Featured So... these exist: Snake Cowboys

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by TIF, Apr 1, 2018.

  1. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Goodness gracious, snakes alive, as my grandmother would (almost) say. I’ve picked up three very unusual depictions of serpents this year, all with similar motifs. Cue up the Steve Miller Band and behold the marvelous Snake Cowboy:

    EGYPT, Alexandria. Domitian. Regnal year 10, CE 90/91. Æ diobol (25mm, 10.86 g, 12h). AVT KAICAP ΔΟ ΜΙΤ CEB ΓΕΡΜ, laureate head right / Agathodaemon serpent, wearing the skhent crown (emblematic of upper and lower Egypt), on horseback galloping left; L I (date) below. Köln –; Dattari (Savio) –; K&G 24.109; RPC II 2585; SNG Copenhagen 214; Emmett 277.10 (R5).

    Ex Giovanni Maria Staffieri Collection. Ex West Coast/Lloyd Beauchaine Collection (Classical Numismatic Group 41, 19 March 1997), lot 1110; Classical Numismatic Review Vol. XVI, No. 1 (January 1991), lot 316; Numismatic Fine Arts Fall Mail Bid Sale (18 October 1990), lot 2365.

    Appearances: Staffieri, Alexandria In Nummis 39 (this coin). Obverse illustrated in Emmett as the header for the Domitian section, p. 24 (this coin); fully illustrated in Emmett, p. 26 (this coin, discussing the unusual reverse).

    The Domitian was one of those I must have this coin occasions. I avidly collect coins of Roman Egypt, particularly those with unusual or Egypt-specific reverses. The portrait is grand; the patina lovely, the reverse amazing, and the pedigree interesting. Also, this particular coin appears not once but twice in Emmett’s book which is remarkable because he has so few coin illustrations.

    I grew up in Texas and can attest to never seeing a snake riding a bridled horse :D. So what on earth does this wacky reverse mean?

    From Emmett: "Vegetative regeneration is symbolized on this coin which depicts Agathodaemon, the good serpent, riding a horse. The horse represents the changing of the seasons, and the serpent represents rebirth or regeneration of the crops upon which Egyptian life and prosperity depended". Hence the animation :)



    Far too soon after the budget-busting Domitian was acquired, this apparently best-of-type Caracalla rarity appeared. What else could I do? Air conditioner repair will simply have to wait :D.

    LYDIA, Philadelphia. Caracalla. Æ 31, 16.7 gm, CE 198-217. Ioulianos, strategos. AVT K M AVP ANTΩNЄINOC; laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right / ЄΠI CTPA IOVΛIANOV A ΠOΛ ΦIΛΑΔЄΛΦЄΩN; horse prancing left surmounted by serpent coiled left. BMC 85. Very rare.

    I don't know if we can carry over the same meaning to this Lydian Snake Cowboy. It looks like the snake may be coiled around a baetyl or omphalos. There aren't many examples of this coin so it's hard to say. A serpent coiled around a baetyl or omphalos is a known scene on coins of Lydia so that makes it plausible, although I'm not sure what its carriage on a horse connotes. Maybe the baetyl was on parade, if it is a baetyl. This coin needs more research :).


    Lastly-- for now-- is a type of coin I underbid on a time or two before finally buying our good friend Stevex6's example. Not exactly a beauty pageant winner but it will be well loved in my house :). This Snake Cowboy has the head of Serapis! Ancient Egyptian coin designers sure were fond of mixing Serapis with other deities. That's a subset I'm actively growing-- syncretic depictions of Serapis.

    EGYPT, Alexandria. Antoninus Pius. Æ drachm (32mm, 23.0 g, 12h); RY 23 (CE 159/60). Laureate bust right, slight drapery / Serapis-Agathodaemon serpent erect right on horseback advancing right; L K Γ (date) across field. Only the K is visible on this coin but this is the only year of issue for the type. Cf. Köln 1852-3; Dattari (Savio) 8939; K&G 35.820; Emmett 1679. Ex X6 Collection.


    I had intended to post the Domitian along with a comprehensive review of snakes on ancient coins but I put it off awaiting the Caracalla, and then the A-Pi... and such a writeup would be huge. Someday. I'll be working on it. For now though I want more cowboy snakes! :D

    Post any snake coins you wish to show off. The weirder the better :)

    Thanks to @Severus Alexander for coining the term "snake cowboy".
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2018
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  3. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Haha, great stuff & coins.
    TIF likes this.
  4. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

    Congrats TIF, what a weird collection of snakes , love them.

    Not as weird as your coins:

    Snake Asclepious.jpg
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  5. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    Wonderful coins @TIF. I would love any of the three, but the first one is magnificent.
    TIF likes this.
  6. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    While the coins are magnificent, the thought that went through my head was how much better the Emmett book would be had it been illustrated with coins from your collection and those of a few other Alexandrian fanatics we know. Of course CNG and a few other dealers have many times better photo files but when it comes to coins that explain why we like those things, your group is hard to beat.
  7. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter


    Um, I had to look, RE-look, and LOOK AGAIN... Yeah, those flowers are blasting out that Horse's Tail pipe! :D

    I am rolling on the floor laughing!

