Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Elephants on Ancient Coinage

Karshapana, or “punch-marked silver” coinage of India, dates from 600 BCE to ca. 300
Animals that cannot be domesticated, elephants have a long history of interaction with humans. The Indus Valley civilization used captive Asian elephants as early as 2000 BCE for logging, transportation and ceremonial processions. India provides the earliest appearance of elephants on coins.

A rare commemorative silver dekadrachm, Alexander the Great, lance in hand, charges at an elephant. This may have been an actual event during the Battle of the Hydaspes (326 BCE). Horses are spooked by the smell and sound of elephants unless trained.

Alexander III, The Great (336-323 B.C.), Silver Dekadrachm of 5 Shekels, 40.08g. Minted at Babylon, struck c. 327 B.C. $ 300,000
African elephants appear on the reverse of rare Carthaginian coins struck in Spain from about 220 to 206 BCE, probably to pay mercenaries.

The best-known elephant images on coins appears on a massive issue of Roman denarii in the name of Julius Caesar. Based on the multitude of different dies, the size of this issue is estimated at 22.5 million.
In 248 CE, Rome observed it's 1000th anniversary of its foundation. Emperor Philip I (“the Arab”) celebrated with elaborate gladiatorial games, fighting exotic animals brought from every corner of the empire. These were commemorated on his coins, which survive in large numbers.