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Research Coins: Printed Auction


Coinage of Ptolemaic Egypt

Sale: Triton XIII, Lot: 233. Estimate $7500. 
Closing Date: Monday, 4 January 2010. 
Sold For $8000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

PTOLEMAIC KINGS of EGYPT. Arsinoe II, wife of Ptolemy II. Died 270 BC. AV Oktadrachm (27.75 g, 12h). Alexandreia mint. Struck under Ptolemy II, 253/2-246 BC. Veiled head right, wearing stephane; H to left, lotus-tipped scepter in background / APΣINOHΣ ΦIΛAΔEΛΦOY, double cornucopia bound with fillet. Troxell, Arsinoe, Transitional to Group 3, p. 43 and pl. 6, 1 (same dies); Svoronos 459; SNG Copenhagen -; BMC -; Noske -; Boston MFA 2267 (same dies). Near EF, a few light marks. Very rare with H control, 5 coins known to Troxell.

The Ptolemaic Kingdom was one of the main successor states to the Macedonian empire forged by Alexander III ‘the Great’. Just prior to his death, Alexander gave his ring to Perdikkas, who gained the support of the other generals and became regent for Philip III and Alexander’s unborn son. Perdikkas oversaw the initial division of Alexander’s empire into separate satrapies, to which he appointed Alexander’s best generals, the Diadochs. Ptolemy, who was one of Alexander’s most illustrious commanders, was appointed to the lucrative satrapy of Egypt. By 320 BC, Perdikkas’ autocratic leadership isolated him from the other Macedonian leaders, and Ptolemy openly defied his leadership. Perdikkas led the Macedonian army into Egypt, but was assassinated before a final confrontation. Perdikkas’ death marked the end of a central command over the satrapies, and the beginning of the wars of the Diadochs. Although Ptolemy participated in a number of campaigns that toppled his fellow Diadochs, his rule over Egypt proper was never seriously challenged, and he was the only one of the Diadochs to die peacefully in his original kingdom. At the time of his death, Ptolemy held a number of islands and territories in Asia Minor and the Levant, but his successors were ultimately unable to hold on to lands outside of Egypt, save for Kyrenaika, which remained a Ptolemaic possession until the end of the kingdom. As with most of the other Diadochs, Ptolemy initially struck coins in the name of Alexander and opened new mints to serve his various campaigns and growing empire. After assuming the royal title in 305 BC, Ptolemy began issuing coinage in his own name. Unlike his earlier coinage in the name of Alexander, which displayed wonderful novel types such as the Athena Alkidemos (lots 413-414 below), the coinage system that developed in his kingdom was rather static, as Ptolemy’s successors continued to use the same basic designs established by the dynasty’s founder. Nonetheless, a few of the Ptolemaic rulers did issue exceptional types, such as the dynastic issues of Ptolemy II or the huge precious metal issues in the names of Arsinoë and Berenike.

Arsinoë II, wife (and sister) of Ptolemy II exerted a powerful influence on her younger mate, her experience in statecraft coming from her earlier marriage to Lysimachos of Thrace, and her subsequent involvement in the turbulent politics of the Successor kingdoms. After her death in 271 BC, her devoted husband deified her, and initiated a cult in her honor. The temple he intended to construct (plans cut short by his own death) in her name was to have an iron ceiling with a statue of Arsinoë, made entirely of lodestone, suspended in the air beneath it. That grandiose plan came to nothing, but the series of large value gold and silver coins struck in her name was a suitable memorial. The letters behind her bust are die sequence numbers, and these large value pieces were probably used in the distribution of largess. The types were continued by later Ptolemies into the middle of the 2nd century BC.