Jump to content

The Elephant Kings


Recommended Posts

"To think Seleucid is to see elephants" says the historian Paul Kosmin.

From 305-303 BC Seleucos I, founder of the Seleucid Empire, was at war with the Indian Mauryan Empire. Eventually they agreed a peace settlement under which the Mauryans handed over 500 war elephants. Thereafter the Seleucids quickly became adept at using elephants in battle and this was a key factor in the Seleucids’ military might and the expansion of their empire until their defeat by the Romans at Magnesia in 190BC. After one of the greatest battles of the ancient world the Romans took all the Seleucids' surviving elephants and the Seleucids were forbidden from breeding any more.

The Indian elephant was the imperial emblem of the Seleucids. Depictions of elephants were very frequently shown on buildings, seals and, as you will know, coins. 

Seleucids are a favourite of mine and here are 3 coins with elephants.



Seleukid Kingdom, Antiochos VI Epiphanes Dionysos.

Antioch, 144-142 BC.

Radiate and diademed head of Antiochos VI to right / ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ - ΑΝΤΙΟΧΟΥ - ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟΥΣ - ΔΙΟΝΥΣΟΥ, Elephant advancing left, holding torch in trunk; to right, ΣTA above star.

SC 2006c.

5.91g, 21mm.




Seleukid Kingdom, Alexander I Balas.

Antioch on the Orontes, 152-145 BC.

Head of Dionysos right, wearing ivy wreath / ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ, elephant standing left, monogram to right.

SC 1791; BMC 57-58.

3.07 g, 14mm.



Seleukid Kingdom, Demetrios I Soter.

Antioch on the Orontes, 162-150 BC.

Horse's head left / [B]AΣIΛE[ΩΣ] ΔHMHTPIOY, elephant's head right.

SC 1646.

3.61g, 17mm.


Please share anything you want, Seleucid or elephant related.

  • Like 15
  • Thanks 1
  • Heart Eyes 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Beautiful coins, especially the "bottle caps".

Here are a few non-elephant Seleucid coins.



Seleucid Kings of Syria
Alexander I Balas
Tetradrachm, dated ςΞ = 147-146 BC
Obv.: Diademed head of Alexander
Rev.: Zeus enthroned left, holding sceptre, Nike crowning him
ςΞΡ and Φ in ex
Ag, 16,6 mm 30 mm
Ref.: SC 1784 7, SMA 157f.
Ex Collection Prof. Dr. Dobretsberger 1948 (Secretary of Social Affairs in Austria)
Ex Collection Karl Pollak



Seleukos II Kallinikos (246-225 BC)
Magnesia on the Maeander
Obv.: Head of Artemis right, bow and quiver behind neck.
Rev.: BAΣΙΛΕΩΣ / ΣEΛEYKOY, Apollo standing left, holding arrow and grounded bow; monogram to outer left and right; all within meander border.
AE, 17mm, 5.14g
Ref.: SC 670a; HGC 9, 347.



Seleukid Kingdom. Ake-Ptolemaïs.
Cleopatra Thea and Antiochos VIII.
Dated SE 187 (126/5 BC)

Obv.: Head of Artemis right, quiver and bow over shoulder
Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΙΣΣΗΣ ΚΛΕΟΠΑΤΡΑΣ to right, ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΝΤΙΟΧΟΥ to left, bow and quiver, ΙΠΡ (date) below.
Æ, 15 mm, 2,97 g
Ref.: HGC 9, 1194; SC 2275.

Edited by shanxi
  • Like 13
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here is a puzzler:


Seleukid, Antiochos III. Fifth Syrian War (202-198 BC)?, Gorgon, Elephant. 4.65g 17.3mm.  Acquired 2008.

This coin is unusual because of the poor depiction of the gorgoneion shield on the obverse, the fact that the elephant is walking left, and the seemingly poor quality of the lettering.

There is a well-known coin, struck at an uncertain mint, probably a military mint in Coele-Syria (the modern Beqaa Valley, Lebanon), in good style with with right-facing elephant.  Unpublished with left-facing elephant.

This may be a contemporary imitation.  Because of the wear I was concerned that I was fooling myself, and the "gorgon" was an anchor.   I felt better after seeing photos of two better specimens offered by a dealer in Dubai. One seemed to show a clear crude Medusa with elephant in similar style.  Another seemed to share an obverse die with mine.

