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Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt

Cleopatra VII
Bust of Cleopatra VII

The mailman brought an interesting tetradrachm that highlights the detailed inspection that can be required to differentiate between ancient coins. Looking at this coin there are a few possibilities for exactly who issued this coin. One possibility: a coin of the last Pharaoh of Egypt the 17-year old Ptolemy Caesar or Ptolemy XV.

Ptolemaic Kings of Egypt, joint rule of Cleopatra VII and Ptolemy XV (aka Caesarion), 37-30 BC, AR Tetradrachm, Alexandria mint, Dated regnal year 1 (37/6 BC)

Obv: Diademed head of Ptolemy I right, wearing aegis

Rev: BAΣIΛEΩΣ ΠTOΛEMAIOY around, Eagle standing left on thunderbolt, palm over shoulder; star (?), LA and headdress of Isis before, ΠA behind

Ref: Svoronos 1816

Caesarion, son of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra VII, ruled jointly with his mother until her death in 30 BC. His sole rule lasted only 11 days, as 17-year-old Caesarion was betrayed by his guardians/tutors to Octavian. Octavian had him executed in Alexandria following the advice of stoic philosopher Arius Didymus, who said "Too many Caesars is not good". For an interesting article on Caesarion.

It is a good story - and if this were the case it would be a very rare coin, but there is problem - note in my description above "star (?)" - the corrosion on the reverse comes right at the point where it is a bit ambiguous - is there a star there? also is that an LA or a LΛ - the crossbar on the A is not very convincing, maybe......

A second (and, in my view, the correct attribution) - Ptolemy XII father of Cleopatra VII and grandfather to Ptolemy XV Caesarion. Strabo explains the nickname of Ptolemy XII, Auletes or "Flute Player":

"Now all of the kings after the third Ptolemy, being corrupted by luxurious living, administered the affairs of government badly, but worst of all were the fourth, seventh, and the last, Auletes, who, apart from his general licentiousness, practiced the accompaniment of choruses with the flute, and upon this he prided himself so much that he would not hesitate to celebrate contests in the royal palace, and at these contests would come forward to vie with the opposing contestants."

- Strabo, Geography, XVII.1.11

However, with this coin, there is a Cleopatra VII twist as Ptolemy XII named Cleopatra (about 17 or 18 years old) as co-regent in 52 BC (this coin from RY 30 or 52/51 BC), and then died in March, 51 BC, and Cleopatra would have reigned the remaining 5 months of RY 30 as sole ruler. More on the chronology in this article.

Ptolemaic Kings of Egypt, Cleopatra VII and Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos Auletes ("Flute Player"), 80-51 BC, AR Tetradrachm, dated regnal year 30 (52/1 BC)

Obv: Diademed head right, wearing aegis

Rev: Eagle standing left on thunderbolt, palm over shoulder; LΛ above crown of Isis before; ΠA behind

Rev: Svoronos 1840; Plate LXI.25

The Isis headdress is on the coins of Ptolemy XII dated years 26-30, and any with this symbol dated years 1-22 are from the reign of Cleopatra. Additional evidence that this is a Ptolemy XII/Cleopatra VII is provided by the hairstyle (Mørkholm, 1975) which is the earlier "tiered" style on my coin (Fig.1).

So although I don't have a coin of Caesarion, I do have a coin of Ptolemy XII's last year and Cleopatra's first year of reign as ruler of Egypt. On another note: what about that ΠΑ behind? well, oddly the mint signature for these coins of Alexandria is ΠΑ for ΠΑΦΟΣ i.e. Paphos,Cyprus. Mørkholm describes that the styles are distinct, but the reason this that the ΠΑ appears on coins from Alexandria mint is not explained.

Addendum (2020): to add to the subject of Cleopatra, here's a coin from Galatia with Artemis possibly portrayed with the features of Cleopatra VII of Egypt, as a sign of deference to Antony and Cleopatra. Amyntas initially supported Antony in the war with Octavian, but switched sides before the battle at Actium in 31 BC. After the death of Amyntas in 25 BC, Octavian made his kingdom the Roman province of Galatia.

