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Alexander of Abonuteichos

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In Paphlagonia. He was a contemporary of Lucian whose bitterly hostile account, Alexander or the False Prophet, remains the most important source of information, although it must now be read against the evidence of inscriptions, coins, and works of art.

Alexander claimed to have a new manifestation of Asclepius in the form of a snake called Glycon. A number of statues and statuettes have been discovered showing Glycon as a serpent with human hair—applied by Alexander, according to Lucian. Coins reveal that the birth of Glycon, described in detail by Lucian, took place in the reign of Antoninus Pius and that his cult gained very rapid acceptance. According to Lucian, this was the result of the oracles that Glycon provided in a variety of forms. After the cult was established, Alexander, who served as Glycon's prophet, or interpreter, created mysteries from which unbelievers, especially Christians and Epicureans, were excluded. Marcus Aurelius recognized the cult by conferring status on Abonuteichos (thereafter known as Ionopolis) and Lucian mentions several consultants from the ranks of the imperial aristocracy, including Servianus, governor of Cappadocia in ad 161, and Rutilianus, governor of Moesia around 150 and Asia between 161 and 163. Alexander also sent Marcus Aurelius an oracle of Glycon at the beginning of the German Wars (probably in 168). The cult seems to have been particularly important around the Black Sea and in the Balkans. Alexander himself married the daughter of Rutilianus, and seems to have fathered at least one child by a woman of Caesarea Trochetta. He died probably in the 170s. Lucian's attack on him dates to the reign of Commodus, while inscriptions and excavation show that Glycon continued to be honoured well into the 3rd, and possibly the 4th, cent. ad.

David S. Potter

Subjects: Classical studies

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