  • Like 15
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have two Seleucid elephant types with horse head countermarks, apparently applied during the Fifth Syrian War (see @Ed Snible mystery coin above!).  This post inspired me to re-examine my sketchy attribution for these, and I have just obliterated a couple of hours falling down the Seleucid rabbit hole!   Which is actually a lot of fun. 

There are a couple of links where I got info on these - a post on Coin Talk was very helpful - Pavlos and David@PCC (not on NF?) know a lot about these, as you can see here:  https://www.cointalk.com/threads/elephant-coin-with-anchor-counterstamp.324268/

Here is Pavlos from that post - it seems these particular elephants (and perhaps the one Ed posted) served as a kind of military scrip:

"Soldiers received two kinds of pay. Opsonion(regular wages) was due at the end of the month in peacetime, but in wartime could be paid at other established intervals or postponed until the end of the campaign. Sitarchia (provision money) replaced actual rations, allowing the troops to provision themselves in advance, often at specially regulated markets. Sitarchia was payable at the beginning of the month and obviously could not be postponed or allowed to fall in arrears. Opsonion and Sitarchia each average about 3 to 4 obols per day, or 15-20 drachms per month. These payments of 15-20 drachms would most conventiently be rendered in silver. However, there is meager evidence for the circulation of silver coins of Antiochos III in Coele-Syria, leaving bronze as the only medium of payment for the Seleukid army during the Fifth Syrian War. Quite possibly the Opsonion was paid in silver after the army withdrew from Coele-Syria.

But Sitarchia, which have to be provided regularly, came in the form of bronze coins. This was certainly more practical for the soldiers than 15-20 drachms, since prices from both Egypt and Babylonia indicate that a drachm would purchase a month’s supply of Barley

for an individual and two drachms about a month’s supply of wheat. Fractions were therefore needed to purchase food to be consumed in lesser quantity. This was obviously also in advantage for military expenses, as bronze had only a low intrinsic value. Such bronze coinage was likely not greeted in a contested region accustomed to Ptolemaic currency. These bronzes with doubtful intrinsic value issued by the Seleukid king would almost certainly be worthless for them. However, it seems inevitable that some degree of coercion was required to ensure acceptance for these Seleukid bronze coins, which was essential for the functioning of the army.

The elephant bronzes with mahout of Antiochos III were struck at different times and at different parts in the Seleukid Empire, but all were associated with military operations and soldiers' pay. The earlier types were struck at a military mint associated with Ekbatana around 210 B.C., and the later ones come from a military mint operating of Coele-Syria during the Fifth Syrian War. The horse's head below the elephant and the anchor in the left field indicates this copies the later issues of Coele-Syria. This was to make the older bronzes ‘equivalent’ to subsequent issues with a horse head symbol under the elephant’s belly and a tripod or anchor in the left field. It served to reiterate

the basic guarantee of the value of these military bronze coins in the face of local uncertainty. The Seleukid army needed to impose the use of this fiduciary coinage on the population of Ptolemaic Coele-Syria during the Fifth Syrian War in order to ensure provisions for its troops. The Seleukid retreat in spring 200 BC will have created a particular need to revalidate these coins when the Seleukids again advanced after the battle of Pantion. The bronzes were apparently first countermarked with a horse head, and later with an anchor."

To nail down the host coins I have, I spent a lot of time this morning on the http://numismatics.org/sco/results?q=fulltext%3Amonogram site - the go-to for Seleucid coins, though it frequently baffles me, I'll blame myself rather than this comprehensive site! 

Also, the Guberman blog is a terrific source as well:  http://guberman.blogspot.com/2009/08/greeceseleucid-antiochus-iii-bce-223.html  

Here are mine - as with most countermarked issues, they aren't very pretty, but the information behind the issue (as Pavlos shared) is interesting: 


Seleucid Kingdom  Æ 21 Denomination A (quadruple) Antiochos III the Great Military Mint 59, Coele Syria Host coin and countermark in Coele-Syria 202-198 B.C. Antiochos III as Apollo right / [ΒΑΣΙΛE]ΩΣ [ΑΝΤΙΟΧΟΥ], elephant with mahout standing right, tripod behind. (8.01 grams / 21 mm) eBay April 2019 $4.52

