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Roman Republican Coin # 83: Diana in a biga of Stags (Crawford 222/1)


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I can never resist temptation when I see a new "biga or quadriga drawn by non-equine creature" type for sale -- pretty much my favorite kind of reverses on ancient coins! So here's another one. It's not in perfect condition by any means, but I find the reverse (and the toning) very attractive.

Roman Republic, Anonymous, AR Denarius 143 BCE. Obv. Head of Roma right, wearing winged helmet ornamented with stylized representation of gryphon’s head, and earring of pellets in form of bunch of grapes; behind, X [mark of value, 10 asses, issued before re-tariffing of denomination to 16 asses ca. 141 BCE] / Rev. Diana, with quiver slung on her shoulder, in biga of stags galloping right; holding torch in right hand and reins in left; below stags, a crescent moon; in exergue, ROMA. Crawford 222/1; RSC I Anonymous 101 (ill. p. 8); BMCRR I 895; Sear RCV I 98 (ill. p. 92); Yarrow p. 42 (ill. fig. 1.36) [Liv Mariah Yarrow, The Roman Republic to 49 BCE: Using Coins as Sources (2021)]; RBW Collection 946 (ill. p. 199). 18 mm., 4.13 gr. Purchased from cgb.fr., 13 Feb. 2023.*


*As Crawford notes, “the biga of stags and crescent are presumably present as the attributes of Diana.” Vol. I p. 260. See also BMCRR I p. 123 n. 3, referring to the crescent moon as “the symbol of Diana,” even though the crescent is associated  with Luna (the Greek Selene) as much as with Diana on Roman Republican coinage (see, e.g., Crawford 426/1 [Diana & crescent]; Crawford 480/26 [Luna & crescent]) -- including when it accompanies a goddess driving a biga,  for example on Crawford 303/1 (the denarius of M. Aquillius showing Luna in a biga with crescent above). As John Melville Jones notes in A Dictionary of Ancient Roman Coins (Seaby 1990), in the entry for “Diana” at p. 197, it “is sometimes impossible to make any clear distinction between this goddess and Luna.” See also Crawford Vol. II at pp. 720-721 and n. 6, discussing a series of denarii introduced in the early 2nd century BCE with reverses depicting a goddess in a biga (beginning with Crawford 133), for all of which he identifies the deity as Luna rather than Diana: "It is not possible to distinguish firmly between Luna and Diana; I adopt the designation Luna here without total conviction; but in the coinage of Julia Domna, where Luna and Diana are explicitly identified, Luna bears a crescent on her head, Diana does not."

On this coin, however, the presence of the quiver on the goddess’s back, along with the torch and the stags, should confirm that a representation of Diana was intended (see Jones, op. cit., re Diana Venatrix [“Huntress”] and Diana Lucifera [“Light-bearer”]). See Harlan, RRM I [Michael Harlan, Roman Republican Moneyers and their Coins, 81 BCE-64 BCE (2012)], Ch. 19 at p. 115: “The earliest appearance [of Diana driving a biga of stags] was an anonymous issue dated to about 143 [i.e., this type]. Although the deity in the biga holds a torch in her right hand rather than a bow, she is clearly identified as Diana by the quiver over her shoulder”; Harlan also cites the crescent moon as proof of the identification even though that could signify Luna as well. 

The most interesting aspect of this issue, apart from the attractive reverse design, is the very fact of its being anonymous. See Sear RCV I p. 92, pointing out that the “occurrence of an anonymous issue at this late date is exceptional and surprising.” Indeed, this type appears to be one of only two anonymous denarii issued after the early 150s BCE (not counting Crawford 262/1, universally ascribed to one of the Caecilii Metelli) – the other being Crawford 287/1, with Roma on the obverse and a reverse depicting Roma seated on pile of shields before wolf & twins with two birds above.

As long ago as 1852, the French numismatist and antiquarian Adrien Prévost de Longpérier published an article -- which I was able to find online, with some difficulty, so I could read what he said first-hand -- in which he listed a number of Republican denarii for which the design, in whole or in part, was a visual pun alluding to the moneyer’s name or family or a particular location. Referring to a denarius issued by L. Axsius L.F. Naso (Crawford 400/1a-b, RSC I Axia 1-2 [type dated to 71 BCE]), the article suggested that the reverse design, also depicting Diana in a biga of stags (a species of which was known in Latin as “axes”) was an allusion to the name of the Axia gens. See A. de Longpérier, “Interprétation du type figuré sur les deniers de la famille Hosidia” in Mémoires de la Société des Antiquaires de France, t. xxi (1852), at p. 357 (article reprinted in an 1883 collection of the author’s works, available at https://ia902705.us.archive.org/27/items/oeuvres01velagoog/oeuvres01velagoog.pdf; see p. 289). 

