Tripod and serpent

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Roman Collector, Apr 14, 2020.

  1. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Well-Known Member

    I have had this coin for several years, which was part of a large uncleaned lot, but I never got around to photographing it or posting it here at CT because I thought it was too mundane. Moreover, it's not exactly FDC.

    Elagabalus Marcianopolis serpent and tripod.jpg Elagabalus, AD 218-222.
    Roman provincial Æ assarion, 2.88 g, 16.6 mm, 7 h.
    Moesia Inferior, Marcianopolis, AD 218-222.
    Obv: ΑVΤ Κ Μ ΑVΡ ΑΝΤΩΝΙΝΟC, laureate head, right.
    Rev: ΜΑΡΚΙΑΝΟΠΟΛΙΤΩΝ, Tripod with serpent entwined around central leg.
    Refs: AMNG I 916; Varbanov 1425; Moushmov 653; H&J

    This reverse type, of a serpent entwined around a tripod, appears on numerous provincial coins of Moesia Inferior and Thrace in the third century AD. You may think it mundane, but when one dives into the iconography or the historical background of a coin, it usually turns out to be more interesting than it appears.

    The word tripod derives from the Greek word τρίπους (τρίποδος in the genitive, transliterated as tripodos), meaning three-footed, and refers to a three-legged structure.[1] It is one of the oldest words in Greek. In fact, no word in that language can be demonstrated to be older, for it appears in the Linear B script, dating to the 13th century BC! The word appears on a clay tablet with Linear B script discovered in Pylos, Greece, and which now resides in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens.[2] The word ti-ri-po-de appears in syllabic characters along with a drawing of a three-legged vessel on the tablet!


    Chadwick, who worked together with Michael Ventris to decipher Linear B, describes the circumstances of its discovery:[3]

    One afternoon in May 1953 the telephone rang in my flat in Cambridge. Michael Ventris had called me from London in a great state of excitement—he rarely showed signs of emotion, but for him this was a dramatic moment. The cause was a letter he had received from Professor Blegen, the excavator of Pylos. We knew that Blegen had found more tablets in 1952, but no one had yet examined them carefully; they had been cleaned during the winter and only the next spring were they ready for study. Blegen’s letter ran:

    Since my return to Greece I have spent much of my time working on the tablets from Pylos, getting them properly ready to be photographed. I have tried your experimental syllabary on some of them.

    Enclosed for your information is a copy of P641, which you may find interesting. It evidently deals with pots, some on three legs, some with four handles, some with three, and others without handles. The first word by your system seems to be ti-ri-po-de and it recurs twice as ti-ri-po (singular?).​

    Used as a seat or stand, the form of the tripod is the most stable furniture construction for uneven ground, hence its ancient and widespread existence. In antiquity, tripods were most frequently used as a support for a lebes (cauldron) or as a base for other vases, although they could also function as ornaments, trophies, and sacrificial altars. Here is a replica bronze tripod decorated with serpent motifs.


    A Serpent coiled round a tripod is typically referable to Apollo, or indicates the Delphic oracles.[4] This iconography stems from the myth of how Apollo chased the serpent-god Python from Mount Parnassus, slew the creature with his arrow, placed his bones into a tripod cauldron and deposited them into his new temple.[5] I have previously written about Apollo slaying Python here at CT, as depicted on this coin of Caracalla, also struck at the mint in Marcianopolis:

    Caracalla and Domna Marcianopolis Apollo Seller.jpg
    Caracalla, with Julia Domna, AD 198-217.
    Roman provincial Æ Pentassarion, 10. 66 g, 27 mm, 1 h.
    Moesia Inferior, Marcianopolis, AD 215 under Quintillianus, legatus consularis.
    Obv: ΑΝΤΩΝΙΝΟC ΑVΓΟVCΤΟC ΙΟV-ΛΙΑ ΔΟΜΝΑ, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust of Caracalla and draped bust of Julia Domna facing one another.
    Rev: VΠΑ ΚVΝΤΙΛΙΑΝΟV ΜΑΡΚΙΑΝΟΠΟΛΙΤΩΝ, Apollo standing facing, head right, raising hand over head and holding bow; to left, Є (mark of value) above covered quiver; serpent-entwined stump to right.
    Refs: AMNG I 660 ff; Moushmov 471; H&J, Marcianopolis; Varbanov 1001; Mionnet --; BMC --; Sear --; Wiczay --.

