By Mike Markowitz for CoinWeek …..
* * *
Ptolemy IV Philopator (222 – 204 BCE)
THE LONG DECLINE OF Ptolemaic Egypt began with the reign of Ptolemy IV, who was born about 245 BCE and came to the throne on the death of his father in 221. He is known by the epithet “Philopator” (“Beloved of His Father”). Ptolemy IV married his sister Arsinoe III, who bore the future ruler Ptolemy V. Philopator’s chubby youthful portrait appears on magnificent gold octodrachms issued by his son. On the reverse, Ptolemy IV’s name and epithet are inscribed around the dynasty’s emblematic eagle. A superb example of this rare coin brought $80,000 USD in a 2010 auction.
One of the most attractive Ptolemaic silver coins is Ptolemy IV’s tetradrachm bearing the images of Serapis and Isis. Struck at Alexandria and a number of mints in Palestine and Syria, the issue celebrates Ptolemy’s victory over the Seleucid empire at the Battle of Raphia (near Gaza on June 22, 217 BCE). Serapis was a composite Greco-Egyptian god, invented by Ptolemy I as the patron deity of Alexandria. Isis, an ancient and beloved Egyptian goddess of motherhood, magic, and wisdom, is shown as the wife of Serapis:
“…carrying a very specific ideological message directed more widely throughout the empire, Ptolemy IV was equating himself and his wife, Arsinoe with the divine sibling-spouses, Serapis and Isis (Landvatter, 87).”
On the coin, the divine couple wears tiny symbolic Egyptian crowns, although these are hard to make out on most examples. The CoinArchives Pro auction database records this type 43 times, with realized prices ranging from $600 to over $50,000(!).
The massively abundant bronze coinage of Ptolemy IV was issued in at least six denominations: drachm (69 g), tetrobol (45 g), triobol (35 g), diobol (22 g), hemiobol (5 g) and dichalkon (2.5 g). Late in his reign, faced with growing unrest in his empire, Ptolemy devalued the bronze coinage, and silver virtually disappeared from circulation. The tetrobol seems to have been the most common type, bearing a bearded obverse portrait of Zeus, and the Ptolemaic eagle on thunderbolt emblem on the reverse.
Ptolemy IV died under uncertain circumstances in 204. His death was concealed until court officials murdered Arsinoe III so that they could control his heir, who was just five years old.
Ptolemy V Epiphanes (204 – 180 BCE)
Ptolemy V, known by the epithet “Epiphanes” (“Manifestation of Divinity”) was formally crowned as king at the age of 12 in 197 BCE. He is famous because a royal decree in his name, inscribed on a broken stone slab, was accidentally discovered by Napoleon’s troops digging a trench in 1799 near the village of Rashid (“Rosetta”) at one of the mouths of the Nile. The fragmentary inscription, in Greek and two forms of ancient Egyptian, enabled scholars to begin to decipher hieroglyphic writing.
A youthful portrait of Ptolemy V appears on rare gold octodrachms. He wears a spiky “radiate” crown and carries a spear over his shoulder. On the reverse, a symbolic cornucopia (“horn of plenty”) is also ornamented with a radiate crown between two stars, which probably refer to comets that were observed in 210 when he was born, an in 204 when he fell heir to the throne.
Ptolemy V also put his own image on silver tetradrachms, breaking with the dynastic tradition of endlessly repeating this denomination with the standardized portrait of the founder, Ptolemy I. During this reign, Syria, and Palestine were lost to the Seleucids under Antiochus III, but in the peace agreement, Antiochus gave his daughter Cleopatra I in a diplomatic marriage to Ptolemy V.
Recalling the past glory of Alexander the Great, bronze obols of Ptolemy V bear an idealized image of the conqueror of India wearing the symbolic elephant head-dress. A beautifully struck example of this type brought $625 in a 2009 auction. The reverse bears the emblematic eagle in a pose that will be familiar to collectors of classic American coins; it’s a close match for the eagle on the reverse of our Walking Liberty half dollar (1917 – 1947).
Devoted to hunting and athletic competitions, Ptolemy V fell victim to palace intrigue in 180, probably poisoned at the age of 29. His widow took power as regent for their son.
Ptolemy VI Philometor (180 – 145 BCE)
Like his father, Ptolemy VI came to the throne as a child, just five years old. He is known by the epithet “Philometor” (“Beloved of His Mother”). An extremely rare gold octadrachm bears portraits of the young king and his mother. He strikingly resembles his father, with a pointed chin and long, straight nose. The portrait of the queen mother seems to be deliberately modeled after the image of Arsinoe II, powerful wife, and sister of Ptolemy II. The only example of this coin that I could find is in the British Musem (CM 1978,1021.1).
