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The Coins of Gallienus' "Zoo" Collection

By Jim Phelps

First, a very brief historical background on the period:

Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus was about 40 when his father Valerian was declared emperor by his troops in 253. Gallienus was made Caesar immediately by his father, but was declared as an emperor (Augustus) within a month, when his father arrived in Rome. He was given responsibility over the western provinces, while Valerian moved east to fight the new Persian Sassanian kingdom. They would not see each other again.

Gallienus ruled as a co-emperor from 253-260, before the treacherous capture of his father by the Sassanian king Shapur I. Gallienus' sons had also been declared as Caesars, but by the end of 260 both had perished. From 260-268 he ruled alone, during one of the most difficult times of the empire. Not only was the empire facing invasions on all sides from various barbarian groups, but he had to face at least 8 rebellions from his own governors and generals!


Antoniniani of Gallienus' family. Wife Salonina, and sons Valerian II and Saloninus.


Antoniniani of some of the rebels. Macrianus, Quietus, Postumus, and a coin struck in Mediolanum by Aureolus in support of Postumus.

Given the disasters that occurred during his reign and the fact that "the winners write the history books", it's not surprising that he is portrayed very negatively. However, given the fact that Gallienus managed to remain emperor for fifteen years during all of this chaos suggests otherwise. A look at the battles and rebellions that took place show him going back and forth almost constantly during his reign fighting battles, trying to hold his empire together. He simply had the misfortune to be the ruler of the Roman Empire at the time when, through a variety of reasons, the empire seemed bent on falling apart. Gallienus managed to bring the empire through this incredibly difficult period without complete disaster.

Perhaps due to all of these problems, the rate of inflation soared incredibly during this period. The antoninianus, which had begun as a silver coin, was by now heavily debased. So many of these were being pumped out of the mints that they now offer the collector a huge, and generally very affordable, selection.

One group of these coins was issued very near the end of his reign and honor nine Roman deities, asking for their protection against these troubles. The legend on the backs of the coins translates as "To (the named deity) Preserver of Augustus". There are a rich variety of animals on these, some real and some mythical. This series is sometimes called the "Zoo" of Gallienus. The links below are arranged by which deity the coin was dedicated to - Apollo, Diana, Liber Pater, Jupiter, Hercules, Neptune, Mercury, and Sol. Gallienus' wife, Salonina, also issued coins for this series, asking Juno for protection. It's possible that these coins also refer to religious festivals or games to entertain the Roman people, hopefully diverting their attention from the continuing rebellions, invasions, and plagues and thus help in maintaining the security of the rulers.

The Cunetio Hoard consisting of 54,951 coins was found in England in 1978, and is sometimes used as an example of the coins in circulation when it was buried in the early 270's. About 30% of the coins in the hoard were struck for Gallienus and his family. Of these, 2737 belonged to the "Zoo" series. Using these numbers, and taking into consideration that only Gallienus and his wife (but NOT his sons) produced coins in this series, we come up with a very rough approximation (just this side of a wild guess) that roughly 14% of Gallienus' total coins minted belong to the Zoo series.

The chart below has links to pages showing coins from each part of this series, as well as census information taken from the Cunetio Hoard. The percentage information below seems a bit off from what has been showing up in the marketplace. Though the coins of Diana and Apollo do show up more often than the rest, the coins of Sol, Jupiter, Liber and Neptune are still much more common than the numbers would have us guess.

Deity Typical reverse legend Number Percentage Typical animal
Doe, stag, antelope/gazelle
Centaur, gryphon
Pegasus/winged horse, bull
Capricorn, hippocamp
Lion, boar

Officina # Primary type Secondary type
A (Alpha)
Pegasus/winged horse (Sol) (Siscia-none) Lion (Hercules)
B (Beta)
Panther/tigress (Liber Pater) (Siscia-B or none)
Antelope (Diana)
Gryphon (Apollo) Doe/Elk/Capreolus (Juno)
Doe (Diana) Boar (Hercules)
Goat (Jupiter) Capricorn (Neptune)
Z (Zeta)
Centaur w/ bow (Apollo) (Siscia-SI above groundline)
E (Eta)
Centaur w/ globe (Apollo) Criocamp (Mercury)
B (Nu)
Hippocamp (Neptune)(Siscia-SI)
Stag (Diana)(Siscia-SI)
Gazelle (Diana)(Siscia-SI) Bull (Sol)
Gazelle (Diana)

During the reign of Gallienus, the Roman Imperial mints were beginning a system of putting mint and/or officina (workshop within a mint) marks on coins, a practice that was to continue throughout the remainder of the Imperial period. Among other things, this might have been needed for quality control, helping to trace irregularities in coin weights and alloys.

