aren 't that different in appearance, and perhaps he even started engraving the wing before catching himself! (Look at the enlargement - see the diagonal "scratch" across the upper field?) He is unused to engraving the tigress and exagerates the stripes a bit, and also elongates the neck upwards (like the gryphons). He also forgets to change the legend he is so used to cutting, and the die reads with a dedication to Apollo rather than Liber Pater.
The frequency of the stripes on the "panthers" as well as their deliberateness on this coin shows without doubt that the tigress was an intentional type. I believe the tables can be turned on the "panther" - are all of the Liber Pater coins supposed to show a tigress, and some engravers were simply sloppy and presented a more plain, generic feline?
This error type is unrepresented either in the Cunetio Treasure or Gobl, making it a true rarity.
RIC V -, Van Meter -, SRCV -, RSC IV -, Cunetio -, Gbl MIR -

 Obv: [GALLIENV]SAVG - Draped bust left wearing a radiate crown.
Rev: LIBEROP[CON]SAVG - Panther walking left. B in exergue.
Unremarkable reverse with the sleeker "panther" type, but very unusual obverse - draped bust left. This type didn 't appear in the Cunetio hoard, but is found as type 713o in Gbl, using the same obverse and reverse dies as his example!
RIC V 230, Van Meter -, SRCV -, RSC IV 588, Cunetio -, Gbl MIR 713o (same dies as plate. 12 examples)

Obv: GALLIENVSAVG - Draped bust right viewed from behind, wearing a radiate crown.
Rev: LIBEROPCONSAVG - Panther walking left. B in exergue.
No example of this type is found in Gbl or in the Cunetio Treasure. Very rare with the draped bust.
RIC V -, Van Meter 153, SRCV -, RSC IV -, Cunetio -, Gbl MIR 713p (0 examples)

Coins of Gallienus ' Zoo
last modified: 7 Mar 2006
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