Attribution:  SC 1084e (most countermarked); ESM 656; Spaer 819-821 Countermarks:  Horse head in 7 mm x 5 mm rectangle below elephant's belly.  Anchor in  7 mm x 6 mm shaped incuse behind elephant. "(countermarks) copy later issues of Coele-Syria...to make the older bronzes ‘equivalent’ to subsequent issues."  Pavlos on Coin Talk

Issue Notes: "The...bronzes were apparently countermarked first with a horse head, and later with an anchor... The Seleucid army needed to impose the use of this fiduciary coinage on the population of Ptolemaic Coele Syria during the Fifth Syrian War in order to ensure provisions for its troops." SC I, Appendix 2, pp. 66-68 (p. 66) via Guberman Blog 

Seleucid Kingdom Æ 24 Denomination A (quadruple) Antiochos III the Great Military Mint 73, Ecbatana 211-208 B.C. / countermarked in Coele-Syria c. 202-198 B.C. Antiochos III diademed head r. /  [ΒΑΣΙΛEΩΣ ΑΝΤΙΟΧΟΥ], elephant standing right, [monogram below obliterated by CM].  (14.06 grams / 24 mm) eBay Jan. 2020 $5.50

Host Coin Attribution:  Per David@PCC on Coin Talk: SC 1275 (types a-f monogram); HGC 9, 469. c.f. CNG Auction 369, Lot 216 Countermark:  Horse head in 7 mm x 5 mm rectangle below elephant's belly. "(countermarks) copy later issues of Coele-Syria...to make the older bronzes ‘equivalent’ to subsequent issues."  Pavlos on Coin Talk

Issue Notes: "The...bronzes were apparently countermarked first with a horse head, and later with an anchor... The Seleucid army needed to impose the use of this fiduciary coinage on the population of Ptolemaic Coele Syria during the Fifth Syrian War in order to ensure provisions for its troops." SC I, Appendix 2, pp. 66-68 (p. 66) via Guberman Blog 


  • Like 12
  • Clap 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Seleucid elephants were key to winning the battle of Ipsus.


Antiochus I Soter
Mint: Antioch
281 to 261 BC
Obvs: Macedonian shield with Seleukid anchor in central boss.
Revs: BAΣIΛEΩΣ ANTIOXOY, Horned elephant walking right. ME monogram and club above, jawbone in exergue. Counter mark above elephant.
Ref: SC 339.4; HGC 9, 148(S)


Antiochus I Soter
Mint: Antioch on the Orontes
Denomination D
278 to 268 BC
Obvs: Macedonian shield with anchor in central tondo.
Revs: BA above AN below, horned elephant right. Dotted border.
AE 11x12mm, 1.31g
Ref: SC 340; HGC 9, 195(R1-2)


Antiochus VI
Mint: Antioch
143/142 BC
Obvs: No inscription. Antiochus radiate head right,
within dotted border.
ΔIONYΣOY, Elephant walking left. Cornucopia behind, ΣTA
AE Serrate 22x23mm, 8.45g
SC 2006a; HGC 9, 1043(C)


Seleucus I
Apamea on the Axios
300 to 281 BC
Obvs: Elephant right, dotted border.
Revs: BAΣIΛIEΩΣ ΣEΛEYKOY, bridled & horned horse head left. Horizontal anchor below.
AE 19x20mm, 8.57g
SC 35; HGC 9, 79(R1)


Antiochus son of Seleucus IV
Mint: Antioch on the Orontes
Denomination C
September/November 175 BC
Obvs: Veiled diademed head of Laodice IV right. Dotted border.
Revs: BAΣIΛEΩΣ ANTIOXOY, elephant head left. Tripod outer right, control mark AT in exergue. Dotted border.
AE serrate 17mm, 5.04g
Ref: cf. SC 1371; HGC 9, 612(R2) control mark not listed
Note: Unpublished

  • Like 13
  • Clap 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi @Ed Snible,

You should take a look at “Two New Imitative Issues from the Fifth Syrian War (202–198 BCE)” by Nicholas L. Wright of Macquarie University at https://www.academia.edu/252841/Two_new_imitative_issues_from_the_fifth_Syrian_war_202_198_BCE_ .

  • Abstract: Two new barbarous imitations of a Seleucid bronze issue struck by Antiochus III during the fifth Syrian war (202–198 BCE) are presented. The phenomenon of bronze imitations in Coele Syria in this period is discussed.

