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CoinWeek Ancient Coin Series: The Ptolemies: Part I

Coinage of the Ptolemies, Part I

Coinage of the Ptolemies, Part I

CoinWeek Ancient Coin Collection on Ancient Counterfeiters by Mike Markowitz ….

Of all of the successors of Alexander the Nice, the household of Ptolemy, son of Lagos, was probably the most profitable, ruling Egypt for almost three centuries (305 – 30 BCE).

Oddly sufficient, the story begins with a hijacking.

When Alexander died in Babylon on 10 June 323 BCE, his corpse, embalmed by a workforce of Egyptian morticians, was positioned in an elaborate mule cart for journey again to Macedon in northern Greece for burial together with his ancestors.

Ptolemy (born 367, died 283 BCE), one among Alexander’s boyhood companions and trusted bodyguards, seized the physique and diverted it to Memphis, capital of Egypt, the place he had been appointed satrap (governor). Moved to a splendid tomb within the newly based metropolis of Alexandria, Alexander’s physique turned a trophy and image of legitimacy for Ptolemy’s dynasty.

For hundreds of years, this in depth and sophisticated coinage has been a problem for students and a delight for collectors.

Since each ruler of the dynasty was named “Ptolemy,” they’re recognized by (trendy) Roman numerals and (historic) nicknames or “epithets” reminiscent of Ptolemy III Euergetes (“benefactor.”)

Even the epithets have been typically repeated, so we get “Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II” (born c. 182 BCE, died 116) also called Ptolemy VIII Physcon (“Fatty”).

The queens and princesses of this prolific dynasty share simply three names – there are at the very least seven numbered Cleopatras, 4 Berenikes and 4 Arsinoës. That is the primary article of a three-part collection that may look at the cash of the Ptolemies.

Ptolemy I Soter

Fig 1 Alexander –Athena tet Determine 1: Alexander –Athena tetradrachm

The earliest cash of Ptolemy I adopted the sample of Alexander’s coinage, utilizing the immense hoard of bullion captured from the defeated Persian empire. At an unsure date (c. 316 – 312), Ptolemy issued a brand new sort of silver tetradrachm bearing a portrait of the deified Alexander sporting an elephant head-dress (symbolizing his conquest of India).

On the reverse, the goddess Athena, sporting an elaborately pleated chiton, advances holding spear and defend.

The inscription Alexandreion Ptolemaiou could be interpreted both as “Alexander Coin of Ptolemy” or “Alexandria coin of Ptolemy.”

Apparently, the opposite Successors didn’t approve of Ptolemy placing his personal identify on the coinage, and on the instance proven it was intentionally erased from the reverse die.

Figure 2 Elephant Stater Determine 2: Elephant Stater

About 305 BCE, Ptolemy took the title of king (basileus in Greek) and boldly positioned his personal portrait on his cash.

On the reverse of his gold staters (a coin about 7.2 grams that represented a month’s pay for a foot soldier), a male determine holding a thunderbolt (some sources say the god Zeus, others say the deified Alexander) rides a chariot drawn by 4 elephants. An instance of this uncommon sort realized $40,000 in a 2016 public sale.

Figure 3: Portrait Pentadrachm Determine three: Portrait Pentadrachm

With the fertility of the soil renewed annually by Nile floods, Egypt grew wealthy on export of grain that fed a lot of the Greek world. Gold mines in Nubia and the Japanese Desert fed a gentle stream of wealth into Ptolemy’s capital. A few of this wealth took the type of high-denomination gold cash, handy for commerce in pricey luxuries, or for paying the salaries of the elite. The spectacular gold pentadrachm, or trichryson of just about 18 grams bears Ptolemy’s heavy-jawed picture, and an eagle greedy a thunderbolt in its talons – a design that might be endlessly repeated on the coinage of the dynasty for over two centuries.

Figure 4: Ptolemey AR Tetradrachm Determine four: Ptolemey AR Tetradrachm

A craftsman recognized solely because the “Delta Master” minimize a number of the most inventive dies of Ptolemy’s coinage. He signed his work with a tiny Greek letter (Δ) hidden in a curl of hair behind the ear on the portrait. An instance of this sort realized $550 in a 2001 public sale.

Ptolemy had three official wives and quite a few liaisons, fathering a minimum of 11 youngsters. In 289 BCE he appointed his son, Ptolemy II as co-ruler. He died in 283 or 282, aged 84, the one one in every of Alexander’s Successors to die peacefully in his personal mattress.

