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Discovery of a new series in Ptolemy Bronze

Col Davidson
Some time back I noticed a Cypriot mint Ptolemaic bronze coin for sale and
fortunately was able to purchase it. It has a diameter of between 16.31 and 17.13 mm with a
weight of 2.80 grams and is in reasonable condition. What directed me to the coin was its
obverse. To me it appeared to show not the god Zeus but a Ptolemaic king. Until now no
Cypriot Ptolemaic bronze coin, with the portrait of a king on the obverse, has been reported.

One coin does not a series make so I checked numerous illustrations of coins for
something similar and finally found an exact match with a coin in an article by Catherine
Lorber (Lorber 2001)1. That coin is 19.0 mm in diameter with a weight of 4.34 grams and is
in the collection of the American Numismatic Society2. This second coin appears to have
been struck from the same dies as mine with the difference in weight being no greater than
many other bronze denominations of the time. I contacted Dr. Lorber3 and sent her
photographs and details of my coin. She was extremely helpful and is of the opinion that the
obverse shows a Ptolemaic king in the guise of Zeus-Ammon (the ram's horn on the king’s
head representing an assimilation of Zeus-Ammon to a Ptolemaic king). She also pointed out
his unusual behind-the-chin style beard, which is not normal for Zeus but appears on portraits
of late Ptolemaic kings, and mentions that it is unexpected to find this kind of cryptic portrait
on a bronze coin. She wonders what might have motivated the production of a bronze issue
with such special iconography.

The idea of a Ptolemaic portrait on a coin showing the ruler in the guise of a god is
not unusual. One of the earliest Egyptian coins to depict a deified Egyptian ruler was a silver
tetradrachm of Ptolemy I (Svoronos 20) showing the deified Alexander with the horn of
Lorber (2001): Plate 6, 20.
American Numismatic Society Collection (1944, 100.78967 Philipsen collection)
Dr Lorber holds a BA in Classical Greek from UCLA and, as an independent researcher; she specialized in the
publication of coin hoards as well as studies pertaining to Northern Greek, Thessalian, Judaean, Seleucid, and
Ptolemaic coinages. She has authored or co-authored numerous books on these subjects and, since 2000, she has
published more than 40 papers and book chapters treating Ptolemaic coinage or iconography.
Ammon, elephant headdress and aegis emphasising that Alexander was the son of the god
Ammon. Another is the gold octodrachm honouring Ptolemy III which has the king bearing a
number of divine symbols: the aegis of Zeus, the trident of Poseidon and the radiate crown of
Helios. It is generally agreed that these symbols show that Ptolemy III was being portrayed as
a god, or as a fusion of the three gods. Further to these coins is a bronze of Ptolemy VI
(Svoronos 1382) showing the portrait of his mother Cleopatra I in the guise of Isis. Her
wreath of corn and her “corkscrew locks” are both characteristics of Isis. Possibly the latest
of the Ptolemaic coins showing divinities is a small bronze coin, probably struck in Cyprus
(Svoronos 1874), which shows an idealised portrait of Cleopatra VII as Aphrodite/Isis with
her infant Caesarion as Eros/Horus in her arms. Cleopatra wears diadem and stephane and
has a sceptre which indicates that she styled herself here as a goddess rather than a queen and, since the
design shows the attributes of the two goddesses, the coin image is another of fused

The actual Ptolemy and the period of the two coins are still in question. The legs of
the eagle are fully feathered which dates it to no earlier than Ptolemy V4. It is difficult to be
certain as to whether they have central dimples or not. With a central dimple they could date
from the time of Ptolemy VI but, with no dimple, the time frame would range from Ptolemy
VIII. The look, style and weight of the coins (apart from the obverse) would normally
identify them as either Svoronos 1407 or 1408 (See Figure 2).

Figure 2
The latest minting of the Cypriot “lotus” bronzes is probably a dated coin of Ptolemy
VIII (Svoronos 1632) (although The PtolemAE Project5 notes a coin of this series possibly
dated to year 7 of the reign of Ptolemy IX). However this dated series is all (of course) dated
and ranges from 23 mm to 26 mm in diameter – which might leave that series out of

Stanwick (2010:69-77) describes the general appearance of portraits of the Ptolemies

of the period as follows: Ptolemy VI – lean faced, Ptolemy VIII – heavy faced and Ptolemy
IX – heavy under-the-chin beard. Elsewhere the portraits of both Ptolemy VI and Ptolemy
VIII are described as having no or only a scant beard. Some portraits of the Ptolemies in
question show these points (See Figure 3).

Lorber (2001): p. 42
The PtolemAE Project. ( http://ptolemybronze.com/)
Figure 3.

The reverse of the coin is distinctive in that the first three characters of the king’s
name are shown as”T.T.” rather than the normal ““. When trying to date the coin by the
style of the eagle I found that it has rather unusual tail feathers which I have only seen on a
dated bronze of Ptolemy VIII and an unusual coin (possibly Svor.1408) sold on eBay in April
2018 and which was probably minted in the time of Ptolemy VI. (See Figure 4.)

Figure 4
The reason for issuing the coin is completely unknown. Newell (1919:110-118)
identifies a one-year Syrian tetradrachm dated to 20BC as a special “one off”
commemorative of a visit by the ruler. A similar reason would be unlikely in this case as the
item in question is a minor, inconsequential, low denomination coin which would be an insult
to the king if intended as a commemoration. It is possible that it was intended to be the
beginning of a new series of Cypriot bronze coins meant to bring the “face of the king” to the
lower class of people who would be most likely to use them. The discontinuance of the series
could be for any number of reasons due to the turbulence of the times. The idea of a low
value bronze coin featuring the portrait of the king is not far-fetched as a low denomination
bronze coin was later issued, also by Cyprus, showing the portrait of Cleopatra VII.
Just to muddy the waters I am showing two further bronze coins obtained from the
same supplier. The condition of both is probably too poor to make any decision as to whether
Zeus or a king is shown on the obverse.

Figure 5

If a decision regarding the Ptolemy were to be made based on the likeness of the
king’s head to an existing portrait, then it would be hard not to choose Ptolemy IX. However
I feel that, when considering the attributes of the coins as to style, weight, diameter and also
portrait – I would choose Ptolemy VI as the most likely candidate.

My coin, and its brother from the ANS Collection, appear to be a new series of a
Ptolemaic king yet to be determined and were issued for a reason also to be determined. At
the present time, they appear to have a population of two coins in total but hopefully more
examples will be found, one of which might be a dateable example, and so give us an idea of
just who this king was. Otherwise he will remain just one more of the numerous mysteries in
the Ptolemaic bronze series.


Lorber, Catherine C. 2001. The lotus of Aphrodite on Ptolemaic bronzes. Swiss Numismatic Review 80.

Paul E. Stanwick. 2010, Portraits of the Ptolemies: Greek Kings as Egyptian Pharaohs. University of Texas

Newell, E.T. 1919. The Pre-Imperial Coinage of Roman Antioch. The Numismatic Chronicle and Journal of
the Royal Numismatic Society 19, pp. 110-118.

Svoronos, J.N. 1904. Ptolemaic Coinage. Athens. Translated: Catherine Lorber.