The Other Coin: Ptolemies

In addition to Macedonia, Alexander the Great's Empire after some jockeying among
his generals got divided into the two great empires of Egypt ruled by Ptolemy and
Asia Minor ruled by Seleucus. Besides warring with each other across the Holy
Land, so that the various rulers come into Biblical history, they set up quite
distinctive coinage.

Ptolemy I (323-283 BC) got Alexander's great city Alexandria, Alexander's body,
and became his first historian and creator of coinage explicitly bearing Alexander's
image. He first coined to the Attic standard of Greece, but then switched to a
Ptolemaic standard to force currency exchange for anyone wishing to do business
with Egypt. Cyprus was the principle mint, although Alexandria and other regional
mints came to the fore from time to time. The reverse of most Ptolemaic coins bear
the Lagid family eagle; two eagles if there were co-rulers. Portraits of kings, queens
and Zeus Ammon usually adorned the obverse.

Several later rulers placed the portrait of Ptolemy I on their coins, including
Cleopatra VII, the last of the ruling Ptolemies. Her portraits are available in silver in
bronze, although she looks nothing like Elizabeth Taylor, and evidently traded more
in brains than good looks. Copper coins range from the size of an aspirin to a almost
a hockey puck (96 grams). The silver tetradrachm, the size of a double thick half
dollar remained in good silver until devalued by Ptolemy XII (Cleopatra's father),
who bankrupted the country and inflated the currency, so that some of his
tetradrachms were as much as 90% copper. The coins are quite common and nice
pieces of history of the last rulers of Egypt.

Numismatically yours, David Elliott