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Let's go on safari!


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Hello everyone!

Recently, I came back from a safari in Zimbabwe and South Africa. While there, I saw and photographed the big 5, but I also decided to build a mini-collection of ancient coins with the same. Below are my results and some photos I took from the trip. Please post your photos of the big five or of other safari animals!

For those interested in the full set of photos from the trip, you can view them here.


On the surface, this is one of the easiest ancients to pick up. Lots of ancients have elephants, because they were fascinated by them. The Seleukids in particular made a habit of it, and I have several coins with elephants. My trip made me wonder, though, whether anyone included an African elephant on a coin. With a little research, I learned that they did - and that I already had one! It's interesting that Julius Caesar depicted an African elephant here. I'm sure it was deliberate. Note that this was I believe the very first ancient I photographed and needs to be redone. It looks great in hand.



Julius Caesar AR Denarius.
Military mint travelling with Caesar, 49-48 BC.
Elephant advancing to right, trampling on serpent; CAESAR in exergue / Emblems of the pontificate: simpulum, aspergillum, securis (surmounted by wolf's head), and apex. Crawford 443/1; CRI 9; BMCRR Gaul 27-30; RSC 49. 3.26g, 20mm, 2h.
Ex Roma


African Buffalo

I had to cheat a bit here, because I suspect no ancient coin actually depicts an African buffalo. Even during ancient times their range was sub-saharan, so they would have been a very exotic animal. While their mean disposition would have made them stars in the Coliseum, it also would have made it nearly impossible to transport them. (Yes, they did bring rhinos, but the white rhino is relatively docile) It's also possible that, after all that effort, the Romans wouldn't have been so impressed - since they resemble a large bull even though the two aren't related at all.

Therefore, for this coin I just chose one with a bull. I picked a bull riding a dolphin from Byzantion, since if I'm going to cheat, I might as well make it completely ridiculous.



Thrace, Byzantion
AR Siglos 340-320 BCE
Bull standing left on a dolphin, monogram of Byzantion above. Incuse wind-sail pattern.
SNG Cop 475-477
Ex Aegean Numismatics



There were notable appearances of rhinos during Roman times, and they must have been a completely fantastic creature to them back then. They're still incredible to watch. White rhinos are skittish but docile and can actually be viewed on foot (which we did). Black rhinos are terrorists. I only saw white rhinos on this trip, though I have photos of black rhinos from previous safaris.

So amazing was the rhino to the Romans, that Domitian minted these quadrans to commemorate the fact that he brought them one. Even back then they were sub-saharan, so it was impressive to move such a large animal so far. Recent hunting for trophies and other stupid reasons has nearly annihilated both species, but they were once extremely common in their range.



Domitian, Quadrans/Rhinoceros
16.92mm, 1.75g 84-85 CE
Obverse: Rhinoceros walking left
Reverse: IMP DOMIT AVG GERM around S C
RIC II 435; RIC II² 250 Rome
Ex Marc Breitsprecher



Cheetahs are probably my favorite African mammal (sadly, we didn't see any this trip, though I have photos from previous ones). After that, I love leopards. They're just such gorgeous animals to watch. This particular one dragged a warthog up a tree and was chowing down. I photographed more leopards on this trip than on any other, and most days in the Sabi Sands we saw several.

On ancient coins, they're usually labeled as 'panthers'. This could mean a cheetah, too, but even back then they were much rarer. Leopards were very familiar back then, as they roamed across Asia and northern Africa, though have been extirpated from most of that range since. They're well-known for thriving in close contact with humans. A number of coins depict them, but I chose this one from Gallienus since the pattern was well-defined.



Gallienus, sole Reign
19.77mm 3.54g 260-268 CE
Obverse: GALLIENVS AVG, radiate head right
Reverse: LIBERONS AVG, panther walking left, B in exergue
RIC Vi 574 Siscia
Ex Marc Breitsprecher



No animal conjures images of a safari more than the lion. Unfortunately, they can be among the most boring to watch, since they sleep most of the day. The ancient Greeks were familiar with lions, since they lived in Greece itself even into Roman times. They're depicted perhaps on more coins than any other animal, so I had to pick from several. I chose this portrait from a coin from Samaria, since I love the full frontal look. It's also more of a natural pose, and it seems an uncommon depiction.

