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Home ▸ Catalog ▸ Themes & Provenance ▸ Denominations ▸ CistophoriView Options:  |  |  | 

Cistophori

The cistophorus was introduced at Pergamon sometime between 200 and 160 B.C. to provide the Attalid kingdom with a substitute for Seleucid coins and the tetradrachms of Philetairos. The denomination was also struck by other cities under Attalid control. The denomination owes its name to cista mystica, the sacred chest of Dionysus, on the obverse. It was valued at four drachms but weighed only 12.75 grams, as much as three Attic drachms (the most important weight standard of the time). Hoard evidence suggests that they did not travel outside the area which Pergamon controlled, indicating they were valued higher within that area. Cistophori continued to be minted and circulated down to the time of Hadrian, long after the kingdom was bequeathed to Rome in 133 B.C. The portrait of Augustus and later emperors replaced the cista on the obverse.

The cista mystica was a basket used for housing sacred snakes in connection with the initiation ceremony into the cult of Bacchus (Dionysus). In the Dionysian mysteries a snake, representing the god and possibly symbolic of his phallus, was carried in a cista mystica on a bed of vine leaves. The cista in the mysteries of Isis may also have held a serpent, perhaps associated with the missing phallus of Osiris.


Mark Antony and Octavia, 39 B.C., Ephesos, Ionia

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The obverse legend abbreviates Consul Designatus, Iterum et Tertium, meaning Consul Elect for the second and third time. The reverse legend abbreviates Triumvir Reipublicae Constituendae, the title adopted in November of 43 B.C. by the three Caesarian leaders (Mark Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus) when they formed the Second Triumvirate to oppose the tyrannicides Brutus and Cassius.
SH86609. Silver cistophoric tetradrachm, RPC I 2202, Sydenham 1198, Crawford 263, RSC Octavia and M. Antony 3, Sear CRI 263, BMCRR East 135, SRCV I 1513, Choice gVF, toned, well centered, some die wear and rust, scratches, weight 11.723 g, maximum diameter 27.1 mm, die axis 0o, Ephesos mint, summer - autumn 39 B.C.; obverse M ANTONIVS IMP COS DESIG ITER ET TERT (Consul Elect for the 2nd and 3rd time), conjoined head of Antony and bust of Octavia right, Antony nearer and wreathed in ivy, Octavia draped; reverse Dionysus standing half left on cista mystica, in his right hand, thyrsus in his left hand, flanked by two interlaced snakes with heads erect, III VIR (triumvir) downward on left, R P C (Reipublicae Constituendae) upward on right; $3000.00 (€2550.00)
 


Augustus, 16 January 27 B.C. - 19 August 14 A.D.

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The cistophorus was first struck by the Pergamene Kingdom was a tetradrachm (four-drachms coin) struck on a reduced Asian standard of about 3 grams per drachm. Its name was derived from the cista, a Dionysian cult snake basket that frequently appeared on the obverse. After the Pergamene Kingdom was bequeathed to Rome in 133 B.C., the Romans continued to strike cistophori for the Asia province, with a value equal to three denarii. The portrait of Augustus and later emperors replaced the cista on the obverse.
SH85434. Silver cistophoric tetradrachm, Sutherland Group VI, RPC I 2215, RIC I 479, RSC I 33, BnF I 922, BMCRE I 694, BMCRR East 262, SRCV I 1587, VF, full circles strike on a broad flan, light uneven toning, light encrustations, small closed edge crack, weight 11.660 g, maximum diameter 27.2 mm, die axis 0o, Ephesus mint, c. 24 - 20 B.C.; obverse IMP CAE-SAR (counterclockwise below), bare head right, linear border; reverse garlanded and filleted altar of Diana (artemis, ornamented on the front with two hinds standing confronted, AVGVSTVS above; $1080.00 (€918.00)
 


Pergamon, Mysia, c. 104 - 98 B.C.

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The cista mystica was a basket used for housing sacred snakes in connection with the initiation ceremony into the cult of Bacchus (Dionysus). In the Dionysian mysteries a snake, representing the god and possibly symbolic of his phallus, was carried in a cista mystica on a bed of vine leaves. The cista in the mysteries of Isis may also have held a serpent, perhaps associated with the missing phallus of Osiris.

The thyrsus is the staff carried by Bacchus and his associates; topped by a pine cone or a bunch of ivy leaves and wreathed with tendrils of vine or ivy.
GS76209. Silver cistophoric tetradrachm, Kleiner Pergamum 12; Pinder 95; SNG Cop 420; BMC Mysia p. 124, 106; SNGvA -; SNG BnF -, aVF, obverse struck with a worn die, uneven toning, light marks, weight 12.514 g, maximum diameter 29.6 mm, die axis 0o, Pergamon (Bergama, Turkey) mint, c. 104 - 98 B.C.; obverse Cista mystica with half-open lid, from which a snake emerges, all within wreath of ivy with berries; reverse bow-case holding strung bow and ornamented with an apluster, flanked on each side by a snake with head erect, ∆I (control) above between heads of snakes, straps from case draped over snakes below, (Pergamon monogram) to left, snake entwined thyrsos to right; $95.00 (€80.75)
 







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REFERENCES

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Cohen, E. Dated Coins of Antiquity: A comprehensive catalogue of the coins and how their numbers came about. (Lancaster, PA, 2011).
Kleiner, F. "Hoard Evidence and the Late Cistophori of Pergamum" in ANSMN 23 (1978).
Kleiner, F. "The Dated Cistophori of Ephesus" in ANSMN 18 (1972).
Kleiner, F. "The Late Cistophori of Apameia" in Essays Thompson.
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Mattingly, H. & R. Carson. Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum. (London, 1923-1963).
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Oakley, J. "The Autonomous Wreathed Tetradrachms of Kyme, Aeolis" in ANSMN 27 (1982).
Pinder, M. Über die Cistophoren und über die kaiserlichen Silbermedaillons der Römischen Provinz Asien. (Berlin, 1856).
Sacks, K. "The Wreathed Coins of Aeolian Myrina" in ANSMN 30. (1985).
Seaby, H., D. Sear, R. Loosley, & C. King. Roman Silver Coins. (London, 1952-1989).
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Sutherland, C. The Cistophori of Augustus. (London, 1970).
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Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, Denmark, The Royal Collection of Coins and Medals, Danish National Museum. (Copenhagen, 1942-1979).
Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, Deutschland, Münzsammlung Universität Tübingen. (Berlin, 1981-).
Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, Deutschland, Sammlung Hans Von Aulock. (Berlin, 1957-1967).
Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, France, Cabinet des Médailles, Bibliothéque Nationale. (Paris, 1993-2001).
Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, Great Britain IV, Fitzwilliam Museum, Leake and General Collections. (London, 1940-1971).
Waddington, W., E. Babelon & T. Reinach. Recueil Général des Monnaies Grecques d'Asie Mineure. (Paris, 1904-1925).
Wroth, W. A Catalogue of the Greek Coins in the British Museum, Mysia. (London, 1892).
Wroth, W. A Catalogue of the Greek Coins in the British Museum, Troas, Aeolis, and Lesbos. (London, 1894).

Catalog current as of Saturday, September 22, 2018.
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Cistophori