    But the REAL reason I was laughing is that I got this coin the other day, thinking "TIF would like this little guy... it has a snake on it! That Texas-Gal would appreciate not stepping on it!"

    Makedon Alexander III the Great AE17 5.6g 325-310 Alex-Herakles lion skin - B A bow case club Coiled SNAKE device Price 385

    Then on the SAME day, I captured this DOMITIA just to fill one of my Roman Ruler collection. I usually would not post this as I know some folks "frown" on collecting Roman Rulers: :) I don't. They will be for the Grandkids...

    Wow fits in with you DOMITIAN as well as your Lydia - Philadelphia
    RProv Domitia Lydia Philadelphia AE 16 Grape Bunch RPC 1336.jpg
    RProv Domitia, Lydia Philadelphia AE 16 Grape Bunch RPC 1336

    Looks like some KISMET!
  8. desertgem

    desertgem MODERATOR Senior Errer Collecktor Moderator

  9. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Amazing... that is the mother of all TIF gifs!!! (And that's really saying something. :D) Not to mention the stellar coins. I love both of the first two beyond reason, and the third is a sentimental favourite. Just... wow!!!

    If snake cowboys weren't a thing before, they sure are now. Everyone's gonna want one. Damn, I wish I'd managed to snag one before you posted... :banghead:

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  10. Nicholas Molinari

    Nicholas Molinari Well-Known Member

    I love them!
    TIF likes this.
  11. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    You asked for weird snakes/serpents. Here's my weirdest:
    Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 2.03.06 PM.jpg
    Milan: Gian Galeazzo Visconti, 1st Duke of Milan (1395-1402), AR grosso with coat of arms/St. Ambrose.

    Nobody seems to be sure what the serpent is eating. I've heard: a child (because an early Visconti killed a child-eating lake serpent), an "infidel", Visconti's son who perished in the jaws of a monster, Jonah... and also that the person is in fact exiting the serpent's mouth in a very bizarre piece of symbolism. Though not half as bizarre as a cowboy snake!!
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  12. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    I may or may not have intentionally depicted the horse farting flowers.

    (Modern politics emphasizes plausible deniability ;))

    Very interesting! If I knew that I'd forgotten :D

    The hazards of the internet and CoinTalk :D

    That is indeed extremely bizarre, even with the story!
  13. IdesOfMarch01

    IdesOfMarch01 Well-Known Member

    That GIF animation is amazing! How long did it take you to create it?
  14. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Too long but I had a blast and learned a lot. I started working on it Friday night. It's been through several iterations.

    Animating the horse was of course the hardest part but it was made easier by using the famous Muybridge high speed photography study of a galloping horse. I used 12 of the 15 images in the cycle (pooped out and it looked smooth enough without the three omissions). I cut the coin horse into parts and reassembled them over each of the Muybridge images. Each horse pose was saved as a Photoshop file, later imported into the background composite.

    The background is one long image, constructed so that the left side of the last frame matches the right side of the first frame. I placed flowers throughout and had to make them visible/invisible as the movement progressed. To cut the frames, I made semi-transparent placeholder layers for each frame and each placeholder had a dot in the same location. The dot was used to center the horse. It was tedious in the extreme with a ridiculous number of steps and sequences which had to be executed over and over and over. After a while it became a good exercise to help with my memory, which seems to be slipping with age.

    First draft, a 4 frame sequence which was out of order because I had flipped the Muybridge composite and forgot to renumber the images!

    Next draft, which made me downright dizzy because of the high rate of speed of the clouds and background. I also didn't like how some of the flowers exited close to the legs.

    There was another version or two until I settled on a stationary background. This morning I made great headway towards a differentially moving background (even had to use math, gasp!) but after the test sequence of 4 frames realized the problem: the pyramids wouldn't cycle back to the starting position so the continuous loop would be disrupted. Then I decided to make the hills, pyramids, and clouds stationary which was a good compromise. That's the final draft.

    I also considered parching the foreground landscape in front of the horse to further emphasize the regenerative nature of Agathodaemon on a horse, and I considered having corn or wheat instead of flowers which would have been more appropriate but I like the colorful flowers. I probably spent roughly 25 hours on the project but it was very fun but eventually I had to stop tweaking it. Did some home repair work too so it has been a very productive weekend :).
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2018
  15. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Another note about horse gaits and the coin: on the coin, the horse is jumping. That's the only horse gait "pose" in which the legs are stretched out in pairs, at least in the gaits I reviewed.

    The coin's horse isn't anatomically perfect but it is really quite good compared to other ancient coin horses. It made the cutting and pasting of the gallop much easier even though considerable stretching and distorting of bits and pieces was necessary.
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2018
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  16. Orfew

    Orfew Supporter! Supporter

    Wonderful coins @TIF My favourite is the Domitian. Here is a coin with Agathodaemon on the reverse.

    A Pius diobol Dattari.jpg

    Egypt, Alexandria. Dattari. Antoninus Pius, 138-161 Diobol circa 151-152 (year 15), Æ 22.5mm., 7.45g.