Here is an example of Crawford 400/1a from acsearch, sold by NAC in 2012 (not my coin):


In 1910, in BMCRR I p. 133 n. 3, Grueber cited Longpérier’s article in arguing with respect to my anonymous type (Crawford 222/BMCRR I 895) – even though it was issued many decades earlier than Crawford 400/1a-b and does not bear a moneyer’s name – that it is “very probable” that the similar design of Diana in a biga of stags on the anonymous type also constituted “a direct allusion to the name of the Axia gens.” See also BMCRR I 3348, pp. 409-410 n. 3 (making the same argument concerning the significance of the reverse of Crawford 400/1a-b). See RSC I Axia 1-2, p. 19 (“The stags [on Crawford 400/1a-b] (cervi axes) may be a punning allusion to the family name”). Yarrow illustrates Crawford 222/1 at p. 42 fig. 1.36, and notes the similar reverse design of Crawford 400/1a-b, but makes no reference to the axes/Axius theory for either type.

Crawford completely rejects the theory, with respect to both Crawford 222/1 (my type) and Crawford 400/1a-b. Thus, he states with respect to my anonymous type that “the recurrence of the type on no. 400/1a-b provides no adequate evidence for the attribution of this issue to a moneyer of the gens Axia” (Crawford Vol. I p. 260, citing a 1913 Kubitschek article as contra). And, even with respect to Crawford 400/1a-b, he asserts that “the axes attested by Pliny [citation omitted], natives of India, are of no conceivable relevance to the reverse type, despite the superficial similarity between their name and that of the moneyer” (Crawford Vol. I p. 412, citing the 1852 Longpérier article and an 1878 article by A. Klugmann as contra).

Unfortunately, Crawford provides no elaboration of the reasons – philological, historical, or otherwise – for his adamant rejection of any connection between “axes” and “Axius.” And I certainly don’t know whether “axes” was a sufficiently common or well-known term in Rome – either in 143 BCE or 71 BCE – for a kind of stag or male deer (for which I believe cervus was the general term) that such an allusion would have been widely recognized. Harlan, however, does elaborate on his reasoning in strongly agreeing with Crawford. In his chapter on Crawford 400/1a-b, he states:  “Longpérier interpreted the coin’s reverse design depicting Diana driving a biga of stags to be a punning allusion to the family name Axia, citing Pliny’s mention [in Naturalis Historia] of a strange animal found in India called axis, which had the hide of a fawn, but with more spots and whiter in color. This suggestion was frequently repeated in catalogs. Pliny, however, specifically said that the axis was sacred to Liber not Diana. Moreover, it is difficult to see how or why an Italian family would derive its name from an obscure and virtually unknown Indian animal. Crawford is surely right in saying the axis is ‘of no conceivable relevance to the reverse type.’” Harlan RRM I, pp. 114-115.  

If the obscure term for an Indian animal has no conceivable relevance to the reverse type on a named issue for which a member of the gens Axia is known to have been the moneyer, then it must be all the more irrelevant to my anonymous issue. A fortiori, as we lawyers like to say! Indeed, Harlan cites my anonymous issue, as well as the issue of C. Allius Bala from 92 BCE also depicting Diana in a biga of stags (Crawford 336/1b), in concluding that “these three similar appearances of Diana in a biga of stags by moneyers from three different families suggest that the type was more likely generic than a specific reference to the gens Axia.” Harlan RRM I, p. 115. Here's my example of Crawford 336/1b:


Thus, as intriguing as the Longpérier/Grueber theory may be, I have to agree with Crawford and Harlan that it seems highly unlikely. Sometimes Diana in a biga of stags is just Diana in a biga of stags. (To paraphrase Freud’s famous but entirely apocryphal remark.)

I know that there have been several threads with this theme lately, but please post any of your own ancient coins you want to that depict bigas or quadrigas drawn by non-equine creatures. Here are mine, in addition to my two stag bigas posted above (Crawford 222/1 and 336/1b):

Roman Republican:

Centaurs, M. Aurelius Cota (Cotta), Crawford 229/1b


Goats, C. Renius, Crawford 231/1


Elephants, C. Caecilius Metellus Caprarius, Crawford 269/1


Cupids, L. Julius L.f. Caesar, Crawford 320/1


Snakes, M. Volteius, Crawford 385/3


Lions, M. Volteius, Crawford 385/4


Provincial, Roman Alexandria:

Trajan, Drachm with Emperor in Quadriga of Elephants


Hadrian, Tetradrachm with Triptolemus in biga of snakes


Edited by DonnaML
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I got 2 this year, both also available in your collection 



and 320/1


This one arrived yesterday (this is my photo). Too bad the flan is very small but I prefer the missing lyre and exergue instead of Venus or Cupids outside the flan 

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Gorgeous new addition to your collection, @DonnaML! I like this reverse type, too, though I don't have a RR denarius of the type. I have a provincial bronze that is the size of an Imperial middle bronze.


