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Denomination: Cistophoric Tetradrachma Date: 160-150 BC
Description: Pergamon. c160-150 BC. AR Cistophoric Tetradrachm. Obverse: Cista mystica with serpent; all in ivy wreath Reverse: Bow-case with serpents; owl standing on grape bunch to right.
This coin is referred to as a Cistophoric Tetradrachm. It is named after the "Cista Mystica" or mystical basket shown on the coin. It was minted in the area of Pergamon, which was near the West coast of present day Turkey. The city became the center for healing and medicine in the ancient world because of its medical complex there called asklepion (after asklepios - the Greek god of healing and medicine). Pergamon, in the province of Mysia, was an insignificant city under the Persian empire. In 190 BC, Pergamon assisted the Romans to defeat Antiochus III of Syria. At this time, Rome had no territorial desires in Asia and they gave all the territories to Pergamon. Pergamon prospered and soon ranked as one of the major Greek cultural centers. Pergamon's library ranked second only to the library of Alexandria. But, to Rome's surprise the Pergamon King Attalus III (138 - 133 BC) gave the kingdom to Rome upon his death in 133 BC.
The symbols on the coin are the staff and snakes, which later became the universal symbol of medicine. The obverse features a Middle Eastern symbol, the cista mystica (magic box or mystical container). Roman coins frequently carried symbols with special significance to a region to promote their acceptance among the local people. The cistophoric tetradrachma championed Augustus' role as the leader who freed Asia Minor from the yoke of arbitrary government. The cista mystica appears with a snake within an ivy wreath. The reverse features a bow encased between two coiled serpents. In fields, mint monograms and city symbols.