    Obv: Laureate bust r., drapery on l. shoulder.

    Rev. Agathodaemon erect, crowned with skhent; in field, L-E.

    RPC Online 15718 (this coin).

    Dattari-Savio Pl. 162, 3066 (this coin).

    Good Fine.

    From the Dattari collection.

    Ex: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

    Ex: Naville Numismatics Auction 34, Lot 281 September 17, 2017
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  17. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    Each one of those is a treasure! Wonderful!

    I wonder if ancient provincial people had religions where these types had real meaning. A modern artist could made a snake cowboy as a novelty, but we would not expect him or her to create it as an expression of some profound reality in his/her mental world.

    Some history books consider the transition from paganism to Christianity without much discussing what the pagans were doing and thinking in their religions. You can read a lot about early Christianity without learning much about paganism. Books that do discuss that (The Age of Constantine the Great, an old book by Jack Burckhardt, does) reveal some pretty strange (to our sensibilities) goings-on. I'm sure their religious texts (if they had any) were suppressed, so we may never know what a snake on a horse meant to them, if it had meaning.

    Do you think it was a novelty type like it would be today?
  18. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Thanks :)

    In the case of the Domitian, the role of Agathodaemon is well enough attested that the auspiciousness of the reverse scene is likely serious.

    I do wonder if there was some component of humor though.

    The Caracalla's reverse is a question mark. So far I've not uncovered anything that sheds light on it. I like speculating though, so the questions surrounding mystery coins are fun to contemplate.
  19. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Supporter! Supporter

    A phenomenal post, as always!! I'll be disappointed if the next thread is anything less than a feature-length production which intricately weaves together every coin in all of our collections here. You've set a high bar!!
  20. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    haha! i love the coin and the show..nuttin' better than bypassing the fertilizing stage :p..my only snake coin..possibly Marcrinus and his son.. not rounds    snake coin 003.JPG not rounds    snake coin 004.JPG
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  21. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Uh, yeah... I'll get right on that :D


    A few more interesting snakes...

    A very loooooooooong skinny serpent. Look how many times it is wrapped around that baetyl! Also, it is bearded. Many coin serpents are. I'm not sure what that connotes. Royalty? Deification? Seems like I read something about beards on snakes... somewhere. Do any of you know more about it? The Domitian serpent on the OP coin has a luxurious beard. It's divided, almost like a mustache. The one below is more like an Egyptian king's strap-on beard.
    PHOENICIA, Tyre. Trebonianus Gallus
    CE 251-253
    Æ dichalkon, 25 mm, 13.39 gm, 6h
    Obv: IMP C C VIBIVS TREBO GALLVS AVG; laureate and draped bust right
    Rev: COL TYRO METR[O?]; serpent-entwined baetyl; murex shell to left, palm tree to right
    Ref: RPC IX online 1961; Rouvier 2476; Babelon 2296; AUB –; BMC –.

    A winged and bearded serpent, carrying Asklepios, who is carrying a snake. Snakeception :)
    THRACE, Pautalia. Caracalla
    CE 198-217
    AE29, 16.4 gm
    Obv: AYT K M AY CEY ANTΩNEINOC; Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right
    Rev: OYΛΠIAC ΠAYTAΛIAC; Asklepios seated right on back of winged serpent
    Ref: Varbanov 5007

    More winged serpents:
    EGYPT, Alexandria. Antoninus Pius
    year 14, CE 150/1
    AE drachm, 34 mm, 28.8 gm
    Obv: Laureate bust of Antoninus Pius left
    Rev: Triptolemos driving biga of winged serpents right; L IΔ above
    Ref: Emmett 1683.14

    A nymph charming a snake... or is it the other way around?
    SICILY, Selinos
    c. 410 BCE
    AR litra, 11mm, 0.76 g, 1h
    Obv: nymph seated left on rock, right hand raised above her head, extending her left hand to touch coiled serpent before her; selinon leaf above
    Rev: man-faced bull standing right; ΣEΛINONTIOΣ above; in exergue, fish right
    Ref: Potamikon, p. 116 figure 152 (this coin) HGC 2, 1229; SNG ANS 711–2 var. (ethnic); SNG Ashmolean 1904–5; SNG Lloyd 1270 var. (same); Basel –; Dewing –; Rizzo pl. XXXIII, 6. Rare.
    ex MoneyMuseum, Zurich
    ex Leu 79 (31 October 2000), lot 404
    ex Athos Moretti collection, #482, unpublished manuscript

    A marionette getting bitten on the nose... (What on earth does this mean??)
    CELTIC, Central Europe (Rhineland). "Dancing Mannikin" type
    65 -40 BCE, or thereabouts
    AR Quinarius, 13 mm, 1.62 gm
    Obv: dancing mannikin right, head turned left, holding snake in right hand, torque in left hand.
    Rev: horse standing right, head turned left; around, zig zag border.
    Ref: SLM 1118. Dembski 73, 396. (I'll have to take the seller's word on that for now. If any of you have a Celtic reference and find this inaccurate, please let me know.)
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2018
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