The Coinage of Cleopatra VII
PTOLEMAIC KINGS of EGYPT. Cleopatra VII Thea Neotera.
|Sale: Triton XIII, Lot: 240. Estimate $1000.
Closing Date: Monday, 4 January 2010.
Sold For $3500. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.
51-30 BC. Æ Obol (20mm, 8.45 g, 12h). Alexandreia mint. Diademed and draped bust of Cleopatra right / BAΣIΛIΣΣHΣ [KΛ]EOΠATPAΣ, Eagle standing left on thunderbolt; cornucopia before, M behind. Svoronos 1872; Weiser 184; SNG Copenhagen 422-4; BMC 6-11; Noske 383; B. Andreae & K. Rhein, Kleopatra und die Caesaren. Katalog einer Ausstellung des Bucerius Kunst Forums, Hamburg
(Munich, 2006), no. x = S. Walker & P. Higgs, Cleopatra of Egypt, from history to myth
(London, 2001), no. 185 (this coin). Good VF, attractive red-brown and green patina. Excellent portrait.
From the Guy Weill Goudchaux Collection.
The name of Cleopatra VII has resonated down through history as synonymous with mystery, power, feminine wiles, and sex. Despite the best efforts of Roman historians to tarnish her name, she stands today as the embodiment of heroic, doomed defiance. Her love affairs with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony are legendary, and often the standard by which tragic romances are measured.
The woman at the core of the legend started out life as the daughter of Ptolemy XII Auletes ("Flute Player"), a typically indolent Ptolemaic king who put his country in hock to the Romans to maintain his grip on power. Cleopatra was not particularly attractive in the classical sense, though her tremendous intelligence, facility with language, skill with cosmetics, and musical voice, not to mention the fabulous wealth of the kingdom she was heir to, made her immensely attractive to some of the world's most powerful men.
After her father's death, Cleopatra squabbled with her brother Ptolemy XIII just as Julius Caesar arrived in Egypt in pursuit of his enemy Pompey the Great. The young Ptolemy ordered Pompey murdered, an act which did not endear him to Caesar--foreign kings had no right to kill Romans. What did intrigue Caesar was the 20-year-old Cleopatra's entrance, unrolled in his chamber from a carpet borne by her muscular servant Apollodorus. Caesar and Cleopatra likely became lovers that very night.
Caesar fought and won the battle of Alexandria on her behalf, securing her sole rule of Egypt in 49 BC. Cleopatra bore Caesar a son, Caesarion, and traveled to Rome circa 46 BC to share in his triumphs. She stayed there for two years, sparking rumors that Caesar planned to wed her and make the two of them King and Queen of the Roman Empire. Caesar's assassination on the Ides of March, 44 BC, sent her fleeing back to Alexandria, from where she watched carefully the contest for power among Caesar's lieutenant Marcus Antonius, Caesar's young nephew Octavian, and the dictator's assassins.
When Antony emerged as the seeming victor, Cleopatra set about beguiling him. A lover of luxury, Antony lolled in Cleopatra's lap for two years (41-40 BC) while Octavian solidified his power base in Rome. She bore Antony twins, Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios. Antony returned to Italy in 39 BC, securing an alliance with Octavian by marrying his sister, Octavia–an act which infuriated Cleopatra. She bided her time, knowing he would need the resources of Egypt to complete his planned conquest of the Parthian Empire.
Predictably, Antony arrived in the East in 37 BC, helmet in hand, begging her forgiveness. She extracted from him enormous concessions. Huge tracts of the Eastern Roman Empire were placed under her rule and that of the royal children. These acts directly contributed to the propaganda against Antony which Octavian was peddling at Rome. Antony's subsequent failure against the Parthians also added to the tide against him at Rome.
War between Antony and Octavian became inevitable when Antony casually divorced Octavia, and Cleopatra bore him another son. The hostilites culminated in Octavian's victory at Actium, and Antony and Cleopatra fled to Alexandria. Upon the approach of Octavian and his forces, Antony fell on his sword and Cleopatra allowed herself to be captured. When it became evident that Octavian planned to march her through the streets of Rome in chains, she had a poisonous snake placed in her chambers which she allowed to mortally wound her. At the same time, Caesarion attempted to flee Egypt, but was betrayed, captured, and executed.
Like her Ptolemaic predecessors, Cleopatra continued to strike tetradrachms of the traditional head of Ptolemy I/eagle type. Her Alexandria mint bronze issues, however, as well those coins issued by the areas under her control, show her portrait on the obverse, allowing the viewer to catch a rare glimpse of the the queen as she appeared. Through her relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, Cleopatra acquired control of Cyprus and territories in Syria and Phoenicia, where she struck coinage also with her portrait to promote her propaganda and her association with Rome’s leaders.