I took a number of photos of lions. Some of my favorites were from when I photographed them taking down and eating a kudu, but some find those images disturbing, so I won't post them. Instead, I'll post these two that were part of a group of siblings that had struck out on their own.



SAMARIA, Samarian-signed Series
Circa 375-333 BCE
AR Obol 8.5mm, 0.63 g, 7h
Forepart of lion crouching right, head facing / Bearded head of male left; ŠMRY[N] (in Aramaic) to right.
Meshorer & Qedar 83; Sofaer 59

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14 minutes ago, Kaleun96 said:

Great photos! What lenses do you take on safari? Do you use a teleconverter for the telephoto as well?

Thanks! I used two R5 cameras on safari. On one I had an EF 600/4 II with a 1.4x converter. On the other I had an RF 100-500. The two bodies are necessary because there's no time to switch a lens in the field.

I also had an RF 15-35/2.8 and an RF 100 macro that I occasionally used.

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Sestertius of Otacila Severa 248 AD Obv Bust right draped and diademed Rv Hippopotamus advancing right mouth agape  RIC 200 16.54 grms 25 mm Photo by W. Hansenoctseveras3.jpeg.36d65734b35156f2bf12a6306ba82174.jpegThis coin is part of the Millennial cerebrations surrounding the 1000 anniversary of the founding of Rome. This coin does feature one of the more dangerous safari animals yet perhaps the least intimidating, that is until you become a person of interest to this beast. There is one mystery associated with this coin. Why is the hippopotamus paired with Otacilla? Is this a rare case of "Does this coin make me look fat?"😉

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Awesome photos @kirispupis!  I was fortunate enough to go on a safari to Tanzania in 2015 and had a great time.  My photos were not quite as good as yours, but with such great subject matter it's hard not to get at least a few good shots.  Here's a mother elephant providing shade for her baby:


A close-up shot of a giraffe.  If you look closely, you can see a Red-billed Oxpecker on the horns.  Oxpeckers are found on most of the larger mammal species, and they provide a service by keeping them free of parasitic insects.



As you might have guessed from the above, I'm a birder, so I paid extra attention to the birds on the safari, and ended up spotting 183 species total.  One of the more common and colorful is the Lilac-breasted Roller:


And there are some truly spectacular birds, like this Saddle-billed Stork:


Of course Tanzania are very proud of their wildlife, and feature it on both their coins and paper money:




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Those are amazing photos, @kirispupis! I envy you. I'm afraid that the largest animal I've ever photographed, outside of a zoo, is probably my cat.  They say that there are now coyotes in upper Manhattan where I live, but I've never seen one. Needless to say, I've never been on a safari!

I have recently posted in other threads a lot of my ancient coins depicting lions, elephants, hippos, rhinos, etc. So I'll limit myself here to posting my two coins most clearly depicting leopards, an identification made obvious by their visible spots -- no matter how many times the sources simply call them "panthers," a colloquial term for an animal which doesn't actually exist as a separate species. I'll include the footnote to one of my write-ups elaborating on the identification.

Lydia, Philadelphia, AE 17, Late 2nd/Early 1st Centuries BCE, Hermippos, son of Hermogenes, archiereus [magistrate]. Obv. Head of young Dionysos right, wearing ivy-wreath and band across forehead, [Φ]ΙΛΑΔΕΛΦΕ[ΩΝ] vertically behind / Rev. Spotted pantheress [leopard] walking left, with head turned back to right, cradling thyrsos bound with fillet (ribbon) against left shoulder, right foreleg raised; ΑΡΧΙΕΡ-ΕΥΣ above, ΕΡΜΙΠΠΟΣ in exergue. Seaby II 4720 [Sear, D., Greek Coins and their Values, Vol. II, Asia & Africa (Seaby 1979), at p. 430 (ill.)]; BMC 22 Lydia 16 [Head, B.V. A Catalogue of Greek Coins in the British Museum, Lydia (London 1901) at p. 189]; SNG Von Aulock II 3057 [Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, Deutschland, Sammlung Hans Von Aulock, Vol. 2: Caria, Lydia, Phrygia, Lycia, Pamphylia  (Berlin 1962)]; SNG Copenhagen 340 [Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, Copenhagen, The Royal Collection of Coins and Medals, Danish National Museum, Part 27, Lydia Part 1 (Copenhagen 1947)]; Imhoof-Blumer 8 [Imhoof-Blumer, Friedrich, Lydische Stadtmünzen, neue Untersuchungen (Leipzig 1897) at pp. 114-115]; Mionnet IV No. 536 [Mionnet, Théodore E., Description de Médailles antiques grecques et romaines, Vol. IV, Lydie (Paris 1809) at p. 98]. 17 mm., 5.02 g.  [With old collector’s envelope.] [Footnote omitted.]


