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Cistophoric Tetradrachms (Ancient Greek Coins)

I first heard of the Cistophoric Tetradrachms when a man in Greece emailed me with a question about these ancient coins.

I run a small internet website called "Coins in Movies" and he told me that he had seen such a coin in a movie or television program but could not remember the film or program.

I found the film which was the 1995 film "Screamers". "Screamers" is a science-fiction film set on a distant planet where humans have been battling androids.

Peter Weller was the star as Commander Hendricksson, the leader of the humans. At one point he shows his assistant an ancient Roman coin with the image of a Sphinx and the lettering "AVGVSTVS" on it.

The "Screamers" ancient coin

It was interesting that actor Peter Weller has a Ph.D. degree from UCLA in Italian Art History. He is a collector of ancient coins and it is more than likely that the coin shown in the film belonged to him.

I looked up the coin and it turned out to be a Cistophoric Tetradrachm minted in the Roman era. I have been a coin collector for a long time but had never heard of these coins before.

Cistophoric Tetradrachms were coins minted in ancient Greece from around BC 190 to around AD 130, first by the Greeks of the Attalid kingom and then by the Romans.

The name came from the "cista" or sacred chest or basket associated with the Greek god Dionysus, the god of wine and festivals. The Romans worshipped Dionysus under the name Bacchus.

A tetradrachm was a coin worth four Greek drachmas. Standard tetradrachms were minted of silver, were around 25 mm in diameter (about the size of a US quarter) and weighed around 18 grams.

The cistophoric coins were minted to a lower weight standard of around 13 grams and over the years had many different designs. Many cities minted them including Pergamon and Ephesus. Some of these coins have a form of dating on them.

Another film may feature Cistophoric Tetradrachms:

In 1900 some Greek sponge divers were working in the waters near Antikythera Island. They found some statues, ancient coins, and other items. For the next few years divers brought up items which were sent to the National Museum in Athens.

One item recovered, named the "Antikythera Mechanism", was believed to be part of a clock.
It wasn't.

In 1976 French explorer Jacques Cousteau took a group of divers to the wreck and made more discoveries including a number of silver coins, Cistophoric Tetradrachms of course. The coins dated the the sinking of the ship to around BC 76 to 67. The coins had been minted at Pergamon and Ephesus, cities near the Aegean Sea, now the west coast of Turkey.

I have not seen the latest Indiana Jones film "Dial of Destiny" but the "Antikythera Mechanism" has been mentioned as being the main object in the film. There is also an underwater diving scene in the film.

Two of the Indiana Jones films have featured coins. Possibly this one might also.

So what did the "sacred basket" of Dionysus contain?

The coins will tell us:

Cistophoric Tetradrachm of Pergamon Mysia, BC 166 to 67
Silver, 25 mm, 12.20 gm
Struck BC 166 to 67, Pergamon
Obverse: Cista mystica within wreath with snake emerging from it.
Reverse: Bow case with two entwined snakes around it.

Cistophoric Tetradrachm of Ephesus Ionia, BC 83 to 82
Silver, 26 mm, 12.44 gm
Struck: BC 83 to 82 Ephesus
Obverse: Cista mystica within wreath with snake emerging from it
Reverse: Bow case with two entwined snakes around it


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