Roma Numismatics Ltd > Auction XXIIIAuction date: 24 March 2022
Lot number: 361

Price realized: 17,000 GBP   (Approx. 22,413 USD / 20,364 EUR)   Note: Prices do not include buyer's fees.
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Lot description:


Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, Ptolemy I Soter AV Trichryson - Pentadrachm. Alexandria, from 294 BC. Obverse die signed by the artist D. Diademed head to right, wearing aegis around neck; small Δ behind ear / Eagle standing to left on thunderbolt; BAΣIΛEΩΣ ΠTOΛEMAIOY around, monogram in left field. CPE 166; Svoronos 210; Boston MFA 2263.

NGC graded AU 5/5 - 4/5 (#6030743-004).

Ex Numismatica Ars Classica, Auction 114, 6 May 2019, lot 360;
Ex Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Auction 62, 1 February 2011, lot 3161.

First of the Diadochi to put his own portrait on his coinage, Ptolemy I introduced many numismatic innovations to his kingdom: he was the only successor of the Macedonian Empire to stop using the Attic weight standard and to invent new coin denominations like this large gold coin, the trichryson-pentadrachm (C. Lorber, CPE, 2018, p.24). J. N. Svrononos refers to this denomination as a pentadrachm but the letter to Apollonios from Demetrios, probably the master of the Alexandrian mint, mentions τὰ τρίχρυσα (triple staters), indicating that coins of this domination were equivalent to three old gold staters (letter dated to 258 BC, Austin 299; Svoronos, Ta nomismata tou kratous ton Ptolemaion, 1904-1908; Lorber, 2018, p.32).

The diadem on the head of the successor-king depicted here resembles the mitra which adorned Alexander the Great on issues of the same period; he also sports a protective aegis with the same scaly texture as that of Alexander on contemporary tetradrachms (C. Lorber, 2018, p.56; Herklotz, 2000, p.44). By aligning the king of Egypt with this Macedonian conqueror, this imagery confirms the legitimacy of Ptolemy's succession and finds expression in the myth preserved in the Suda, which identifies Ptolemy as half-brother to Alexander, being the son of Philip of Macedon by his mistress Arsinoe (Suda, s.v.; L. Koenen, "The Ptolemaic King as a Religious Figure", 1993 in Images and Ideologies, A. Bulloch et al., pp.44-45).

Furthermore, Svenson notes the Dionysiac appearance of the diademed king, particularly identifying the similarity of his ornamental headpiece to the mitra of the saviour god (D. Svenson, Darstellungen hellenistischer Könige mit Götterattributen, 1995, p. 30). Ptolemy was assimilated to Dionysus in artwork and ceremony of the time: in the account of Ptolemy II's great procession at Alexandria by Callixinus of Rhodes (279/278 BC), the late king and Alexander were associated with Dionysus, each sporting a golden ivy wreath around their heads and following in the procession behind a statue of Dionysus at the altar of Rhea (preserved in Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae V.201b-f 202f.203e).

The divine associations of the obverse portrait iconography are elaborated on with the reverse imagery: the bird depicted on top of the thunderbolt illustrates the favour of Zeus enjoyed by Ptolemy. Indeed, the same tradition found in the Suda has the baby Ptolemy protected by the spread wings of Zeus' eagle and sustained on the bird's blood, after being exposed on a shield by his mother's husband, Lagos (Suda, s.v.). This specimen, then, records the association with and ultimate descent from Zeus which the Ptolemaic dynasty claimed for itself. The reverse inscription BAΣIΛEΩΣ ΠTOΛEMAIOY proclaims the royal title which Ptolemy adopted in summer/autumn 306 BC according to Greek literary tradition: Plutarch records how, after Antigonus and Demetrius were heralded as kings following victory in 306 BC, "the followers of Ptolemy in Egypt on their part also, when these things were reported to them, gave him the title of King" (Demetrius, 18.2). In this way, this coin minted under the founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty made manifest his royal divinity.

Estimate: 15000 GBP