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Gordian III's Nimbate Serpent (Glykon?) from Nicopolis ad Istrum


zanzi

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Roman coins aren't much of a focus for me, but when I saw this green snake on eBay I knew it would be hard to talk myself out of it. I didn't make it far in that conversation. I also did not do proper research before the purchase, nor even look at the images too well, because it was not until after I hit Buy It Now that I realized the snake was nimbate, which led me down a whole rabbit hole. I had no idea there were serpent deities // cults in the Roman era but it was quite an interesting read. I'd recommend checking out the Wikipedia page for Glycon (Glykon). Further research gave me some doubts about the exact identity of the deified crawler, however. Does anyone have any information or opinions about the identity of this serpent? I don't exactly see the so-called "human face" on it, but it is certainly nimbate. Looking around elsewhere at holy serpents on provincial coins, it seems to be a pretty contentious subject where many automatically assume Glykon but other details point towards other serpents or an undetermined state.

Another question, what is the term for the little holes in the middle of the coin? I know they are related to the coin's production, but I'm not sure what to call them. Dimples? Craters? There is a small one on Gordian's jawline and another on the body of Glykon (?). 

  image.png.3c3b73d3d2b358a60545530aa717242d.png

Roman Empire, provincial coin of Nicopolis ad Istrum, Moesia Inferior

Undated but struck 241 to 244 AD

Issued under Gordian III, under authority of Sabinius Modestus (Legatus Consularis), governor of Moesia Inferior

Size: 13.7 grams, 28.1 x 29.5 x 3.2 mm

Obv: Bust of Gordian right, surrounded by "ΑΥΤ Κ Μ ΑΝΤ ΓΟΡΔΙΑΝΟϹ ΑΥΓ"

Rev: Nimbate serpent (Glykon?) right, body tangled with tail left, below a line, surrounded by "ΥΠ ϹΑΒ ΜΟΔΕϹΤΟΥ ΝΙΚΟΠΟΛΕΙΤΩΝ ΠΡΟϹ ΙϹΤΡ"

References: RPC VII.2 #1307, AMNG 2104, also on Oriental Coins Database Zeno.ru as 332341

Ex. Don Erickson (DNECoins)

 

 

I'd love to hear any thoughts on which serpent deity my coin represents, but also I'd love to see any other snakes or serpents, Glykon or not, on coins. Non-Roman is obviously welcome, as well. Thank you all.

Edited by zanzi
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Good question regarding the identity of the serpent - I do not have this answer. I have a similar reverse earlier version, from Septimius Severus.

image.png.1e695d0e516786a7244b494502048e3d.png

16 mm, 3,14 g.
Moesia Inferior, Nikopolis ad Istrum. Septimius Severus 193-211. Ӕ.
AV KAI CE CEVHPO, laureate head right / NIKOΠOΛITΩN ΠΡOC ICTPO, coiled snake, head erect facing right. AMNG I 1418; Varbanov 1961.

Here the snake is not nimbate and the attribution is also generic (like in your coin).

Regarding the holes in the middle, I think there was an old discussion on CT. These are centering points for the coins used in the minting process. They are found on various provincial mints, such as my Faustina II from Hadrianopolis. 

image.png.9f1287d7fccdc6bdb46c37156fb997c4.png

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You may read about Glykon here. I have a similar specimen:

[IMG]
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: RPC VII.2, 1307; Hristova/Hoeft/Jekov (2018) 8.36.22.4 (same dies); Varbanov 4146; Moushmov 1488; Mionnet Suppl. 2, 708; AMNG 2104; BMC --; Lindgren --; Sear --.

Here's a funny Franklin's World comic about the snake-god!

franklins-world-jpg.1306865

As to the central depression and its terminology -- many people call the dimple a "centration dimple." This term annoys me because they don't have anything to do with centration. The indentations almost certainly resulted from lathe-turning of the flan to prepare it for striking. I call them "lathe dimples."

Edited by Roman Collector
Remove defunct link.
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7 hours ago, ambr0zie said:

Good question regarding the identity of the serpent - I do not have this answer. I have a similar reverse earlier version, from Septimius Severus.

image.png.1e695d0e516786a7244b494502048e3d.png

16 mm, 3,14 g.
Moesia Inferior, Nikopolis ad Istrum. Septimius Severus 193-211. Ӕ.
AV KAI CE CEVHPO, laureate head right / NIKOΠOΛITΩN ΠΡOC ICTPO, coiled snake, head erect facing right. AMNG I 1418; Varbanov 1961.

Very cool design here, the serpent looks much more natural and strike-ready than many others I've seen. Lovely coin!

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7 hours ago, Roman Collector said:

As to the central depression and its terminology -- many people call the dimple a "centration dimple." This term annoys me because they don't have anything to do with centration. The indentations almost certainly resulted from lathe-turning of the flan to prepare it for striking. I call them "lathe dimples."

Thanks for sharing the comic, that got me to chuckle. I also appreciate the CoinTalk link about the dimple discussions. What a hot topic, there's plenty to read into there. It's quite interesting that amongst all the periods and places striking coins in the ancient world, there were only two who produced them in a way that made these dimples. Ptolemaic Egypt in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE, and Roman Provincial coins in the 3rd (and 4th?) centuries CE. Wish someone had left a how-to mint "For Dummies" for us.

You said you have a "similar specimen", but I'm pretty convinced you have a die-match to my coin! Can anyone confirm or deny my suspicion? The letters in the exergue, as well as every detail of the serpent, all seem to match perfect. I'm not a die-matcher but I can't find any differences.

image.jpeg.2d6a06b902467c39f754b8064cb2d458.jpeg

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Nice serpent, @zanzi.  I have one for Elagabalus that Jochen1 on CT and @seth77 helped me out with a while back here:  

 

Here it is with attribution and die-matches:

image.jpeg.02838a5ff867a310df33e2d51a024709.jpeg

Elagabalus   Æ 26 (c. 218-222 A.D.) Nicopolis ad Istrum, Moesia Inf. Novius Rufus, consular legate. [ΑΥΤ Κ Μ ΑΥΡ] ΑΝΤ[ΩΝΕΙΝΟC], radiate, draped and cuirassed bust right / [ΥΠ ΝΟΒΙΟΥ ΡΟΥΦΟΥ] ΝΙΚΟΠΟΛΙΤΩΝ | ΠΡΟϹΙ | [Ϲ]Τ - Ρ | Ο | Ν, coiled nimbate serpent right. (12.22 grams / 26 x 24 mm) eBay May 2020 Lot @ $8.85 RPC VI 1280 (temporary); Mouchmov 1408; AMNG I 1996; Hristova/Hoeft/Jekov Nicopolis  8.26.22.5

 Die-Match Obv. & Rev.: RPC Coin no. 7 of RPC VI 1280 from CNG Electronic Auct. 158; Lot 132; 14.02.2007

RPC Coin no. 8 of RPC VI 1280 from Wildwinds / aeqvitas.com

 Notes: "There is some evidence that the snake... in four elaborate coils (with) a radiate head with nimbus is Glykon, the Snake God. This god was invented in the mid-2nd century AD by the Greek  prophet Alexander of Abounoteichos. This we know from the author Lucian of Samosate (c.120-c.190 AD)." (Coin Talk, jochen1 (edited)

The die-matches are prettier than my cruddy example:

image.jpeg.67166381eb36b829f80448d52f34689c.jpeg

 

 

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