Hey! There’s a Bug on my Historical Coin

By Dr. Steve M. Benner for CoinWeek…


I’ve seen a number of articles on historic cash discussing animals, comparable to mammals and birds, however it’s time the extra quite a few members of the animal kingdom get some consideration, bugs. Bugs refer solely to the six-legged selection although I might have additionally preferred to cowl arachnids (8 legs), however I ran out of area.

I’ve been gathering historic cash a very long time and am conscious that cities did generally put bugs on their cash, the plain instance is the bee on the Ephesus cash. On the whole, there will not be many instances the place they seem as the main function on one aspect of a coin. Often, the bug was a small function on the coin and will consult with a mythological occasion; a god or goddess; a political, household, or spiritual chief; a capability related to the bug (butterfly); financial significance (bee), and even creative whim. Like bugs in the true world, they’re generally exhausting to note.

Once I began researching for this text, I questioned, what number of sorts of bugs may there be on historic cash and what number of varieties of cash may there be which have them? My cursory search yielded 9 main bugs that seem on historic Greek and Roman cash: grasshopper, ant, butterfly, scarab, cicada cricket, and bee/wasp/fly.

I’m positive this isn’t a whole set, however it’s a good pattern. As to the second a part of the query, the varieties of cash which have a bug on them quantity within the lots of. A function article may hardly scratch the floor of a topic that may take a whole e book to do it justice. So, I’m going to hit the highlights of a number of the extra engaging and strange buggy cash.


In no explicit order, the grasshopper is the primary of our six-legged mates up for dialogue. This bane to cereal crops has been round since mankind planted his first seed. Determine 1 is a nomos of Metapontum displaying a grasshopper on a barley ear. It’s most likely only a reference to the specter of locusts and is an try to appease the god or goddess of grasshoppers. Some say the dolphin on the reverse may consult with Apollo, who may get rid of a plague of those bugs.

Determine 1: LUCANIA, Metapontum. Circa 540-510 BC. AR Nomos. Ear of barley with seven grains; META down left subject, grasshopper upward to proper / Incuse ear of barley with seven SMB 2 1/6/2022 grains; define of dolphin upward to left, 28.5mm, 6.89 g, HN Italy 1472. (CNG 112, Lot: 41, $19,002, 4/13/2005)

The grasshopper was a highly regarded insect judging from my fast search of cities
that had them on their cash: there are a minimum of 5 cities in Sicily, a number of in
Southern Italy, Thrace, and Macedon, and one in Rhodes that had a grasshopper on
their cash. Surprisingly there didn’t seem like any mainland Greek cash on this
group. Along with these cash, the Roman Republic additionally positioned grasshoppers on
their cash (see Determine 2), although I may discover solely about half a dozen examples
the place it was completed. Apparently, the Roman Empire was not into placing bugs on
their cash with one exception, the butterfly (see Determine 4).

Determine 2: ROMAN REPUBLIC: Piso L.f. Frugi. 61 BC. AR Denarius. Rome mint. Laureate head of Apollo proper; heron standing proper to left / Horseman galloping proper, holding whip and reins; grasshopper above, 18mm, 3.92 g, Crawford 408/1a. (CNG 432, Lot: 255, $200, 4/13/05).


The subsequent insect to think about might be the rarest on cash: the ant. The one metropolis that put this insect on their cash, that I may discover, was Pantikapaion in Cimmerian Bosporos. Town produced solely the tetartemorion, although generally one will see it listed as a hemitetartemorion. As to why they put an ant on the obverse is up for grabs. It may have been as a result of the cash are so small (5.5 mm or lower than 1 / 4 inch) like an ant or simply to simply point out the denomination. In Aesop’s fable of the ant and the grasshopper, the ant is characterised as an industrious insect. Another problems with this coin had a reverse with a star, an empty incuse sq., and the quadripartite incuse however with two pellets in it.

Determine 3. CIMMERIAN BOSPOROS, Panticapaeum. Circa 470-460 BC. AR Tetartemorion. Ant / Quadripartite incuse sq. with swastika sample; stars and Π-A in quarters, 5.5mm, 0.17 g., MacDonald 13 var. (pellets slightly than stars). (CNG 432, Lot: 255, $200, 4/13/05) Butterfly SMB 3 1/6/2022


The butterfly is completely different from the opposite bugs on this article in that it stood for one thing in Roman tradition. It represented the liberation of the soul after demise. The butterfly-soul being liberated from the cocoon of the lifeless physique. Perhaps because of this, it may be discovered on a number of Roman Republic cash and even on an Empire coin of Augustus (Determine 4). In fact, it’s simply as prone to stand for the initials of a moneyer or different official. Nearly no historic Greek metropolis put a butterfly on its cash with the exception being that of Rhodes (Determine 5).

