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XXI

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Serpent





 Please add updates or make corrections to the NumisWiki text version as appropriate.
     Serpent -- Serpents appear to have been the
symbol of Asia. Pomponius Mela says "the
figure of Asia Minor holds in its hands a serpent,
because perhaps serpents abound in that
region." -- Serpents may have become the symbol
of Asia after that country had adopted them on
its coinage, for the purpose of calling to mind the
worship of Bacchus, which they carried to a
great extent. -- The Bacchantes in the mysteries
were crowned with serpents. The serpent was one of the symbols of initiation into the
Bacchanalian orgies.
    Serpent. -- This reptile, as an image of divinity
and of nature, is figured both in its natural
shape, and under a variety of monstrous and
imaginary forms, on a great multitude of coins
of Greek cities, and also on Greek Imperial
medals. It is less frequently found on coins
with Latin inscriptions ; but still there are not
a few instances in which it is represented both
on the Consular and on the Imperial medals of
Rome. -- The inventor of medicine, Aesculapius,
son of Apollo, was worshipped by the Romans
under the form of a serpent. That animal was
the sign of health-restoring faculty, because,
as the serpent, in casting off its skin, was supposed to become young again, so the sick,
through the tutelary aid of the healing deity,
were believed by the ancients to renew life and
to put off old age. It was in consequence of
this animal being thus regarded as the symbol of
renovation, that the name Serpentarius took its
rise in reference to the constant attribute of
Aesculapius.
     The Serpent, with the head of Serapis, on
medals struck under Antonine, is thought, by
Millin, to signify a beneficent genius and the
master of nature. This serpent is also seen on
a medal of Nero, with a legend which indicates
that this emperor was a new benefactor for
Egypt. -- On a medal of Memphis, and in the
hand of Isis, it symbolises fecundity and fertility.
And as the serpent was said to renew its
youth by the annual casting of its skin, the
above-mentioned writer thinks it may be taken
for the symbol of the Sun, on a medal of the
Emperor Verus, on which a serpent, with the
head of Serapis, is mounted on the back of a
horse, whose march symbolises the year passing
away : the head of Serapis representing the
Sun as the sovereign of the universe.
     The Serpent was a symbol of Apollo, and as
salutifer accompanies the image of that deity
whom the ancients regarded as the guardian of
health, on coins both of the Greeks and of the
Romans.
     The Serpent was assigned to Bacchus under
various titles, and for various reasons founded
like the object symbolised on fable and superstition. Clement of Alexandria affirms "Signum Bacchicorum Orgiorum esse initiatum serpentem." The same author describes Bacchantes as crowned with serpents. Hence a
serpent creeping out of a half opened chest
(cista) betokens the orgies of Bacchus. A
serpent appears on coins of M. Antony, who
called himself a second Bacchus.
     Twin Serpents, rising in tortuous folds,
attached by the tails to each other, but with a
cista between them, appear on silver medallions,
bearing the heads of Antony and Cleopatra, as
given in Morell.
     Two Serpents are seen on a medal of Hadrian,
a male and a female ; one has by its side a
sistrum and a poppy, the attributes of Isis ; the
other is represented with a caduceus and cornears, attributes of Anubis. -- "This type, (says
Millin) incontestably refers to the mysteries of
Isis, and the fecundity of nature."
     It is sacred to and attendant on Juno Lanuvina,
or Sospita, in whose temple or grove, according
to ancient custom, it was required that a virgin,
in proof of her chastity, should offer food to
the sacred serpent (" corruptis virginibus periculosus," says Woltereck). Coins of Popilia
and Procilia moneyers, and of Antoninus Pius
and Commodus, have types allusive to this
legendary subject. The same animal was also
