Jump to content

Asklepios and the city of Epidauros


Recommended Posts

  • Benefactor

Every year, more than 250,000 people make the same mistake. First, they head to the ancient theater of Epidauros. Now, I admit that I did exactly the same thing. It's a very beautiful theater and I made sure to arrive the first thing in the morning so I could have it to myself. I did this knowing the habits of the "bus people" who typically see Greece in cramped quarters much like the rowers on an ancient trireme.

I had the theater to myself for nearly a half hour and witnessed that there's a cool echo from the center of the stage.

Visiting the theater is certainly no mistake, but what they do afterwards is huge. (note: photos are mine)




So, what do they do then? Most move on and miss the actual main attraction of the site. That's a bit like going to Paris and marveling at the movie theater on the Champs d'Elysees while entirely ignoring the Eiffel Tower. In this case, they ignore the Sanctuary of Asklepios.


Asklepios was an interesting guy. His father was Apollo, who killed his mother Koronis when she slept with a mortal man and for some reason thought the god of prophecies wouldn't figure it out. But, in her dying words she mentioned she was pregnant, so Apollo lifted young Asklepios from her womb before she was consumed by fire, and everything turned out okay for everyone except Koronis.

There are two legends on how Asklepios came to know so much about medicine.

In the first, one day Asklepios was hanging around when he saw a snake.

"Hey snake dude. How's it going?" asked Asklepios.

"Just awesome," replied the snake. "Hey. You got some muck on your ear. Mind if I lick it clean?"

"Mi oreja es su oreja," said Asklepios, and so the snake slithered over to his ear and cleaned it.

"Hey dude," continued the snake. "Want your mind blown?"

Asklepios nodded and the snake proceeded to whisper the secrets to healing, to which Asklepios could only say "whoah!"


Argolis, Epidauros
Circa 3rd century BCE
Æ 2.03g, 12mm, 7h
Laureate and bearded head of Asklepios to right
E within laurel wreath, Π below
SNG Copenhagen 120

The second legend also starts with a snake, but in this case Asklepios did it the injustice of accidentally stepping on it. He felt very bad, but what happened next stunned him.

Several other snakes came out of the woodwork. One started giving the injured snake CPR, while another brought out an EKG. A snake ambulance drove over with ssss'ing sirens and nearby another snake gathered herbs which it mixed together in a pot.

To Asklepios' amazement, in not much time the snake was back in operating order. Being a smart man, though, Asklepios had taken notes and now knew a lot more about medicine, thanks to the snakes.

And so he became world famous for his centers of healing. To honor the snake, he created a staff of a snake and a symbol of two snakes intertwined, which remains the symbol for medicine to this day. Below is the sanctuary. I don't own one of the coins (a very common one from Pergamon is often sold with this line), but I'm sure someone else can post one.


Yet not only was Asklepios a good healer, but he also was a shrewd businessman. For example, he promised to anyone who stayed at his sanctuary that he would cure any terminal ailment or double your money back. Soon, thousands were clamoring to stay at his centers, which consisted of a large room where people would go to sleep, during which the secret to their cures would be whispered to them in their dreams.

Not long afterward, there were Asklepios Healing Supercenters across Greece. The two biggest were at Epidauros (pictured above) and Kos.


Islands off Caria. Kos
circa 400-300 BC.
Æ 13 mm, 1,68 g
Head of Herakles left, wearing lion's skin. Rev. K Crab. shton, Beginning, n. 34 and pl. 4, 40. HGC 6, 1336 var.

According to Strabo, in his time the most illustrious Asklepios Supercenter was in Trikka. However, like Kos, their coin doesn't depict Asklepios.


Thessaly, Trikka
Circa 400-300 BCE
Æ 2.98g, 13mm, 6h
Head of the nymph Trikke to right
Warrior, nude but for crested helmet, advancing to right, holding spear in right hand and shield in left; T-P across lower fields.
BCD Thessaly II 787 var. (ethnic); HGC 4, 339 var. (ethnic).
Ex J. Greiff Collection

One city who did depict Asklepios, although much later, was the rarely heard of Hadrianotherae. This coin illustrates information we can learn from coins that's not available elsewhere. For example, this coin clearly shows that, in addition to being a master of healing, Asklepios spent time as a Dark Lord of the Sith. Without coins, we wouldn't know that.


