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Queen Cleopatra Thea

My coin of interest today is one of few coins, that I have, issued in the name of a reigning Queen (βασίλισσα). The AE coin also appears to have an unlisted control mark. Cleopatra Thea seized power after being married to three Seleucid Kings.

  • 154 BC: She was first betrothed to her uncle Ptolemy VIII the King of Cyrene but in the end they were not married.

  • 150 BC: she married the Seleucid King Alexander Balas (son of Antiochos IV) and had a son with him (Antiochos VI)

  • 148/7 BC: her father, Ptolemy VI, dissolved her first marriage and married her to adolescent Demetrios II Nicator who became king with Ptolemy's support. Alexander Balas was defeated by Ptolemy in 145 BC. Cleopatra Thea had 2 sons with Demetrios II, Seleucos V and Antiochos VIII Grypos, and possibly a daughter names Laodice. This marriage was dissolved when Demetrios II was captured by Mithridates I of Parthia in July 138 BC.

  • 138 BC: With the capture of Demetrios II she was married to Demetrios' brother Antiochus VII and by whom she had one or two daughters named Laodice, and sons Antiochus who died who seem to have died of a disease in childhood. She may have had another son Seleucus, and Antiochus IX Cyzicenus.

  • 129 BC: Antiochus VII was killed in the Autumn of 129 by the Parthians (Phraates II).

Seleucid Empire, Demetrios II Nikator, first reign, 146-138 BC. Æ (22.5mm, 11.35g). Antioch on the Orontes mint, struck circa 146-145 BC.

Obv: Laureate head of Zeus right

Rev: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΔΗΜΗΤΡΙΟΥ ΘΕΟΥ ΦΙΛΑΔΕΛΦΟΥ ΝΙΚΑΤΟΡΟΣ, Apollo, testing arrow and resting hand on grounded bow, seated left on omphalos; two monograms in exergue

Ref: SC 1912.1c; HGC 9, 992

This is another coin of the same series (1912.1e) differing only in the monograms. These coins can be dated by the monograms (controls) that link them to precious metal coins from 146/5 BC (S.E. 167)

In 129 BC, Parthia (Phraates II) released Demetrios II, to undermine Antiochus VII. After the death of Antiochus VII, Cleopatra Thea may had a hand in the death of his brother and her former husband, Demetrius II, who was killed after a defeat by Alexander II Zabinas near Damascus (a pretender backed by Ptolemy VIII). She also killed her son Seleucus V when he tried to take the throne after the death of Antiochus VII. Justin describes it this way in his Epitome:

"Demetrius, being defeated by Alexander, and overwhelmed by misfortunes surrounding him on every side, was at last forsaken even by his wife and children. Being left, accordingly, with only a few slaves, and setting sail for Tyre, to shelter himself in the sanctuary of a temple there, he was killed, as he was leaving the ship, by order of the governor of the city. One of his sons, Seleucus, for having assumed the diadem without his mother’s consent, was put to death by her; the other, who, from the size of his nose was named Grypus, was made king by his mother, so far at least that the regal name should belong to him, while all the power of sovereignty was to remain with herself."
Justin, Epitome XXXIX.1

Cleopatra Thea reigned from 126 BC and issued tetradrachms in her sole name that are rare (~6 known). This example (not my coin) from a Roma Numismatics Auction 13 Lot 448 sold in March 2017 for GBP 32,000 (before buyer's fees).

By the end of the year she appointed her second son by Demetrius II, Antiochus VIII, a teenager at the time, as co-regent. Cleopatra Thea didn't last long as ruler - her 20 year-old son Antiochus VIII poisoned her - according to Appian with a drink she had prepared for him (she died in the fall of 121 BC).

Finally, we get to the coin. This coin is unusually nice for this type (compared with 44 coins annotated as SC 2263 in ACSearch). Cleopatra's name coming first on this coin with her son. Another search of ACSearch shows that this is not a word that appears on many coins (241 found on April-23-2023).

Seleucid Kings of Syria, Cleopatra Thea and Antiochos VIII, 123/2 BC, AE (bronze, 5.82g, 21mm), Antioch on the Orontes.

Obv: Radiate head of Antiochos VIII

Rev: BAΣIΛIΣΣHΣ KΛEOΠATΡAΣ KAI BAΣIΛEΩΣ ANTIOXOΥ Owl standing right on overturned amphora, head facing.

Ref: SC 2263; HGC 9, 1189

The AE coin above coin has an unlisted control mark, a headdress of Isis, next to the date under the amphora, which seems an appropriate control mark for this Egyptian Princess and daughter of Ptolemy VI Philometor.

For additional coins from this period see the earlier post: Seleucid Family Politics

The Seleucid Kings, Antiochus VIII Epiphanes, Grypus (Greek: Γρυπός, "hook-nose"), AD 121-96, Antiochia, Tetradrachm circa 109-96, AR 27.00 mm., 15.57 g.

Obv: Diademed head r. within fillet border

Rev: Zeus Nikephoros seated left; monogram in left field, all within wreath

Ref: SC 2309

Notes: Old cabinet tone and Good Very fine, from the collection of a Mentor.


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