held sacred to Jupiter, Neptune, Minerva, Pluto,
Ceres, Proserpine, Mercury, Isis, and Serapis. --
And that its image was used by the ancients
to denote Felicity, Vigilance, Concord, Prudence,
Power, Victory, and above all, Health (Salus),
is shown on Roman as well as Greek coins.
     A dead Serpent twined round a tree appears
on a fine brass medallion of Antoninus Pius.
Hercules, who has slain this Hydra, stands on
one side of the tree gathering its fruit : on the
other side are the three Hesperides.
     A Serpent is the sign of Asia (see Asia
Recepta
) ; also of Africa ; we see a serpent
trampled upon by the fore feet of an elephant on
a well-known denarius of Julius Caesar. -- Likewise
a serpent before the figure of Africa, on
one of Diocletian's medals. -- It is seen entwined
in folds, erecting itself above an altar, on coins
of the Claudia, Nonia, Rubria, and Tullia
moneyers ; and on imperial medals of Augustus,
Tiberius, Nero, Hadrian, Antonine, Aurelius,
Alexander Severus, and Maximian.
     A Serpent coiled round a tripod is, according
to Jobert (p. 415), referable to Apollo, or
indicates the Delphic oracles. This type is seen
on Greek coins of Nero and Domitian. -- [But it
is seldom seen on imperial medals of Roman
die, except as an attribute of Aesculapius and
Salus.]
     A Serpent issuing forth from a ship, occurs
on a fine medallion of Antoninus Pius. -- See
AESCVLAPIVS. -- There is one that crawls before
Victory on a gold coin of Julius Caesar, restored
by Trajan. -- Another is seen erecting
itself before the face of  a woman, in Faustina
sen.
     A Serpent invariably appears either in the
hand or near the figure of Salus, goddess of
health, on numerous coins of emperors and
empresses. On a contorniate medal of Nero
a serpent appears as if lapping food from a patera offered to it by a woman [Olympias?] lying
on a couch ; on another a huge snake, raising
itself in a spiral form, directs its head towards
some apples deposited on an altar ; behind the
serpent is a tree.
     A Serpent is placed on the back of a
horse on coins of Vespasian struck in Egypt,
and the same reptile creeps with head uplifted
on the prow of a ship on a Greek medal of
Domitian.
     A Serpent occupies the reverse of a coin of
the Fabricia moneyer, which Eckhel calls "the
serpent of Esculapius." L. Fabricius is recorded
to have caused the stone bridge to be built at
Rome which communicated with the island in
the Tiber, in the year 62 B.C.. -- To this fact
the epigraph of L. FABRICIus on a tablet with
Populus Romanus above it, which appears on
this second brass medal, most probably alludes.
And this opinion is the more strongly corroborated
by the type of the serpent, inasmuch as
Aesculapius being brought under the form of that
creature [as the story goes] from Epidaurus to
Rome had a temple in that very insula Tiberina,
which the bridge of Fabricius served to unite
with the city.
     A Serpent folded round an egg placed on an
altar appears on a first brass of the Eppia moneyer. The signification of which type Havercamp has attempted to explain with various conjectures, no ways satisfactory to the judgment
of Eckhel, who, in his turn displays as usual
his learning and research, but perhaps not with
his accustomed success in solving the enigma of
the snake and the egg.
     A Serpent wound (tortuosus) into many
circles or rising in spiral folds, occurs on
denarii of the Aemilia, Papia, Pompeia, and
Pomponia moneyers, and on Greek coins of
Trajan, Hadrian, and Faustina sen. -- A sinuous
snake glides before the biga of Juno Sospita, in
Procilia.
     A Serpent with a lion's head is given by
Banduri, from a coin of Diocletian.
     A Serpent creeps before Minerva on a brass
coin of the Clovia moneyer.
     Two Serpents twined round a winged wand
constitute the caduceus of Mercury.
     A Serpent is placed at the bottom of the
labarum on medals of Constantine the Great
(see SPES. PVB.) ; and on coins of some of the
later Christian emperors (such as Petronius
Maximus) a serpent prostrate is seen with the
foot of the emperor placed upon it.

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