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Home ▸ Catalog ▸ |Themes & Provenance| ▸ |Denominations| ▸ |Cistophori||View 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.


Titus, 24 June 79 - 13 September 81 A.D.

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The reverse type copies a silver quinarius of Augustus, which referred to return of control of the Province of Asia after victory over Mark Antony. The cista mystica, the traditional symbol on the coinage of Pergamum (a symbol of Asia known to most Romans) is surmounted by Victory.
SH33106. Gold aureus, RIC II-1 785; BMCRE II 173; BN 151; Hunter 232, 14; Calicó 750; Cohen 163; SRCV I 2421, F, weight 6.778 g, maximum diameter 20.0 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, as caesar, 75 A.D.; obverse T CAESAR IMP VESPASIAN, laureate head right; reverse PONTIF TR P COS IIII (priest, holder of Tribunitian power, consul for the 4th time), Victoria standing left Cista Mystica, wreath extended in right, flanked by two snakes; SOLD


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

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Mark Antony is depicted on the obverse with the attributes of Dionysus.
SH24805. Silver cistophoric tetradrachm, RPC I 2201, Cohen 2 (35 Fr.), Sydenham 1197, Sear CRI 262, gVF, obverse grainy, weight 12.001 g, maximum diameter 26.9 mm, die axis 0o, obverse M ANTONIVS IMP COS DESIG ITER ET TERT, head of Antony right, wreathed in ivy, lituus below, all within wreath of ivy and grapes; reverse III VIR R P C, bust of Octavia right on cista flanked by snakes; SOLD


Claudius, 25 January 41 - 13 October 54 A.D., Ephesos, Ionia

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This issue celebrated their marriage and Agrippina Junior's elevation to Augusta. Julia Agrippina was a great-granddaughter of Augustus, great-niece and adoptive granddaughter of Tiberius, sister of Caligula, niece and fourth wife of Claudius, and mother of the Nero. She is described by the ancient sources as ruthless, ambitious, violent and domineering, but also beautiful and reputable. According to Pliny the Elder, she had a double right upper canine, a sign of good fortune. Many ancient historians accused Agrippina of poisoning Claudius. A soothsayer prophesied if Nero became emperor, he would kill his mother, Agrippina replied "Let him kill me, only let him rule!" Nero had her executed in 59 A.D.
SH79841. Silver cistophorus, RPC I 2223, RIC I 117 (R), BMCRE I 234, BnF II 294, RSC II 2, SRCV I 1887, VF, excellent portraits, toned, nice surfaces, highest points flatly struck, reverse slightly off-center, weight 11.054 g, maximum diameter 25.1 mm, die axis 180o, Ephesus mint, 50 - 51 A.D.; obverse TI CLAVD CAESAR AVG P M TR P X IMP XIIX (counterclockwise), laureate head of Claudius right; reverse AGRIPPINA AVGVSTA CAESARIS AVG (counterclockwise), draped bust of Agrippina Jr. right, hair in queue at back, hair in three rows of curls above ear and long curly strand below ear; rare; SOLD


Kyme, Aiolis, 165 - 140 B.C.

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In Greek mythology, the Amazons were a nation of all-female warriors. Herodotus placed them in a region bordering Scythia in Sarmatia (in modern Ukraine). Other historiographers placed them in Anatolia or in Libya.
SH58672. Silver tetradrachm, Oakley 2; BMC Troas, p. 111, 74; SNG Cop 104, aEF, weight 16.766 g, maximum diameter 33.5 mm, die axis 0o, Kyme (near Nemrut Limani, Turkey) mint, obverse head of Amazon Kyme right, wearing taenia; reverse horse walking right, oinochoe below raised left foreleg, KYMAIΩN downward on right, MHTPOΦANHΣ (magistrate) in exergue, all in laurel wreath tied at the bottom; SOLD


Claudius, 25 January 41 - 13 October 54 A.D., Ephesos, Ionia

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SH54006. Silver cistophorus, RIC I 120, SRCV I 1838, RSC II 3, BMCRE I 228, Nice VF, banker's mark, weight 10.700 g, maximum diameter 27.2 mm, die axis 180o, Ephesus mint, 41 - 42 A.D.; obverse TI CLAVD CAES AVG, bare head left; reverse COM ASI ROM ET AVG, temple of two columns, within temple Claudius stands facing holding a spear and is crowned by Fortuna holding a cornucopia; toned; very rare (R3); SOLD