Most of the silver tetradrachms issued under Ptolemy VI bear the familiar and increasingly idealized portrait of Ptolemy I, with the eagle-on-thunderbolt reverse, usually very crudely executed. A high-grade example bought over $1,500 in a recent auction.
Ptolemy VI married his sister, Cleopatra II, in 173 BCE. They had at least four children.
“…one of the most attractive characters that ever reigned over Egypt. His was a most gentle and forgiving nature. Polybius says – and Polybius was in a position to know very well – that Ptolemy Philometor combined with his goodness and kindliness a presence of mind and high courage in perilous crisis and on the battlefield (Newell, 90).”
For much of his reign, he was engaged in complex power struggles with his wife and his brother, the future Ptolemy VIII. In 145 BCE, in a battle against the Seleucids for control of Syria, he fell from his horse and fractured his skull, dying a few days later. At least that’s one version of the story; he may have been assassinated. His young son, Ptolemy VII, reigned with his mother as regent for a few months until the child was murdered by his uncle. The Ptolemaic Game of Thrones was played by brutal rules.
Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II “Physcon” (145 – 116 BCE)
Ptolemy VIII was officially known by the epithet “Euergetes II” (“Benefactor”) but Greeks and Romans used the nickname Physcon (“Pot Belly”). His weak portrait seems to illustrate the effect of generations of inbreeding, and appears on a rare silver didrachm struck at Paphos in Cyprus.
Ptolemy VIII was a stark contrast to his brother:
“His was a savage, vindictive, unscrupulous nature and he maintained his sway over Egypt for 30 odd years by banishments, confiscations of property, executions, and massacres … The only known portrait that we possess of this monstrosity is to be found on some extremely rare didrachms … The die cutter must surely have seen the king in person for he gives us a most convincing portrayal of Euergetes II with bloated cheeks, protruding eyes and flaring nostril… (Newell, 90)“
Even for a Ptolemy, this reign was… complicated. From 169 to 164 there was an uneasy joint reign with his siblings Ptolemy VI and Cleopatra II. When Ptolemy VI failed to assassinate him, number eight fled to Rome, where he lived in exile running up huge debts. When his brother died in 145, he returned to Egypt, married his sister and purged everyone who had ever offended him. He also married his own daughter, Cleopatra III, who bore him a daughter, Tryphaena, who was married off to the Seleucid king Antiochus VIII in 124 BCE. To the great relief of Egyptians, Pot Belly finally died in 116 BCE, leaving the kingdom to Cleopatra III and “whichever of her sons she preferred.”
The common bronze coinage of Pot Belly’s brief joint reign with his brother bears two eagles side by side on the reverse, a design once used on the large bronzes of Ptolemy II and that would be frequently repeated in the years to come.
The stage was set for another round of civil wars, in which Rome would be the primary winner.
* * *
 CNG Triton XIII, 5 January 2010, Lot 239.
 Künker Auction 262, 13 March 2015, Lot 7348. Realized 48,000 euro against an estimate of 10,000.
 CNG Electronic Auction 282, 11 July 2012, Lot 123. Realized $340.
 Numismatica Ars Classica Auction 52, 7 October 2009, Lot 198. Realized $87,125.
 CNG Triton XII, 6 January 2009, Lot 390. Realized $4,250.
 Ira & Larry Goldberg Auction 104, 12 June 2018, Lot 3206. Realized $1,550.
 Gerhard Hirsch, Auction 245, 22 September 2011, Lot 4146. Realized $1,751.
 CNG electronic Auction 422, 13 June 2018, Lot 318. Realized $190.
Berk, Harlan J. 100 Greatest Ancient Coins. Atlanta (2008)
Faucher, Thomas and Catharine Lorber. “Bronze Coinage of Ptolemaic Egypt in the Second Century BC”, American Journal of Numismatics 22. (2011)
Fletcher, Joann. The Story of Egypt: The Civilization that Shaped the World. New York (2016)
Hazzard, Richard A. Ptolemaic Coins: An Introduction for Collectors. Toronto (1995)
Landvatter, Thomas. “The Serapis and Isis Coinage of Ptolemy IV”, American Journal of Numismatics 24. (2012)
Lorber, Catharine C. Coins of the Ptolemaic Empire: Part I, Ptolemy I through Ptolemy IV (2 volumes). New York (2018)
Newell, Edward. Royal Greek Portrait Coins. New York (1937)
Pollard, Justin and Howard Reid. The Rise and Fall of Alexandria: Birthplace of the Modern Mind. New York (2006)
Svoronos, Ioannis. Ta nomísmata tou krátous tōn Ptolemaíōn (4 volumes, in Greek, “Coinage of the Ptolemaic Rulers”). Athens (1904-08)
Wilkinson, Toby. The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt. New York (2010)