Featured Glykon - The snake cult of Alexander of Abounoteichos

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Feb 22, 2019.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear Friends of ancient mythology!

    Many coins of Thrace depict snakes. Here I have a type from Augusta Trajana:

    Thrace, Augusta Trajana, Geta, AD 209-212
    AE 30, 16.5g, 225°
    Bust, cuirassed, seen from behind, laureate, r.
    Snake, radiate and with nimbus, in four elaborated coils erected r.
    ref. Schönert-Geiss 496 (1 ex. only!); Varbanov 1356
    very rare, about EF, brown patina

    On ancient coins we find many depictions of snakes. I remind of the snake as attribute of Salus, or the famous Cistophori where a snake is climbing out of a Cista mystica, the snake basket, belonging to the cult of Dionysos and playing an important role in the Eleusinic Mysteries too. And don't forget the Alexandrian Agathodaimon. But this is not the matter with the snake on this coin. It is a Pontic type.

    There is some evidence that the snake erecting here in four elaborated coils and has a radiate head with nimbus is Glykon, the Snake God. This god was invented in the midth of the 2nd century AD by the Greek prophet Alexander of Abounoteichos. This we know from the books of the Greek author Lukian of Samosate (c.120- c.190 AD).

    In one of his scripts he mocks in a cracking mode the charlatan which he calls Alexander the oracle trader. Apart from his affronts we can accept that this cult, at least the snake which was worshipped by Alexander, has its origin in Macedonia, where snake cults are known since the 4th century BC. It is told f.e. that the mother of Alexander the Great became pregnant after sleeping with a snake. The prophet Alexander brought the god, a very great snake, to his home city Abounoteichos in Paphlagonia and built up a temple which became then a famous oracle.

    An interesting inscription was found in Caesarea Trocetta in Asia Minor which mentions an Apollo priest which calls himself 'Miletus, son of Glykon and Paphlagonia'. Perhaps the parents of this man couldn't create children and visited the temple of Glykon after which the wife was pregnant. Children being born in this manner by divine intervention often got the name of the god to commemorate his help. So this inscription confirms to a certain extent the claim of Lukian that the charlatan Alexander has helped the women to become pregnant in a much more profane sense.

    Numerous votive donations, statues and coins found in the whole area between Danube and Euphrat prove that the cult of the Snake God was still alive at least one century after the death of the prophet. Alexander which finally was seen as son of Podalirus and great-son of Asklepios(!) received after his death religious honours and was considered as prophet of the god himself.

    His big success in inventing a new religious cult seems to be symptomatic for the change in religious conception off from the traditional belief which escalated in the late 2nd and 3rd century and culminated in the rise of Christianity.

    I have added a pic of a sculpture from the museum of Constanta/Romania (the ancient Tomis) which closely matches the Snake God Glykon. It is from Pat Lawrence. You see that this snake has a more human- or lion-like head. About this snake Lukian writes:

    "Then long before they had prepared a snake head from linen and completed which had a kind of human appearence, which was full painted and which looked very alive. It could open and close the mouth by using horse-hairs, and a cloven tongue also controlled by horse-hairs could be outstretched."

    (1) Lukian of Samosata, Alexandros or the False Prophet

    Online Sources:
    1) http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/lucian/lucian_alexander.htm
    2) http://gutenberg.spiegel.de/gregorov/hadrian/hadr215.htm
    3) How to invent a new cult? (German) glycon lukian heidelberg&hl=de

    Best regards
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 22, 2019
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  3. Jwt708

    Jwt708 Well-Known Member

    Love your coin and it was an interesting write up @Jochen !

    Here are my coins featuring a snake.

    Septimius Severus, 193 - 211 AD
    Æ 8 Assaria, 32mm, 15.31g, 8h; Thrace, Pautalia Mint.
    Obv.: AV K A CEΠTI CEVHPOC ΠEP; Laureate head of Septimius right.
    Rev.: OVΛΠIAC ΠAVTAΛIAC; Fourfold coiled serpent with erect head right.

