Ptolemaic Coins were first introduced shortly after Alexander the Great’s death in 323 BC when Ptolemy I became the satrap (governor) of Egypt. Ptolemy I went on to become the pharaoh (ruler) of Egypt and was perceived as a god, rather than a king. His throne was inherited from one generation to the next until the Roman era in 30 BC. The last of his family members to be in power was none other than the famous Cleopatra VII, daughter of Ptolemy XII.
Many Ptolemaic Coins were produced from 323 to 30 BC, including gold, silver and bronze pieces. It is believed that coins of particular metals were used for specific things, with gold being used as a store of wealth and to finance the military, silver for international trade, and bronze to pay wages and purchase goods.
Initially, Ptolemy I issued Silver Tetradrachms to the Attic weight, the same standard as Athenian Coins and Alexander the Great Coins. However, as silver was scarcer than gold in Egypt, he reduced his coins from around 17 grams to about 14 grams, creating the Phoenician weight.
Although coinage had appeared in ancient Egypt before Ptolemy I declared himself king, it had little influence on the empire prior to Ptolemaic times. In fact, the pre-existing native dynasties did not use any coins at all, making the Ptolemaic dynasty the very first to introduce coinage in Egypt.
Below, you can find out more about some of the most interesting Ptolemaic Coins that were used by the cities under Ptolemaic domination and briefly after the demise of the Ptolemaic Kingdom.
With an Attic standard weight, this particular coin probably wasn’t used in the Roman era as Ptolemy I later confiscated coins that were not struck in Phoenician weight, as well as all other foreign coinage. However, the Alexander the Great Tetradrachm was one of the first coins issued by Ptolemy I during his reign.
As Alexander the Great was crowned pharaoh of Memphis, Egypt in 332 BC, he is featured on the coin’s obverse wearing an elephant skin headdress and the horn of Ammon (a Libyan deity with the horns of a ram). The elephant skin symbolizes Alexander’s victories in India. On the reverse is goddess Athena with a spear and shield. She is walking to the right, with an eagle on a thunderbolt in front of her.
One of the interesting things about this coin is that Ptolemy I chose to depict a political figure, Alexander the Great on the obverse. Previously, the obverse of ancient coins usually featured a religious symbol or an image relating to the city in which the coin was struck. The Alexander the Great Tetradrachms were later minted in Phoenician weight.
After changing the weight of his Alexander the Great Tetradrachms, Ptolemy I began issuing a new coin that displayed his own profile on its obverse. Ptolemy I is depicted on the coin facing right with wavy hair and wearing a thin headband.
The reverse displays a much larger image of the eagle riding a thunderbolt than the one featured on his Alexander the Great Tetradrachm. The eagle is facing left and standing tall. As Ptolemy I considered Zeus as his patron deity, and both the eagle and thunderbolt were symbols associated with Zeus, it makes sense why this image was chosen for the coin’s reverse.
Ptolemy I’s portrait on this coin set a new trend in coinage, with portraits of Ptolemy II through to VI appearing on different Tetradrachms over the years.
Arsinoe was the daughter of Ptolemy I and the second wife of Ptolemy II. When she was 16, she first married Lysimachus, a former general of Alexander the Great who had not long gained control of most of Asia Minor. Lysimachus gave Arsinoe three cities, and she eventually gave her husband three sons. She also schemed to secure her children’s inheritance by convincing Lysimachus to execute his first son by another marriage.
After Lysimachus’s death, Arsinoe married her brother Ptolemy II. They were the first siblings within the family to marry, a tradition that lasted until the end of the Ptolemaic dynasty. Together, they were powerful co-rulers and Arsinoe was an influential queen with her own cult. She died in July 270 BC and continued being depicted on Ptolemais Coins after her demise.
The Gold Arsinoe II Ochtadrachma was minted decades after Arsinoe’s death under Ptolemy VI to VIII. On the obverse is a right-facing Arsinoe wearing a headdress that flows down to her shoulder. The reverse displays a double cornucopia with two grape clusters. A smaller Silver Arsinoe Dekadrachm, featuring the same obverse and reverse images was also issued under Ptolemy III.
As previously stated, the Ptolemaic Kingdom struck different Ptolemaic Coins, including many bronze, silver and gold pieces that have not been mentioned on this page. While most of these coins were plentiful before the fall of the Ptolemaic empire, it has now become virtually impossible to obtain Ptolemaic Coins without the help of a professional dealer.
Ptolemaic Coins are not only valuable items but they’re also incredibly treasured by their owners. This alone makes it hard to acquire these coins. You also need to be aware that there are many people out there selling fake Ancient Coins, some of which are harder to spot than others. Unfortunately, counterfeit coins are appearing more often than ever in the marketplace and many collectors are finding this out the hard way.
Don’t let this deter you from collecting Ptolemaic Coins though. When you buy Ptolemaic Coins or any other coins from Capital Gold Group, you can have peace of mind that you’re purchasing only authentic specimens. We should also point out that we’re able to provide you with Ptolemaic Coins that have been guaranteed NGC Ancients, a trusted third-party grading service that has greatly reduced the chances of collectors being fooled by counterfeits.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for further advice on purchasing genuine Ptolemaic Coins and to find out how we can help you add these coins to your collection.