As Caracalla - lion holding thunderbolt
CARACALLA. AE As. Rome, 217 AD
Obv. ANTONINVS PIVS AVG GERM, laureate head right,
Rev. PM TR P XX COS IIII PP SC, radiate lion walking left, holding thunderbolt in its jaws
The radiate lion holding a thunderbolt in his jaws was a solar symbol (perhaps from Emesa, Julia Domna’s native city) and was introduced to Roman coinage in 215. It relates both to Caracalla’s campaign against Parthia and to his devotion to the eastern gods who were his special favorites.[Leu]
The radiate lion is an ancient symbol of the sun and the East - especially of Persia, the land which Caracalla was then determined to conquer as had his hero Alexander 'the Great'. The date of issue and the symbolism of the lion suggest this coin (is related to) the emperor's Parthian campaign of circa 215-217.
The lion is symbolic of Persia, and in a broader sense it represents power and victory. It was also a member of the retinue of Bacchus, the mythical conqueror of the East. Since this lion carries in its mouth a bolt, however, it is linked to Jupiter, the supreme Roman deity. Though not an animal familiar of Jupiter, the lion was considered by many cultures to be the supreme creature of the animal hierarchy. On Caracalla's coinage, Jupiter assumed a dominant role after 213, and the bolt is yet another reference to him. In the eastern context of the solar lion, the reference may well be specific to the Syrian Zeus.
Persians, Chaldeans, Egyptians, Hindus and Celts all considered the lion to be a solar symbol, and the connection between the lion and the sun finds its roots in the earliest civilizations of the East. Babylonians and Egyptians placed the sun in the house of Leo, thus occupying the place in the zodiac during which the summer solstice occurred; indeed, the sign Leo was described as the "abode of the sun".
In the third century, solar worship began to assume increasing importance in the Roman world. That Caracalla would have chosen this badge personally is no surprise, for his maternal heritage was tied to the solar worship cults popular in the Syrian district and Emesa. We may also note that Caracalla was fascinated with lions: Dio Cassius (lxxix 1.5, 6.1 and 7.2) tells us he had a pet lion named Acinaces and that he called his elite Scythian and Celtic troops 'lions'; the Historia Augusta (6.4) also claims that he used lions in battle. [NAC]
Ex. Moruzzi, 5 Dec. 1992