    Commodus; Philppopolis, Thrace; AD 180-192
    AE, 4.07g, 18mm; 6h
    Obv.: AY K? M?...-KOMOΔOC; laureate head right
    Rev.: [Φ]ΙΛΙΠΠΟ[ΠOΛEITΩN]; bearded, coiled serpent with two head fins
    Ref.: Varbanov 994 - Wildwinds offers no description of the legend. Looking at other coins the obverse description may read AY K AI AYP KOMOΔOC. The K on the obv is hard to read and the AI looks a lot like an M. My understanding is Varbanov is not clear on this coin either.
  4. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    From the time where I was heavily engaged with snakes another Glykon with interesting features:

    Moesia inferior, Nikopolis ad Istrum, Gordian III, AD 238-244
    AE 26, 12.04g, 26.23mm, 180°
    struck under governor Sabinius Modestus
    Bust, draped and cuirassed, seen from behind, radiate, r.
    Glykon snake, in four coils erected r., with fish-tail and mane of eight rays on head and neck.
    ref. a) not in AMNG
    b) Varbanov (engl.) 4140
    c) Hristova/Hoeft/Jekov (2018) No. (plate coin)
    scarce (R5), about VF

    On the rev. Glykon is depicted with fish-tail. And Glykon doesn't have a nimbus but a mane (or crown)! A nice detail is that the mane is running into the legend, or more correctly because the legend usually was cut after the pic: the legend is extending the mane! 2 dots are seen above N of NIKO. A nice feature!
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 22, 2019
  5. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Supporter! Supporter

    Question from a guy without a large vocabulary in English : I often made research for references about coins with “snakes”: not much results. But when I used the term “serpent”, bingo. Why? Is there a ‘nuance’ between the 2 words ?
    7Calbrey likes this.
  6. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    I have a snake on a coin of Nerva (billon tetradrachm) of Alexandria, Egypt.

    Type: Billon Tetradrachm, 25mm, 12.7 grams, mint of Alexandria year 96-97 A.D.

    Obverse: Bust of Nerva facing right, KAIS SEB AVT NEPOVAS

    Reverse: Agathodaemon serpent coiled with head right, holding caduceus and grain ear within coils, wearing the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt. In exergue, LA.

    Reference: Milne 542, Dattari 638

    This coin is listed as "rare".


    In the syncretic atmosphere of Late Antiquity, agathodaemons could be bound up with Egyptian bringers of security and good fortune: a gem carved with magic emblems bears the images of Serapis with crocodile, sun-lion and Osiris mummy surrounded by the lion-headed snake Cnum–Agathodaemon–Aion, with Harpocrates on the reverse.
  7. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    This Alexandrian type should not be confused with Glycon or the Thracian snake types.

  8. arizonarobin

    arizonarobin Well-Known Member

    @Jochen a great read, I love threads like this. I have one of my own, with Julia Domna. This one I picked up for the lovely radiate snake, it was love at first sight!

    Julia Domna, Pautalia Julia Domna,
    Ae 28.5mm;14.23g; Pautalia, Thrace

    draped bust right

    Radiate agathodaemon serpent coiled left

    Moushmov 4218, Varbanov 4926
  9. Ed Snible

    Ed Snible Well-Known Member

    Great coins @Jochen, @Jwt708, @ancient coin hunter, and @arizonarobin ! I have been unsuccessful in finding a nimbate snake or agathodaemon for my collection. I am admiring yours.

    I may have a Glycon of my own. The one I found is poor. A friend of mine has a great one (this one), you should probably look at his instead.

    Anyway, here's mine:
    Amasia, Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD), AE 24, 6.01g
    Obv: [A]U KA [ANTWNINO]; Bust
    Rev: AMAS [MHTR] / ET RN[H]; Snake (Glycon/Glykon?) on basket (cista?)
    Ref: Lindgren and Kovacs A7A, SNG von Aulock 6698
    ex-Clark's Ancients, List 119, November 2004, lot 452
    ex-Seven Seas, April 1980

    The snake looked strange to me but I didn't pick up that it was possibly Glycon until I read this article by Ursula Kampmann.
  10. lordmarcovan

    lordmarcovan Eclectic & Eccentric Moderator

    Great coin! I've never seen a radiate snake like that.

    Makes it look like a cartoon snake expressing surprise, or perhaps making lots of noise.
  11. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Fascinating series of coins, which seem to have been produced by many mints in Moesia Inferior and Thrace in the 2nd and 3rd centuries! And to think the snake-god depicted on this coin may have been from a cult started by a charlatan during the Antonine period!!

    I have been wanting a reasonably-priced example of one of these (I will undoubtedly try to find more, such as the bearded one or the one with a lion's mane and fish tail). I finally acquired one for my collection:

    Gordian III Nicopolis Glycon snake god.jpg
    Gordian III, AD 238-244.
    Roman provincial Æ 27.1 mm, 12.33 g, 9 h.
    Moesia Inferior, Nicopolis ad Istrum, Sabinius Modestus, legatus consularis, AD 241-244.
    Obv: ΑVΤ Κ Μ ΓΟΡΔΙΑΝΟC ΑVΓ, radiate, draped and cuirassed bust, right.
    Rev: ΥΠ CΑΒ ΜΟΔЄCΤΟV ΝΙΚΟΠΟΛЄΙΤ | ΩN ΠPOC ICTP, Nimbate figure of snake-god Glycon, coiled in two coils, rising up, head right.
    Refs: Hristova/Hoeft/Jekov (2018) (same dies); Varbanov 4146; Moushmov 1488; Mionnet Suppl. 2, 708; AMNG --; BMC --; Lindgren --; Sear --.
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2020
  12. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    Nice one, RC. I too want a Glycon, but I am going to have to get pretty lucky bottom-feeding to find a cheap one. The story behind it is fascinating.

