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Home ▸ Catalog ▸ |Themes & Provenance| ▸ |Animals| ▸ |Snake||View 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.

Valerian I, October 253 - c. June 260 A.D., Isinda, Pisidia

|Pisidia|, |Valerian| |I,| |October| |253| |-| |c.| |June| |260| |A.D.,| |Isinda,| |Pisidia||assarion|
Isinda stood in a strategic position at the western end of the pass leading from Pamphylia by Termessus to Pisidia. The coinage of Isinda indicates the city considered itself an Ionian colony.
RP97734. Bronze assarion, SNG BnF 1622; SNG Pfalz 234; BMC Lycia p. 227, 21; SNG Hunterian -; SNGvA -; SNG Cop -, aVF, dark brown patina, weight 8.444 g, maximum diameter 24.3 mm, die axis 180o, Isinda (Kisla, Turkey) mint, Oct 253 - c. Jun 260 A.D.; obverse AK ΠΛ OVAΛEPIANON CEB, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right, seen from behind; reverse ICIN-∆-EΩN, mother goddess seated right on a high backed throne, holding swaddled infant on her lap, coiled serpent rising up before her; ex Numismatica Ars Classica Auction 100 (29 May 2017), lot 1320; $130.00 SALE PRICE $117.00


Kaunos, Caria, c. 197 - 191 B.C. (or Later 2nd Century)

|Kaunos|, |Kaunos,| |Caria,| |c.| |197| |-| |191| |B.C.| |(or| |Later| |2nd| |Century)||AE| |16|
On the Rosetta Stone, "The Memphis Decree" announces Ptolemy V's rule and ascension to godhood, and describes him as "like Horus." In "A Statue of a Hellenistic King," Journal of Hellenistic Studies, 33 (1913), C. Edgar attributes a statue very similar to the reverse figure to Ptolemy V: "[The statue] stands with right foot drawn back, the toes alone resting on the ground...His head is held erect and his gaze is turned slightly to his right. His shoulders are drawn up a little...[the upper part] unnaturally short in proportion to the lower part of the trunk...[The missing right] forearm was clear of the body. The [missing] left hand was raised and probably rested on a spear." We believe this type is from the among the last issues of Kaunos under Ptolemaic rule, struck after the 13 year old Ptolemy V came of age in 197/6 B.C., perhaps to commemorate his accession, and before he sold the city to the Rhodians for 200 talents of silver in 191 B.C.
GB87087. Bronze AE 16, SNGvA 8103; Lindgren III 425; Imhoof-Blumer KM I, p. 138, 1; BMC Caria -; SNG Cop -; SNG Keckman -; SNG Munchen -, VF, green patina, well centered on a tight flan, a little porous/rough, tiny edge crack, weight 2.166 g, maximum diameter 15.6 mm, die axis 0o, Kaunos (Dalyan, Turkey) mint, c. 197 - 191 B.C. (or later 2nd century); obverse diademed and horned head of Alexander the Great right; reverse youth (Ptolemy V as Horus?) advancing right, nude, long lotus-tipped scepter transverse in left hand, right arm and index finger extended, snake before him coiled around scepter, K-AY (Kaunos) divided high across field, ΣΩ-TAΣ (magistrate) divided across center; very rare; $80.00 SALE PRICE $72.00


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

|Carausius|, |Romano-British| |Empire,| |Carausius,| |Mid| |286| |-| |Spring| |or| |Early| |Summer| |293| |A.D.||antoninianus|
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), Webb 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; $65.00 SALE PRICE $58.50


Rhegion, Bruttium, Italy, c. 470 - 425 B.C.

|Italy|, |Rhegion,| |Bruttium,| |Italy,| |c.| |470| |-| |425| |B.C.||tetradrachm|
Iokastos was the founder of Rhegion. He died of a snakebite. Iokastos was one of six sons of Aiolos, ruler of the Aeolian islands, all of whom secured their own realms in Italy and Sicily.

