By the year 1979 Antonio Mª de Guadán published a work in Cuadernos de Numismática, where he described the weapons we can find in the Iberian coin. Emulating this important collector and researcher, I think that the flora and fauna, which can be found in our ancient coins, also deserve a short description on my side to remind us of their presence in the numismatic world.
Once this said, in this article I do not pretend to reach the scientific rigor achieved in the works of this distinguished master. After all, my main goal is trying to be entertaining and educational, and nothing else.
First, I must make clear what I understand under Iberian coin for the purposes of this work: I consider that it is the one minted in our peninsula and Southern France until the arrival of the invading Germanic tribes who ended with the Roman authority, established in the times of Augustus. I must also add the island of Ebusus, as there was an important numismatic production there.
The advantage of a peninsula is that the natural limit of the sea has no political connotations when defining the frontiers. In our case, the Pyrenean barrier takes care of the rest, without forgetting the area of Narbonne, where they are so proud of their Iberian reminiscences.
I have divided the present work in two clearly distinct parts (to be presented in four posts): the first one is dedicated to the fauna, while the second one focuses on the flora. Regarding the first part, I have made a not much thorough division, as it makes no sense messing around with complicated scientific terms. Besides, it would be difficult to place elements like the centaurs.
So, I have divided our friends the animals in five different groups, avoiding complications. After all, a wolf is a canine, a lion is a feline and a horse is an equine, but all of them are terrestrial, which is clear for all of us.
Those who are not familiar with the Iberian numismatics may be surprised at the number of representations related to the fauna which can be found in our coins. Find below the five groups I have mentioned:
1- TERRESTRIAL ANIMALS
2- MARINE ANIMALS
5- MYTHOLOGICAL BEINGS
It is usually represented on a yoke together with another ox, as they are ploughing under the command of a farmer. We can find an example of this on the reverse of an as from Kelse (Colonia Lepida) C-18.
Another way to represent this animal is with the head facing forward, which can be found in the fractions preceding the drachmas. C-41.
Maybe you are asking yourself the same as I do: how do we know, if the front view of a horned head corresponds to an ox, a bull, or a cow? Well, if you have an answer to this, do not hesitate to let me know.
The scientific name is Bos Primigenius Taurus. As you can see, it is easier to use the common name, even if it may lead to some mistake.
The representation of bulls is the most usual one in the Iberian coins, together with those of dolphins and horses. It is a symbol of power and protection, which we can found in different positions:
Standing: in an as from Turiaso. ACIP-3.290. It also appears on the reverse of the rare semis minted in Ebusus in the times of Claudius I.
Charging: in a semis from Untikesken. C-6.
Jumping: in an as from Kelse (Colonia Lepida) C-23.
Kneeling: as in Orippo: ACIP- 2.456 and 2.457.
Lying: as in an as from Ipora. C-1.
Wearing a miter: as in the asses from Caesar Augusta: ACIP- 3058/3066.
There is a beautiful representation in an as, attributed to Kastilo, which refers to the abduction of Europa, where the young lady is grasping one of the bull’s horns.
I do not remember any representation of a horned animal with large udders, which would reveal the presence of a cow. Oddly enough, the numismatic jargon seems to compensate this discrimination by calling “vacas” (cows) the coins whose reverse shows either a bull or an ox.
The sheep’s male can be found in the first known coins, which might have been minted in the Iberian Peninsula in the 5th century BC. It is the head of the animal, which is represented in these coins. C-1 and 2. Also in C-7 in the 4th century BC in the section of the fractions preceding the drachmas.
There is one minting showing it in full length. It corresponds to two different semis from Kelse (Colonia Lepida). C-25 and 26.
This animal, so typical of our fauna, is represented in fractional coins of the 4th century BC prior to the drachmas. They were probably minted in Catalonia in the area under the influence of Empúries. In C-8, 42, 43 and 44 we can find some nice pieces. From my point of view, the reverse of Vill-2/312 is very beautiful.
This noble beast is the most representative element of our numismatic fauna. Not just because of the variety of mints representing it, but also because of the symbols accompanying those who drive them.
