Etruscan Bronze Cista Handle, 4th-3rd Century BC

A cista is a small bronze box or casket used for a variety of purposes in ancient times. This handle is in the form of two nude youths carrying the body of a companion, each figure with head turned to the left, one leg advanced slightly before the other, and freely engraved hair, the rectangular plinth with beaded edges and remains of three rivets for attachment.


Athanasius Kircher, Organum Mathematicum, or Cista mathematica or Arca, late 17th - early 18th century. Italy.

The inside of the chest is divided into nine compartments: Arithmetic, Geometry, Art of fortifications, Chronology, Horography, Astronomy, Astrology, Steganography, and Music. It’s a sort of portable encyclopedia, or comprehensive system for the classification of knowledge. Museo Galileo


Silver Cistophoric Tetradrachm from Tralleis, Lydia, C. 140-135 BC

The coins shows a snake emerging from a cista mystica (a basket used in the worship of Dionysus/Bacchus) surrounded by an ivy wreath. The reverse shows an ornate bow case between two serpents; a star is between the snake’s heads; Helios’ radiate head is to the right and a monogram is on the left.

According to Strabo, Tralleis aka (Tralles, map) was founded by the Argives and Trallians, a Thracian tribe. Along with the rest of Lydia, the city fell to the Persian Empire. After its success against Athens in the Peloponnesian War, Sparta unsuccessfully sought to take the city from the Persians, but in 334 BC, Tralleis surrendered to Alexander the Great without resistance and therefore was not sacked. Alexander’s general Antigonus held the city from 313 to 301 BC and later the Seleucids held the city until 190 BC when it fell to Pergamon. From 133 to 129 BC, the city supported Aristonicus of Pergamon, a pretender to the Pergamene throne, against the Romans. After the Romans defeated him, they revoked the city’s right to mint coins.

Tralleis was a conventus for a time under the Roman Republic, but Ephesus later took over that position. The city was taken by rebels during the Mithridatic War during which many Roman inhabitants were killed. Tralleis suffered greatly from an earthquake in 26 BC. Augustus provided funds for its reconstruction after which the city thanked him by renaming itself Caesarea.

Strabo describes the city as a prosperous trading center, listing famous residents of the city, including Pythodoros (native of Nysa), and orators Damasus Scombrus and Dionysocles. Several centuries later, Anthemius of Tralleis, architect of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, was born in Tralleis.

Cistophoric Tetradrachm from Tralleis, Lydia c. 128-85 BC

Cista mystica with a serpent emerging, all within ivy wreath. On the reverse, an ornate bow case flanked by serpents; ethnic at left, DION above, kithara at right.

Cista mystica were baskets used in the worship of Bacchus.

A kithara was an ancient Greek musical instrument in the lyre or lyra family.

The city of ancient Tralleis was near modern day Aydin in SW Turkey.  According to Strabo, it was founded by the Argives and Trallians, a Thracian tribe.


Acrobat (probably the handle of a cista lid)

Unknown artist, Etruscan

Acrobat (probably the handle of a cista lid), 4th century BCE-3rd century BCE


8.3 x 3.5 cm (3 ¼ x 1 3/8 inches)

RISD Museum