The Julius Caesar Elephant denarius was one of the 5 most common silver coin types at the time of the Claudian invasion of Britain (1). Crawford estimated 750 obverse dies and with each die producing perhaps 10,000 coin obverses we’re looking at 7.5 million Elephants. Or another estimate is 22.5 million elephants – enough to pay 8 legions.(2) To mint all of these coins, to pay his troops, Caesar simply helped himself to the vast silver reserves in the Temple of Saturn in Rome; where it had been held in sacred trust for time immemorial. They are readily available to collectors but the price has mysteriously increased in the last 3 years or so even for the normal, worn examples.
The Elephant represents the power of Rome (well, Julius Caesar) and the trampled Serpent represents recently conquered long-haired Gaul. Or perhaps the Serpent represents Pompey because these Elephants were struck as Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 B.C. and the civil war with snakey Pompey began.
The Priestly Emblems on the reverse are
- A ladle for libations called a Simpulum
- An Aspergillum – a horse-haired brush stick for sprinkling holy water about.
- A wolf-headed Axe (or Securis)
- The Priest’s cap with a spike is called an Apex
Thank you Nomos AG for image and auction text.
Julius Caesar, Denarius (Silver, 17mm, 3.52 g 1), mint moving with Caesar, 49-48 BC. CAESAR Elephant trampling serpent to right. Rev. Priestly implements: culullus, aspergillum, ax with wolf’s head at the top and apex. Babelon (Julia) 9. Crawford 443/1. Sydenham 1006. Nicely toned. Good very fine.
Note: Nomos AG mark the Simpulum as a Culullus which is a horn holding milk (symbol of the Vestals Virgins)
(1) The other coins are the Marc Antony Galley denarius, the Augustan Gaius, Lucius Denarius, the Tiberius “Tribute Penny” and the Victory Quadriga types of the Roman Republican series.
(2) Alfred Wrigley – article Coins at Warwick University Coin of the month The elephant denarius of Julius Caesar
Note: Factual corrections and information are always very welcome! Thank you. Julian Ticehurst