Julia Mamaea, AD 222-235.
Roman provincial Æ 28.5 mm, 11.90 g, 5 h.
Ionia, Ephesus, AD 222-235.
Obv: IOVΛIA MAMAIA CЄB, draped bust, right, wearing stephane.
Rev: EΦЄCIΩN ΠΡΩTΩN ACIAC, Artemis driving biga of stags right, holding bow and drawing arrow from quiver.
Refs: RPC VI, 4975 (temporary); Karwiese 804; SNG von Aulock --; SNG Copenhagen --.
Notes: Ex-Plankenhorn Collection of Ionian Coins, ex-Naumann Auction 91, lot 927, 7 May, 2020.



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2 hours ago, Phil Davis said:

A rare and appealing variety, where Diana holds a torch in each hand:


Rare indeed: according to Crawford (Vol I p. 260), out of a total of 36 reverse dies for the type, only one shows Diana holding two torches. (And somehow managing to hold the reins as well!) Nobody has ventured a theory as to the reason for the two-torch variety. Perhaps an engraver simply decided to be creative on that day. In any case, it's a beautiful specimen.

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2 hours ago, jdmKY said:


The ever-popular snake biga! Ceres riding in the biga, torch in left hand, reins in right hand. Liber on obverse.

C Vibius Pansa Caetronianus, 48 BC, Cr 449/3b

I'm envious! A wonderful example. And it's a type I almost never see. Unlike the M. Volteius snake biga, which has examples for sale all the time; it was simply a question of finding one that I could afford that was still nice enough to buy.

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15 hours ago, DonnaML said:

I can never resist temptation when I see a new "biga or quadriga drawn by non-equine creature" type for sale

Donna, that is a beautiful coin and outstanding post. Thank you for composing and posting it.

If we consider Roman provincial coins we can add in bulls and the panthers of Dionysos. 


Gordian III, 238-244. Tarsos mint. Large. 36-34 mm. 28.82 grams.
SNG France 2, Cilicia 1671.
Biga of bulls.


Severus Alexander. 222-235. 27 mm. 14.48 grams. Mint of Seleucia ad Calycadnum, Cilicia.
Dionysos in biga of panthers.
Reference not found for Severus Alexander, but the reverse of SNG France 2, Cilicia, 979 (for Septimius Severus).
SNG Levante --, Supplement 1 --, SNG Danish --, BMC --, Weber --, McClean --, L&K --, obverse similar to Lindgren II 897 with a different reverse type, Righetti Swiss II --, SNG von Aulock -- (Reverse type of 5830 for Caracalla, and 5826 for Septimius Severus and Julia Domna). SNG on-line --.  Possibly unique.

Here is one more provincial coin with the ever-fascinating snake-biga.


Commodus, 177-192. 26 mm. 7.69 grams. Cyzicus mint.
Female with two torches in a snake biga.
SNG Righetti 668 has this reverse with a young beardless Commodus. BMC --, SNG Danish --. SNG von Aulock. SNG on-line -- (IV.2 has Commodus at Cycicus, but none with this reverse). Possibly unique.

You can buy a Roman provincial coin just because you like the type and find out later it is really rare. In ancient coins, rarity is less important than in, say, US coins, but it is still pleasing to find out a coin you own is of a very rare type.  




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10 minutes ago, Ryro said:

Amazing new coin @DonnaML and in stunning condition. A topic I'll never tire of😁

Here are some unconventional modes of transport from the republic:






I love your hippocamp biga. Another type I never see that makes me envious! Someday, maybe.

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1 hour ago, DonnaML said:

I love your hippocamp biga. Another type I never see that makes me envious! Someday, maybe.

Thanks Donna! They should come with a warning though; one isn't enough once you realize that there are a dozen sea critters behind her head. That said, I've only one other, that being a 🦀 who had scuttled off flan other than his pinchers:


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RR Allius Bala 92 BCE AR Den Diana Biga Stags Sear 221 Craw336-1 scarce



RR C Renius AR Denarius 18mm 3.8g Roma 138 BC Helmeted hd Roma r X - C RENI ROMA Juno driving biga goats r whip reins scepter Cr 231-1

This was a great scene in a fun movie... (goats are always dopey!)



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