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Ancient Coin Profile – Pompeia’s Pick: Elephants for Egypt – Ptolemy I Gold Stater

By Heritage Auctions …..

Ptolemy I Soter, founder of the Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt, started out life as the son of the Macedonian nobleman Lagus; a later tale that he was an illegitimate son of Philip II (and thus Alexander’s half-brother) was probably fabricated. He was a friend and intimate of Alexander III the Great from boyhood and accompanied him on his great career of conquests 333-323 BCE.

Ptolemy I Soter gold stater. Image courtesy Heritage AuctionsUpon Alexander’s death in 323 BCE, Ptolemy was granted the prized satrapy of Egypt, the richest of the formerly Persian provinces. Alone among the Diadochi (“successors”), he was content with his sphere of influence and did not risk all to succeed Alexander.

However, he was not above using the great conqueror’s image and reputation to secure his own position.

He hijacked Alexander’s funeral cortege as it was proceeding back to Macedon and had his embalmed corpse formally interred at Memphis in Egypt; later the body was relocated to a splendid mausoleum in Alexandria.

Ptolemy’s early coinage is modeled on that of Alexander and carries the conqueror’s image and name.

The image of the elephant, which Macedonian armies first encountered on the battlefield in northern India, was prominently employed. The first tetradrachms and rare gold staters struck by Ptolemy during his satrapy depict Alexander wearing an elaborate elephant-skin headdress.

After Ptolemy declared his own kingship in 305 BCE, Alexander’s head on the obverse was replaced by his own unequivocal portrait, making him the first Hellenistic monarch to take this step (though both Philip II and Alexander had used portraits of themselves “disguised” as the deities Zeus and Heracles).

This amazing gold stater, struck early in his reign, shows Ptolemy wearing about his neck the protective aegis of Athena. The reverse depicts Zeus in the car of a chariot pulled by a team of four Indian elephants, alluding to Alexander’s victories and India and the growing importance of these animals as “living tanks” in Hellenistic warfare.

Ptolemy would go on to a long, peaceful and prosperous reign, becoming the only one of the Diadochi to die peacefully, in his bed, in 283 BCE. His dynasty ruled Egypt until the fall of Cleopatra VII, in 30 BCE.

This coin will be auctioned by Heritage in the 2016 August 11 ANA World Coins & Ancient Coins Signature Auction – Anaheim #3048. Check the Heritage website for Lot Number


Heritage Auctions
Heritage Auctions
Heritage Auction Galleries is one of the world's largest collectibles auctioneers. Besides offering rare and valuable U.S. and world coins and currency, Heritage offers ancient coins, exonumia, antiques, comic books, sports memorabilia, and many other collectibles. The firm is based in Dallas, Texas.

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