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Sibling Lovers: Four Royal Portraits on Popular Ancient Gold Coin from MA-Shops

MA-Shops Ptolemaic Kingdom NGC

By CoinWeek ….

The Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt was ruled by a dynasty of Hellenistic Greeks from around to 305 BCE until the defeat of Queen Cleopatra by Rome in 31 BCE. It was founded by Ptolemy I Soter, one of the generals of legendary Macedonian king (and founder of Hellenistic Civilization) Alexander the Great, after the death of Alexander in 323 BCE and the subsequent breakup of his empire.

It was Alexander’s dream to establish an eternal empire that united the known world, and to help achieve this one tactic of the conquering Greeks was to adopt many of the local customs and culture of the lands they came to control. And while the larger empire did not survive its founder’s death, this “reverse colonization” made the resulting smaller kingdoms and empires much more resilient.

Ptolemy I took up the title of “pharaoh”; his son Ptolemy II took things a little further.

Both father and son were competent rulers. The cultured Ptolemy II (ruled 283-246 BCE) is especially well-remembered as the patron of the famous Library of Alexandria in the dynasty’s capital city (historians disagree as to whether he founded the Library or his father did). But he is just as likely known by the nickname Philadelphus, which means “Sibling-loving”. He was given this rather scandalous name after marrying his own sister, Arsinoe II, in the custom of the Egyptian pharaohs.

Gold Mnaieion of Ptolemy and Arsinoe

The present coin, being offered by Palmyra Heritage on MA-Shops.com, is a gold octodrachm or mnaieion featuring not one, not two, but four individual portraits of members of the royal family. King Ptolemy II and his second wife, his full-sister Arsinoe II, are portrayed on the obverse in what is known in numismatics as a “jugate” portrait. The term comes the Latin word juga, which means “yoke”; a jugate portrait then appears as though two or more individuals are yoked together, facing the same direction. The king’s parents, Ptolemy I and his wife Berenice I, are portrayed in jugate on the reverse.

The inscriptions are also interesting. Above Ptolemy and Arsinoe on the obverse is the Greek phrase ADELPHON (AΔEΛΦΩN), which is another way to say “Sibling lovers”. So as shocked as Macedonian and Greek society might have been, the coin clearly demonstrates the different customs and taboos of Egyptian culture. Above Ptolemy I and Berenice on the reverse is the word THEON (ΘEΩN), which means “God” or “Divine”.

The double jugate portraits, the commemoration and outright deification of the previous royal couple, and even the fact that the coin is made of almost 28 grams of pure gold convey a political message of strength, stability and prosperity and express the vitality of a kingdom on the rise. And as would be expected of a patron of culture such as Ptolemy II, the coins of the Ptolemaic Kingdom are some of the most beautiful of the Hellenistic world. These are the reasons why the gold mnaieion is a perennial favorite of collectors of ancient coins.

By the way, there are no coins, gold or otherwise, that depict the children of Ptolemy and Arsinoe. The royal couple remained childless for the duration of their marriage.

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About MA-Shops

MA-Shops small sealMA-Shops.com is an internet marketplace headquartered in Europe. MA-Shops has assembled a network of reputable coin dealers – both large and small – onto one, easy-to-use platform to sell coins, paper currency, medals, military orders and stamps directly to the collector. Founded by German engineer Joachim Schwiening in 2005, MA-Shops is now the leading ”online collector mall” worldwide. Browsing through the site quickly reveals how wide and variegated the selection from MA-Shops and its associated dealers really is. In recent months, Schwiening and MA-Shops have made a concerted push into the American market.

Coinweek is the top independent online media source for rare coin and currency news, with analysis and information contributed by leading experts across the numismatic spectrum.

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