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The Crocodile, a Symbol of Egypt?

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Written by   504
1 year ago (Last updated: 6 months ago)

Generally, no one today sees the crocodile as a symbol of Egypt. But there was a time in history when it actually was so, at least in limited circles.

When Octavian (Caesar Augustus) of Rome defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra (VII) and Egypt was incorporated into the Roman Empire, he had a number of coins made to celebrate his victory. The coins show himself on the front and on the reverse a crocodile and the text AEGYPTO CAPTA (the defeated Egypt). This seems to be the beginning of the crocodile's role as the personification of Egypt in the eyes of the Romans, and the symbol persisted long after Augustus' death. But did he found it himself, or did he build on some older tradition?

Above we see one of the coins. (Image licensed (CC BY-SA 2.5), belongs to Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. ) It's a denarius in silver from 29-27 BC. Coined in Rome or Brundisium.

The crocodile was revered by the Ptolemies of Egypt; the Ptolemaic family had a special relation to it. They did not originally use it as a symbol on coins, but it seems that Cleopatra took the crocodile symbol in order to connect with the oldest history of the dynasty she tried to revitalise, and she tied it to her daughter with Mark Antony, Cleopatra Selene, on whose behalf Cleopatra had coins made with a crocodile symbol.

The founder of the dynasty was Ptolemy I Soter, who was one of the generals of Alexander the Great. When Alexander died, the empire was divided between the generals after a gathering in Babylon in 323 BC, and Egypt came to Ptolemy. None of the kingdoms that were formed by the other generals reached such a position. Ptolemaic Egypt, which existed 305-30 BC, became the centre of the Hellenistic world and a cultural superpower. Alexandria, capital of the kingdom, was the center of the Western world over a couple of centuries. By "Western", I here mean the world west of India.

When Alexander the Great died in 323 BC, Ptolemy I Soter took his body to Egypt 322 BC (according to Diodorus Siculus). He was buried in a tomb in Alexandria (the tomb was known to the contemporaries, but today nobody knows where it is or was). But Ptolemy did not take the body directly to Alexandria. While a tomb was completed there, he took the body to Memphis.

However, there was a conflict between the generals, and Ptolemy was attacked by Perdiccas, another one of them. Perdiccas went into Egypt, marched against Memphis and tried to cross the Nile during the night. A large part of his army perished, soldiers drowned or were taken by the many crocodiles. Those who survived became demoralised, mutinied and murdered Perdiccas.

Perdiccas had a much larger army than Ptolemy. Probably Perdiccas would have won the war if the Nile and the crocodiles had not "helped" Ptolemy to secure the holding of Egypt.

War veterans settled in Fayoum, the crocodile city, and that's where the legend of this event was born. Actually, no one knows if it really took place, or if it is a totally fictitious legend. But crocodiles played a starring role, and the sacred crocodiles had given Ptolemy the victory.

During Cleopatra's lifetime, this story was certainly alive and a source of inspiration when she, along with Mark Antony, wished to relate to the ancient Ptolemaic history and also remind about something that could scare external attackers (especially Octavian - commonly known as Emperor Augustus). Cleopatra and Mark Antony tried to recreate the empire Ptolemy I Soster and Ptolemy II Philadelphos had once ruled. The crocodile symbol was suitable for this.

Mark Antony gave Cleopatra large areas of western Asia that were under his control as Roman triumvir. He also gave land to their common children. The daughter Cleopatra Selene received Cyrenaica and Crete. In both Crete and Cyrenaica at this time they made coins showing a crocodile. Cleopatra seems to have created the crocodile symbol especially for her daughter Cleopatra Selene!

Apparently Augustus adopted the symbol to mark his victory over Cleopatra and Mark Antony by using it on the back of his coins along with the text AEGYPTO CAPTA. He doubly coined the crocodile as a Roman symbol of Egypt. It is quite possible, however, that this connection of crocodiles and Egypt was already a part of the Roman mind at the time.

King Juba II of Mauritania also minted coins with a crocodile on them. He was married to Cleopatra Selene.

Nimes' City Arms

It is an interesting fact that the French city of Nimes today has a crocodile chained to a palm tree on its coat of arms. The shield has the inscription COL NEM, which means "colony of Nimes", or "Colonia Nemausus'. Nemausus received the status of Roman colony [colonia] when Emperor Augustus settled veterans from the wars in Egypt there. The chained crocodile is the symbol of the conquered Egypt.

The coat of arms was not created until 1535, but then the symbol was taken from ancient Roman coins. They had made Roman coins with a crocodile motive also in Nemausus.

This was my second article about the role played by crocodiles in Ancient Egypt. The first was "The Sacred Crocodiles of Egypt".

Copyright © 2016, 2020 Meleonymica/Mictorrani. All Rights Reserved.

All my articles about Egypt and Egyptology can be found here.

Interested in history, legends and myths, join my community History, Myths, Legends & Mysteries (be45).

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Written by   504
1 year ago (Last updated: 6 months ago)
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Comments

Nice article, I didn't knew about the crocodile symbolism for Egypt but most of my interest lies in ancient Egypt or rather "Kemet"

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2 months ago

History in its Making I love history because what i know is what i will tell🖤🖤

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1 year ago

I'm not sure I understand how you mean here, but history is fascinating.

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1 year ago

History really is fascinating and suspicious

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1 year ago

Nice article

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1 year ago

Glad you enjoyed it.

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1 year ago

Ur welcome🙏🙏

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1 year ago

Every day we learn more about the importance of crocodiles in history. Thanks mate really appreciated 😌😌

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1 year ago

Well, every day, two days. It will not be more Egyptian crocodiles from me now, but perhaps more about Old Egypt.

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1 year ago

That's great artical..

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1 year ago

Thanks.

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1 year ago

A very nice and enjoyable read.....thank you.

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1 year ago

You're most welcome!

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1 year ago