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Home ▸ Catalog ▸ Themes & Provenance ▸ Animals ▸ SnakeView Options:  |  |  |   

Snakes on Ancient Coins

The Greeks and Romans did not view snakes as evil creatures but rather as symbols and tools for healing and fertility. Asclepius, the son of Apollo and Koronis, learned the secrets of keeping death at bay after observing one serpent bringing another healing herbs. Woman seeking fertility, the sick, and the injured slept in his temples in chambers where non-poisonous snakes were left to crawl on the floor and provide healing.

Some ancient dignitaries were rumored to have been fathered by a god in serpent form. A serpent, said to have been Zeus, was found beside the sleeping Olympias, mother of Alexander the Great. Her husband, Philip of Macedon, is reputed never to have coupled with the 'Bride of the Serpent' again. Augustus was said to have been fathered by a snake, and his mother never afterwards lost the marks of its embrace.


Caracalla, 28 January 198 - 8 April 217 A.D., Serdica, Thrace

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Asklepios was the son of Apollo and a mortal woman named Coronis. Apollo killed Coronis for being unfaithful but rescued the unborn Asklepios from her womb. Apollo carried the baby to the centaur Chiron who raised Asclepius and instructed him in the art of medicine. In return for some kindness, a snake taught him secret knowledge of healing. Asclepius became so proficient as a healer that he surpassed both Chiron and his father, Apollo. Asclepius was even able to evade death and to bring the dead back to life. Zeus killed him to restore balance to the human population but later resurrected Asclepios as a god to prevent a feud with Apollo. Zeus instructed Asclepios to never revive the dead without his approval.
RP84488. Bronze AE 30, H-J Serdica 12.18.20.13 (R5), Varbanov III 2204 var. (obv. leg.), Moushmov 154 var. (same), SNG Cop -, BMC Thrace -, VF, nice green patina, smoothing, some light corrosion, centration dimples, weight 14.349 g, maximum diameter 30.1 mm, die axis 180o, Serdica (Sofia, Bulgaria) mint, obverse AVK M AVPH ANTΩNINOC, laureate head right; reverse OVΛΠIAC CEP∆IKHC, Asclepius seated left on throne without back, torso bare, himation around hips and leges and over left shoulder, patera in right hand, snake-coiled staff in left hand; from the Dr. Sam Mansourati Collection, ex CNG e-auction 320 (12 Feb 2014), lot 281; this coin is the only example of the type on Coin Archives; very rare; $285.00 (253.65)


Lokris Opuntia, Lokris, Greece, c. 340 - 330 B.C.

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Lokrian Ajax (the Lesser) was a Greek mythological hero, son of Oileus, the king of Locris. Locrians are mentioned by Homer in the Iliad as following Ajax, the son of Oleus, to the Trojan War in forty ships, and as inhabiting the towns of Kynos, Opus, Calliarus, Besa, Scarphe, Augeiae, Tarphe, and Thronium. Lokrian Ajax was called the "lesser" or "Lokrian" Ajax, to distinguish him from Ajax the Great, son of Telamon. He is also mentioned in the Odyssey and Virgil's Aeneid.
GS83462. Silver triobol, BCD Lokris 98; BMC Central p. 2, 9; SNG Cop 50; SNG Lockett 1700; de Luynes 1958; Pozzi 1339; SGCV I 2330; HGC 4 997, aVF, attractive style, tight flan, etched surfaces, weight 2.385 g, maximum diameter 15.3 mm, die axis 0o, Lokris Opuntia mint, c. 340 - 330 B.C.; obverse head of Persephone right, wearing wreath of grain, single-pendant earring, and pearl necklace; reverse OΠONTIΩN, Ajax son of Oileus, advancing right in fighting attitude, nude but for crested Corinthian helmet, short sword in right hand, shield on left arm ornamented inside with coiled snake (control symbol), kantharos (control symbol) below; scarce; $240.00 (213.60)


Pergamon, Mysia, c. 133 - 27 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.
GB84965. Bronze AE 17, BMC Mysia p. 129, 160; SNGvA 1371; SNG BnF 1813; SNG Cop -, VF, tight thick flan, scratches, weight 8.662 g, maximum diameter 17.3 mm, die axis 0o, Pergamon (Bergama, Turkey) mint, c. 133 - 27 B.C.; obverse laureate head of Asklepios right; reverse AΣKΛHΠIOY / ΣΩTHPOΣ, Asklepian snake coiled around omphalos, owl standing on the snake's back; $200.00 (178.00)


Gallic Empire, Postumus, Summer 260 - Spring 269 A.D.