Determine 4. ROMAN EMPIRE. Augustus. 27 BC-AD 14. AV Aureus. Rome mint; M. Durmius, moneyer. Struck circa 19-18 BC. CAESAR AVGVSTVS, head proper, carrying oak wreath / M • DVRMIVS III • VIR, crab holding butterfly in its claws, 21mm, 8.22 g., RIC I 316. (Triton XXIII, Lot: 651, $55,000, 1/14/20).
Determine 5. SLANDS off CARIA, Rhodos. Circa 205-190 BC. AR Tetradrachm. Chian normal. Ainetor, Justice of the Peace. Radiate head of Helios dealing with barely proper / Rose in profile, with bud to proper; AINHTΩP above; to left, butterfly flying proper, 25mm, 13.48 g., HGC 6, 1422. (Triton XXII, Lot: 273, $7500, 1/14/2020).


The subsequent critter to think about is the cicada. Cicadas solely present up after a set interval of time, however, after they do come, it’s often in massive portions. This may increasingly have represented a rebirth to the Greeks. Athens will get the honors for the cicada as a result of the town minted small bronze cash with a cicada on the reverse and an amphora (Determine 6) or owl on the reverse. Athens additionally added the cicada to the sphere of its new fashion tetradrachms.

Determine 6. ATTICA, Athens. Circa 190-183 BC. Æ 13mm. Cicada / A-Q-E, amphora with transverse palm department behind, 1.52 g., SNG Copenhagen 449.(Triton V, Lot: 361, $525, 1/16/2002).

Athens was not the one Greek metropolis to place a cicada on its cash. A number of cities put the cicada on their cash as effectively together with, a minimum of, two cities in Sicily, a number of in Southern Italy, Thrace, Asia, Minor, and Macedon, and a minimum of one in Thessaly and Kyrenaica. Determine 7 reveals a superb instance of the cicada on a stater of Ambrakia. As well as, the Roman Republic positioned a cicada on a number of of their denarii.

Determine 7. EPEIROS, Ambrakia. Circa 360-338 BC. AR Stater. Pegasos flying proper; A under / Helmeted head of Athena left; cicada to proper, 20 mm, 8.48 g., Ravel, Colts 141 (A58/P92). (CNG 93, Lot: 217, $4750, 5/22/2013).

Scarab (Beetle)

As any pupil of historic historical past is aware of, the scarab was sacred to the Egyptians. The scarab rolling its dung ball to its den symbolized the solar transferring throughout the sky and was depicted on many wall inscriptions that manner. Although they’re discovered all around the world, scarabs will not be often related to Greece or Rome and will not be generally discovered on their cash. Surprisingly Athens once more takes the lead with a didrachm having a scarab on its obverse (Determine 8), however this can be a very uncommon coin ($60,000). Apparently beetles on Athenian cash didn’t catch on. Be aware that this isn’t essentially a reference to Egypt because the beetle could be a June bug.

Determine 8: ATTICA, Athens. Circa 545-525/15 BC. AR Didrachm. “Wappenmünzen” kind. Scarab beetle / Quadripartite incuse sq., divided diagonally, 20.5mm, 8.35 g., Seltman Group B, 20 var. (CNG 105, Lot: 102, $60,000, 5/10/2017)

Within the sixth century, the Ionians positioned a scarab on the obverse on lots of their electrum cash (Determine 9). Once more, it’s not recognized what the importance of the scarab was to the Ionians, however they stopped utilizing scarabs by the top of the century. General placing scarabs on cash was not widespread within the historic Greek or Roman worlds after that. Though there are just a few others: a diobol of Vulci with a scarab reverse and a tetradrachm of Abdera that has one in its obverse subject.

Determine 9: IONIA, Unsure. Circa 600-550 BC. EL Hemihekte – Twelfth Stater. Phokaic normal. Figural kind. Scarab beetle / Quadripartite incuse sq., 8mm, 1.32 g., Gemini X, lot 94. (CNG 93, Lot: 405, $9000, 5/22/2013).


This insect is a bit more controversial. Although bugs could also be small in actual life, they are often completely tiny when carved right into a coin die. Crickets are much like grasshoppers with the cricket having a shorter stubby physique and the grasshopper being longer and sleeker. I’ll go away it as much as the reader to determine if the insect on the coin in Determine 10 is a cricket or grasshopper. The Republican grasshopper for comparability could be seen in Determine 2. The Roman Republicans have been the one ones to have put a cricket on their cash, they usually appeared to have completed it solely twice. This may counsel it’s the image of some official or household.