    Post your coins with tripods, serpents and tripods, or anything you feel is relevant!



    1. Liddell, Henry George, and Robert Scott. An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon: Founded upon the Seventh Edition of Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 819.

    2. Photo: "Linear B." Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., See also

    3. Chadwick, John. The Decipherment of Linear B: the Key to the Ancient Language and Culture of Crete and Mycenae. Random House, 1958, p. 80.

    4. Stevenson, Seth William, et al. A Dictionary of Roman Coins, Republican and Imperial. G. Bell and Sons, 1889, p. 735.

    5. Hyginus (2nd c. AD?), Fabulae: 140 in Trzaskoma, Stephen M., and R. Scott. Smith. Apollodorus' Library and Hyginus' Fabulae: Two Handbooks of Greek Mythology. Hackett Publishing, 2007, p. 146.
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2020
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  3. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Nice background on the tripod, as well as an interesting coin.
    Carl Wilmont and Roman Collector like this.
  4. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

  5. Alegandron

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

    Nice article, @Roman Collector ! Very cool stuff.

    I was always interested in the Tripod styles. I feel it is an effective means of strength and support. For some reason, I gravitate to '3' as a favorite number, etc.

    I was very impressed visiting various museums in China when I was on business during the 80's and onwards til today. Their ancient civilization relied heavily on Tripods for their cooking vessels and ceremonial / worship pieces. They have found earthen ware tripods dating back to the Neolithic Age to 3500 BCE. As China moved into the Bronze Age, they created cast Tripods, still unmatched today in the level of sophistication of the casting process. They are some of my favorite artforms.

    Shang Dynasty 1600-1046 BCE


    This was the reason that I got this Tripod Coin... Greek mysticism of the Snake and the effective Tripod design. LOL, forget the dopey Emperor. :)

    Roman Empire (Bozo Era)
    Ancient Roman Provincial Coin
    Bronze (AE18) of Elagabalus, A.D. 218-222
    Thrace, Philippolis
    Moushmov 5423. 18 mm, 4.3 g.
    Reverse: [ΦIΛIΠ]ΠOΛITΩN NEΩKOPΩ[N] - Serpent entwined tripod (celebrating the Neokorus of the city along with a festival of Pythia)
    Raised to be a priest of the Elagabalus (Baal) cult, Antoninus, known to history as Elagabalus, was 14 years old when he was brought to Rome by his grandmother to be emperor. His exotic Eastern influences and his flamboyant sexual escapades proved to be too much for conservative Roman society, and he was executed about the time of his eighteenth birthday.

    But, according to one of our threads, I think we should consider the Tripods in Human History based upon a species of Pierson's Puppeteers by Larry Niven...'s_Puppeteers
    :D :D :D
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  6. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Well-Known Member

    Cool coin, @Andres2 , and I like how it illustrates other creatures associated with Apollo along with a tripod. Pythia, as depicted in the painting by John Maler Collier, reminds me of this interpretive dance by Vitalia Baranowskaya, called Pythia:

    Very interesting pieces from ancient China! Their artisanship is superb! And a cool coin you have from Philippopolis, too. It's certainly better preserved than my ugly little coin.
  7. Alegandron

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

    Thank you. BUT, you DO have that coin! THAT, to me, is what counts! :) Great writeup, again.

