The Roman Empire





Coin Details

Design Description: Cleopatra VII AE14 Plate Coin RPC I 4785.1 (3 Known)
Item Description: AE14 Ptolemaic Kingdom rv eagle in wreath Damascus Yr.280 (33/2 BC)
Full Grade: NGC Ch XF Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5
Owner: Kohaku

Set Details

Custom Sets: The Roman Empire
Competitive Sets: This coin is not competing in any sets.
Research: NGC Coin Price Guide

Owner Comments:

Don't be fooled by this coin's ordinary appearance. It is highly noteworthy for several reasons. First, it is a “plate coin,” meaning it is illustrated in a figure (or plate) within a numismatic reference, in this case a prominent volume on Roman provincial coinage. Second, that reference cites only three examples of this coin surviving to this day, making it exceedingly rare. Third, and most important of all, the obverse portrays Cleopatra VII (69 – 30 BC), one of the most famous women of all time.

Cleopatra hailed from an Egyptian royal lineage descended from Ptolemy I Soter, general to Alexander the Great. Upon her father’s death in 51 BC, she and her eldest brother, Ptolemy XIII, inherited the Ptolemaic Kingdom. According to custom, she married her brother, although their relationship was contentious and eventually led to Egyptian civil war. Illustrating her defiance, Cleopatra dropped Ptolemy XIII’s name from official documents and even struck coins bearing her image – alone – defying the Ptolemaic custom of female inferiority to their male counterparts. For her audacity, Cleopatra was banished around mid 1st century BC; however, she was far from vanquished.

In 48 BC, the shrewd Cleopatra found her opportunity to regain power. Pompey the Great, on the run after losing the Battle of Pharsalus, disembarked in Alexandria only to be beheaded by minions of Ptolemy XIII, who thought the act might result in favor with Julius Caesar and Rome. Instead, the overture had the opposite effect; Caesar was outraged at the murder of his fellow Roman and son-in-law (not to mention the missed chance for Triumphal propaganda). He then seized the city, and declared himself as arbiter over the contended Egyptian throne.

Reportedly, Cleopatra smuggled herself within a carpet in order to meet with Caesar and plead her case. She not only convinced Caesar that she was the rightful ruler, she also became Caesar’s mistress, and, nine months later, gave birth to their son, Caesarion. It is satisfying to imagine Cleopatra as the consummate temptress, seducing Caesar with her famous beauty. Considering Caesar’s power and womanizing skills, it seems unlikely he would have fallen for Cleopatra based on sexuality alone. Indeed, Cleopatra also had a “most delicious voice and knowledge of how to make herself agreeable to everyone,” according to the ancient Roman historian Lucius Cassius Dio. Caesar had apparently met his match, a combination of charisma and power that he couldn't resist.

The exact details of Cleopatra’s arguments notwithstanding, Caesar proceeded to defeat Ptolemy XIII. He then restored power to Cleopatra, who kept up appearances by marrying her next brother in line for succession, Ptolemy XIV. The royal family visited Rome in 46 BC, and Cleopatra resided in one of Caesar’s country villas. The love affair between Cleopatra and Caesar was now publically obvious, and viewed as scandalous (after all, both were legally married - but not to each other - within the framework of their own societies). Upon Caesar’s assassination on the ides of March 44 BC, Roman civil war raged anew, and Cleopatra and her entourage made an understandably quiet and expeditious return trip home. Soon thereafter, Ptolemy XIV died, possibly poisoned by Cleopatra, who then named Caesarian as her co-ruler.

Since he had refused to acknowledge Caesarian, Caesar’s inheritance passed to his legally named heir, Octavian. Octavian, along with fellow Triumvirs Marc Antony and Lepidus, also assumed responsibility for punishing Caesar’s murderers. It was natural that Cleopatra sided with the Caesarian faction. After the Caesarians proved victorious, their Triumvirate fell apart, and Cleopatra aligned herself with Antony, who moved to Alexandria to live with her. Once again, Cleopatra embroiled herself in a famous and scandalous relationship (Antony was still legally married to Octavian’s sister Octavia, at least until the latter filed for divorce). Cleopatra bore Antony three children, including Cleopatra Selene.

The current ancient bronze was struck in Damascus, Syria during this tumultuous period, probably between 33-32 BC. At first inspection, the designs appear typical for ancient Ptolemaic coinage, for example the ubiquitous eagle featured on the reverse. Of particular interest is the obverse depiction of Tyche, whose features unmistakably resemble Cleopatra. Tyche was a popular goddess presiding over the fortune and prosperity over an individual, city, or realm. She commonly appeared on ancient coinage, dating back to at least the 4th century BC. To the Romans, she was known as Fortuna. The motif of Cleopatra as Tyche probably intended to advertise the queen’s responsibility for the prosperity of her subjects.

As for Cleopatra, her own fortunes turned when Octavian waged open war against her paramour. Antony was defeated in 30 BC at the epic Battle of Actium, and subsequently committed suicide. In the aftermath, Cleopatra probably surmised her own death was near. The details of Cleopatra’s final days are subject to debate. It is possible Cleopatra attempted parley with Octavian, perhaps to seduce him, or at least to secure the future of her children, who were spared and taken into Octavia’s care (all except Caesarion, who was too much of a liability to Octavian). In any case, Cleopatra decided that she would rather not serve as a war trophy in a Triumphal parade. According to many ancient sources, Cleopatra committed suicide by allowing a venomous snake to bite her breast. More likely, the erudite and resourceful Cleopatra ended her life by ingesting a deadly mixture of hemlock, wolfsbane and opium.

Coin Details: PTOLEMAIC KINGDOM, SYRIA, Coele-Syria, Damascus, Cleopatra VII of Egypt, Circa 37-33/1 BC, Æ (14mm, 2.56 g, 12h), Dated CY 280 (33/2 BC), NGC Grade: XF, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Turreted head of Cleopatra as Tyche right, Reverse: Eagle standing right; L Π/Σ (date) to right; all within wreath, References: De Saulcy –; RPC I 4785.1 (this coin, illustrated on pl. 173); DCA 499; HGC 9, 1465. Very rare, one of three cited in RPC, no additional in supplements.

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