In later times the mint of Roma (Rome) used a letter abbreviation for the Latin number of the officina, such as P, S, T, or Q (prima, secunda, tertia, quarta). During this early period though, it was a more mixed system, using a combination of a Greek numbering scheme and Roman. Officinae numbers 1-8 used Greek numerals, while 9 used Nu , which normally meant 50. The normal Greek letter for 9 was Theta , but this was also the first letter of the Greek word for death, Thanatos, and seems to have been considered unlucky. Officinae 10-12 went back to typical Roman numerals, providing a mixed and sometimes confusing pattern. Soon after the reign of Gallienus the Imperial mints seem to have ironed out their system more, with western mints using the Latin numerals while the eastern ones used Greek, but the Gallienic period provides an interesting glimpse into the development of this system.

The number "6" by this reasoning is represented by the Greek letter stigma. For an excellent article on the use of this letter as a number, and it's identification as stigma (as opposed to digamma) please see The Numismatica Font Project.

The vast majority of Zoo coins were produced at the mint of Rome, with a few rare examples coming from Siscia. Each officina produced a different coin within the series, with some producing a second, less common type also. Occasionally you'll find an animal with the "wrong" officina mark. These are fascinating, and the rarity leads us to believe that they represented mistakes, perhaps when a die engraver was transferred from one workshop to another. He gets the right animal, but the wrong officina. Or maybe one workshop was falling behind, so another was temporarily enlisted to help catch up on the quota? I show the more common, apparently "official" animal/mint combinations on this table, including the more rare Siscia mint marks.

The following catalogue references are used for the coins throughout this section of the website:
Van Meter - "The Handbook of Roman Imperial Coins" by David Van Meter (1991) - My favorite general reference.
RIC V - "Roman Imperial Coinage", Volume V, part 1 - by PH Webb, edited by H Mattingly & EA Sydenham (1927)
SRCV - "Roman Coins and Their Values" - by David Sear (1988)
RSC IV - "Roman Silver Coins" - Volume 4 - by H.A. Seaby (1982)
Gbl MIR - "Moneta Imperii Romani 36, 43, 44 - Die Mnzprgung der Kaiser Valerianus I./Gallienus/Saloninus (253/268), Regalianus (260) und Macrianus/Quietus (260/262)" - by Robert Gbl (2000) - An excellent survey of coins of this period, from collections in European museums. Very complete with regards to representing each type, but probably not an absolute indicator of how common each type was, since the museums might have turned away multiple examples of common coins. Still, if you are interested in coins of this period, it's invaluable.

Some other helpful references for this series are:
The Cunetio Treasure -Appendix 5 "The Animals on the 'Cons Aug' Coins of Gallienus" - by E. Besly and R. Bland, with contributions by I. Carradice and C. Gingel (1983) - I refer to this constantly throughout this site. It is certainly the most thorough study that's been done thus far on these coins.
Weigel - Gallienus' 'Animal Series' Coins and Roman Religion - by Richard D. Weigel in The Numismatic Chronicle #150 (1990)

There are some excellent resources for learning more about this series, and about other coins of Gallienus. I'd like to recommend the following:
Ed Flinn's Gallienus Coin Collection - a listing of coins by Gbl catalogue number. A truly amazing collection, and growing rapidly. If you have any interest in coins or this emperor or need references to help identify your Gallienus coin, visiting this site is a must.
Beast's Gallienus Coins - Besides the "Zoo" series, Gallienus also issued coins honoring each of his legions, with the legionary badge (usually an animal) on the reverse. The Beast has a wonderful collection of animal coins, and also shows some of his own Gallienus "Zoo" coins on this page.

Coins of Gallienus' Zoo
last modified: 7 Mar 2006