    Agreed, seeing those original, very ancient tripods is fascination. And their ancient processes of casting, and some of the INCREDIBLE details, are still unmatched in manufacturing processes today. In many ways, I feel the Ancient Chinese were far advanced than the Classical West. Neat stuff.
  8. NewStyleKing

    NewStyleKing Beware of Greeks bearing wreaths

    Athens New Style Tetradrachm c 125/4 BC
    Obs : Athena Parthenos right in tri-form helmet
    29mm 16.67g Thompson issue 40
    Thompson catalogue : 470f
    Rev : ΑΘΕ ethnic
    Owl standing on overturned panathenaic amphora on
    which month mark Θ control ΜΕ below
    3 magistrates : POLEMON ALKETES ARIS
    LF symbol : Tripod
    All within a surrounding olive wreath

    One of the "over- represented" New Styles in Thracian hoards along with Eagle on Thunderbolt, Dioscuri,and Prow. All these coins come from the middle 120's BC . Why they are found in large numbers in Thracian hoards seems to be because they are pay for mercenaries ordered by the Romans or bribes to Celtic tribes for good behaviour.
    Generally they had lots of circulation wear before being hoarded
    Theory of DeCallatay and Meadows.

  9. Shea19

    Shea19 Well-Known Member

    Great post and coin, very interesting.


    Septimius Severus, AR Denarius, 200-201 AD, (19mm., 3.23g), Laureate head of Septimius right/Rev. RESTITVTOR ORBIS, Severus standing left, sacrificing with patera over tripod and holding spear. RIC 167.

    Also, for RC (or anyone else interested), I recently read a great book on those tablets and how the Linear B language was decoded...The Riddle of the Labyrinth by Margalit Fox. Highly recommend, fascinating and a surprisingly easy read.
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  10. tenbobbit

    tenbobbit Well-Known Member

    A little rough but it is all I have to contribute

    Sept Sev, Nikopolis
    15mm 2.34g

    IMG_5463.JPG IMG_5464.JPG
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  11. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Well-Known Member

    Excellent research RC. I try to learn something new every day, and with your help it's mission accomplished today. Here's one I have never posted before :

    Philip I Antoninianus
    244 AD Rome RIC 47
    Salus feeding snake out of altar
    25 mm, 3.59 g, 12 h
  12. NewStyleKing

    NewStyleKing Beware of Greeks bearing wreaths

    Just purchased it for my Kindle.
    Another great decipherment was the Mayan glyphs. The numerology was known, the language still spoken but insight by a Russian linguist into a manuscript by a Spanish Bishop and work by Linda Scheel led to an avalanche of decipherment in the 1960's. Luckily, though few codices of paper bark exist, stele and wall carvings and paintings exist. Unlike Linear B the glyphs tell histories and such. No longer peaceful astronomer priests-Jacob Bronowski- but ruthless , autocratic bloodthirsty empire builders .
    Shea19 and Roman Collector like this.
  13. nicholasz219

    nicholasz219 Well-Known Member

    Great write up, @Roman Collector. Most of the appeal in collecting both ancients in general and provincial coins in particular is the unraveling of the stories associated with each coin. I’ve learned more about ancient cultures and mythology from my coins than I have from any class on the subject. Certainly there are some questions for which we may never know the answer, i.e., were the motifs on the coins a brand of propaganda pushed by the state or were they representative of commonly held beliefs and simply recognized on coins? But the understanding of the coins and the discussions about those questions are moved forward by prompting further work by us amateur scholars.

    Looking at the coins of Moesia Inferior, you see so many of the same types such as the tripod, snake, snake and tripod, Cybele, Homonia, Tyche, etc., across many issuing cities, I would be hard pressed to think that these ideas and beliefs were not widely held.


    Provincial, Pautalia, Thrace, AE18, ΟνΑ ΠΙΑC ΠΑνΤΑΛΙ
    Roman Provincial: Pautalia, Thrace
    Septimius Severus
    Augustus: 193 - 211AD
    Issued: ?
    18.0mm 3.85gr 8h
    O: AνΚ Α CεΠ CενΗΡΟC; Laureate head, right.
    R: ΟνΑ ΠΙΑC ΠΑνΤΑΛΙ; Tripod, snake coiled around center leg.
    Pautalia, Thrace Mint
    Varbanov 4827
    Savoca Auctions 15th Blue Auction, Lot 989
  14. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    kool write up and coins...i got a tripod reverse...i can't remember on who' mission this afternoon...thanks @Roman Collector :D
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  15. Volodya

    Volodya Junior Member

    A different snake around a different tripod, M. Volteius M.f., Crawford 385/5, 75 BC. Ex Sydenham, ex Niggler, ex Benz; best thing about it is the provenance.

