Pergamon (free city in Roman Asia), Silver Cistophoric Tetradrachm, ca. 92-88 BCE
weight: 12.4g; width: 2.68cm
OBV.: Serpent emerging from the half-open lid of a cista mystica, surrounded by ivy wreath; design worn and off-center.
REV.: Two serpents entwined around a gorytos (bow case) that is decorated with an aplustre (a curved decoration at an ancient ship's stern). Monogram PER (= Pergamon) on left; on top DH [delta eta, initials of mint official] above monogram PRY [for Prytanis, title of the magistrate]; in right field, thyrsos entwined by serpent.
HFMA nr. 2006.010.027. Ref.: Pinder 106; Kleiner 31; cf. SNG ANS 1944.100.37465 and 1984.5.54.
The cistophori (basket bearers) were the chief currency in Asia Minor for about 300 years. Originally introduced by king Eumenes II of Pergamon around 166 BCE, the obverse of these coins shows a cista mystica, i.e., a woven basket containing the sacred objects of a mystery cult. In the case of the cistophori, the basket contains snakes associated with the worship of Dionysos. The ivy wreath and the thyrsos staff on the reverse are also references to this god whom the Attalid kings of Pergamon claimed as their ancestor. The bow case (gorytos) on the reverse points to Herakles, the father of Telephos, the legendary founder and first king of Pergamon.
When the last Attalid king, Attalos III, died in 133 BCE, he left his entire kingdom to the Roman people. At the same time, his last will declared Pergamon and the other important cities of his realm "free cities", which meant that they did not have to pay tribute to Rome. Not surprisingly, Pergamon and the other cities continued to mint cistophori in grateful tribute to their former ruler.
Under the Attalids, Pergamon was not only the capital of an empire that soon stretched over most of Asia Minor, but also the seat of the second most famous library of the ancient world with more than 200,000 book rolls. When the kings of Egypt, the Ptolemies, whose capital, Alexandria, boasted the only comparable library, cut off Pergamene access to papyrus, the most important writing material, the Pergamenes invented pergamentum, i.e., parchment or vellum made from animal skins.