Both the way that Eros is bending over the lion’s paw and the position of his hands on the superb coin from Serdica—one supporting the paw, the other poised above it—strongly suggest that this is an echo of the old Greek story of “Androcles and the Lion” (quoted by the Antonine author Aulus Gellius in his Noctes atticae, V, 14), in which a runaway slave extracts a painful thorn from a lion’s paw and is later spared by the lion when the two meet again in the amphitheatre.
Æ 18, 7 h, 4.21 g. Obv. IMP MAXIMINVS AVG. Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Maximinus I r. Rev. C F P D. Eros standing l., holding the extended r. paw of a lion, r., winged thunderbolt in ex.
Æ 18, 2 h, 4.15 g. Obv. C IVL VER MAXIMVS CE. Bare-headed bust of Maximus Caesar r. Rev. C F P D. Same type as last.
* Serdica in Thracia, coins of Caracalla. The speculation by one cataloguer that the type might refer to a service done by Serdica to the emperor, for which some reward was now hoped for, seems fanciful, given that the type appears on coins of two cities of different types (Greek-speaking Serdica, and the miltary colony of Deultum with its Latin-inscribed coinage) on opposite sides of Thracia and struck at different periods.
Æ 20, 1 h, 4.73 g. Obv. AYT K M AΥP CEY ANTΩNEINOC. Laureate bust of Caracalla r. Rev. [C]EPΔΩN. Same type as last, but without the winged thunderbolt in the ex. (Photos courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc., www.cngcoins.com).
Similar, Æ 19, 2 h, 3.96 g (holed).
* This motif also appears on magical gems and amulets, like the following lead amulet (photos courtesy of Gert Boersema). The obverse shows the Gnostic personification Abraxas (or Abrasax), with a cock’s head and serpent tails and holding a sword (or whip) and a shield; the reverse, on which there is some unclear lettering (AΛKC?), shows Eros/Cupid kneeling to extract a thorn from a lion’s paw, in front of a cave or grove of trees, while above a hare leaps into the sky pursued by a dog (a representation of the soul leaving the body?). Like the coin of Serdica illustrated above, the amulet has been holed to allow it to be worn on a chain or necklace or fixed to a wooden coffin or door lintel.
I am also grateful to Gert for drawing my attention to an essay by Campbell Bonner, “Eros and the Wounded Lion” in the American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 49, No. 4 (Oct.-Dec., 1945), pp. 441-44, which analyses a group of gems showing Eros apparently bandaging a lion’s forepaw. Noting the presence of solar imagery (not found on the coins), Bonner sees a possible Egyptian connection: in ancient Egypt, the lion was often associated with the sun, and Harpocrates sometimes assimilated to Eros.
References: Jurukova 199; Varbanov 2435-36
References: Hristova/Jekov 18.104.22.168; Varbanov 2079