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Faustina Friday – Snake Biga Edition!

Roman Collector

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Friday felicitations, fellow Faustina fanatics! I hope you have a great weekend!

I have always wanted a snake biga coin and when this one with Faustina the Younger came up for auction, I knew I had to get it. Yeah, yeah, I hear you condition cranks laughing. But it's a snake biga! It's a Faustina! It's a Faustina snake biga!

The coin is from Cyzicus in Mysia and depicts Demeter holding a torch in each hand and driving her serpent-drawn chariot.


Faustina II, AD 147-175.
Roman provincial Æ 25.4 mm, 10.73 g, 7 h.
Mysia, Cyzicus, AD 169-175.
Obv: ΦΑVСΤΕΙΝΑ СΕΒΑCTH, bare-headed and draped bust, right.
Rev: ΚVΖΙΚΗΝ ΝΕΩΚΟΡ, Demeter standing in biga drawn by coiling serpents, right, holding torch in each hand.
Refs: RPC IV.2,
11201 (temporary); BMC –; Mionnet II –; Wiczay –.


A flaming torch

Demeter carried a flaming torch in her search for Persephone in the underworld. She was often depicted in art holding one or two torches as her attribute. One of the most frequently encountered depictions of Demeter in numismatics is of the goddess holding grain ears and torch. The ancient sources note:

  • Homeric Hymn 2 to Demeter 48 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic c. 7th or 6th B.C.):

    "Then for nine days queenly Deo wandered over the earth with flaming torches in her hands [in search of her daughter Persephone]."
  • Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 4. 3 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian c. 1st B.C.):

    "After the Rape of Kore, the myth goes on to recount, Demeter, being unable to find her daughter, kindled torches in the craters of Mt Aetna and visited many parts of the inhabited world."
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses 5. 354 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic c. 1st B.C. to c. 1st A.D.):

    "Ceres [Demeter] sought her child vainly in every land . . . She lit pine-torches, one in either hand, at Aetna's fires, and through the frosty dark bore them unsleeping."
  • Statius, Thebaid 12. 270 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic c. 1st A.D.):

    "The bereaved Ceres [Demeter] lighted her torch and from Aetna's rocks cast the shifting glare of the mighty flame here over Sicily, there over Ausonia, as she followed the traces of the dark ravisher [Hades]."

A serpent-drawn chariot

The serpent, a creature which represented rebirth (i.e. molting) in nature and the fertility of the earth, was the animal most sacred to Demeter. A pair of winged serpents drew her chariot, which she then gave to Triptolemus. Many coins depict Triptolemus driving this chariot. The ancient sources read:

  • Hesiod, Catalogues of Women Fragment 77 (from Strabo 9. 1. 9) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic c. 8th or 7th B.C.):

    "And it is from the hero [Kykhreus] that the serpent Kykhreides took its name--the serpent which, according to Hesiod, was fostered by Kychreus [on Salamis] and driven out by Eurylokhos because it was damaging the island, and was welcomed to Eleusis by Demeter and made her attendant."
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses 5. 643 ff (after A.D Melville, transl.):

    "Bounteous Ceres [Demeter] yoked her Angues Gemini (Serpent-Pair) to her chariot and fixed the curbing bits and made her way between the earth and sky to Tritonia's city [Athens], and brought the chariot to Triptolemus, and gave him seed and bade him scatter it [throughout the earth, teaching mankind the practice of agriculture]. Partly in virgin land and part in fields long fallow . . . then [after he had finished his task, she] bade the youth of Mopsosius [Triptolemos] drive her Iugales Sacri (Sacred Yoke) homeward through the air."



Demeter presenting her serpent-drawn chariot to Triptolemus while Medea looks on. Apulian red figure volute-crater from Canosa. Attributed to the Underworld Painter, ca 320 BC. Munich, Staatliche Antikensammlungen 3296. Overview[2] and close-up.[3]

I like coins with such mythological themes. Do you have any coins depicting a serpent-drawn chariot? Please post comments and any coins you deem relevant!




2. Rebaudo, Ludovico. "The Underworld Painter and the Corinthian Adventures of Medea: An Interpretation of the Crater in Munich." Engramma,

3. "O28.7 Medea & Triptolemus." Medea & Triptolemus - Ancient Greek Vase Painting, Theoi.com, https://www.theoi.com/Gallery/O28.7.html.

Edited by Roman Collector
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Nice post and coin as always @Roman Collector  I have a Roman Republican snake biga denarius that is in serious need of an upgrade; it is a Fourree with all the plating stripped off, and then a serious case of bronze disease - the reverse photos is askew (I have trouble seeing through my camera viewer, and just seeing in general) - the two serpents are just visible through the pitting.  There are other, far nicer (and silver) examples owned by Forum members; I hope they will share them:


Roman Rep.  Fourrée Denarius M. Volteius M.f.  (78 B.C.) Rome Mint (imitation)  

Head of Bacchus right wearing ivy wreath / Ceres in biga drawn by two serpents, [symbol behind?], [M.VOLT]EI[. M.F.] in exergue. Crawford 385/3; Volteia 3. (3.01 grams / 18 mm) eBay Dec. 2017  



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Interesting coin RC! For me content is more important than condition.


Attica, Eleusis. AE15 dichalkon, ca. 317-307 BC.

Triptolemos left, mounting a winged chariot drawn by two serpents / EΛEY beneath piglet standing right on mystic staff; all within wheat wreath.

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12 hours ago, seth77 said:

Lovely snakes, how was the dating established?

The date is from RPC. I have wondered, too, how the dating was established. Usually, RPC does not provide a date without some evidence. I suspect there is hoard data or something, though this is just speculation on my part.

Dating the imperial coins of Faustina by hairstyle is inexact at best because dies with older hairstyles remained in use after the introduction of new ones. For the provincial coins of Faustina, hairstyle is even less reliable. In the provincial series, her hairstyle is only reliable as a terminus post quem.

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Roman Egypt. Alexandria. Hadrian, AD 117-138. Billon Tetradrachm (24.5mm, 13.72g, 12h). Dated RY 21 (AD 136/137). Obv: AVT KAIC TPAIA A∆PIANOC CЄB; Laureate bust left, slight drapery. Rev: Triptolemus driving biga of serpents right; L to left, KA (date) to upper right. Ref: Köln 1212; Dattari (Savio) 1484-6 & 7475-6; K&G 32.723; RPC III 6135; Emmett 900.21. 


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