The Glykon Snake

The masterpiece was discovered in 1962 at Constanţa, the ancient Greek colony Tomis. The statue of the Serpent Glykon is the only cult statue of the deity known by now throughout the Roman Empire and whose size and craftsmanship of achievement are impressive. The statue, which dates from the 2nd century, is carved with its support from a single block of marble, with a side of 66 cm, and the snake is 4.76 m long. The serpent has a lamb nose, human hair and ears and tail of a lion. Working technique used was the carving and polishing. The Glykon Snake is exhibited at the Museum of National History and Archeology in Constanţa.

The cult of the snake god Glykon was introduced in in the mid-second century CE by the Greek prophet Alexander of Abonutichus. This is, at least, what we can deduce from the writings by the Greek author Lucian of Samosata (c.120-c.190), who devoted an extremely hostile (and extremely amusing) pamphlet to the charlatan he called Alexander the Oracle Monger. Ignoring Lucian's bias, we can probably accept from his work that the cult -or at least the snake Alexander venerated- originated in Macedonia, where similar snake cults were already known in the fourth century BCE. (It was told that the mother of Alexander the Great, Olympias, had become pregnant after she had slept with a snake). The prophet Alexander brought the god, a very large snake, to his home town Abonutichus in Paphlagonia and built a temple, which became an important oracle.

In Abonutichus, Glykon was venerated as New Asclepius, and seems to have gained great renown when he protected the believers during the plague of the late 160s. However, the breakthrough may have been earlier, because in 160, the oracle of Glykon had already found a protector in the governor of Asia, Publius Mummius Sisenna Rutilianus (consul 146), who was to become son-in-law of the prophet. Abonutichus, once a small village of fishermen, became an important town and accepted another name, Ionopolis, 'Greek city'. Today, it is still called Inebolu.

Several dedications, statuettes and coins, found in the entire area between the Danube and Euphrates, prove that the cult of Glykon remained alive until at least a century after the death of the prophet in c.170. Alexander, now recognized as son of Podalirus and grandson of Asclepius, received religious honors after his death and was considered to be the god's prophet even now. His success in establishing a new cult seems symptomatic of the shift in religious attitude, away from the traditional beliefs, that took place in the late second and third centuries, and culminated in the rise of Christianity.