Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich   |   Auction 110   |   24 September 2018 Sort by Lot-NumberSort by Estimate
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Lot 94

Estimate: 40'000 CHF   |   Starting price: 32'000 CHF Price realized: 52'500 CHF
Ptolemy III Euergetes, 246 – 222. In the name of Berenice II. Octodrachm, Ephesus after 241, AV 27.87 g. Diademed and veiled bust of Berenice II r. Rev. ΒΕΡΕΝΙΚΗΣ – ΒΑΣΙΛΙΣΣHΣ Cornucopiae filled with fruit and bound with fillet; in l. field, bee. BMC 1. Svoronos 899 and pl. XXVI, 23 (these dies). Mørkholm, EHC 313 (these dies).
Extremely rare, less than ten specimens known and in unusually
fine condition for the issue. Extremely fine
Ex NAC sale 46, 2008, 307.
Berenice II was the daughter of Magas, a Ptolemaic governor of Cyrenaica who assumed the royal title and claimed independence from the Ptolemaic kingdom in 276 B.C. As part of a rapprochement between Magas and his former master, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, in 250 B.C. the king of Cyrene agreed to marry Berenice to Ptolemy III, the son and designated successor of Ptolemy II, thereby bringing Cyrenaica back into the Ptolemaic fold. This arrangement briefly fell through when Magas died and his widow, Apama, opposed the restoration of Cyrenaica to the orbit of Egypt. As a daughter of the Seleucid king, Antiochus I Soter, Apama was no friend of the Ptolemaic dynasty and quickly replaced Ptolemy III with the Macedonian prince, Demetrios the Fair, as the husband for Berenice. However, when it was revealed that Demetrios was carrying on an affair with Apama, Berenice ordered his assassination. Once freed of her philandering husband, she fulfilled her father’s original agreement and married Ptolemy III in 249 B.C. Berenice II was a famously devoted wife to her husband, who ascended the throne as Ptolemy III Euergetes in 246 B.C. Not long after his accession, Ptolemy III became embroiled in the Laodicean War (246-241 B.C.). This conflict was ignited when the Seleucid king, Antiochos II Theos, died, leaving behind his young wife (Ptolemy’s sister—also named Berenice) and her five-year-old son at Antioch. Alone in the Syrian capital, the two were easily assassinated by agents of Laodike, a divorced wife of Antiochos II, on behalf of her adult son, Seleucos II. Unable to permit the murder of his relatives to go unavenged, Ptolemy III immediately embarked upon a series of punitive campaigns that detached large swathes of territory in Syria, Asia Minor, and Thrace from the Seleucid Empire and made inroads as far inland as Babylonia. While Ptolemy III was off at war, Berenice II vowed to dedicate a lock of her hair (known in Latin as the coma Berenices) to Aphrodite if the goddess protected her husband and brought him back to Egypt. After his safe return, she fulfilled her vow, but on the next day her hair had disappeared from the temple. It was soon reported by the Ptolemaic court astronomer, Konon of Samos, and the poet, Kallimachos, that the lock of Berenice II was carried into the heavens by Aphrodite, who established it as a celestial memorial of the Ptolemaic queen’s act of devotion. Kallimachos’ original Greek poem describing these miraculous events is now lost, but a Latin translation by Catullus still survives. The important role of Berenice II as Ptolemaic queen is reflected in this gold mnaieion (octadrachm) featuring her veiled portrait on the obverse and a cornucopia on the reverse. The portrait takes its basic iconographic cues from earlier mnaieia of Ptolemy II featuring his sister-wife, Arsinöe II, but here Berenice is clearly represented as a mortal queen, wearing only a diadem below her veil. The portraits of Arsinöe II regularly cast her in a divine role through the addition of the sceptre and stephane of Aphrodite and the horn of the Egyptian god Khnum. Likewise, while the mnaieia depicting Arsinöe II include two cornucopiae on the reverse, that of Berenice has only one, but its contents are identical to those of Arsinöe’s. This particular mnaieon is especially remarkable and rare because it was not struck at Alexandria, but rather at the city of Ephesos, probably around 245 B.C. This Ionian city, which had been absorbed into the Seleucid Empire by Antiochos II, fell to Ptolemy III early in the Laodicean War and the style of this coin suggests that it was produced before Ephesos had received official portraits of Berenice II. This view is supported by the idealized features of Berenice II, which differ from those of her Alexandrian portrait, and the reuse of Arsinöe’s cornucopiae (it was normal Ptolemaic practice for queens to be distinguishable by the contents of their associated cornucopiae).

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