Of all the coins that have passed through my hands, this is one of my favorites - Joe Sermarini
SH33193. Silver tetradrachm, SNG Lockett 651; SNG ANS 640 var. (swan vice snake); BMC Italy p. 374, 14 (snake not mentioned); Pozzi -; SNG Cop -, Choice gVF, weight 17.312 g, maximum diameter 31.1 mm, die axis 150o, Rhegion mint, c. 470 - 425 B.C.; obverse facing lion's scalp, sprig with two olives right; reverse PHΓI−NOΣ (retrograde), Iokastos seated left, staff in right, left resting on seat, snake beneath seat, all within laurel wreath; toned, hairline crack, slightly bent, reverse lightly double struck; rare; SOLD


Macedonian Kingdom, Alexander the Great, 336 - 323 B.C.

|Alexander| |the| |Great|, |Macedonian| |Kingdom,| |Alexander| |the| |Great,| |336| |-| |323| |B.C.||stater|
SH48869. Gold stater, Price 1568, Mller Alexander 373, gVF, weight 8.640 g, maximum diameter 17.7 mm, die axis 0o, Troas, Abydos (near Canakkale, Turkey) mint, posthumous, c. 310 - 297 B.C.; obverse head of Athena right wearing earring, necklace, and crested Corinthian helmet decorated with a coiled snake, hair in ringlets; reverse AΛEΞAN∆POY, Nike standing left, wreath in right hand, stylus in left, monogram and cornucopia left; high relief, well centered, mint luster, nice!; SOLD


Macedonian Kingdom, Philip III Arrhidaeus and Alexander IV, 323 - 317 B.C.

|Macedonian| |Kingdom|, |Macedonian| |Kingdom,| |Philip| |III| |Arrhidaeus| |and| |Alexander| |IV,| |323| |-| |317| |B.C.||stater|
Struck under Leonnatos, Arrhidaios, or Antigonos I Monophthalmos. Philip III Arrhidaeus, the bastard son of Philip II and a dancer, Philinna of Larissa, was Alexander the Great's half-brother. Alexander's mother, Olympias, allegedly poisoned him as a child, leaving him mentally disabled, eliminating him as a rival to Alexander. Incapable of actual rule, he was made king upon Alexander's death only to serve as a pawn for those who wished to grab power for themselves. Olympias had him imprisoned and then ordered his execution in 317 B.C.
SH86159. Gold stater, Price P38; ADM II Series XI, 159a; Mller Alexander P64, aEF, some luster, well centered, attractive style, edge bump, weight 8.519 g, maximum diameter 18.7 mm, die axis 0o, Troas, Abydos (near Canakkale, Turkey) mint, c. 323 - 317 B.C.; obverse head of Athena right in crested Corinthian helmet ornamented with a coiled snake, wearing necklace and long drop earring; reverse Nike standing slightly left, head left, wreath in extended right hand, grounded stylis in left hand at her side, MH monogram over pentagram outer left, coiled snake under left wing; ex CNG auction 108, lot 189; SOLD


Rhegion, Bruttium, Italy, c. 450 - 445 B.C.

|Italy|, |Rhegion,| |Bruttium,| |Italy,| |c.| |450| |-| |445| |B.C.||tetradrachm|
Iokastos was the founder of Rhegion. He died of a snakebite. Iokastos was one of six sons of Aiolos, ruler of the Aeolian islands, all of whom secured their own realms in Italy and Sicily.
SH46848. Silver tetradrachm, SNG ANS 636, SNG Cop 1928, HN Italy 2477, VF/F, damaged reverse die, weight 16.915 g, maximum diameter 25.0 mm, Rhegion mint, obverse facing lion's scalp, sprig with two olives right; reverse PHΓI−NOΣ (retrograde), Iokastos seated left, staff in right, left resting on seat, snake beneath seat, all within laurel wreath; high relief sculptural obverse; SOLD


Vespasian, 1 July 69 - 24 June 79 A.D.