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The caduceus is a wand or rod, entwined at one end by two serpents, each of whose bodies folds again in the form of two half-circles, while the head passes above the wand. It was an attribute peculiar to Mercury.
RA84495. Billon antoninianus, RSC IV 333; RIC V, part 2, 84; Schulzki AKG 78; Cunetio 2426; Elmer 381; Hunter IV 82; SRCV III 10984, aEF, fantastic caduceus detail, well centered, traces of silvering, brown toned copper, light corrosion, edge splits, weight 3.078 g, maximum diameter 20.3 mm, die axis 180o, Lugdunum (Lyon, France) mint, 265 - 268 A.D.; obverse IMP C POSTVMVS P F AVG, radiate and draped bust right; reverse SAECVLO FRVGIFERO (fruitful age), winged caduceus; from the Dr. Sam Mansourati Collection, ex VAuction 304 (27 Feb 2014), lot 412; ex Ancient Imports; $170.00 (151.30)


Ephesos, Ionia, 90 - 89 B.C.

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The torch is an attribute of Artemis and a civic symbol of Ephesus.

Mithridates VI of Pontus invaded Bithynia and Cappadocia beginning the First Mithridatic War.
GS76188. Silver cistophoric tetradrachm, Kleiner Dated 46, Pinder 36, SNG Cop 326, Cohen DCA 325, BMC Ionia -, SNGvA -, SNG Fitzwilliam -, VF, dark uneven toning on reverse, obverse struck with a worn die, weight 12.674 g, maximum diameter 27.7 mm, die axis 0o, Ephesos mint, 90 - 89 B.C.; obverse cista mystica with half-open lid, from which a snake emerges, all within wreath of ivy with berries; reverse bow-case ornamented with an apluster, strap lower right, flanked on each side by a snake with head erect, serpent-entwined staff above between snakes' heads, ME (year 45) over EΦE on left, flaming torch on right; $160.00 (142.40)


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.
GS76186. Silver cistophoric tetradrachm, Kleiner Pergamum 5; Pinder 93; SNG BnF 1713; SNG Cop 419; SNGvA 7466; BMC Mysia p. 124, 102, VF, toned, light marks, weight 12.637 g, maximum diameter 26.5 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, AΣ (control letters) above between heads of snakes, Pergamon monogram to left, snake entwined thyrsos to right; $155.00 (137.95)


Pergamon, Mysia, c. 92 - 88 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.
GS76212. Silver cistophoric tetradrachm, Kleiner Pergamum 33; Pinder 108; SNG BnF 1737; SNG Cop 431; SNGvA 7477; BMC Mysia, p. 125, 109, VF, well centered, dark uneven toning, struck with a worn obverse die, weight 12.595 g, maximum diameter 30.0 mm, die axis 0o, Pergamon (Bergama, Turkey) mint, c. 92 - 88 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, EY over Prytaneis monogram above, Pergamon monogram to left, snake entwined thyrsos to right; $135.00 (120.15)


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 above between heads of snakes, Pergamon monogram to left, snake entwined thyrsos to right; $125.00 (111.25)


Gallienus, August 253 - September 268 A.D.

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Salus was the Roman goddess of health. She was Hygieia to the Greeks, who believed her to be the daughter of Aesculapius, the god of medicine and healing, and Epione, the goddess of soothing of pain. Her father Asclepius learned the secrets of keeping death at bay after observing one snake bringing another snake healing herbs. Woman seeking fertility, the sick, and the injured slept in his temples in chambers where non-poisonous snakes were left to crawl on the floor and provide healing.
RA71411. Billon antoninianus, Gbl MIR 1354i, RIC V S512, Cohen V 932, SRCV III -, EF, no wear but small areas of light corrosion, well centered on tight flan, weight 3.373 g, maximum diameter 21.1 mm, die axis 180o, 2nd officina, Mediolanum (Milan, Italy) mint, 267 A.D.; obverse GALLIENVS AVG, radiate, draped, and cuirassed bust right; reverse SALVS AVG (the health of the Emperor), Salus standing right, feeding snake in right from patera in left, MS in exergue; $120.00 (106.80)


Commodus, March or April 177 - 31 Dec 192 A.D.

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Salus was the Roman goddess of health. She was Hygieia to the Greeks, who believed her to be the daughter of Aesculapius, the god of medicine and healing, and Epione, the goddess of soothing of pain. This coin, dedicated to the health of the emperor, probably indicates the emperor was at the time suffering from some disease, and sacred rites had been performed for his recovery.
RB78072. Orichalcum sestertius, RIC III 512; BMCRE IV p. 816, 617; Szaivert MIR 18 746; Hunter II -; Cohen III -, F, well centered, light corrosion, closed flan crack, weight 22.745 g, maximum diameter 31.0 mm, Rome mint, 186 - 187 A.D.; obverse M COMMODVS ANT P FELIX AVG BRIT, laureate head right; reverse P M TR P XIII IMP VIII COS V P P (hight priest, tribune of the people 13 years, imperator the 8th time, consul the 5th time, father of the country), Salus seated left on a throne, from patera in right hand, feeding a snake rising up from an altar at feet on left, left forearm on back of throne, S - C across field at center; from the Butte College Foundation, ex Lindgren; $115.00 (102.35)




  



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