Hadrianotherae Mysia
Time of Hadrian (117 - 138 CE)
AE 18mm 5.1g
Obv: EIPA CVNKLHTOC; Draped bust of the Senate right
Rev: ADRIANOVThHPITWN; Asklepios standing facing, head left, leaning upon serpent-entwined staff; monogram to lower right
SNG von Aulock 1145-6

Part of the process of going to these supercenters was a ritual that ended with taking a nap in a large room. There, the gods would whisper the treatment to your ailment. 

One such visitor was Andromache from Epeiros. She was a very beautiful woman, but had been unable to get pregnant with her husband Arybbas (of Speedy Gonzalez fame). When she slept at the sanctuary that night, she swore that a young man came and lifted up her dress.

The next morning, she explained the ordeal and noticed that the man looked strikingly like Asklepios himself. He only blushed and stated that it must have been a god who visited her that night, and lo and behold she became pregnant.

Please post your Asklepios coins!

  • Like 12
  • Thanks 1
  • Clap 2
  • Cookie 1
  • Heart Eyes 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Awesome pictures and very cool you got to have the run of the place!


Phrygia, Synaus. Æ18. Asklepios facing

Obv.: ΘЄOΝ CΥΝ - ΚΛΗΤΟN, draped bust of Senate right.
Rev.: CΥΝΑ - ЄΙΤΩΝ , Asklepios standing facing, raising himation with his right hand and holding serpent-entwined staff in his left hand.
18mm., 3.92 g.
Late 1st Century.
Forni 514, SNG Leypold II 1749

  • Like 10
  • Clap 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Beautiful photos, and excellent advice!

Asklepios was mostly (in one version at least)  taught by Cheiron, as told in the (quite sobering) Pindar Pythian  to Hieron of Syracuse.

"If it were proper for this commonplace prayer to be made by my tongue, I would want Cheiron the son of Philyra to be alive again, he who has departed, the wide-ruling son of Cronus son of Uranus; and I would want him to reign again in the glens of Pelion, the beast of the wilds whose mind was friendly to men; just as he was when once he reared Asclepius, that gentle craftsman who drove pain from the limbs that he healed..."

Agreed, it was quite rash of Coronis to "stray" when Apollo's baby is  in her womb.  "There is a worthless tribe among men which dishonors what is at home and looks far away, hunting down empty air with hopes that cannot be fulfilled. Such was the strong infatuation that the spirit of lovely-robed Coronis had caught".

My only coin is an altar of Asklepios, with his sacred bird/


 Selinui, 430BC Ob: ΣΕΛΙΝΟΝΤION River god holding branch and patera pouring libation over altar, rooster on left below. Parsley leaf on right and statue of bull on base of altar. The altar is sacred to Asklepios, the god of healing, for a cock, his sacred bird, stands before it. In his left hand the river-god holds a branch, used for sprinkling lustral water in the ceremony of purification. Rev: Apollo to left shooting with bow from quadriga driven by Artemis. Corn-ear in exergue W. Schwabacher. Die Tetradrachmenpràgung von Selinunt, MENG 43 (1925), 23, 36f. Rizzo pl. 33. 4 (these dies. De Nanteuil 100, 315.
17.1gm  27 mm








  • Like 8
  • Cookie 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Informative and interesting post, @kirispupis. Lovely coins, too! I have several Asklepios coins. Here's a favorite.

Severus Alexander, 222-235 CE.
Roman Provincial Æ 27.2 mm, 8.75 g, 6 h.
Marcianopolis, Moesia Inferior, Legate Um(brius?) Tereventinus, 226-227 CE.
Obv: AVT K M AVP CEVH AΛEZANΔPOC, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right.
Rev: HΓ ȢM TEPEBENTINOV MAPKIANOΠOΛIT-ΩN, Asklepios standing facing, head left, holding serpent staff.
Refs: AMNG I 1027; Moushmov 696; Varbanov 1685 (same dies).
Notes: Ex-Roma E-Sale 35, lot 527, 3 May 2017; Ex-Savoca 16th Blue Auction, lot 561, 9 February 2019.