|Vespasian|, |Vespasian,| |1| |July| |69| |-| |24| |June| |79| |A.D.||aureus|
In 72 A.D. the Roman governor Lucius Flavius Silva laid siege to Masada, a desert fortress, the last outpost of Jewish rebels after the First Jewish Revolt ended in 70 A.D. Legio X Fretensis surrounded the mountain fortress with a 7-mile long siege wall and built a rampart of stones and beaten earth against the western approach. In the spring of 73 A.D., when defeat became imminent, 960 Zealots under the leadership of Eleazar ben Ya'ir committed mass suicide.
SH64148. Gold aureus, Calico I 656, RIC II 1180, BMCRE II 403, Cohen I 284, F, ding at 12 o, weight 7.128 g, maximum diameter 13.9 mm, die axis 270o, Lugdunum (Lyon, France) mint, c. 72 - 73 A.D.; obverse IMP CAES VESPAS AVG P M TR P IIII P P COS IIII, laureate head right; reverse PACI AVGVSTI, winged Pax-Nemesis advancing right, pulling out a fold of drapery below her neck with her right hand, holding caduceus downward in left over snake at feet; ex January 2013 N.Y.I.N.C Auction, lot 2033; SOLD


Macedonian Kingdom, Alexander the Great, 336 - 323 B.C.

|Alexander| |the| |Great|, |Macedonian| |Kingdom,| |Alexander| |the| |Great,| |336| |-| |323| |B.C.||stater|
Possibly struck during Alexander's lifetime.
SH33205. Gold stater, Price 2963, Mller Alexander 1477, gVF, weight 8.566 g, maximum diameter 18.4 mm, die axis 0o, uncertain (Side, Pamphylia?) mint, c. 325 - 320 B.C.; obverse head of Athena right wearing earring, necklace, and crested Corinthian helmet decorated with a coiled snake, hair in ringlets; reverse BAΣIΛEΩΣ AΛEΞAN∆POY, Nike standing left, wreath in right hand, stylus in left, ΦI and Λ lower left; mint luster in recesses; SOLD


Julius Caesar, Imperator and Dictator, October 49 - 15 March 44 B.C.

|Julius| |Caesar|, |Julius| |Caesar,| |Imperator| |and| |Dictator,| |October| |49| |-| |15| |March| |44| |B.C.||denarius|
Minted after his invasion of Italy and crossing of the Rubicon on 10 January 49 B.C. until his defeat of Pompey at Pharsalus, this was the first coin type issued in Caesar's name. The elephant was the symbol of the Caesar family. According to legend, an ancestor received the name Caesar after single-handedly killing an elephant, probably in North Africa during the first Punic War, and "Caesai" was the name for elephant in the local Punic language. The obverse was long described as an elephant trampling a snake, symbolizing good triumphing over evil. For the Romans, however, the snake was a symbol of healing, not evil. The image to the right (click it to see a larger photo) is ornamentation on the side of the Gundestrup cauldron (c. 150 - 1 B.C.) depicting three Celtic warriors sounding their carnyx war trumpets. Clearly, Caesar's elephant is trampling a carnyx and the obverse symbolizes Caesar's victory over the Celtic tribes of Gaul. The reverse refers to Caesar's office of Pontifex Maximus, the high priest of Rome, a title now held by the Pope.Persian Empire
SH51516. Silver denarius, Crawford 443/1, Sydenham 1006, RSC I 49, Sear CRI 9, BMCRR Gaul 27, Russo RBW 1557, SRCV I 1399, Choice EF, wonderful elephant, excellent centering, a few minor nicks, light uneven toning (not as dark as appears in the photo), weight 3.992 g, maximum diameter 18.7 mm, die axis 75o, military mint, traveling with Caesar, 49 B.C.; obverse elephant walking right trampling on a carnyx (a Celtic war trumpet) ornamented to look like a dragon, CAESAR below; reverse implements of the pontificate: culullus (cup) or simpulum (ladle), aspergillum (sprinkler), securis (sacrificial ax), and apex (priest's hat); SOLD







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