Octodracma de Berenice II de Egipto, anverso y reverso

Octadrachm of Berenice II of Egypt, in the name of Arsinoe II

Inv. 2016/31/1

Gold
Berytos (present-day Beirut, Lebanon)
246-221 BCE

 

This striking gold coin was issued in the name of Arsinoe II of Egypt, in one of the most famous and spectacular series of the ancient world. However, the face is that of a different queen: Berenice II, wife of Ptolemy III.

The originally issued Arsinoe coins were minted by Ptolemy II, her husband, after her death c. 270 BCE, in gold and silver, with her portrait in veil and tiara, and on the reverse, a double cornucopia bound with a royal diadem, transmitting the message that the queen, and by extension the governing dynasty, was a source of wealth and life. The kingdom of Egypt issued coins with the image and name of Arsinoe for decades after her death, a kind of iconographic longevity which can be found throughouthistory in coins of great commercial, popular, and political prestige. This portrait of Arsinoe spread so widely in the Mediterranean world that it became the model of reference for depictions of women in powerful positions.

In this coin, very probably issued in the early years of her reign, Berenice is shown with the standardised details of the Arsinoe image, but her face, while idealised, is easily identifiable. She would later appear on coins under her own name and title, “Queen Berenice”, so this series can be interpreted as an intermediate step in a transition process, a strategy to assert her authority by imbuing her with the prestige of the late queen.

Berenice was not merely the consort of Ptolemy III but was a queen with effective power in Egypt, as Arsinoe had been; their coinage is an important historical document on the public image of women rulers in the ancient world.