Athens, Attica, Greece 133 - 132 B.C. "New Style" Silver Tetradrachm

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"New style" tetradrachms were struck by Athens as a semi-autonomous city under Roman rule. Hellenic style replaces the archaic "old-style." The owl is surrounded by magistrates' names and symbols. The letter on the amphora may indicate the month of production. Letters below may indicate the source of the silver.
SH82664. Silver tetradrachm, Thompson 377 var. (same obv. die; unlisted month/control letters combination), HGC 4 1602, SNG Cop -, BMC Attica -, aEF, beautiful Hellenistic Athena, attractive rose toning with a few darker spots, light marks, weight 16.811 g, maximum diameter 30.5 mm, Athens mint, 133 - 132 B.C.; obverse Head of Athena Parthenos right, wearing necklace, pendent earring, and triple-crested Attic helmet with protomes of four horses above visor, a Pegasos in flight rightward above raised earpiece, and a curvilinear ornament on shell; reverse Owl standing half right on amphora, head facing, A−ΘE (Athens) flanking head, winged kerykeion to left, ΠOΛY−XAPM / NIKOΓ / AIAN/TI (Polycharm(os), Nikog(enes), and Aianti-, magistrates) in five lines, B on amphora, ∆I below, all within wreath; ex CNG Triton XIV (4 Jan 2011), lot 216; SOLD


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; SOLD


Athens, Attica, Greece, c. 104 - 103 B.C., New Style Silver Tetradrachm

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The "New Style" tetradrachms were issued by Athens as a semi-autonomous city under Roman rule. The new-style Owls are markedly different from the Owls of Periclean Athens or the "eye in profile" Athena head of the Fourth Century. They were struck on thinner, broad flans, typical of the Hellenistic period, with a portrait of Athena that reflected the heroic portraiture of the period. The owl now stands on an amphora, surrounded by magistrates' names and symbols, all within an olive wreath. The amphora is marked with a letter that may indicate the month of production. Letters below the amphora may indicate the source of the silver used in production.
SH87798. Silver tetradrachm, Thompson Athens 806 (same dies); Svoronos Athens pl. 62, 6 (same dies); BMC Attica p. , 320 var. (ΣE below), VF, well centered and struck, some die wear, bumps and scrapes, weight 16.306 g, maximum diameter 29.8 mm, die axis 0o, Athens mint, c. 104 - 103 B.C.; obverse helmeted head of Athena Parthenos right, triple-crested helmet decorated with curvilinear ornament on the shell, a griffin right above the raised earpiece, and protomes of horses above the visor; reverse A-ΘE / AN∆-PEAΣ / XAPI/NAY/THΣ AMY/N-O-M (magistrates Andreas, Charinautes, and Amynomachos), owl standing right on amphora on its side; Dionysos seated facing beside Demeter standing facing holding a long torch in each hand; Z on amphora, ΣO below, all within olive wreath; SOLD


Laodicea ad Lycus, Phrygia, 56 - 54 B.C., Roman Proconsul and Imperator P. Cornelius Lentulus Spinther

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Publius Cornelius Lentulus, nicknamed Spinther because of his likeness to a popular actor of that name, came from an ancient Roman patrician family of the Cornelia gens. This coin was struck in his name as imperator and proconsul of Cilicia, c. 56 - 53 B.C. Although treated with great favor by Julius Caesar, Spinther supported Caesar's great rival Pompeius Magnus and the Optimates party. This eventually led to his political destruction and probably to his execution. His son joined Caesar's assassins, Brutus and Cassius.
SH70609. Silver cistophoric tetradrachm, BMC Phrygia p. 281, 17; SNG Cop 494, SNGvA -, EF, uneven strike with weak areas, weight 12.483 g, maximum diameter 27.5 mm, die axis 0o, Laodicea ad Lycus (near Denizli, Turkey) mint, magistrate Krathippos, 57 - 54 B.C.; obverse Cista mystica with half-open lid, from which a snake emerges, all within wreath of ivy with berries; reverse two snakes flanking bow in bow-case ornamented with an apluster, P LENTVLVS - P F / IMP above, ΛAO monogram left, winged kerykeion right, KΠATIΠΠOΣ below; ex Numismatik Lanz auction 157, lot 183; rare; SOLD


Myrina, Aiolis, Mid 2nd Century B.C.

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At the time this coin was issued, Myrina was a thriving town popular with tourists and known for its terracotta, glassware, and oysters. Today it is perhaps best known for these beautiful tetradrachms!
SH58667. Silver tetradrachm, Sacks 25; SNG Fitzwilliam 4329; BMC Troas p. 136, 10, VF, weight 16.737 g, maximum diameter 34.1 mm, die axis 0o, Aiolis, Myrina (near Aliaga, Turkey) mint, mid 2nd century B.C.; obverse laureate head of Apollo right, hair braided, ribbons flowing behind; reverse MYPINAIΩN, Apollo Grynios advancing right holding patera and laurel branch with fillets; omphalos and amphora at feet; monogram left, all within laurel wreath; SOLD




  




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REFERENCES|

Bauslaugh, R. "Cistophoric Countermarks and the Monetary System of Eumenes II" in NC 1990.
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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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Waddington, W., E. Babelon & T. Reinach. Recueil Général des Monnaies Grecques d'Asie Mineure. (Paris, 1904-1925).
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Wroth, W. A Catalogue of the Greek Coins in the British Museum, Troas, Aeolis, and Lesbos. (London, 1894).

Catalog current as of Wednesday, November 20, 2019.
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Cistophori