Roman Republic/Imperatorial Period, C. Vibius Varus, AR Denarius, 42 BCE, Rome Mint. Obv. Head of Bacchus (or Liber) right, wearing earring and wreath of ivy and grapes / Rev. Spotted panther [leopard]* springing left towards garlanded altar on top of which lies a bearded mask of Silenus or Pan, and against which leans a thyrsus with fillet (ribbon); C • VIBIVS in exergue, VARVS upwards to right. Crawford 494/36, RSC I Vibia 24, Sear RCV I 496, Sear Roman Imperators 192 (ill. p. 116), Sydenham 1138, BMCRR 4295. 17 mm., 3.60 g.  Purchased from Edward J. Waddell, Ltd., Nov. 2020; ex Numismatica Ars Classica NAC AG, Auction 83, May 20, 2015, Lot 83; ex Frank Sternberg Auction 17, Zurich, May 1986, Lot 519.  [Footnotes omitted execpt for fn. re identification of "panther" as leopard.]


*There is little doubt that the big cats generally referred to as “panthers” in ancient coin reference works are actually leopards (or, occasionally, cheetahs), particularly when their spots are visible, as on this coin. There is, of course no such separate species as a panther; even a black panther is simply a leopard (or, in the Western Hemisphere, a jaguar or cougar) with black fur obscuring the spots. The classical world was well aware that pantherae usually had spots. See the many ancient mosaics and other works of art depicting Dionysos/Bacchus with a leopard, such as this mosaic from the House of the Masks in Delos, from ca. 100 BCE, in the Archaeological Museum of Delos:



See https://www.pinterest.dk/pin/441423200974714028/; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosaics_of_Delos#House_of_the_Masks.

See also the following passage from Pliny the Elder’s Natural History at 8.23, concerning the spots on the panthera


“The spots of the panther are like small eyes, upon a white ground. It is said that all quadrupeds are attracted in a most wonderful manner by their odour, while they are terrified by the fierceness of their aspect; for which reason the creature conceals its head, and then seizes upon the animals that are attracted to it by the sweetness of the odour. It is said by some, that the panther has, on the shoulder, a spot which bears the form of the moon; and that, like it, it regularly increases to full, and then diminishes to a crescent. At present, we apply the general names of varia and pardus (which last belongs to the males), to all the numerous species of this animal, which is very common in Africa and Syria.” 

For a detailed discussion of this passage in Pliny, and the terms panthera and pardus in general as used in the classical world, see the dissertation by Benjamin Moser of the University of Western Ontario, entitled The Ethnozoological Tradition: Identifying Exotic Animals in Pliny's Natural History (available at https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2566&context=etd), Chapter 3.1 at pp. 86-96, “Identifcation of the Panthera and Pardus.” (Moser argues, among other things, that while the term pardus -- from which the word leopard derives, after being combined with “leo” -- was used in the ancient world in Pliny’s time to refer only to male pantherae,  the term varia “was not reserved for females but [was] just another word to describe the panthera which arose from the spotted nature of these cats.”)



Edited by DonnaML
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Roman Republic. Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius. 81 BC. AR Denarius (17mm, 3.31g, 1h). Spanish mint. Obv: Diademed head of Pietas right; stork before. Rev: Elephant advancing left; [Q.]C.M.P.I, in exergue. Ref: Crawford 374/1; Sydenham 750; Caecilia 43. Lightly toned Very Fine. Ex CNG eAuction 80 (7 Jan 2004), Lot 93.


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Here's a lion on a fun little provincial from Philippopolis.

Septimius Severus, AD 193-211.
Roman Provincial Æ (diassarion?) 17.7 mm; 4.06 g.
Thrace, Philippopolis.
Obv: ΑV Κ Λ CΕVΗΡΟC, laureate and draped bust right.
Rev: ΦΙΛΙΠΠΟΠΟΛΕΙΤ-ΩΝ, lion walking left; ox's head before.
Refs: Moushmov 5274 var. (lion walking right); Varbanov 1305.

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