Because of its royal, stately, and "king of the jungle"
symbolism, the lion is one of the most frequent images to appear on coinage, from ancient times to the present,
from the world's first coinage in Lydia c. 600 BC to the fractional euro coins of Finland today.
Lions are especially prevalent on very early coins, minted during the sixth century BC, including but not limited
to coins from Lydia, Miletos, Samos, Smyrna, Kyzikos, Termera, Knidos, Kamiros, Lindos, Mylasa, Cyprus, Velia,
Most of these cities are in "the East," in particular Greek Asia Minor, which is present-day Turkey.
Civilization arose in the East, in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) and Egpyt, from where it spread to Europe. During
ancient times the East was more developed, urban, and civilized than most of Europe and to a large extent remained
that way until the Renaissance.
Lions, paradoxically, were symbols of both royal authority and enemy power. Depicting a king hunting a lion on
a painting, fresco, mosaic, sculpture, plate, or seal in Assyria was thought to symbolize the ability of the king
to protect his people from their enemies. Lions were hunted on horseback in the East as part of the training of
Persian nobility in wild game parks set up specifically for this purpose, as described by the fourth century BC
Athenian Xenophon. The practice was later taken up by Alexander the Great and his immediate successors. The lion
was also important in Sumer, which most scholars regard as history's first civilization. In the Epic of Gilgamesh,
about a Sumerian king who reigned c. 2750 BC and who was literature's first mythic hero, Gilgamesh wrestles lions
and wears their skins as clothing, much as Herakles did later for the Greeks.
Lions in the wild are thought to have disappeared from Greece around 100 BC, from Western Europe around 1 AD, and
from Eastern Europe around 100 AD, but they survived in Turkey until the late 19th century and Iraq and Iran into
the early 20th century.
The lion vies with the eagle as the animal appearing most frequently on coinage throughout history. Both are majestic
creatures, the lion king of the terrestrial world, the eagle king of the air and the heavens. Eagles have likely
been used more. They dominate U.S. coinage, of course, with the eagle being the country's national bird and emblem.
A search of world coins on eBay at a random point in time indicated that 493 auction items had the word "eagle"
in their title or description, while 159 had "lion," and a similar search of ancient coins indicated
that 305 items had "eagle," while 190 had "lion."
Including the Lydian Lion, discussed on the first
page of this site, here are seven of the more important
or interesting Greek-era coin types depicting lions, along with some ancient and modern fakes of the same.
Note: All of the coins illustrated on these pages that are in my possession are stored off site.