The propagandist role of the coin was probably meant to tell the rest of the tribes that the ones minting those coins had well-armed warriors and horses, ready to fight their enemies. Therefore, those warriors are represented with a spear, a falcata, a shield, etc. On another occasions, they hold either a palm leaf, which speaks of victorious riders or army, or a trophy.
In most cases, the asses showing a rider on horseback on the reverse, have an unleashed horse in the semissis.
Horses can be found in different positions:
Standing horse: As in the very beautiful three siculos of Cartago Nova with a particular Punic style. C-16.
Jumping horse: Siculo from Cartago Nova. C-27.
Horse with a rider: I like the one from Bilbilis of the times of Augustus. This piece was a model and inspiration for the 10-cent aluminium pieces minted between 1940 and 1953. The word SPAIN could be seen under the rider. ACIP- 3.014.
Galloping horse: The as from Kelse: C-8 could be a good representation of this type.
Grazing horse: We can find it in some trientes from Kese, as in C-25. There is a peculiar representation of this type in C-13, where we can see a bush under the head of the horse.
Pawing horse: It is typical of the mint of Kese and can be found in several semissis as in C-44. Others consider that this might rather represent a horse at pace.
Horse head: We can see it in a hemi drachma from Arse: C-5, or in a quadrans from Obulco: C-70.
As part of a quadriga: We can find it in a nice aureus from Colonia Patricia under the name of Augustus. The chariot is driven by an eagle. ACIP- 4332.
As part of a biga: It can be found in a drachma imitating those from Empúries. ACIP: 268 y 269.
Joined back-to-back: This peculiar representation can be found on the reverse of a tartemorion from Sikara. ACIP- 284.
Two horses: Sometimes there is a rider with a second horse nearby. The mint which most often included this figure was the one from Ikalkusken. We also find it in two quinarius, one from Turiasu (C-18) and another one from Kese (C-20). We can also find it in the denarius from this mint: C-17/19.
The truth is that the one represented is the wild boar. In Celtitan, Halos and Ostur: ACIP-2.427,2.428 and 2.429 we can see it on the reverse of these coins as the main figure. In Lascuta ACIP-943 it can be seen with a snake. In Eustibaikula or Arketurki it appears behind the male head of an as: ACIP- 1.307 and C-1. In Vill (2) there is one piece with the head of a wild boar. Page 160, no. 182.
To be found in some quadrans from Nabrisa: ACIP- 2636/2638. This is how this animal, which is called “horned animal” in the Corpus, is seen. The engraver’s style does not let me say anything else about it.
It is considered one of the sacred animals in the Iberian culture, which is why it can be found in many mints. “ILTIR”, which means “wolf”, is one of the few words we know in the Iberian language. The town Iltirta (currently, Lérida) was named after this animal and means something like place of wolves.
Wolf in a defensive attitude: We can find it in an as from Iltirta. C-41.
Wolf at pace: Also, to be found in an as from Iltirta, C-38. Unlike the previous one, it does not have its tail between the legs. I take the chance to remind you that one of the greatest pieces of the Iberian numismatics, the hemi drachma from KESESALIR shows a wolf with a long tongue on the reverse, like the one in the obol from KESEKU, another very rare piece.
Wolf head: In the semis from Iltirta C-42.
Wolf with cub: In the semis from Ilteraka, C-2, we can see a wolf behind a palm tree, carrying something in its mouth. Some authors say it is a little animal (maybe a rabbit?) hunted by the animal. Others state that it is carrying one of its cubs. I stay with the latter, as this opinion sounds more bucolic. We must bear in mind that cubs are blind and deaf during their first month, so whenever their parents decide to change of den, which happens quite often, the cubs are carried in their mouths.
Capitoline Wolf: We can find it in a semis from Italica, where we see her breastfeeding Romulus and Remus. ACIP- 3.330.
I do not think there were any lion herds living in the Iberian forests in those times, but the fierceness of these animals was well-known by our ancestors. It must have had some special meaning connected with strength and vigour. It can be found in many mints and for different values. Sometimes we can see a lion, but on other occasions there is a lioness, although the sex of the animal is often not so clear.
In a quadrans from Untikesken, ACIP- 1.005, we have a lion with a beautiful mane, which makes it look like an arrogant male. The same happens with other coins of this same mint, ACIP-1.016 y 1.018.