Ptolemy II Philadelphus

Ptolemy II, in contrast to his father, was not a army chief, nor a charismatic king. A eager administrator, Ptolemy II enriched himself by business ventures and heavier taxes, albeit a lot of his income went to help his troopers, courtiers, poets, clergymen and overseas allies.

Figure 5: Ptolemy II Philadephus Determine 5: Ptolemy II Philadephus

Ptolemy II was born in 308 BCE on the Aegean island of Cos, the place his mother and father have been engaged within the complicated wrestle towards the opposite Successors of Alexander.

He’s recognized by the epithet Philadelphus (“sibling-loving”) as a result of he married his full sister, Arsinoë II (ar-SIN-oh-ee) aged 43, in 273.

Philadelphus continued the difficulty of his father’s high-quality silver coinage, with the identical design, at quite a lot of mints in Phoenicia, Palestine, and Cyprus, in addition to Alexandria.

In response to legend, for his huge Alexandria library, Philadelphus commissioned the primary Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.

His most memorable achievement was the development of Alexandria’s nice lighthouse, the Pharos, one of many Seven Wonders of the traditional world. Standing over 100 meters (330 ft) tall, the granite and limestone tower took twelve years to construct, at a price of 800 skills. Though repeatedly broken by earthquakes, elements of it stood till 1480 and it seems on quite a lot of Roman cash struck at Alexandria underneath the empire.

Figure 6: Ptolemy II Philadelphos, In the name of Arsinoë II. DecadrachmDetermine 6: Ptolemy II Philadelphos, Within the identify of Arsinoë II. DecadrachmFigure 7: Ptolemy II Philadelphos, In the name of Arsinoë II. OctodrachmDetermine 7: Ptolemy II Philadelphos, Within the identify of Arsinoë II. Octodrachm

After the dying of Arsinoë II, she was declared a goddess and commemorated on giant (over 35 grams) silver decadrachms and gold octodrachms. The veiled head is an inventive conference for depicting deceased topics. The gold octodrachm of Arsinoë II is #74 on Harlan Berk’s record of the 100 Biggest Ancient Cash.

Figure 8: Ptolemy II Philadelphus. Bronze Drachm. Determine eight: Ptolemy II Philadelphus. Bronze Drachm.Figure 9: Ptolemy II Philadelphos. Mnaeion, gold Octodrachm.Determine 9: Ptolemy II Philadelphos. Mnaeion, Gold Octodrachm.

Ptolemy II celebrated his ancestors on the obverse of a powerful gold octodrachm the place the joined portraits of Ptolemy I and Berenike I bear the straightforward inscription Theon (“Gods”).

The exaggerated eyes of those portraits emphasize their divinity. On the reverse, the joined portraits of Ptolemy II and his sister-wife are inscribed Adelphon (“siblings”).

This gold “dynastic” octodrachm of Ptolemy II is #84 on Berk’s listing of the 100 Biggest Ancient Cash, and it continued to be issued underneath Ptolemy III. Most surviving examples are in almost uncirculated situation and promote at public sale for $eight,500 – $12,500.

With management over the wealthy copper mines of Cyprus, Philadelphus issued an in depth bronze coinage in a variety of denominations.

Ptolemaic bronzes sometimes have a small central pit or dimple on both sides, a function that has been debated by numismatists for hundreds of years. The present consensus is that the blanks have been forged in molds, after which chucked on a lathe to clean and spherical the sides. The dimples have been pressed into the metallic by the pins of the lathe.

The obverse bears the horned and bearded head of Zeus-Ammon, a god who fuses attributes of Greek and Egyptian divinities. The reverse bears a pair of eagles, which might turn into a normal mark of the denomination for most of the largest Ptolemaic bronzes.

Ptolemy III Euergetes

Figure 10: Ptolemy III Euergetes. AV Oktadrachm Determine 10: Ptolemy III Euergetes. AV Oktadrachm

Ptolemy III is understood by the epithet Euergetes (“Benefactor”). Beneath his rule (246 – 222) Egypt grew highly effective and affluent. He adopted the cornucopia (“horn of plenty”) as his private emblem, and it seems on lots of his cash.

For the Library of Alexandria, Euergetes borrowed the official version of the performs of Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides, and to retain the originals he forfeited to Athens an unlimited 15-talent deposit (he despatched again copies.) He appointed the sensible mathematician Eratosthenes of Cyrene (276-194 BCE) director of the Library, and tutor to his son, the longer term Ptolemy IV.