- Broucheion 

Edited by Broucheion
  • Like 6
  • Heart Eyes 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Seleucid Empire. Antiochus VI Dionysos, 144-142 BC. Æ Serrate Unit (23mm, 7.50g, 1h). Antioch mint. Obv: Radiate head right. Rev: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΝΤΙΟΧΟΥ / ΕΠΙΦΑ[ΝΟΥΣ ΔΙΟΝΥΣΟΥ]; Elephant advancing left; in right field, Σ(TA above palm branch]. Ref: SC 2006b; HGC 9, 1043. Very Fine, wonderful brown tone. Ex Morton & Eden Sale 115, 2022, Lot 146 (part of). Sold with original collector's ticket and from the duplicates of the British Museum. Ex Naville Numis 75 (31 Jul 2022), Lot 148.


  • Like 12
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Benefactor

Here's my Seleukid elephants.


Seleukos I Nikator
Tetradrachm (Silver, 26 mm, 17.08 g, 8 h)
Susa, circa 296/5-281.
Laureate head of Zeus to right. Rev. BAΣIΛEΩΣ / ΣEΛEΥKOΥ Athena, brandishing spear overhead in her right hand and holding shield in her left, standing right in quadriga of elephants moving to right; above to right, spearhead; before elephants, monogram of MΩ. SC 177.2.
Ex Leu Numismatik

  • Like 9
  • Heart Eyes 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Some wonderful Seleukid elephants here! I love the Demetrios Horse/Elephant and the Antiochos IV / Laodike IV type (I'd love to have the scarcer Seleukos IV too someday, but haven't been willing to commit yet!).


Here's my Horse Head/Elephant Head type struck under Demetrios I (as a nice bonus, it's from the E.E. Clain-Stefanelli Collection, which is a particular area of interest for me):


Seleukid Kings of Syria, Demetrios I AE Serrate (3.74g, 16mm, 2h), Antioch on the Orontes, 162-150 BCE.
Obv: Horse's head left; border of dots.
Rev: BAΣIΛEΩΣ ΔHMHTPIOY. Elephant head right.
Ref: SC 1646.
Prov: Ex Clain-Stefanelli Collection; Naville Numismatics.  



Here's my Antiochos IV / Laodike IV with a galley prow behind the elephant:


Seleukid Kings of Syria, Antiochos IV Epiphanes & Laodike IV AE Serrate (4.3g, 17.5mm, 1h), Ptolemaïs-Ake mint, 175-172 BCE.
Obv: Veiled and diademed bust of Laodike IV right.
Rev: BAΣIΛEΩΣ ANTIOXOY (ANTI·X·Y) in two lines, above & below. Head of elephant left; galley prow behind.
Ref: SC 1477; HGC 9, 686.
Prov: Uncertain group lot, c. 2000-2013.

  • Like 11
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nothing says "Seleucid" like a bottle cap with an elephant! This one is ex-Houghton:

Laodike IV, wife and sister of both Seleucus IV and Antiochus IV.
Selucia in Pieria, 175-164 BC.
AE 3.33 gm; 15 mm.
Obv: Veiled bust of Laodike IV, r.
Rev: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΝΤΙΟΧΟΥ, elephant head l.; prow.
Refs: Houghton, CSE 113 (plate coin); Forrer 183.

This is my oldest and tiniest Seleucid elephant:

Antiochus III elephant.jpg
Antiochos III, 223-187 BC.
Seleucid Æ 2.41g, 13.6 mm, 11 h.
Lydia, Sardes.
Obv: Laureate head of Apollo right.
Rev: BAΣΙΛΕΩΣ ANTIOXOY, legend above and below elephant advancing left; upturned anchor before.
Refs: SC 979; HGC 9, 560; Newell, WSM 1114; SNG Spaer 615.

  • Like 11
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've probably shown my non-Seleucid elephants already too often, but this humble Antiochos III hasn't come out that frequently – so here it is:


Antiochos III “the Great,” Seleucid Empire, AE denomination D, 223–187 BC, Sardes mint. Obv: head of Apollo r. Rev: BAΣIΛEΩΣ ANTIOXOY; elephant standing l., anchor in l. field. 12mm, 2.39g. Ref: Seleucid Coins I, 979.

  • Like 12
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...