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CISTOPHORI. -- Coins were thus denominated, from the cista, or mystical baskets, used in the worship of Bacchus, and which were always found figured upon them. In its original sense the term of cistophorus and cistophera were applied to him or her who, in the mysteries of Bacchus, or of Ceres and of Proserpine, carried the cista, which enclosed the sacred serpent. Amongst the Greeks it was the custom for young girls of high rank to bear this mystic chest at public festivals. The medals called cistophori were coined by authority in reference to the feasts of Bacchus, and became the peculiar symbol of Asia.
Eckhel contends, that the cistophori, the number of which was very considerable, and which were in use throughout all Asia, were struck for the common welfare of the cities of that country, whose fruitful territory and extended commerce, rendered necessary the use of a coinage of known type, and uniform weight, which should inspire confidence and facilitate mercantile transactions. -- M. Du Mersan adopts Eckhel's opinion, thinking with him that a coinage relating to the worship of Bacchus would naturally be adopted by a country in which that pagan divinity was peculiarly honoured.
The time when cistophori were first struck can hardly be determined with accuracy. Certain it is, however, that this kind of money was already known in Asia about the year of Rome 564 (B.C. 190.) -- The number of cistophori, collected in the Asiatic wars of the Romans, and in countries subjected to Antiochus the Great, was prodigious, and it shows how enormously vast the whole aggregate quantity of the coinage must have been. Nevertheless cistophoti are now amongst the number of rare coins.
The ordinary types of the cistophori are on the obverse a half-opened chest, or basket, with a serpent issuing from it, the whole surrounded by a crown of ivy and vine leaves. -- The reverse presents a quiver, near which is seen a bow, surrounded by two serpents, with their tails interlaced. -- See the word SERPENT.
The coinage of cistophori continued in the principal cities of the Asiatic provinces, after the Roman conquest. At a later period, the names of Roman magistrates are found on them, coinjointly with those of Greek magistrates; and, according to all accounts, the districts under the authority of these tribunals, furnished each its proportion of silver for the coinage of the cistophori, and this was taken in payment of the tribute exacted of them in that coin by the Romans.
As serving further to prove the connextion of Roman names and official titles under the republic, with the mintages of Asiatic cistophori, it will not be irrelevant here to note three remarkable coins of this class -- one struck by Appius Clodius Pulcher, pro-consul of Cilicia, 699 (B.C. 55), and the two others by his successor in the government of that province, M. Tullius Cicero, the celebrated orator.
1. The first of the has on its obverse in Latin characters AP. PVLCHER AP. F. PRO-COS. Appius Pulcher Appii Filius Pro-consule. The rest of the legend is in Greek, showing the cistophorus to have been coined at Laodicea, under the magistracy of Apollonius and Zosimus. The accompanying types are, as usual, two serpents and cista mystica, bow, quiver, and caduceus, with ivy and vipe leaves. (Engraved in Seguin, p. 82, and in Morell. Thesaur. Claudia gens). -- Pulcher was pro-consul in Asia about 700 (B.C. 54): he mentioned by Cicero, but only as pretor.
2. The second has on its reverse M. CICERO PRO COS. and APA(MEA), where it was struck, with the same type as the preceeding. On the obverse the cista and serpent, without legend. -- Cicero here is styled pro-consul. But on the following (which is engraved in Seguin, p. 83, and in Morell. Fam. Rom. Tullia gens), he has that of Imperator, viz.: --
3. Obv. -- M. TVLL. IMP.; the rest of the legend, in Greek, records it to have been struck at Laodicea, by Labas, son of Pyrrhus.
Rev. -- Without legend. Serpent gliding out of the half-opened cista.
Marcus Tullius succeeded Pulcher as pro-consul of Cilicia, in 703 (B.C. 51). With regard to the title of IMP. the following is what he states of himself: -- "Thus named Imperator after the victory near Issus; in the same place, where as I have often heard you say, Clitarchus relates, that Alexander vanquished Darius." -- Ad. Famil. lib. ii. cp. 10.
4. There is a fourth Roman cistophorus, contemporaneous with and similar to the above.. -- It was struck at Apamea, in Syria, and records on its reverse, at full length, the name and title of P. LENTVLVS, IMPERATOR. -- Engraved in Morell. Fam. Rom. Cornelia gens.
This Publius Cornelius Lentulus, surnamed Spinther, was a friend of Cicero's. He served the office of consul B.C. 57, and was the predecessor of Pulcher and Marcus Tullius in the pro-consulship of Cilicia, whither he went B.C. 56. He was saluted Imperator for a campaign in the Amanus; but did not obtain triumphal honours until B.C. 51, when Cicero was himself in Cilicia.
On the reverse of one of the cistophori of Pergamos, appears the name of the Caecilia gens, as follows: -- Q. METELLVS PIVS SCIPIO IMPER. The Roman eagle between two intertwined serpents. The legend betokens the son of Pro-consul Scipio Nasica, who was adopted by Q. Metellus Pius, and which son afterwards pro-consul of Asia, about 705 (B.C. 49). -- See Caecilia gens, p. 151 of this dictionary.
Next in the Roman series of cistophori come those struck in Asia for Mark Antony, who, following the example of Mithridates, and other oriental princes, took the title of Bacchus. -- See p. 59 of this dictionary -- see also the Familiae Romanae of Morell, and of Riccio, Antonia gens.
On one of the coins of Augustus, which bears on the reverse the figures of two serpents, we read ASIA SVBACTA. On a quinarius of the same emperor, we find Victory standing on the mystical cista, on each side of which appear two serpents, and the legend ASIA RECEPTA (see p. 89). -- The same type is found on a gold coin of Vespasian.
The cistophori of all ages are uniform in type, except those of later times, when the Romans altered the primitive type. There was, however, no change but in those bearing the name of the Roman Magistrates.
"The ordinary weight of a cistophorus," according to M. Du Mersan, "is 12 grammes and two or three decigrammes, more or less. The drachm containing four grammes and five decigrammes, the cistophori must therefore be tridrachms." -- According to the Abbé Belleye, as cited by Millin, the uniform weight of these medals, which are all of pure silver, is 240 grains, poids de Paris, instrinsic value two livres 14 sous.
See Eckhel, De Cistophoris -- see generally Millin, Dictionnaire des Beaux Arts -- see particularly "a memoir on coins called Cistophori," from the pen of M. Du Mersan, premier Employé au Cabinet des Antiques de la Bibliothèque Nationale, translated by the Editor of the Numismatic Chronicle, and inserted in that periodical, 1846.