Determine 10: ROMAN REPUBLIC. C. Marius C.f. Capito. 81 BC. AR Serrate Denarius, Rome mint. Draped bust of Ceres, carrying wreath of grain ears; [XVIII] earlier than / Farmer with yoke of oxen plowing left; XXVIII above, S C and cricket in exergue, 20mm, 3.83 g., Crawford 378/1b. (CNG 249, Lot: 300, $170).


Now we come to probably the most complicated of the bugs on cash. The bee cash of Ephesus have been lined very effectively by different authors (see the reference for the CoinWeek article by Mark Markowitz). So, I can’t go into element about this prized insect. An instance coin is proven in Determine 11to see how the bee was depicted.

Determine 11: IONIA, Ephesos. Circa 405-390 BC. AR Tetradrachm. Chian normal. Xeines, Justice of the Peace. Bee, with curved wings, seen from above; E-Φ flanking / Forepart of stag proper, head left; palm tree to left, ΞEINHΣ to proper, 27.5mm, 15.19 g., Hecatomnus p. 102, 2 var. (unlisted dies). (Triton XXIII, Lot: 356, $16,000, 1/14/2020).

What I wish to cowl is a pair different bugs that get lumped in with the bee: the wasp and the fly. Determine 12 reveals all three for comparability. On this scale it’s straightforward to inform the distinction, however, as a logo on a coin, just about all winged bugs look alike. I’m positive when the celator was reducing the die, he knew what insect he was alleged to depict, a nickname or a logo representing what the moneyer needed on the coin. Nevertheless it wouldn’t take very lengthy earlier than that data was forgotten, and the numismatist must take a guess at what he thinks it’s. There are a number of events when the outline of the coin calls the insect one factor, and one other description calls it one thing else. That is completely comprehensible as a result of there aren’t many cities, like Ephesus, that clearly point out the kind of insect on their cash. The truth that there are numerous species of bees, wasps, and flies (e.g. bumblebees) additionally clouds the difficulty.

Determine 12: Bee, wasp, and fly.

Determine 13 is a Roman Republic denarius with a wasp on the obverse. The elongated physique of the insect could also be why it’s referred to as a wasp right here. There isn’t any financial profit to having wasps, so it should be a logo for an individual, household, or attribute. There are only a few cash which have a winged insect on their obverse or reverse that consult with their insect as a wasp, a few examples are a stater of Dyrrhachium and a hemidrachm of Rhodes.

Determine 13: ROMAN REPUBLIC. L. Roscius Fabatus. 59 BC. AR Serrate Denarius. Rome mint. Head of Juno Sospita proper, wasp behind / Feminine proper dealing with serpent; rose on left, 3.93 g. Crawford 412/1 (symbols 10. (CNG 73, Lot: 793. $380, 9/13/2006).
Determine 14: SICILY, Messana. 425-421 BC. AR Tetradrachm. The nymph Messana, holding kentron in proper hand, reins in each, driving gradual biga of mules proper; in exergue, leaf and berry proper / MES-S-A-N-IO-N, hare springing proper; under, fly proper, 27mm, 17.45 g., Caltabiano 479 (D196/R190). (CNG 787208, $36,500).

Final, and possibly least, is the fly. The disease-carrying, soup-swimming insect was absolutely a serious a part of Greek life. Its stubby physique and enormous wings make it a bit extra distinctive than the opposite earlier two flyers, and there appears to be many extra cash which have a fly on them than it’s extra vicious different, the wasp. A number of of the cities which have a fly on their cash are Messana, Kaulonia, Soloi. Tarsos, Chersonesos, Metapontium, Gela, and Nagidus. Macedon and the Roman Republic used the fly on their cash as effectively. Determine 14 reveals a tetradrachm of Messana that has a big fly on its reverse. Although as all the time, it could be within the eye of the beholder as to which bug it’s.
787208, $36,500)


The identical bugs which are round immediately have been most likely round then, so there have been many bugs that don’t seem on cash. I can’t see bugs like mosquitos, gnats, and fleas being very interesting to a moneyer (I really regarded for them), plus I don’t suppose leaders would need them as nicknames (Scipio “The Gnat” Cornelius). As to what bugs stood for after they have been used, apart from the bee, has been misplaced by way of the ages, although I’m positive that they had their objective on the time. I’ve already talked about some potential causes for the bugs being on cash, however I didn’t point out that almost all of them are an excellent supply of protein – my grandfather ate grasshoppers as a snack (for actual). In international locations like Mexico, they’re conventional meals (that fly is meant to be in your soup). I’ve already emphasised the problem of figuring out a number of the bugs on cash, however luckily there are some which are readily recognizable and that offers us a bit extra perception into the traditional world.


Markowitz, Mike. “Bee All That You Can Bee: Honeybees on Historical Cash,” CoinWeek, 7/1919.

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