Did The Romans Believe In Noah’s Ark?

Did The Romans Believe In Noah’s Ark?

    It seems that the ancient Romans believed in the story of Noah’s Ark. They minted provincial coins in the city of Apameia Kibotos (κιβωτός kibōtŏs means ark, Noah’s ark specifically [Gen. 6:14-19 LXX, Matt. 24:38 GNT, etc.])[i], near Mt. Ararat. These were minted from the time of Emperor Septimius Severus (192-211 AD) through the reign of Trebonianus Gallus (251-253 AD).[ii] The Greek spelling for Noah, NΩE can be seen on the center-left side of the Ark on the reverse side of the coin. At approximately 36 millimeters in size and 22 grams weight, these were the Provincial equivalent of an Imperial Roman Sestertius – the largest,[iii] regularly issued, base metal Imperial denomination minted by the Roman Empire.

    Biblical scholars who believe in the flood account date it broadly to anywhere from as early as 3500 BC[iv] to as late as 2300 BC.[v] This broad discrepancy is due to varying dating theories. The Romans go back to as early as 770 BC as a society.[vi] Their society overlapped with and sprung from the Etruscans which go back to about 1200 BC.[vii] They have a cosmology much like the Israelites: 1st heaven and earth, 2nd the firmament, 3rd the sea and water, 4th the sun and moon, 5th the souls of animals, 6th Mankind.[viii]

    Now there are over 250 flood stories from all over the world,[ix] do they stem from over 250 local floods or one global deluge? Ockham’s (also spelled Occam) razor (a philosophical and scientific principle of simplicity) says the simplest answer is often the one that is true. After all, the Romans had a flood myth of their own which paralleled that of the Jews and Christians:

And such the laws by Nature’s hand imposed On clime and clime, e’er since the primal dawn When old Deucalion on the unpeopled earth[x] – Virgil, Georg. 1.77–79. Emphasis mine.

Having thus far proceeded in our discourse, I cannot think it well done to pass by the cunning of the fox, by reason of the similitude it has with the former. The mythologists tell us that the dove which Deucalion sent out of his ark, returning back again, was to him a certain sign of the storm not ceased; but of serene and fair weather, when she flew quite away. [xi] – Plut., De soll. 13. Emphasis mine.

[2] Now this city, so the story goes on, was flooded by the rains that fell in the time of Deucalion. Such of the inhabitants as were able to escape the storm were led by the howls of wolves to safety on the top of Parnassus, being led on their way by these beasts, and on this account they called the city that they founded Lycoreia (Mountainwolf-city).[xii] – Paus., Gr. Descr. 10.6.2. Emphasis mine.

Wherefore God delays causing the confusion and destruction of the whole world, by which the wicked angels and demons and men shall cease to exist, because of the seed of the Christians, who know that they are the cause of preservation in nature. Since, if it were not so, it would not have been possible for you to do these things, and to be impelled by evil spirits; but the fire of judgment would descend and utterly dissolve all things, even as formerly the flood left no one but him only with his family who is by us called Noah, and by you Deucalion, from whom again such vast numbers have sprung, some of them evil and others good.[xiii] – Justin, 2 Apol. 7. Emphasis mine.

And all these things the Holy Spirit teaches us, who speaks through Moses and the rest of the prophets, so that the writings which belong to us godly people are more ancient, yea, and are shown to be more truthful, than all writers and poets. But also, concerning music, some have fabled that Apollo was the inventor, and others say that Orpheus discovered the art of music from the sweet voices of the birds. Their story is shown to be empty and vain, for these inventors lived many years after the flood. And what relates to Noah, who is called by some Deucalion, has been explained by us in the book before mentioned, and which, if you wish it, you are at liberty to read.[xiv] – Theoph., Autol. 2.30. Emphasis mine.

After these statements, Celsus, from a secret desire to cast discredit upon the Mosaic account of the creation, which teaches that the world is not yet ten thousand years old, but very much under that, while concealing his wish, intimates his agreement with those who hold that the world is uncreated. For, maintaining that there have been, from all eternity, many conflagrations and many deluges, and that the flood which lately took place in the time of Deucalion is comparatively modern, he clearly demonstrates to those who are able to understand him, that, in his opinion, the world was uncreated. But let this assailant of the Christian faith tell us by what arguments he was compelled to accept the statement that there have been many conflagrations and many cataclysms, and that the flood which occurred in the time of Deucalion, and the conflagration in that of Phaëthon, were more recent than any others. And if he should put forward the dialogues of Plato (as evidence) on these subjects, we shall say to him that it is allowable for us also to believe that there resided in the pure and pious soul of Moses, who ascended above all created things, and united himself to the Creator of the universe, and who made known divine things with far greater clearness than Plato, or those other wise men (who lived) among the Greeks and Romans, a spirit which was divine. And if he demands of us our reasons for such a belief, let him first give grounds for his own unsupported assertions, and then we shall show that this view of ours is the correct one.[xv] – Orig., Cont. Cels. 1.19. Emphasis mine.

