Elephants have been featured on coins since the earliest days and, just as horses, chariots, warships and arms have been featured on coins and banknotes to display a nation or monarch's strength and prowess, the Elephant conveyed both majesty and an indomitable force. Perhaps I should not say indomitable though. When Alexander the Great encountered the war elephants of the HinduPaurava King Poros at the Battle of the Hydaspes in the Punjab (modern day Pakistan) in 326 BC, his troops encountered a terror beyond all their previous imagination and it is believed that the majority of Macedonians killed that day died before the onslaught of the War Elephants. But Alexander's command that his spear men deploy longer pikes and fight in formation against the elephants turned the battle and the terror of their own stampeding elephants against the Hindu army. In commemoration of this Alexander issued a large silver coin which depicts him, armed with a spear, upon his steed Bucephalus, charging a War Elephant. Alexander did have his steed depicted with horns though, as if to say that a more unworldly power was called for to defeat such incredible beasts.
Carthage, AR half shekel, ca. 213-210 BC
Seleukos I, ruler of the Middle-eastern portion of Alexander's empire and once one of Alexander's most trusted Generals displayed the ferocious, tusked head of an elephant upon a bronze coin to commemorate the battle.
The Romans had their own run-ins with Elephants beginning in the earliest days of their expansion when an alliance of cities in the south of Italy hired Pyrrhos of Epirus and his War Elephants to keep the Romans at bay, an event commemorated in Taras with an elephant motif on their silver stater. The most fearsome encounter of the Romans with Elephants occurred when Hannibal, General of Carthage, invaded Italy with 37 War Elephants. In part to commemorate their power over the monstrous as well as to display their own great power the Elephant became a standard effigy on many Roman coins through the years of the Empire.
Elephants have continued to be depicted on currency up to this day and the modern commemorative coins depicting Elephants from nations from all over the world are some of the most prized and sought after pieces. Whether it be the African Elephant or the Asian Elephant or even the Wooly Mammoth, Pachyderms are big in numismatics! Our own collection focuses upon the fine details of the modern commemoratives such as Somalia's annual release of a new Elephant design for their silver and gold coins.
|2014 Somalia Elephant 4 Proof Silver Coin Set|