King Amyntas of Galatia, 36-25 BC, AE, Uncertain mint in Galatia, Pisidia or Lykaonia

Obv: Draped bust of Artemis right, with bow and quiver over shoulder.

Rev: BAΣΙΛΕΩΣ / AMYNTOY, stag standing right.

Size: 5.40g, 18mm

Ref: RPC I 3503

Cleopatra, by Élisabeth Sophie Chéron 1648 - 1711), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Addendum (2021): I've added this week another tetradrachm from Alexandrian Egypt. This one a coin from the 11th year of Cleopatra's reign. This year spanned 42/41 BC and eventful time in the story of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra. They met first when Cleopatra was with Julius Caesar (she bore Caesar's son Caesarion). Antony sent for her in October 41 and they spent the winter of 41 BC together in Alexandria. This winter produced the two children Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene. This coin minted in the preceding year.

Ptolemaic Kings of Egypt, Cleopatra VII Thea Neotera, 51-30 BC, AR Tetradrachm (25.5mm, 13.32 g, 12h), Alexandria mint, dated RY 11 (42/1 BC)

Obv: Diademed bust of Ptolemy I right, wearing aegis

Rev: Eagle standing left on thunderbolt; L IA (date) above headdress of Isis to left, ΠA to right

Ref: Svoronos 1825; SNG Copenhagen 405

Addendum (April 2024): 

There have been a few coins of Cleopatra VII on the market recently. I have no plans to spend tens of thousands on a perfect bronze coin of Cleopatra VII. However, I am thrilled to add this well-aged & hefty lump of Egyptian bronze to my collection. It was issued by Queen Cleopatra. Her title, ΒΑΣΙΛΙΣΣΗΣ, is just readable on the reverse. Cleopatra become allied (entangled?) with Mark Antony after her affair with Julius Caesar and his assassination. Mark Antony went from uneasy co-triumvir with Octavian to open civil war and rival for control of the republic. Octavian used the alliance with Cleopatra to tilt Roman sentiment against Mark Antony.

Ptolemaic Kings of Egypt, Kleopatra VII Thea Neotera. 51-30 BC. Æ Diobol – 80 Drachmai (26.5mm, 18.65g, 1h). Alexandreia mint.

Obv: Diademed and draped bust right

Rev: BACIΛICCHC [KΛEOΠATPAC], eagle standing left on thunderbolt; cornucopia to left, Π to right

Ref: Svoronos 1871; Weiser 183; SNG Copenhagen 419–21; Noeske 380–2

EGYPT, Alexandria. Augustus. 27 BC-AD 14. Æ Diobol – 80 Drachmai (26.3mm, 19.58g, 12h). First series, struck circa 30-28 BC.

Obv: [ΘΕΟΥ ΥΙΟΥ],Bare head right

Rev:  ΚΑΙCΑΡΟC ΑΥ[ΤΟΚΡΑΤΟΡΟC]Eagle standing left on thunderbolt; cornucopia to left, Π to right.

Ref: Köln 1; Dattari (Savio) 2; K&G 2.5; RPC I 5001; Emmett 1

Augustus comes with a modest legend "Son of God":

ΘΕΟΥ (theou): This is the genitive singular form of "ΘΕΟΣ" (Theos), which means "of God".

ΥΙΟΥ (huiou): This is the genitive singular form of "ΥΙΟΣ" (Huios), which means "son".

CNG writes: "The first coinage of the new province of Egypt was a direct copy of the bronze coinage of Cleopatra, the last Ptolemaic ruler, with the portrait of Augustus replacing the Queen’s. Egypt, wealthy and a vital source of grain for the empire, was to be never allowed again as a potential leaping-off point for a rival emperor. The new province was held under tight control by the emperor. Its governor was to be an equestrian prefect answerable to Augustus, with a legion under his direct command. The Senate would have no say in the administration of the province, and in fact, senators were forbidden to travel there without permission."


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