Coinage of the Ptolemaic Kingdom

The Ptolemaic Kingdom was a Hellenistic kingdom based in ancient Egypt. The Kingdom’s ruling began with Ptolemy I Soter after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and ended with the death of Cleopatra and the Roman conquest in 30 BC.

Hieroglyphic of Ptolemaic Royalty

Coinage of the Ptolemaic Kingdom was in use during the last dynasty of Egypt and, briefly, during Roman rule of Egypt. Ptolemaic coinage was struck in Phoenician weight, also known as Ptolemaic weight (about 14,20 grams). This standard, which was not used elsewhere in the Hellenistic world, was smaller than the most common Attic weight. Consequently, Ptolemaic coins are smaller than other Hellenistic coinage. In terms of art, the coins, which were made of silver, followed the example set by contemporary Greek currencies, with dynastic figures being typically portrayed. The Ptolemaic coin making process often resulted in a central depression, similar to what can be found on Seleucid coinage.

The Ptolemaic Kingdom was the first dynasty to introduce coinage to Egypt. The first Ptolemaic mint was in Memphis and was later moved to Alexandria. The Ptolemaic Kingdom flourished largely due to their success in monetizing the Egyptian society. Before the Ptolemaic period, metals such as copper, and grain, were used as mediums of exchange. Ptolemaic rule brought, in addition to the coinage, banks and tax farming to the country.

For most of its history, the kingdom vigorously enforced a policy of a single currency, confiscating foreign coins and forcing its territories to adopt Ptolemaic coinage. Parallels between Athens and the Ptolemaic Kingdom can be drawn as Athens attempted to introduce a sole currency in its empire. In the rare cases when these territories were allowed their own currency, such as the Jewish community in Palestine, they still had to observe the Ptolemaic weight. These policies and increasing difficulty to obtain silver, caused monetary isolation of the Ptolemaic coinage.

Ptolemaic territories in 200 BC

During the reign of Ptolemy I Soter, the founder of the kingdom, diverse local currencies were allowed to exist. They may even have been encouraged. The exact date of elimination of non-Ptolemaic coinage varies by region. In Egypt and Syria, Ptolemy I discontinued local coinage, which had Alexander the Great’s image struck in them, after feeling secure in power. Such coinage with Alexander on them were very common in the successor states of the Macedonian Empire. Cypriot coinage was eliminated when the local monarchies ceased to exist. In Cyrene it took even longer to eliminate municipal coinage. In Crete the local currency was never suppressed. Uniformity of the currency was sought flexibly, yet opportunistically.


Ptolemy V Epiphanes’ bronze coin.
Ptolemy II Philadelphus and his sister-wife Arsinoe II

Artistically, Ptolemaic coinage closely followed contemporary Greek currencies. A commonplace symbol of the Ptolemaic dynasty was an eagle standing on a thunderbolt, first adopted by Ptolemy I Soter. The more peculiar Ptolemaic coinage included so-called “dynastic issues”. This rare coin featured Ptolemy II Philadelphus who married his sister Arsinoe II; Egyptian rulers had traditionally married their sisters to signify a connection to sacred union between the deities Osiris and Isis. A medal-like coin with one side portraying Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II, and the other side portraying Ptolemy I and Berenice I was struck after the death of Arsinoe II.

Cyprus had many important mints, and the island struck large amounts of Ptolemaic coinage from 200 BC to 80 BC. Cyprus was also richer in silver than Egypt. Most of the coinage from second century BC are easily identifiable and datable because they include abbreviations for mints and dates for both gold and silver coinage. Mints from this period include Salamis (abbr. ΣA), Kition (abbr. KI) and Paphos (abbr. Π, and later as ΠA).

After the demise of the Ptolemaic Kingdom, and annexation into the growing Roman Empire, silver coinage struck by the Ptolemies still continued to circulate. The Ptolemaic silver coinage mostly disappeared by the time of Emperor Nero. It is assumed that by that time, in the first half of the first century, the Ptolemaic silver coinage was probably recycled into a new currency, Roman tetradrachms, struck at mints managed by the Romans. Roman Egypt remained monetarily as a closed system, like it had been under Ptolemaic dynasty. Roman denarii and aurei did not circulate in provincial Egypt.

Ancient Egyptian Alien Coins

As our thirteen days of Halloween continues we explore the theory that a set of ancient Egyptian coins could be proof that an alien race visited Earth thousands of years ago. A group of people who worked on the renovation of a house in southern Egypt found a number of very rare coins in 2016. One coin seems to depict a spaceship hovering above the ground and another seems to show the head of an extraterrestrial being, with huge hollow eyes, a bald head and thin cheeks.

nintchdbpict000274684660.jpgWhile the original renovation site had no further information or pictures, many more photos of the coins include a number of them carved with OPPORTUNUS ADEST Latin for “it’s here in due time” around the edge and the image of various objects resembling spacecrafts in the middle. A number is on the lower edge that looks like ‘I656’ which is a mash-up of Roman and Arabic numerals.

Many people’s first impressions were that these were real coins or medallions extensively tooled in order to turn the portrait of a ruler or deity into the likeness of an alien – like an elaborate hobo nickel. A hobo nickel is an American practice dating back to the mid-1700s of altering the images on what were then softer metal coins. But why would anyone create the coin, maybe as a hoax? Maybe as a deliberate forgery to deceive gullible collectors? Could it have been the creation of UFO enthusiasts, attempting to fabricate evidence for “Ancient Astronaut” theories?

nintchdbpict000274684650Many theorists believe the coins to be real though and argue they are just one piece of the puzzle in a series of evidence of extraterrestrial life in ancient Egypt. Many have argued for decades that ancestors in Egypt were physically unable to build the incredible Pyramids of Giza. They suggest that advanced lifeforms from space passed on their knowledge or created the monuments before civilizations emerged. The theorists then say because two diagonal lines extend from the pyramids on either side of the Nile River delta, the early Egyptians could not have known this when building them:

“How could the Egyptians possibly have built their pyramid facing the exact magnetic North Pole without even having a compass? Those aliens, abundant in their knowledge and drowning in technology, came along and using their compasses, they landed on earth and found the actual magnetic north and south poles. Then they built the pyramids.”