Lion turning its head: We can find a beautiful piece in VILL-2 (139), in a silver coin from Empúries 4th / 5th century BC.
Jumping lion: It appears in Beterra, C-1.
Upright lion: Fantastic piece, where the king of the rainforest is the central figure on the reverse of a semis from Sekobirikes: C-3.
Lioness: This is how we name the animals placed behind the heads of the obverse in some coins from Sekaisa. ACIP-1.528 and 1536. We can also see them in the front, as in an as from the same mint: ACIP-1522.
The lion is somehow connected with an Iberian forest goddess, like Artemis, goddess of the hunt and wild animals.
This is not an endemic animal of our peninsula, but elephants were often brought here by the Carthaginian armies, so we learnt about their strength and ability to spread the chaos and bewilderment among the troops they charged at with their over 4000 kg. And we cannot forget their impressive horns.
As natural, in our numismatics the most beautiful examples of this animal can be found in two pieces from Cartago Nova: in one coin with three siculos, ACIP- 552, and another with two siculos, ACIP- 553. In the latter the elephant carries a guide, who drives it (cornaca).
The elephant is also represented in an as from Sacili, ACIP-956, and in another from Usekerte, which is emulating the one shown in a denarius of Julius Caesar, Sby-49. In this interesting bilingual piece, we can appreciate the African nature of this pachyderm, which is a little larger than its Hindu relative. We can see it stepping on to a snake, which clearly refers to the destiny of the enemies who attempted to fight the victorious Caesar. As a curiosity, let me tell you that the word “caesar” means “elephant” in Punic. Tradition has it that Julius’ father adopted this name after killing one of these animals.
Usekerte is the only Celtiberian representation of this animal, as the rest come from the Phoenician-Carthaginian area.
Lascuta is another mint with an elephant on the reverse.
In some aureus minted in Colonia Patricia we can see a biga pulled by elephants and driven by Augustus himself. ACIP: 4345/4348.
We would expect to find this animal in some mint from the North of the peninsula, in the Pyrenees or maybe Vasconia. But it is not so. We must look for it in the current Osuna in Seville, which was the ancient Ursone.
It can be found standing, ACIP- 2328, or sitting, ACIP- 2330.
This is the only Iberian mint where we can find the king of the forest.
In Lascuta and Usekerte we have seen two pieces where this ophidian can be found. In Cartago Nova: ACIP-2.525, we can see a terrestrial snake, partially curled up.
This reptile often appears in the mintings from Ibiza, as the Phoenician god Bes is its bearer. Therefore, it can be seen in many coins from this island, where the god usually carries it in his left hand.
Despite being our best friend, it is not very often seen in our mints. It appears in Kese, C-46. It is possible that in the mint of Abariltur some of the animals represented are dogs, as in the case of the sextante of C-2, or the semis of C-1.
This is not precisely an animal which is represented in a pleasant way. In Kese C-37 and 38 we can find it in a rooster’s peak, possibly serving as an appetizer for the king of the farmyard.
It would not be strange to find a coin with some of the animals we have not mentioned here: the rabbit, the donkey, the rat, the hare, the cat… just to mention some of those, which were present in the daily life of our villages. So, any contribution anyone could make would be welcome, as we may have missed something.
It is one of the animals which is the most often represented in numismatics, together with the dolphin. They can even be seen together, as in the case of Abdera: C- 13/17 or Sexi: C-15.
I think that in numismatics the tuna is represented as a symbol of the wealth of the people who used to catch it. There are several mints, where we can see it: Aipora C-1, Sexi C-1, Osonuba: C-1, etc.
The representations of fish prove the importance of internal resources for the people issuing the coins. This is the case of Gadir, Sexi, Osonuba, etc. Our attention is drawn by a tuna represented in a semis from the town of Sisapo, currently Almadén, which is so far from the fishing areas (C-1A). This makes us think that this rare piece could be attributed to a coastal town. Note that it shows an S for the value of the semis on the reverse. If the minting were of the times of Sisapo, the weight of the piece would correspond rather to a quadrans.
The people from the sea considered that it was a sign of good luck. Sometimes it swam along the fishing boats. According to the Greek mythology, dolphins were transformed into these cetaceans by the god Dyonisus as a revenge for being kidnapped to be sold as a slave.