  • Like 9
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Benefactor

Great photos, @kirispupis! I have two coins depicting Asklepios:

Severus Alexander, AE 22, AD 218-222, Mysia, Parion. Obv. Laureate bust right, wearing cuirass with Gorgoneion, seen from front, IMP CAEƧ L ƧEP ƧEV ALEXANDER (all S retrograde) / Rev. Asklepios seated right on throne, with right hand extended, holding and examining raised right fore-hoof of bovid (cow or bull) standing left with head raised towards his face, DEO AE ƧVB above, C G H I P [Colonia Gemella Hadriana Iulia Pariana] in exergue.* RPC VI Online 3871 (temp.) (see https://rpc.ashmus.ox.ac.uk/coins/6/3871). 20.03 mm., 4.24 g.  Purchased from Lodge Antiquities, UK, Jan. 2022.

*According to RPC VI 3871, the (blundered) reverse legend “is presumably an attempt at DEO AESCVLAP.” But see https://www.forumancientcoins.com/catalog/roman-and-greek-coins.asp?param=85231q00.jpg&vpar=1901&zpg=91146&fld=, stating that DEO AE ƧVB stands for “Deo Aesculapius subvenienti - to Aesculapius, the god who helps.”

My second coin depicting Asklepios, this time on the obverse (it's a little difficult to see at first glance, but I assure you there's a profile there):

Mysia, Pergamon (under Roman Republic from 133 BCE, Province of Asia), AE 19 mm., 133-27 BCE. Obv. Laureate head of Asklepios right / Rev. Bearded serpent coiled around oval Omphalos covered by net [agrenon],*  AΣKΛHΠIOY downwards to right, ΣΩTHΡOΣ downwards to left [ = Asklepios Sothros or Soter, meaning “the Savior”]. BMC 15 Mysia 158 (p. 129) & PL. XXVII no. 4 [Wroth, Warwick, A Catalogue of the Greek Coins of the British Museum, Vol. 15, Mysia (London 1892)]; Sear, Greek Coins 3967 (p. 369) (ill.) [Sear, David, Greek Coins and their Values, Vol. 2: Asia & Africa (Seaby 1979)]; SNG Von Aulock I 1377 [Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, Deutschland, Sammlung Hans Von Aulock, Vol. 1: Pontus, Paphlagonia, Bithynia, Mysia, Troas, Aiolis, Lesbos, Ionia (Berlin, 1957)]; SNG BnF 1803-1827 [Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, France, Cabinet des Médailles, Bibliothéque Nationale, Vol. 5, Mysia (Paris 2001)]. 19 mm., 9.91 g., 11 h.


*See the definitions of Omphalos and agrenon at http://www.forumancientcoins.com/moonmoth/glossary.html

Omphalos: The Omphalos was a sacred stone sited near the prophetic chamber of the oracle of Delphi. The word means "navel" in Greek, indicating its position in the centre of the Hellenic world. There were several copies, and some other stones are sometimes given this name, but the Delphi stone is the original and the one which is usually meant by the term. Apollo [father of Asklepios], the patron deity of the Delphic oracle, is often shown seated on the Omphalos. It was usually shown on coins as covered by a white wool netting, the agrenon, though this is worn to invisibility on many examples.

Agrenon: A Greek word for the white wool netting which covered the Omphalos, and was also worn by soothsayers. It was related to the casting nets used by hunters. It was made of raw wool which had been carded, but not spun or died. Paintings and copies of the Omphalos showed it with this netting. It can be seen on the example to the right, criss-crossing between the body of a snake [illustration is of this coin type; see http://www.forumancientcoins.com/moonmoth/coins/pergamon_004.html].

  • Like 8
  • Clap 1
  • Heart Eyes 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thnk you, Kirispupis, an interesting post about an interesting mythological figure, both hero and god. I visited the Asklepieion in Kos last year.

I have a few coins featuring Asklepios. This is my favourite because of the way in which he is hand feeding the snake.



Thessaly, Trikka, Trichalkon.

Late 4th-early 3rd centuries BC.

Head of the nymph Trikke right / ΤΡΙΚ[ΚΑΙΩΝ], Asklepios seated right on stool, holding dove and staff, and feeding serpent coiled to right.

Rogers 554; BCD Thessaly II, 791.1.

9.35g, 20mm.

  • Like 9
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...