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Galatians in Egypt

The struggle for power was intense in the years after the death of Alexander III the Great, as the diadochi, his generals and successors, fought and divided control of the Greek empire. Their heirs continued the struggle. When Ptolemy II became heir to the kingdom founded by his father, Ptolemy I Soter, he had close family members to contend with.

His older half-brother, Ptolemaios II Keraunos, after being passed over as heir went to Lysimachos's court in Macedonia where he contributed to the fall of Macedonia and its conquest by Seleucus I Soter, founder of the Seleucid Kingdom. He then murdered Seleucus I and became King of Macedon for about 17 months before he was killed by Gauls in 279 BC.

Kings of Macedon, temp. Ptolemy Keraunos, 281-279 BC, Æ (20mm, 8.30g, 9h). Kassandreia mint

Obv: Laureate head of Zeus right

Rev: Eagle standing right on thunderbolt; AP monogram to upper left, ΠAP monogram to right

Ref: Psoma, Maroneia M305; HGC 3, –. VF, dark green patina, compact flan.

Note: this coin is conventionally attributed to a non-existant city of Paroreia in Macedon, see chapter 8 in S.E. Psoma, The Coins from Maroneia and the Classical City at Molyvoti: A Contribution to the History of Aegean Thrace (Athens, 2008).

His nickname, Keraunos, means thunderbolt and is connected to his impatient and destructive nature.

Another half brother to Ptolemy, Magas, step-son to Ptolemy I, ruled Cyrenaica and became allied against Ptolemy II with Antiochus I, son of Seleucus I Soter, and the second Seleucid ruler. Magas married the daughter of Antiochus I, Apama II in 275 BC. The family trees from these times are always complexly intertwined.

This is the context for this coin - which has a Galatian Shield on the right side of the reverse behind the Ptolemaic eagle.

Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, Ptolemy II Philadelphos (285-246 BC), AR Tetradrachm, Ptolemais-Ake mint, struck circa 275-262/1 BC

Obv: Diademed head to right, [wearing aegis]

Rev: ΠΤΟΛEΜΑΙOΥ BAΣΙΛEΩΣ, eagle with closed wings standing to left on thunderbolt; ΠT over two monograms to left, Galatian shield to right

Ref: CPE 441; Svoronos 544; SNG Copenhagen 521 (Uncertain Phoenician mint)

Why is a Gallic shield on this Ptolemaic coin?

The Gallic shield is a reference to the Galatian mercenaries (misthophoroi - paid soldiers) used by Ptolemy ll Philadelphos. He was the first to bring Galatians soldiers to Egypt to fight against his Seleucid rivals: Antiochus I and Antiochus II. They became the special forces of the Ptolemaic kings - and retained, at least partially, their ethnic identity and reputation as fierce soldier, living in cleruchs. Cleruchs were colonies formed, at least in part, by land grants (klêroi) to soldiers which varied with rank.

The First Syrian War

Not long after marrying Apama II in 275, Magas attacked Alexandria from the east, but had to abandon his plans to deal with an internal uprising. Ptolemy II at this time had his own troubles when his 4000 Gallic mercenaries mutinied. This coin dates from this period of conflict with Antiochus I and the wars with Greece known as the Chremonidean War.

"Ptolemy fortified the entrance into Egypt and awaited the attack of the Cyrenians. But while on the march Magas was informed that the Marmaridae, a tribe of Libyan nomads, had revolted, and thereupon fell back upon Cyrene. Ptolemy resolved to pursue, but was checked owing to the following circumstance. When he was preparing to meet the attack of Magas, he engaged mercenaries, including some four thousand Gauls. Discovering that they were plotting to seize Egypt, he led them through the river to a deserted island. There they perished at one another's hands or by famine."

-Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.7.2

Ptolemy didn't hold a grudge and continued to rely on Galatian soldiers despite this early experience. There are also bronze coins of Ptolemy II that also have these shields. I had this one sitting in my collection for a while and I had not given the shield any attention until I started researching the tetradrachm above.

Ptolemaic Kings of Egypt, Ptolemy II Philadelphos, 285-246 BC, Æ Diobol (28mm, 17.92g, 12h), Alexandria mint, Series 2F, struck circa 275/4-246 BC

Obv: Diademed head of Zeus-Ammon right

Rev: Eagle with open wings standing left on thunderbolt; to left, monogram above Galatian shield

Ref: CPE B166; Svoronos 600

The coin above was minted in Alexandria and is consistent with other coins from this mint. There are also coins similar to this one without the sigma above the shield that are in a "Sicilian" style. These coins are the subject of research by Daniel Wolf and Catharine Lorber published in 2011. In this paper they find that the coins were likely struck in Sicily by Hieron II, indicating some alliance with Ptolemy II Philadelphos of Egypt.

Why was Hieron minting coins in the name of Ptolemy? Lorber and Wolf propose several options: Some time after Pyrrhus left Sicily for Italy in 275, Hieron was leading Greek armies in Sicily, and could have received support from Ptolemy II, or perhaps just minted Ptolemaic coins to pay troops in a currency that they would trust and respect.

Syracusan die engravers produced bronze issues of Egypt with a more "Sicilian" head of Zeus and a flan that lacks the usual beveled edge of an Alexandrian bronze. The coin above is in the style of an Alexandrian coin and not from this Hieron issue. Another coin to add to the list of "coins to add to the collection". Here is a "Sicilian" style.

Sicily, Syracuse, Æ Obol (17.0g, 27.3mm, 12h), time of Hieron II, circa 285-246 BC, imitative issue in the types of Ptolemy II Philadelphos of Egypt

Obv: Laureate head of Zeus to right

Rev: ΠΤΟΛΕΜΑΙΟΥ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ, eagle standing to left on thunderbolt, with wings spread; Galatian shield to left

Ref: CPE B289; Svoronos 610; Wolf & Lorber, 'Alexandrian' Style, P57–71; SNG Copenhagen 114.

To wrap up, all three of these large Ptolemaic coins, show the Galatian shield on these coins, connecting with Galatian soldiers in service of Ptolemy, and as a symbol of Ptolemy's military strength.


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Alfred Kowsky
Alfred Kowsky
Jul 19, 2021

Sulla, Excellent article 😊! Your explanation of the Gallic shield is enlightening 😎. This tiny detail gives these coins a whole new dimension that is easy to miss.

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