Position of the he-goat on the Kelenderis staters


The symbol of Kelenderis is the he-goat, which is found on all staters, thirds staters and bronze coins, as well as on many issues of obols and hemiobols (see section Kelenderis / Overview in this catalogue). As can be seen on the coins on which the goat is depicted in its entirety, it is indeed a male goat.1 In catalogues and other publications, the goat is usually described as kneeling (sometimes as crouching) and this description is also used on this website for brevity. However, this brief description is not entirely accurate. The goat is shown kneeling on one front leg with the other front leg raised (e.g., Type 3B.1) or resting on the ground with its hoof (e.g., Type 2A.1). The rump is higher than the chest and the hind legs are almost bent under the body (e.g., Type 2D.1a) or slightly bent (e.g., Type 2E.1) or still upright (e.g., Type 3B.1). Obviously, this position is only a transitional phase and the goat is just in motion to take up some stable position.

This scene can be interpreted in two ways: either the goat is just rising from a kneeling position, or, on the contrary, he is moving towards the ground to a kneeling position. The first interpretation is preferred in Hunterian Coll. II:

He-goat in act of raising itself from reclining posture l.; l. knee still rests on ground; head turned back
(p. 530, no. 1 = Type 2A.1b);

He-goat in the act of rising from kneeling posture r.
(p. 531, no. 6 = Type 3E.2a).

In most quadrupeds, the position of the chest indicates the direction of their movement. This is because when a kneeling animal wants to get up off the ground, it first pushes its body up with its front legs and lifts its chest and abdomen off the ground. Only then does it push the back of its body off the ground with its hind legs. Conversely, if a standing animal wants to kneel down with its legs underneath it, it usually first bends its front legs (both at the same time or one leg before the other), lowering the chest and abdomen closer to the ground so that at this stage the hindquarters are up. It then folds its back legs under its body and tucks them towards its chest. This observation suggests that the goat on the Kelenderis coins is about to kneel down. However, goats have a habit of grazing on their knees and even kids nurse from their mothers on their knees. Therefore, it cannot be ruled out that these coins depict a goat that was grazing on his knees and is now standing up.

Imhoof-Blumer 1902 was similarly undecided:

Ziegenbock linkshin, sich legend oder erhebend, den Kopf zurückwendend
(“He-goat to left, lying down or rising, head turned back”; p. 453, no. 1 = Type 3A.5).

The position of the goat’s head is also worth paying attention to. With the exception of the early issues (Group 1), the goat always has his head turned backwards, which is no doubt primarily for artistic reasons, to effectively fill the space of the flan.2 However, this composition also suggests that either something has caught his attention and he has decided to stand up, or he is making sure it is safe to kneel. The turned head, which increases the visual impact of the scene, therefore does not provide a clue to the direction of movement.

It can therefore be inferred that the he-goat on the reverse of the Kelenderis coins is either about to kneel down or get up from a kneeling position, while observing something in his surroundings. It is difficult to decide which of these two possibilities these coins depict.3


1 For a discussion of whether this is a breed of domestic goat or a wild goat (ibex), see page The κέλης and the κελάδες.

2 The motif of the kneeling goat with reverted head may have been taken from the coins of Paros in the Cyclades (late 6th century BC, e.g. BMC 9, p. 113, nos. 1 = museum number HPB,p174.38, and 2 = museum number 1852,0222.10) or from coins formerly attributed to the Macedonian city of Aigai and now attributed under some Thraco-Macedonian tribal authority (1st half of the 5th century BC, see Lorber 2000). Of course, a gem or other work of art could also have been the model or inspiration for the Kelenderis coins.

On the contrary, the Kelenderis coins were probably the model for the use of this theme in the coinage of Lycia (5th century BC, see Mørkholm and Zahle 1972, nos. 54–58 and p. 77) and Samaria (4th century BC, e.g. Classical Numismatic Group, Auction 118, 13 September 2021, Lot 447).

3 My sincere thanks to Rosanagh Mack for the fruitful discussion of this topic.


24 April 2023 – 28 October 2023