    But when the Romans minted these coins, the name they chose to imprint them with was NΩE, Noah’s name in the Greek version of the Old Testament called the Septuagint, not Deucalion, the character from their own mythology. The purpose of minting coins for the Romans was not merely to have a medium of exchange but to promote official, Roman propaganda.[xvi] Judaism was a legal but not always popular religion in the polytheistic Roman Empire. These coins (CLICK on names for pictures) were minted by the Emperors: Septimius Severus (145-211) also see, Macrinus (165-218), Severus Alexander (208-235), Gordianus III (225-244), Philip I ‘The Arab’ (204-249) and Trebonianus Gallus (206-253). The fact of these coins existence strongly suggests that the Romans, for a time, wished to promote the idea that Apameia Kibotos (κιβωτός kibōtŏs) was the resting place of Noah’s Ark.


[i] James Strong, A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 42. And, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon to the Septuagint, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012). Also, Henry George Liddell et al., A Greek-English Lexicon, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 950. Additionally, William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 544.

[ii] Norbert Clemens Baumgart, ” 4.2. Frühe jüdische und christliche Abbildungen” (March 2013), bibelwissenschaft.de, http://www.bibelwissenschaft.de/wibilex/das-bibellexikon/lexikon/sachwort/anzeigen/details/arche-1/ch/a8d7f3177e2d36a19b8f8bccb241d7cb/#h14 (accessed 01/03/2015).

[iii] Double Sestertii were issued by Trajan Decius 249-251, Postumus 259-268 (a regional emperor) and briefly by Gallienus from 266-268. This denomination never really caught on. The Brass Sestertius (occasionally bronze) lasted for over 200 years.

[iv] Jason C. Kuo, “Flood,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2013, 2014).

[v] K. A. Kitchen and T. C. Mitchell, “Chronology of the Old Testament,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 187.

[vi] Philip Matyszak, Chronicle of the Roman Republic: The Rulers of Ancient Rome from Romulus to Augustus (London, UK: Thames & Hudson, 2003), 19.

[vii] N.S. Gill, “Who Were the Etruscans?” ancienthistory.about.com, http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/etruscans/f/Etruscans.htm, (accessed 01/03/2015).

[viii] H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1942), 29. Also See: Samuel Macauley Jackson, ed., The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge: Embracing Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology and Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Biography from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1908–1914), 299.

[ix] I am erring on the conservative side, there may be as many as 500 or more. Mark Isaak, “Flood Stories from Around the World” talkorigins.org, (09/02/2002) http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/flood-myths.html (accessed 12/17/2014). Also, see, North West Creation Network, “Flood Legends From Around the World” nwcreation.net, http://www.nwcreation.net/noahlegends.html (accessed 01/06/2015).

[x] P. Vergilius (Virgil) Maro, Bucolics, Aeneid, and Georgics Of Vergil, ed. J. B. Greenough (Medford, MA: Ginn & Co., 1900).

[xi] Plutarch, Plutarch’s Morals., ed. Goodwin, vol. 5 (Medford, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 1874), 179.

[xii] Pausanias, Pausanias Description of Greece with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod, M.A., in 4 Volumes. (Medford, MA: Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1918).

[xiii] Justin Martyr, “The Second Apology of Justin,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 190.

[xiv] Theophilus of Antioch, “Theophilus to Autolycus,” in Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Marcus Dods, vol. 2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 106.

[xv] Origen, “Origen Against Celsus,” in Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Frederick Crombie, vol. 4, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 404.

[xvi] The use of Roman coins as a medium of propaganda is a widely accepted theory among ancient numismatists. See Wayne Sayles, Ancient Coin Collecting III: The Roman World – Politics and Propaganda, 2nd Ed. (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2007)., Catherine C. Lorber, “Greek Imperial Coins and Roman Propaganda: Some Issues from the Sole Reign of Caracalla (Part II)” in SAN – Journal for the Society of Ancient Numismatics, Vol. XVI, No. 4 (May 1986)., Philip Kiernan, “A study on the religious propaganda of ancient coin reverse types, A.D. 313-337” in The Journal of the Classical & Medieval Numismatic Society, Toronto. Series Two, Vol. Two, No. Two, (June 1, 2001)., Michelle L. Mann, “Roman coinage: politics and propaganda” in The Journal of the Classical & Medieval Numismatic Society, Toronto. Series Two, Vol. One, No. Three, (December 1, 2000).

© 2015 – James McGarigle.

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About Jim McGarigle

I am married father of four, a Church Elder and lay, apologist-theologian. A conservative, evangelical, confessional Lutheran Christian. I am an admirer of Fr. Frederick Copleston, C.S. Lewis, John Warwick Montgomery, Dorothy Sayers, Francis Schaeffer & Eugene Veith. I am a regular reader of the Early Church Fathers and the Protestant Reformers. I attended Faith Evangelical Seminary where I earned my M.A.T.S. (Master of Arts in Theological Studies) in Apologetics & New Testament.

I reside in North Central Wisconsin – or as we call it, “God’s Country.” Staring at the tall Pines and an occasional Bald Eagle helps me keep my mind on God and Heaven.

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