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Pan and his Lagobalon on Ancient Coins

You can click on any coin image to see the full coin.

The reverse of a bronze coin of Gordian III from Pella showing Pan Pan seated on rocks, holding pedum/lagobalon, syrinx in front.
AE25 of Gordian III from Pella in Macedonia, 238-244 CE.
The reverse of a silver triobol of the Arkadian League showing Pan Horned Pan seated on rocks holding pedum/lagobalon, syrinx below.
Silver triobol of the Arkadian League, Megalopolis mint, c. 330-275 BCE.

The god Pan is shown on many ancient coins. He had his home in Arkadia, a rocky and mountainous area which was regarded as rustic; and Pan, too, was rustic, a god of shepherds and hunting. His name comes from the Greek word Παειν (Paein), meaning "To pasture."

He was usually shown as only partly human. He typically had goat's horns and legs, complete with furry shanks and hooves. His facial features were animal-like. And he carried two typical objects; a syrinx, the multi-reeded pipe that was named after him, and the odd object which is the subject of this page.

That is a long stick with a curved end. It is sometimed called a pedum, and sometimes a lagobalon. "Pedum" is simple to explain; it is a Roman word meaning a shepherd's crook, that device with which sheep-herders snag the legs of their flock to hold them in place. The curved end therefore has a practical purpose, and the pedum is usually shown as long and smooth.

The lagobalon is a little more obscure. The word is Greek, not Roman. It is supposed to be a weapon for hunting small animals; it would be thrown at, for example, a rabbit to bring it down. This sort of device could easily be knobbly without affecting its function, but it is not clear why it should need a curved end. But a long, knobbly stick has a use as a weapon regardless of its throwability.

The obverse of a bronze coin from Pella showing the head of Pan Youthful bust of Pan, pedum/lagobalon behind.
AE19 of Pella in Macedonia, 187-31 BCE
Detail of the obverse of a bronze coin from Pella showing the head of Pan Detail of the pedum/lagobalon behind Pan's head.
AE19 of Pella in Macedonia, 187-31 BCE

The two coins at the top right show both sorts, in an almost identical setting, and at the same time they illustrate the length of time over which this image appeared on coins. On both, Pan is seated in rocky Arkadia, with his syrinx nearby and his pedum or lagobalon over his shoulder. He looks youthful and, though on the left-hand coin he clearly has horns, he does not seem to have any other animal parts.

The reverse of a bronze coin from Nicopolis ad Istrum showing Pan Horned and goat-legged Pan with nebris and pedum/lagobalon, spurning a panther.
AE28 of Elagabalus from Nicopolis ad Istrum, 218-222 CE.

The device on the top left coin looks more like a lagobalon, knobbly and not very curved. It would not be a practical sheep-catcher. On the right, though, is a long, smooth, sharply hooked device that is clearly the tool of a shepherd. Though we should bear in mind that the die engravers might have been unfamiliar with a pedum and using their imagination.

The distinction is not related to where the coins were struck. The coin above left is also from Pella, and the enlarged section clearly shows a not-very-curved, knobbly device, not at all like the pedum at the top right.

The reverse of a bronze coin of Gordian III from Hadrianopolis showing Pan Horned and goat-legged Pan running, holding a syrinx and throwing a lagobalon.
AE23 of Gordian III from Hadrianopolis in Thrace, 238-244 CE

The coin on the right shows a much wilder version of Pan, goat-legged and hairy. He is carrying a smooth, hooked pedum. Over his shoulder is a nebris, a fawn's-skin complete with dainty hooves. A hunter might have such a thing. He is spurning a supine panther with one hoof, and no-one seems to know what this action means in the context of this scene. The panther usually belongs to Dionysos, who was certainly not subordinate to Pan. Maybe it is meant to suggest Pan's dominion over wild things in general.

The reverse of a bronze coin from Alexandreia Troas showing a herdsman behind a horse Bearded and cloaked herdsman holding a pedum, behind a horse.
AE20 of Valerian I from Alexandreia Troas, 253-260 CE

You can see this Pan in more detail by clicking twice on the photo.

On the left is one of the most interesting coin images of Pan. He is horned and goat-legged, and holds his syrinx in his right hand. He is actively running to the left, and his left hand is raised, apparently about to throw the object it holds.

That object is smooth, with a half-hooked end, and has one large knob at the tip. It looks more like a weapon than any of the other objects shown here. I would not like to be on the receiving end of a blow with that knob.

Pan's grip is near the half-hooked end, about where the centre of balance would be, unlike his grip so far. You would not hold a sheep-catcher like that. The dynamics of this stance are very vivid. This object must surely be a lagobalon, a rabbiting-stick.

Pan often carried a pedum (or lagobalon), but he was not the only one. You might also see it held by other rural characters, such as the herdsman on the coin on the right, who holds it over his shoulder. His pedum, like a couple of those shown above, looks like a practical tool.

In the end, though, some of these coins don't really distinguish between one object and the other. Their uses may have differed in real life, but perhaps on coins it didn't much matter which was shown, as long as it was accepted as something that a shepherd might have, whether to control his flock or to catch his dinner; and was something the public would associate with Pan.

The content of this page was last updated on 5 November 2010

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