    No coin, but I do have a Romanian stamp showing a statue of the deity:

    Ancient Coin Stamps Sep 2019 (10).JPG
    Edessa, eparch, Carl Wilmont and 10 others like this.
  13. tenbobbit

    tenbobbit Well-Known Member

    I am a little surprised that I missed this thread, normally myself and @Bing compete to post our Glykon.

    Macrinus & Diadumenian
    PeteB, eparch, Carl Wilmont and 9 others like this.
  14. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Your stamp shows the sculpture of Glykon in the Museum of Constanta/Romania

    Marsyas Mike and Roman Collector like this.
  15. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

  16. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Perhaps someone should post a quick guide to identifying the various snakes.
    Antoninus Pius Alexandria drachm
  17. 7Calbrey

    7Calbrey Well-Known Member

    @Octarinetabellatchitchix.. I think a serpent is a coiled snake, suggesting it's bigger. The term serpent derives possibly from a musical bass wind instrument having a long coiled shape.
  18. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Supporter! Supporter

    Many thanks @7Calbrey . I thought I would never knew the answer !
    7Calbrey likes this.
  19. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    @Jochen1 - I am very late in discovering this post, thanks for another interesting write-up and a fantastic coin. Here is my Glykon Quatrassaria from Tomis. The statue in the OP from Tomis (Constanta, Romania) is also on the stamp of @Marsyas Mike and here on wikipedia - taken as evidence of the cult's presence in Tomis.

    Here is a fun article with some entertaining stories of Alexander the Paphlagonian: Dalziel, D. (1936). Alexander the Greater. Greece & Rome, 5(14), 90-97. It begins:
    "The claim that Alexander the Paphlagonian is greater than his Macedonian namesake is perhaps hardly to be taken seriously, yet an ingenious pro-Paphlagonian might argue with justice that his Alexander 'conquered' a large part of the Roman Empire; that this conquest was almost bloodless; and that the story of it appeals to the sense of humour, which is more than can be said for the history of Philip's filibustering son."

    Gordian Tomis Glykon.jpg
    Moesia Inferior, Tomis, Gordian III, with Tranquillina, AD 238-244, Æ Quatrassaria
    Obv: AVT K M ANT GORDIANOC AVG CE TPANKVLLINA, Confronted busts of Gordian and Tranquillina
    Rev: MHTPO PONTOV TOMEWC, coiled serpent with head up to left; Δ (denomination) in right field
    Ref: Moushmov 2275 (coin)
  20. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    That's a cool coin, @Sulla80 ! It's not a tetrassarion, though. It's the 4-1/2 assaria denomination, minted only in Tomis. The denomination is marked by the letter Δ together with a semis sign <, but they are here ligate. You may read about this denomination at this thread I started about them. I first learned of them from @dougsmit .

    Your coin is an obverse die match to this coin in my collection:

    Gordian III, AD 238-244, and Tranquillina.
    Roman provincial Æ 4-1/2 assaria, 12.51 g, 26.6 mm, 12 h.
    Moesia Inferior, Tomis, AD 241-244.
    Obv: ΑVΤ Κ Μ ΑΝΤ ΓΟΡΔΙΑΝΟC ΑVΓ·CЄ // ΤΡΑΝΚVΛ / ΛЄΙΝΑ, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Gordian, right, facing diademed and draped bust of Tranquillina, left.
    Rev: ΜΕΤΡΟ ΠΟΝΤΟV ΤΟΜΕΩC, Homonoia standing facing, head left, wearing polos and holding patera and cornucopiae; Δ< (ligate) in left field.
    Refs: AMNG I 3545; Varbanov 5693; Moushmov 2276; SNG Cop --; BMC --; Lindgren --; Sear --.
  21. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    Thanks! and the die match with different reverse always fun. I'll repurpose the sentence from @dougsmith's article in saying, this is what I like about posting on CT; "I have met so very many really fine people willing to help with my numismatic education". This also raises lots of questions for me, starting with: "what tells us these are 4.5 assaria?" they seem to weigh about the same as my "E" marked pentassaria?
    Carl Wilmont likes this.
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