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Ptolemy I by Delta

495752. Sold For $3750

PTOLEMAIC KINGS of EGYPT. Ptolemy I Soter. 305-282 BC. AR Tetradrachm (27mm, 14.26 g, 12h). Alexandreia mint. Struck circa 294-282 BC. Diademed head of Ptolemy I right, wearing aegis around neck, small Δ behind ear / ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΠΤΟΛΕΜAIΟY, eagle standing left on thunderbolt, wings closed; ΔΜ monogram to left. CPE 174; Svoronos 205; SNG Copenhagen 88. EF, attractive cabinet toning with some iridescence. Apparently a rare issue, with only three other examples in CoinArchives.


In 305/4 BC, Ptolemy I assumed the title of Basileos, or King, of Egypt and the lands under its control. To mark the occasion, he initiated a new coinage with a diademed portrait himself on the obverse and a Macedonian eagle, standing on a thunderbolt, on the reverse. Ptolemy thus became the first king in history to place his own portrait on his coinage, a precedent still followed today. The obverse of this marvelous tetradrachm shows Ptolemy wearing the royal diadem and the aegis. In a curl of hair behind his ear is a tiny Greek letter Δ, or delta. This has been identified by Zervos and Hazard as the furtive signature of a singularly talented die engraver. However, according to Cathy Lorber in Coins of the Ptolemaic Empire (New York, 2018), the long span of time over which the delta appears, and the enormous number of dies that feature it, makes this unlikely: “It is more plausible that the letter Δ and other similar cryptic marks served some internal control function. They could, for example, designate die engraving workshops within the mint, or private contractors who provided dies to the mint, or the approval of an administrator.” (CPE vol. 1, p. 37)