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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.


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)


Trikka, Thessaly, Greece, c. 400 - 344 B.C.

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Trikka, modern Tikala, is located in the fertile plain of Thessaly in central Greece. Trikka was the birthplace of three of the Argonauts and also claimed to be the birthplace of Asklepios. Epidaurus also claimed to be the birthplace of Asklepios and that city was the site of his main temple in antiquity.
GB86191. Bronze trichalkon, BCD Thessaly II 788; SNG Cop 266; BMC Thessaly p. 52, 17; Liampi Trikka 7; Rogers 556; Moustaka 181, gVF, attractive style,, weight 7.245 g, maximum diameter 20.9 mm, die axis 180o, Thessaly, Trikka (Tikala, Greece) mint, c. 400 - 344 B.C.; obverse head of the Nymph Trikka right, wearing triple-drop pendant earring; reverse Asklepios seated right on a stool, bearded, nude to the waist, himation around hips and legs, transverse staff on far side leaning on left arm, feeding bird held in his right hand to snake coiled and rising up before him; rare; $340.00 (289.00)


Romano-British Empire, Carausius, Mid 286 - Spring or Early Summer 293 A.D.

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The plural AVGGG refers to Diocletian, Maximian and Carausius in a futile attempt to appease the legitimate mainland rulers.
RA73502. Billon antoninianus, Webb Carausius 192, RIC V-2 164 (S), Hunter IV 52, Cohen VII 325, SRCV IV 13716, Linchmere -, Carausian Hoard -, Burton Latimer -, Bicester -, VF, green patina, marks and scratches, edge crack, slightly off center, weight 2.737 g, maximum diameter 25.1 mm, die axis 180o, Londinium (London, England) mint, c. 292 - early 293; obverse IMP C CARAVSIVS P F AVG, radiate, draped, and cuirassed bust right, late reign tetrarchic portrait; reverse SALVS AVGGG (the health of the three emperors), Salus standing right feeding snake, held in her right hand, from a patera in her left hand, S-P flanking across field, MLXXI in exergue; from the Charles Peters Carausius Collection; scarce; $200.00 (170.00)


Romano-British Empire, Carausius, Mid 286 - Spring or Early Summer 293 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. 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.
RA73274. Billon antoninianus, RIC V-2 162 (R), Web Carausius 181, Bourne Carausius -, Linchmere -, Burton Latimer -, Bicester -, Carausian Hoard -, aVF, dark patina, nice portrait, weak legends, scratches, corrosion, weight 3.683 g, maximum diameter 24.9 mm, die axis 180o, Londinium (London, England) mint, c. late 289 - 291; obverse IMP CARAVSIVS P F AVG, radiate and cuirassed bust right, middle reign portrait type; reverse SALVS AVG (the health of the Emperor), Salus standing left, with right hand feeding snake rising from altar at her feet, long scepter vertical behind in left hand, B - E across fields, MLXXI in exergue; from the Charles Peters Carausius Collection; rare; $170.00 (144.50)


Romano-British Empire, Carausius, Mid 286 - Spring or Early Summer 293 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. 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.
RA73269. Billon antoninianus, RIC V-2 994 (S) var. (...P F AVG), Web Carausius 1117 var. (same), Linchmere 812A var. (same), King Carausius -, Burton Latimer -, et al. -, gF/aF, broad flan, reverse weak, corrosion, weight 3.501 g, maximum diameter 22.3 mm, die axis 225o, unmarked mint, c. 288 - 291; obverse IMP CARAVSIVS P AVG, radiate, draped, and cuirassed bust right, middle reign portrait type; reverse SALVS AVG (the health of the Emperor), Salus seated left feeding serpent and holding long staff, no field marks or mintmarks; from the Charles Peters Carausius Collection; scarce; $160.00 (136.00)


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; $160.00 (136.00)


Romano-British Empire, Carausius, Mid 286 - Spring or Early Summer 293 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. 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.
RA73489. Billon antoninianus, RIC V-2 165 (S), Web Carausius 195, Bourne Carausius -, Linchmere -, Burton Latimer -, Bicester -, Carausian Hoard -, F, green patina, flan cracks, ragged flan, corrosion, encrustations, weight 3.219 g, maximum diameter 25.8 mm, die axis 180o, Londinium (London, England) mint, c. late 289 - 291; obverse IMP CARAVSIVS P F AVG, radiate, draped, and cuirassed bust right, middle reign portrait type; reverse SALVS PVBLICA (the health of the public), Salus standing right, feeding snake held in right hand, from patera held in left hand, B - E across fields, MLXXI in exergue; from the Charles Peters Carausius Collection; scarce; $140.00 (119.00)


Gordian III, 29 July 238 - 25 February 244 A.D.; Nikopolis ad Istrum, Moesia Inferior

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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.
RP83933. Bronze tetrassarion, H-H-J Nikopolis 8.36.20.4 (R4), AMNG I/I 2059 var. (obv. leg.), Varbanov 4258 (R3) var. (obv. leg., same rev. die), Moushmov 1475, VF, well centered and struck, dark green patina, patina chipped and scratched, central dimples, weight 11.522 g, maximum diameter 26.2 mm, die axis 0o, Nicopolis ad Istrum (Nikyup, Bulgaria) mint, consular legate Sabinius Modestus, 241 - 244 A.D.; obverse AVT K M ANTW ΓOP∆IANOC AVΓ (AVΓ ligate), laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right, from behind; reverse VΠ CAB MO∆EΣTOV NIKOΠOΛEITΩN ΠPO, Asklepios standing facing, head left, wearing himation over left shoulder and arm and around hips and legs, leaning on snake entwined staff in right hand, I/C/T/P/O-N in five lines in right field; scarce; $110.00 (93.50)


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)


Philip I the Arab, February 244 - End of September 249 A.D.

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Salus was the Roman goddess of health. According to Strack III, p. 129, the idea behind the type is that the safety of the state is dependent on the health of the emperor. "For that reason Salus holds the rudder of Fortuna in some of these types, as an indication that the fate of the empire rests in her hands."
RB73723. Orichalcum sestertius, SRCV III 9016, Hunter III 76, Cohen V 206, RIC IV 187(a) var. (scepter vice rudder), VF/F, excellent portrait, grainy surfaces, light corrosion, weight 18.695 g, maximum diameter 30.1 mm, die axis 0o, Rome mint, 244 - 245 A.D.; obverse IMP M IVL PHILIPPVS AVG, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right, seen from behind; reverse SALVS AVG (the health of the Emperor), Salus standing facing, head left, feeding snake coiled around altar, rudder vertical vertical behind in left, S - C (senatus consulto) flanking low across field; $80.00 (68.00)




  



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