The famous ‘Elephant Denarius’ of Julius Caesar, struck in a traveling mint, c. 49-48 BC
On the obverse is a group of religious symbols including a simpulum (libation ladle), an aspergillum (implement used to sprinkle holy water), an axe surmounted by a wolf’s head, and an apex (hat). On the reverse, an Elephant advancing right, trampling on a horned serpent, CAESAR inscription below.
It is estimated that 22 million of these were minted, making them the third most minted coin of the Roman Republic and enough to pay eight legions. This coin coincides with the time when Caesar took gold and silver bouillon from the Temple of Saturn treasury in Rome, which is likely the source of the metals used in this coinage.
It has been suggested that Caesar’s use of the elephant was intended to humiliate the self-important Pompey, who had tried to associate himself with Alexander the Great by riding one of Alexander’s symbols, the elephant, in his triumphal procession. Pompey had embarrassingly failed to fit the beast into the city.
The religious symbols associate Caesar with his prestigious pontifical position as the head of Rome’s religious hierarchy. Caesar had been Pontifex Maximus since 63 BC.