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The Hounds of Asclepius... Doing a "Play-Bow"? Bronze Coins from Epidauros.

Curtis JJ

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(Recently posted a previous version on my blog, but thought it might be of interest here. In the photos, only the coin on the right is mine.)

Please share any thoughts, any of your dog coins (Greek, Roman, other), any Epidauros or Asclepius coins, or anything else you deem relevant!


The Argolid city of Epidauros – famous site of the Asclepeion and Temple of Apollo Maleatas – is known for its silver and bronze coins portraying Asclepius, a god of medicine and healing. Some of the 3rd century BCE bronze coins also depict his two primary companion animals on the reverse – snakes and dogs. Two similar types with dog reverses are what I'm interested in here, especially the one I suspect of "performing a play-bow" (which I call "Type 2").

(Throughout, I rely on three pairs of specimens, those published in BCD Peloponnesos I & II [obv-rev die matches to each other] and my two specimens [each has a new reverse die; both of my coins are ex Nomos 24, 137 (part), from the fascinating "Maleatas Collection of Epidaurous" (Note 1), the second coin also ex-BCD].)

Mythology gives various explanations for the relationship between Asclepius and dogs. In one version, he was abandoned as a baby ("exposed" is what the Romans called abandoning an unwanted baby to its fate) but survived when protected and/or nursed by a dog or two. Dogs were, apparently, also considered healing creatures in their own right (apparently by licking wounds), and were frequent residents at Greek Asclepeia (i.e., live dogs as well as the statues).

Type 1: The first of the two types shows the dog lying in sphynx-like posture, described by Gardner in the 1887 British Museum Catalog as “dog reclining r.” (HGC 736 = BCD Peloponnesos 1256BCD Peloponnesos II 2502 [same dies as HGC 736]; Nomos 24, 137.5 = Maleatas Collection 350, now CurtisJJ [same obv., new rev. die]).



On Type 1, the still, resting posture is emphasized by a distinct “ground line,” parallel to and immediately under its folded limbs, and above the monogram. Gardner (1887: p. 158, note) suggested that it “seems to be the dog which lay beside the statue of Asklepius,” referring, no doubt, to Pausanias’ (Book 2, Ch. 27) description of the famous sculpture by Thrasymedes of Paros. (I found Pausanias Ch. 27 remarkably readable and interesting, i.e., the WH Jones translation.)

Type 2: The second type is the one that I find particularly interesting. In my opinion, it hasn’t received the sufficient attention to properly distinguish it from Type 1, or to recognize its distinctive cultural import and artistic accomplishment. (It's the rarer of the two according to Hoover in HGC 5, listed as "R2," 3-10 known examples; he lists the first type as "R1," 10-30 known.)



Type 2 has been described only slightly differently, if at all, from Type 1 – usually as “hound seated,” “dog lying,” or similar (HGC 737 = BCD Peloponnesos 1257BCD Peloponnesos II 2503 [same dies as HGC 737]; Nomos 24, 137.6 = Maleatas Collection 352, now CurtisJJ's [same obv., new rev. die]).

Importantly, the ground line is absent on Type 2, and the dog is clearly in an active pose. In BCD Peloponnesos (LHS 96), Alan S. Walker (the cataloger) added that the “dog seems to be rushing to right”; in BCD Peloponnesos Part II (CNG 81.2), BCD (who cataloged it himself) describes it as “Dog running right.”

Type 2, Corr.: I propose a different description: “Dog performing ‘play bow’ right.” (Note 2) (I adopt the conventional verb used in canid behavior studies: “perform.” What’s important, though, is explicit reference to the “play bow.”)


“Dog displaying playful body language” (Thomas Zimmermann, 29 June 2015) [CC BY-SA 3.0 de]
Compare the highly similar photo in a 2009 discussion of animal play from Language Log, U Penn Cognitive Sci.

The Play Bow: All dog owners are familiar with it and most others recognize it when they see it. Dogs, wolves, coyotes, and foxes recognize and perform it instinctively as a friendly, nonaggressive invitation to play.

Typical definitions include two elements: the raising of the haunches and the lowering of the forelimbs. One set of academic psychologists described it as “the high-rump crouch position, which occurs when the fore-quarters of an individual are bent, often in a lying down position, while the hindquarters remain elevated” (Byosiere et al. 2016: p. 107).

Or, as another author puts it: “The bum goes up and the elbows go down”!

