ACTA ACCLA, December 2006

Interesting Facts

Merrill Gibson

Silver tetradrachm of Cleopatra VII Thea Philopator, Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt
Cleopatra VII Thea Philopator, Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt. Silver tetradrachm, 13.73 g, 26.0 mm, struck year 12 of reign (41-40 BCE) in Alexandria. Diademed head of Ptolemy I right, aegis tied around neck / Eagle standing left on thunderbolt, palm branch over shoulder; LΙΒ (year ΙΒ=12) over Crown of Isis before, ΠΑ behind, dot between legs, [ΠΤΟΛΕΜΑΙΟ]Υ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ around. SNG Copenhagen 406; Svoronos 1826. Photograph courtesy of Apollo Numismatics.
  1. Barclay Head called Ptolemaic coins "the most difficult to classify in the whole range of Greek numismatics." Classifications of many Ptolemaic coin types, particularly bronzes, remain uncertain to this day with respect to both issuing authority and denomination.
  2. Most Ptolemaic tetradrachms bear the portrait of Ptolemy I, regardless of the issuing ruler. The portrait on a given tetradrachm can nonetheless usually be used to identify the issuer, because different rulers used different artistic styles for the portrait. These differences often reflect different attempts at idealization of the dynasty's founder.
  3. The elephant symbolization appearing on many early Ptolemaic coins doesn't have anything to do with Africa - rather it refers to India, where Ptolemy 1 especially distinguished himself in battle as one of Alexander the Great's generals. He supposedly once saved Alexander's life.
  4. The practice by most Ptolemaic male rulers of marrying a sister was done more in imitation of Zeus; whom the Ptolemies associated themselves with, than in imitation of previous Pharaohs.
  5. The Ptolemies were always fighting a shortage of silver. This influenced many of their coinage policies.
  6. Tetradrachms under Ptolemy I were essentially 100% silver, and remained that way through the early part of the reign of Ptolemy VI. In fact, tetradrachms remained relatively pure in silver content until the reign of Ptolemy XII, the next to the last Ptolemaic ruler, who cut the silver content from 90% to 33%.


ACTA ACCLA edited by Michael J. Connor.