Another piece of proof from theorist comes from the Egyptians practice of artificially

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A physiologically manipulated Paracas skull

lengthening the skulls of their children. Some ancient astronaut proponents propose that this was done to emulate extraterrestrial visitors, whom they saw as gods. Among the ancient rulers depicted with elongated skulls are pharaoh Akhenaten and Nefertiti. It has been pointed out that the Grey aliens, as described by many alien abductees, have similarly shaped heads.

Among other ‘proofs’ of ancient alien life a final often cited piece of evidence is helicopter hieroglyphs. These Egyptian hieroglyph carvings were found in the Temple of Seti I at Abydos. The so-called “Helicopter hieroglyphs” are argued to depict flying aircrafts such as ones we would imagine aliens would use.

Hieroglif_z_Abydos

So what are your thoughts? Do these coins just further proves extraterrestrial life in ancient Egypt? Or are they a hoax? Or a forgery? We will leave that conclusion up to you! But you can’t deny the coins depict a creepy imagery of the alien rulers that may or may not have once ruled Egypt as gods.

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This post is apart of our 13 days of Halloween series. Checkout our other spooky posts:

  1. Washington Ghost Stories
  2. Out of Place Artifacts
  3. Henry Rathbone
  4. Charon and the Journey to Hades
  5. Post-Mortem Photography
  6. All Hallows Eve Divination Games
  7. Saved By The Bell and other Idioms
  8. Halloween Coins
  9. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
  10. Coins Connecting You to the Spirit World
  11. Ancient Egyptian Alien Coins
  12. Superstitions Around the World
  13. A Brief History of Halloween

How Coins Preserved the Memories of an Empire

 

 

TenCommand_055Pyxurz.jpgFans of classic films may remember the dramatic moment in Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments,” when the old pharaoh, Sethi, exiles Moses and commands that his name be stricken from all monuments across the kingdom. “Let the name of Moses be stricken from every book and tablet, stricken from all pylons and obelisks, stricken from every monument of Egypt. Let the name of Moses be unheard and unspoken, erased from the memory of men for all time.” While this kind of extreme erasure was rare, it was practiced by many ancient cultures. Modern historians have termed the practice “damnatio memoriae.” While statues and memorials were the usual targets for defacement, the practice sometimes extended even to coins bearing the name or image of the person to be removed from memory.

 

In ancient Egypt, several controversial rulers, including religious reformer Akhenaten and female pharaoh Hatshepsut, were removed from memorials and sculptures after their deaths. The practice reached a peak in Roman culture, especially during the Imperial era.

 

 

It’s difficult to know who actually carried out the defacements; officially, the Roman Senate would make a pronouncement condemning an emperor or other individual. However, these actions were usually undertaken when a new emperor arose by acclamation or military support. Outside of the main areas of Roman culture, such defacement may have been carried out by soldiers or other officials. In a few reported instances, crowds of civilians swarmed the street to tear down statues of particularly despised rulers.

 

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Defaced coin of Nero. Photo copyright Trustees of the British Museum

The size of the Empire, in fact, is why few coins suffered such treatment, though they were one of the primary symbols of any given emperor. One of the things that binds a nation and culture together is a common currency that can be relied upon across the nation. Defacing coins could lead to questions about their legitimacy as currency, causing coin shortages and economic crises. The simplest answer was for the new emperor to issue new coins with his image as quickly as possible, and put them into circulation across the empire, primarily via payments to the Roman legions.

 

In the rare cases when coins were defaced, it was usually on the obverse of the coin, where the portrait and name of the emperor were found. However, in a few extraordinary cases, the damage was done to the reverse of the coin.
Project Curator of Roman Provincial Coins at The British Museum’s Department of Coins and Medals, Dario Calomino, states, “Some coins struck in Emesa in Syria (modern Homs […] had the image of the altar of the local sun-god Elagabal defaced with an X. We do not know who did this and for what reason. This may have been a way in which opposition to this cult was expressed. But sometimes coins were also mutilated for ritual purposes; they were offered as a gift to a divinity in a sanctuary, and in order to do this they were previously de-monetised, i.e. marked and mutilated to signify that they were no longer official currency, but tokens of devotion.”

 

Defacement of coins did not always originate from Roman decree, though. In some Iron Age coin hoards from what is now Bulgaria, new Celtic designs have been minted over Hellenistic and Roman coins. These Celtic designs were produced in a time of intense battle between Roman and Celtic forces; the effort of minting over coins indicates a strong rejection of Roman culture in its entirety.

 

 

(ac)-Caligula_sester_10It’s impossible to know just how successful any efforts at damnatio memoriae were; completely successful erasure would be undetectable by historians. It’s likely that none were completely successful, given the difficulty of such an endeavor. Many contemporary historians wrote about the emperors who ruled during their time, and coins in particular give us long-lasting records. Even the despised Caligula, whose records underwent the most extensive erasure known, remains one of the best-known Roman emperors in history. Several Caligulan coins have had his name filed down or hammered out, yet remain recognizable.

 

Even the smallest and most ordinary coin can bear a historical record that thousands of intervening years cannot erase.