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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.


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 SALE PRICE $585.00 ON RESERVE


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)


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; $260.00 (221.00)


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.
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; $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; $190.00 (161.50)


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.
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; $180.00 (153.00)


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)


Parion, Mysia, 400 - 300 B.C.

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A Gorgoneion was a horror-creating apotropaic Gorgon head pendant. The name derives from the Greek word gorgs, which means "dreadful." The Gorgons were three sisters who had hair of living, venomous snakes, and a horrifying face that turned those who saw it to stone. Stheno and Euryale were immortal, but their sister Medusa was not, and was slain by Perseus. Zeus, Athena, Hellenistic kings and Roman emperors wore Gorgoneion for protection. Images of the Gorgons were also put upon objects and buildings for protection. A Gorgon image is at the center of the pediment of the temple at Corfu, the oldest stone pediment in Greece from about 600 B.C.
GS79709. Silver hemidrachm, SNGvA 1319; SNG BnF 1357; SNG Delepierre 2530; BMC Mysia p. 95, 14 - 16; SNG Cop 257 ff. var. (various control symbols), VF, attractive style, light toning, tight flan, porous, weight 2.388 g, maximum diameter 13.3 mm, die axis 0o, Parion (Kemer, Canakkale, Turkey) mint, 400 - 300 B.C.; obverse bull standing left, looking right, ΠA/PI in two lines above and below bull, no control symbol; reverse Gorgoneion (facing head of Medusa), surrounded by snakes; ex FORVM (2009); $135.00 (114.75)


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)




  



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Snakes