    Phil (72).JPG

    Phil Davis
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2020
  16. Carl Wilmont

    Carl Wilmont Well-Known Member

    Good article on the LONG history of the tripod, @Roman Collector! Nice examples of tripods and snakes posted in this thread. Here are four adds:

    Pergamon Entwined Serpent.jpg

    MYSIA. Pergamon. AE. (Circa 133-27 BC). Laureate head of Asklepios right /
    AΣKΛHΠIOY ΣΩTHPOΣ, Serpent-entwined staff. 15 mm. 3.54 g.

    Seleucis & Pieria Antioch Tyche Tripod.jpg
    SYRIA. Seleucis and Pieria. Antioch. AE. (100-0 BC). Turreted and veiled head of Tyche right / ANTIOXEΩΝ THΣ ΜΗΤPΟΠΟΛΕΩΣ, Tripod with monogram left. 15mm. 3.51 g.

    Titus Denarius Obverse.jpg Titus Denarius Reverse.jpg
    Titus as Caesar (79-81 AD). Denarius. Rome mint, 80 AD. IMP TITVS CAES VESPASIAN AVG PM, Laureate head right / TR P IX IMP XV COS VIII P P, Tripod with fillets, upon which sit two ravens and a wreath surmounted by dolphin. 18 mm. 3.07 g.

    Hadrian Denarius.jpg
    Hadrian as Caesar (117-138 AD). Denarius. Rome mint. HADRIANVS AVG COS III P P, Bare head right / VOTA PVBLICA, Hadrian, draped standing left, holding a patera over tripod altar, left, sacrificing. 18.4 mm. 3.4 g.
  17. NewStyleKing

    NewStyleKing Beware of Greeks bearing wreaths

    Athens New Style Tetradrachm c 135/4 BC
    Obs : Athena Parthenos right in tri-form helmet
    16.63g 29.2mm Thompson issue 30
    Thompson catalogue: Obs 354 : Rev NEW
    Rev : AΘE ethnic
    Owl standing on overturned Panathenaic amphora on
    which month mark [Ν] control ΗΡ below
    3 magistrates : MENED EPIGENO ARISTE
    LF symbol : Asklepios clutching stick with snake entwined
    All within a surrounding olive wreath
    Ah nearly forgot this one.....
  18. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    ..i knew/know i had/got's the pic of it..and i'm still searching 'the table of coins & stuff'..for it now:rolleyes: titus vespasian coins 014.JPG titus vespasian coins 015.JPG Titus tripod reverse denarius
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2020
  19. Spaniard

    Spaniard Well-Known Member

    @Roman Collector ...Interesting write up thanks...
    Domitian. 81-96 AR Denarius (3.17 gm, 18mm). Rome mint. Struck 81 AD.
    Obv.: IMP CAES DOMITIANVS AVG P M, laureate head right.
    Rev.: TR P COS VII DES VIII P P, tripod surmounted by a dolphin right. RIC II 74.
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  20. Orielensis

    Orielensis Well-Known Member

    Great and informative write-up – thanks!

    The coins of Kyzikos usually show a tripod, but I'm not sure whether this is a reference to Apollo or to some oracle. Maybe someone else knows more?

    Magna Graecia – Mysien, Kyzikos, AE, Kore Dreifuß.jpg
    Mysia, Kyzikos, AE18, 4th–3rd c. BC. Obv: head of Kore soteira wearing sakkos and earring r. Rev: K-Y/Z-I; tripod with three handles over tunny fish; monogram (AE) and control mark in fields. 18.5mm, 5.55g. Ref: see BMC 136–140 (different control marks); von Fritze 1917, no. 6. Ex AMCC 1, lot 356 (their picture).
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  21. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    ..found it! :D under the ancient Chinese coins...:singing:..and its Titus left facing
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2020
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