Ptolemy III’s chubby face didn’t seem on his coinage throughout his lifetime however was utilized by his son, Ptolemy IV on a commemorative octodrachm. The deified father wears the spiked crown of the solar god, and holds a trident, symbolizing command of the ocean because of his highly effective navy.

Figure 11: Berenike II, wife of Ptolemy III Euergetes. AR PentakaidekadrachmDetermine 11: Berenike II, spouse of Ptolemy III Euergetes. AR Pentakaidekadrachm

He married his cousin, Berenike II of Cyrene in 244. A formidable lady, she dominated Egypt skillfully whereas Euergetes was away on a marketing campaign towards the Seleucid empire.

One of many largest silver cash of antiquity was issued in honor of yet one more Berenike, Ptolemy’s sister, who married the Seleucid ruler Antiochus II and was murdered in a palace coup; the silver pentakaidecadrachm weighing simply over 52 grams (valued at 15 drachmai typically described as a dodecadrachm or 20-drachma piece, due to uncertainty over the load commonplace).

This coin is #58 on Berk’s listing of the 100 Biggest Ancient Cash. Till just lately these have been thought-about very uncommon, commanding costs as much as $200,000, however current finds (some evidently from sea salvage) have dropped the worth as little as $14,000. Of about 50 examples recognized, many have cracks from hanging, maybe as a result of the blanks have been insufficiently heat-treated.

Figure 12: Ptolemaic Kings of Egypt. Ptolemy III Euergetes. 246-222 BC. Æ DrachmDetermine 12: Ptolemaic Kings of Egypt. Ptolemy III Euergetes. 246-222 BC. Æ Drachm

Bronze coinage in a variety of denominations turned more and more necessary within the Egyptian financial system throughout this reign. With a excessive tin content material, these high-quality bronzes typically survive in lovely situation. A bit of about 68 grams was in all probability valued equivalently to a silver drachma (though there was a 2.5% service cost for changing cumbersome bronze coin into the scarcer and extra handy silver.) A high-grade instance of this sort introduced $450 in a current public sale.

Accumulating the Ptolemies

Many starting collectors are stunned to study that there’s nearly no Egyptian coinage earlier than the time of the Ptolemies. The conventional temple-based financial system of historic Egypt functioned easily on a barter and commodity foundation, and imported Greek silver sufficed for hundreds of years for overseas commerce.

The Ptolemies launched a “modern” monetized financial system, proper right down to the village degree and hoards of Ptolemaic cash have been discovered throughout the Mediterranean world.

Examples in all worth ranges seem ceaselessly available on the market.

For over a century the usual reference was the monumental four-volume catalog of Ioannis Svoronos (Athens, 1904-1908) in Greek. German and English translations exist, and the textual content and excellent plates are on-line, because of the American vendor Edward J. Waddell.

Moreover, in 2018, the American Numismatic Society revealed the primary two volumes of a powerful multi-year venture, Cash of the Ptolemaic Empire, by eminent American numismatist, Catharine C. Lorber, who has spent many years learning this materials.


Berk, Harlan J. 100 Biggest Ancient Cash. Atlanta (2008)

Faucher, Thomas and Catharine Lorber. “Bronze Coinage of Ptolemaic Egypt in the Second Century BC.” American Journal of Numismatics 22 (2011)

Fletcher, Joann. The Story of Egypt: The Civilization that Formed the World. New York (2016)

Hazzard, Richard A. Ptolemaic Cash: An Introduction for Collectors. Toronto (1995)

Lorber, Catharine C. “Dating the Portrait Coinage of Ptolemy I.” American Journal of Numismatics 24 (2012)

Lorber, Catharine C. Cash of the Ptolemaic Empire: Part I, Ptolemy I by way of Ptolemy IV (2 vols.) New York (2018)

Pollard, Justin, and Howard Reid. The Rise and Fall of Alexandria: Birthplace of the Trendy Thoughts. New York (2006)

Manning, Joseph G. “The Ptolemaic Economy” in The Cambridge Financial Historical past of the Greco-Roman World. Cambridge (2013)

Newell, Edward. Royal Greek Portrait Cash. New York (1937)

Svoronos, Ioannis. Ta nomísmata tou krátous tōn Ptolemaíōn. (four volumes, in Greek, “Coinage of the Ptolemaic Rulers”) Athens (1904-08)

Wolf, Daniel. “A Metrological Survey of Ptolemaic Bronze Coinage.” American Journal of Numismatics 25 (2013)