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Updated: Oct 10, 2023

St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church, Chicago

An awful lot of websites out there dealing with Christian symbols have recently been edited to remove the Dolphin/Anchor symbolism that was the most common symbol used by the earliest Christians.

c. 2nd- 3rd Century intaglio showing CHI RHO combined with Anchor and two Dolphins

Some now mention the anchor by itself, or the dolphin by itself, or fail to mention the symbols altogether. Also, even Wikipedia is claiming that the Dolphin/Anchor symbol was used to illustrate the adage, “Festina Lente” (Make Haste Slowly) in Roman times, when there is no evidence of this – the coin they claim Augustus put the symbol on does not exist. Augustus used a trident and dolphin, not an anchor and dolphin, on his coins, and obviously the symbol of a dolphin entwined around a trident has no correlation to the adage.

Augustus coin with Dolphin-and-Trident erroneously claimed to be a Dolphin-and-Anchor motif on the reverse. Numismologists agree that any claim that Augustus used the Dolphin-Anchor symbol on his coins is in error and that he used a Dolphin-and-Trident symbol, instead. It is commonly accepted that the first Roman use of the symbol on coins was by the Flavian emperors, Titus and Domitian.

One of the benefits of discovering previously unknown connections is that there has been no effort or reason to hide them yet at the point when they are discovered. Even though the Dolphin/Anchor image was used hundreds of years before the Roman period to represent Apollo on the island of Delos, the erroneous attribution of the symbol as an illustration of the adage “Festina Lente” by Augustus is cited by Wikipedia and various Christian sites. The symbol long predated Augustus and had been used on coins and other artifacts by the Seleucids and Greeks to represent Apollo. Fortunately, in Creating Christ we show ample evidence of the symbol’s much earlier origin and its much later usage by Titus and the earliest Christians, as well as citing the fact that numismologists have explicitly rejected Augustus’s use of the symbol.

Ironically, the “Festina Lente” attribution that was probably adopted much later during the Renaissance has disguised and confused the symbol’s connection to the emperor Titus so successfully that its use by Christians was readily admitted a few short years ago, as anchor/dolphins-fish symbols were by far the most frequently used at the earliest Christian archeological sites. Removing its origin as a symbol of the pagan god Apollo and its problematic reintroduction by the Emperor Titus made it a harmless enough symbol for the earliest Christians to adopt. Now, however, since the publication of CREATING CHRIST, the information at some sites is being adjusted to obscure the origin and Christian usage of the symbol.

This was quite predictable and one of the reasons we were careful to document the origin and use of the symbol so thoroughly in Creating Christ.

The Renaissance printer who used the symbol as an imprint, Aldus Manutius, no doubt got the image from a coin he was shown issued by the emperor Titus. Aldus Manutius, who associated the adage “Festina Lente” to the image for his imprint, did not derive the image from an Augustus coin, at all. From this paper: “Erasmus tells us that Aldus derived the anchor-and-dolphin image from a first-century AD Roman silver coin, incorrectly attributing it to the reign of the Emperor Vespasian. In fact, the anchor-and-dolphin device was used only on silver denarii successively issued by Vespasian’s two sons, the Emperors Titus (79–81) and Domitian (81–96).”

References to a dolphin-and-anchor symbol being used on Augustus coins is further refuted at this forum on ancient coins:

Moreover, there is no connection of any kind made by the Emperor Augustus between the anchor/dolphin symbol and his favorite adage, “Make haste slowly.” None. Augustus does not refer to any image, but to the adage itself. And Titus does not refer to the adage at all but uses the image known to have been used by the Seleucids.

Putting the two emperors together in order to connect the adage “Festina Lente” to the symbol of the Dolphin-and-Anchor is a gross, if not deliberate, error.

In all likelihood, the adage was associated with the image at a much later date, probably in the time of the printer Aldus Manutius, perhaps by Aldus Manutius himself.

There is literally no evidence that the symbol relates to the adage in any way in the time that Titus stamped it on his coins, and certainly not before that when it was associated with the god Apollo.

Additionally, we already know what symbol Augustus used to represent his favorite adage: a rabbit/snail chimera. This is the symbol we know Augustus employed to illustrate his favorite adage:

Another Augustus coin represents a crab and a butterfly, and is also thought to be a symbolic representation of the adage, though this is unlikely as neither a crab or butterfly can be characterized as hasty or slow. Augustus never issued a dolphin/anchor coin -- the coin that Augustus used, as clearly stated and shown in Creating Christ and as shown above, was not a dolphin/anchor but a dolphin/trident image.

It is simply an error (and another convenient one for Christians wishing to bury this connection of Flavians to Christians) that Augustus ever used a dolphin/anchor image. He did not. Not only is it a bad representation of the adage "make haste slowly" (as an anchor does not move, slowly or swiftly), and a dolphin entwined around an anchor long predated Augustus as a symbol of Apollo, but Augustus had fashioned his own unique symbol to represent the adage rather than appropriating the god Apollo's image, and that symbol is much more appropriate to express the idea.

Sacre Coeur Basilica mosaic, Paris


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