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Which Ptolemy is this?

Roman republican denarii are pretty easy to attribute - for most types, there are lots of them, and there's been a lot of research dedicated to them including the use of hoard evidence to refine dates. Crawford's Roman Republican Coinage the standard reference is usually enough to quickly attribute. Today it is not difficult to identify a date of issue and responsible moneyer. The coin from Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio illustrates:

Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio, 47-46 BC. AR Denarius, Rome

Obv: Q•METEL PIVS Laureate head of Jupiter to right

Rev: SCIPIO / IMP Elephant advancing right

Ref: Babelon (Caecilia) 47. Crawford 459/1. RBW 1601. Sydenham 1046

My coin of interest today is not quite as easy to attribute.

The portrait on this coin interested me - it looked a bit different from others that I have seen and the portrait style reminded me of these Roman coins of in the name of Seleucid Philip I Philadelphos:

Syria, Seleucis and Pieria, Antiochia ad Orontem, Q. Caecilius Bassus, rebel governor, 46/5 BC, AR tetradrachm in the name of Philip I Philadelphos of Syria, recognizing the era of Julius Caesar, minted 46/5 BC, Year 4 of the Caesarean Era

The first problem: many rulers issued coins in the name of Ptolemy with a bust of Ptolemy I right on the obverse, and a reverse with an eagle standing left on thunderbolt, so the name on the reverse ΠTOΛEMAIOY BAΣΙΛΕΩΣ, Ptolemy Basileos (King), doesn't reveal much.

Option A The auctioneer labelled this coin as Cleopatra III and Ptolemy IX:

Option B The previous owner had considered this a coin of Ptolemy VIII

Option C Svoronos in his book on the subject published 1904-1908 (still a primary reference book over 100 years later) considered this coin Cleopatra VII with her son Caesarion, aka Ptolemy XV, son of Julius Caesar.

Auction listings can be helpful in sorting out attributions - and a quick search for "ptolemy tetradrachm Z" turns up this coin. Instead of adding evidence for one of the above it adds another option.

Option D This coin which looks very quite similar in style from CNG is attributed to Ptolemy XII Neos Dyonysos father to Cleopatra VII.

Wildwinds is a useful catalog of images for ancient coins - a search for a similar coin comes up with:

Nothing for Ptolemy XII : no coin dated IZ (year 7 coin)

Nothing relevant for Ptolemy VIII no similar coin or year 7

and under Ptolemy X no year 7 shows up.

And finally, under Ptolemy IX there is a reference to a year 7 coin attributed as Svoronos 1668 which turns up one more option:

Option E This just adds another Ptolemy to the realm of possibility: Ptolemy X

So where does one go from here? Is this Ptolemy VIII, IX, X, XII, XV, or still something else? the next option - ask an expert in Ptolemaic tetradrachms. This gave me an answer : it is a coin of Ptolemy XII (Option D). How do we know this? There are dies studies for the last years of Ptolemy VIII plus Ptolemy IX & X - see "Phaphos I" by Morkholm & Nicolaou. There is no die study published (that I know of) for Ptolemy XII nor for Cleopatra VII. CNG likely to to have access to the latest drafts given Lorber (her former employer) is publishing the reference books on these coins.

The conclusion: gratitude for the many years of research and online resources that make ancient coins more accessible today than ever and for now, rely on CNG, ask and expert or wait for C. Lorber's forthcoming Part II and more coins to come online at PCO.


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Alfred Kowsky
Alfred Kowsky
Dec 28, 2022

Putting your photo next to the CNG photo it's obvious your coin was issued in the reign of Ptolemy XII 😉.

Dec 28, 2022
Replying to

Agreed - if we trust CNG attributions - which I generally do - Option D won - the remaining question - how do we know? Hoard evidence? Die study? Something else?

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