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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.

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

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This was the first coin issued in Caesar's name. It was minted after his invasion of Italy and crossing of the Rubicon on 10 January 49 B.C. until his defeat of Pompey at Pharsalus. The symbolism on the obverse appears to be the triumph of good over evil. The reverse refers to Caesar's office of Pontifex Maximus (high priest of Rome).
SH85591. Silver denarius, Crawford 443/1, Sydenham 1006, RSC I 49, Sear CRI 9, BMCRR Gaul 27, Russo RBW 1557, SRCV I 1399, VF, old collection rainbow toning, choice obverse, light marks, reverse 1/4 off center, weight 4.024 g, maximum diameter 9.6 mm, die axis 0o, military mint, traveling with Caesar, 49 B.C.; obverse elephant walking right trampling on a dragon or carnyx (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); $900.00 (765.00)

Mytilene, Lesbos, c. 377 - 326 B.C.

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Mytilene was famous in ancient times for its great output of electrum coins struck from the late 6th through mid - 4th centuries B.C. The usual denomination was the hekte (1/6th stater). Warwick Wroth noted in the British Museum Catalog, "The Sixths of [this Lesbos electrum series] form one of the most beautiful coin-series of the ancient world. This will be evident from a glance."
SH86299. Electrum hekte, Bodenstedt 100A; SNG Cop 317; SNGvA 1715; BMC Lesbos p. 165, 87; Boston MFA 1720; HGC 6 1026 (S), VF, attractive style, light scratches, weight 2.557 g, maximum diameter 10.6 mm, die axis 0o, Mytilene mint, c. 377 - 326 B.C.; obverse laureate head of Apollo right; reverse head of Artemis right, hair in sphendone, small coiled snake lower left, all within linear frame and incuse square; scarce; $650.00 (552.50)

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; $380.00 (323.00)

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; $180.00 (153.00)

Homolion, Magnesia, Thessaly, Greece, Mid 4th Century B.C.

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Homolion was at the foot of Mount Homole but its exact location is still unknown. On the way to Troy, Philoktetes, the king of Homolion and the surrounding area, was bitten by a snake. The stench of his festering wound was so bad that Odysseus and his other companions stranded him on the island of Lemnos. Later they learned from prophesy that they could not take Troy without the bow and arrows of Herakles, which Philoktetes possessed. Odysseus and a group of men rushed back to Lemnos to recover Heracles' weapons. Surprised to find the him alive, the Greeks balked on what to do next. Odysseus tricked the weaponry away from Philoktetes, but Diomedes refused to take the weapons without the man. Herakles came down from Olympus and told Philoktetes to go, that he would be healed and win great honor as a hero. Outside Troy one of sons Asclepius healed his wound. Philoktetes was among those chosen to hide inside the Trojan Horse, and during the sack of the city he killed many famed Trojans.
GB85920. Bronze trichalkon, BCD Thessaly II 91 (same dies), Rogers 259, SNG Cop 73 var. (T behind head on obv.), HGC 4 87 (S), BCD Thessaly I -, BMC Thessaly -, VF, well centered and struck, dark patina, marks, corrosion, weight 10.111 g, maximum diameter 22.4 mm, die axis 270o, Homolion (near Omolio, Larissa, Greece) mint, mid 4th century B.C.; obverse head of Philoktetes left, bearded, wearing pilos; reverse OMOΛ-IEΩN (clockwise starting at 9:00), coiled serpent, erect head right, behind his head a small bunch of grapes; ex BCD Collection with his tag; ex Munzhandlung Ritter list 65 (Mar 2004), lot 614 (€140); very rare this nice; $140.00 (119.00)

Probus, Summer 276 - September 282 A.D.

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We were unable to find another example of this extremely rare type.
RA86486. Billon antoninianus, Pink VI-1, p. 67, 9 Em., 3; RIC V-2 503 (R2) var. (XXIT); Cohen VI 588 var. (obv. legend); Hunter V -, gVF, centered on a broad flan, uneven strike with weak areas, weight 3.591 g, maximum diameter 24.3 mm, die axis 0o, 3rd officina, Ticinum (Pavia, Italy) mint, emission 9, Jul - end 281 A.D.; obverse IMP C M AVR PROBVS AVG CONS IIII, radiate consular bust left, eagle-tipped scepter in right hand; reverse SALVS AVG, Salus standing half left, feeding snake in her arms, V left, TXXI in exergue; extremely rare; $140.00 (119.00)

Nemausus, Gaul, c. 40 B.C.

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Colonia Nemausus was founded as a colony by Tiberius Claudius Nero in 45 or 44 B.C. for veterans that had served Julius Caesar under his command in Gaul and the invasion of Egypt. He was the first husband of Livia and was persuaded or forced by Octavian to divorce her. At the wedding he gave her in marriage to Octavian "just as a father would."
RP85841. Bronze semis, RPC I 520, SNG Cop 692, SNG Munchen 431, CCCBM III 231, De la Tour 2735, VF, green patina, scratches, tight flan, earthen encrustation, weight 1.760 g, maximum diameter 15.3 mm, die axis 0o, Nemausus (Nimes, France) mint, c. 40 B.C.; obverse helmeted and draped bust right, S (mark of value) behind; reverse Salus standing half left, patera in right hand, over two snakes, left elbow on column behind, NEM COL (downward on right); ex Moneta Numismatic Services; $125.00 (106.25)

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; $110.00 (93.50)

Domitian, 13 September 81 - 18 September 96 A.D.

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In 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius spawned a deadly cloud of volcanic gas, stones, ash and fumes to a height of 33 km (20.5 miles), spewing molten rock and pulverized pumice at the rate of 1.5 million tons per second, ultimately releasing a hundred thousand times the thermal energy released by the Hiroshima bombing. The towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum were obliterated and buried underneath massive pyroclastic surges and lava. An estimated 16,000 people died from the eruption. Historians have learned about the eruption from the eyewitness account of Pliny the Younger, a Roman administrator and poet.
RS86168. Silver denarius, RIC II, part 1, Vespasian 1084; RSC II 384; BMCRE II Vespasian 265; BnF III 237; SRCV I 2642, F, light toning, well centered on a tight flan, a few bumps and scratches, edge cracks, weight 3.120 g, maximum diameter 18.3 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, as caesar, 79 A.D.; obverse CAESAR AVG F DOMITIANVS COS VI, laureate head right; reverse PRINCEPS IVVENTVTIS (the first of youths), Salus standing left, legs crossed, leaning against column, feeding snake from patera; $100.00 (85.00)

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; $90.00 (76.50)



Catalog current as of Monday, January 22, 2018.
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