Poseidon sent a dolphin as a messenger, so he could convince the beautiful Amphitrite to get married with him. Therefore, when this god is represented, he is sometimes accompanied by dolphins.
This symbol often appears in our numismatics. In fact, I think that this is the animal, which is represented the most often, together with the horse. In the mints from the North of the peninsula there are often between one and four dolphins surrounding a male or female head.
As Segia: C- 4 (one), Lutiakos: C-2 (two), Orosi: C-2 (three).
It can also be found in the mints from the South, where it has more relevance: Olontigi: C-13, Gadir: C-42.
On other occasions it can be seen driven by a cupid, as in the case of the quadrans from Saiti: C-10 and of a semis from Ipses: C-1.
Dolphins may also appear pierced by a trident, as in Gadir: C-53.
Forming “a wheel”, as in Emporion: C-39 or in Ilturo: C-2.
Also known as seahorse, this likeable little creature has nothing to do with the mythological beings pulling from Neptune’s carriage, whose front was that of a horse, while the back was that of a fish. Nevertheless, this might have remained the prevailing idea in our coins. We can find it as part of a double siculo in the prow in ACIP-542, in Beuibum: 986 and 987, or in a quadrans from Kese: C-36.
In Neronken: C-7, we have a rare semis with a winged hippocampus, which is the only one of this type.
This fish goes upstream to spawn in summer. As there were so many of them doing this, it seems natural that our ancestors fished them at the mouth of the rivers, especially at those located in the South, as this species adapts better to warm climates. It is also called “tarpon”. When represented, it can sometimes be confused with tuna fish.
We can find it in Mirtiles C-1-4, or in several pieces in Ilse and Ilipense.
We can find it in an obol prior to drachmas: ACIP- 94. Although it rather reminds us of a delicious spider crab.
We can find it in a hemi-obol of the uncertain fraction type, although apparently it has the inscription Kuekiar, so it may come from this mint. C-12, page 78. It would not be hare-brained to consider that we are in front of a not very well-designed seahorse.
I think that in this section we must include all the sea products which resemble this crustacean. Like the shrimp, the crayfish, or the langoustine. We can find it in a drachma from Emporion: C-75.
We refer to the sea animal, not the mythological being, Medusa (in Spanish the word “medusa” stands for both the animal and the mythological being). We can see it in an Iberian drachma, as a symbol in front of Pegasus. There is no visible inscription. C- 89A.
This popular delicious octopod can be appreciated as a symbol in: Vill. (7). Page 118, no. 64 and 65.
First, I would like to explain the difference among some words we often confuse here in Spain: “vieira” (scallop), “venera” (scallop shell), “pecten”, “pechina” (scallop shell) or “concha” (shell) to define the wrapping of that delicious thing we are eating.
First, we must distinguish between “vieira” (scallop) and “venera” (scallop shell).
“Pechina” is the same as “vieira” and comes from the Latin word “pecten”. And here is where we come across the useful scientific names, which help us distinguish two species: “pecten maximus”, which lives in the Atlantic Ocean, and “pecten jacobaeus”, which lives in the Mediterranean Sea. They are so similar that they can even crossbreed.
Finally, “pechina” is the shell of this mollusc. This word is mainly used in coastal areas, while “concha” is more often used inland. Anyway, the truth is that when we talk about “vieiras”, “conchas”, “pechinas”, “pecten” or “venera” … I am afraid that we refer to just one thing. Anyway, this only proves what a tasty language we have.
The scallop shell can be found in several mints, always in pieces of the dividing type. The mint of Arse takes the prize as far as the presence of this shell is concerned, thanks to the broad range of the typology. But we can also find the scallop shell in mints like Kili: C-2, Lakine: C-3 and 4 or in Saiti: C-6.
This delicious cephalopod can be found under the Pegasus in a drachma from Empúries: C-80.
We can also find it in a drachma from Empúries. It was probably used by fishermen as bait for rod fishing. ACIP-229.
In a semis from Carteia we can find a fisherman, who has just caught a fish which is still hanging from the hook. C-53. I do not think the fish can be identified, so we let the reader decide the species.
TO BE CONTINUED…