Both dog types share one obverse die on most examples (I believe there is at least one more obverse die, seemingly restricted to Type 1). The Maleatas 350 (Type 1) and 352 (Type 2) examples shown above (both now in my collection) add one more seemingly unpublished die of each reverse type (so, there are at least two of each). Their high similarity to the previously known dies suggests the engravers intended to portray the dogs in two different poses in two distinct sets of dies. (Very reminiscent of the different horse poses on Larissa's coinage.)


Note 1:  For anyone's curious how L.J. Renauldin's (1851) "ponderous old tome" (Études Historiques et Critiques sur Les Médecins Numismatistes, Contenant Leur Biographie et l’Analyse de Leurs Écrits) fits into the story, I posted my BCD - Maleatas "Numislit Exhibit" about the collection online.

Note 2: The main rival hypothesis — for now I’ll just mention it — would be that the dog is not playing, but exactly the opposite, performing its mythical guard duties for Asclepius.

Note 3: Methodological/Representation Addendum:

Since the dog’s posture is the main issue, the orientation of the coin’s image matter. It's very fortunate that Type 1 includes a ground line (presumably intended to be seen horizontally) as well as another element that is present on both Type 1 and Type 2 — the ethnic. I assume the ethnic should be oriented similarly on both types — the “E” on my Type 1 specimen is angled slightly upward relative to the ground line — which requires rotating the Nomos photo 12-degrees clockwise. On other Type 1 specimens, though, the ethnic is virtually horizontal (i.e., parallel to the ground line). To achieve this orientation with my Type 2 reverse required an 18-degree rotation.


Link to Original: Nomos 24, Lot 137

All three orientations of my Type 2 reverse are shown above, including the Nomos photo as originally oriented. I don’t know if they fundamentally change the interpretation, but subtle changes in posture can indicate meaningful differences in behavior (the further it’s rotated clockwise, the higher the hindquarters and the more it looks like a play bow to me), so I present all three out of methodological due diligence.


Edited by Curtis JJ
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The coins of Segesta were hound-focussed with the standard type for all Segestaian didrachms featuring a hound in various attitudes on the obverse and the head of Aigiste. The tets initially feature a slow quadriga derived from coins of Selinous and Aigistes hunting alongside his hound(s).

Aigisties was the hero of an account which made Segesta a settlement of the hero, Aigestes or Egestes (Latin Acestes), who was a son of the Trojan princess, Aigiste, and the river god, Krimisos.

SICILY. Segesta. Circa 412/0-400 BC. Didrachm (Silver, 24 mm). ΣEΓEΣΤΑΙΟΝ (retrograde and partially inverted) Hound standing to right, with three grain ears in the background.



Edited by Deinomenid
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Nice dog collection, Curtis JJ !


As an Artemis collector I get some dogs automatically. 


Antoninus Pius
Egypt, Alexandria.
Tetradrachm 141-142 (year 5)
Obv.: ΑΝΤⲰΝΙΝΟϹ ϹƐΒ ƐVϹΒ, laureate head of Antoninus Pius, r.
Rev.: Artemis advancing, r., drawing arrow from quiver at shoulder, holding bow; at feet, dog r. and in field, L-Ɛ
Ref.: Dattari-Savio Pl. 108, 2152 (this coin).
Billon, 24mm, 13.53g



Diadumenian as Caesar
Moesia Inferior, Nikopolis
1 Apr 217 - mid May 218 A.D.;
Consular Legate Statius Longinus
Obv.: M OΠEΛ ΔIAΔOΥMENIANOC K, bare headed, draped and cuirassed bust right, from behind
Rev.: VΠ CTA ΛONΓINOV NIKOΠOΛITΩN ΠΡOC I CTΡΩ, Artemis hunting: advancing right, bow in left, with right drawing arrow from quiver, dog running at feet;
AE,11.9g, 25.76mm
Ref.: Varbanov I p. 308, 3743; AMNG 1843; BMC -; SNG Cop -




Gallienus, 253-268. 
Antoninianus , Mediolanum, 258-260.
Obv.: IMP GALLIENVS AVG, Radiate and cuirassed bust of Gallienus to right. 
Rev.: DIANA FELIX Diana advancing right, holding bow in her left hand and drawing arrow from quiver with her right; at feet, hound springing right.
AR, 20 mm, 3.15 g, 6 h
Ref.: Cohen 169, MIR 920l, RIC 380.



Medal by François André Clémencin
Ca. 1940

A student of Jules Coutan, Clémencin exhibited at the Salon des artistes français in 1907 and received an honourable mention that year. In 1921, he won a silver medal.

He is responsible for sensual or erotic bronze statuettes, monuments to the dead and medals. (wikipedia)

Obv: Artemis running left, holding bow, dog behind
AE, 52mm, 87g


Edited by shanxi
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