An enigmatic smile


“SELEUKID EMPIRE. Kleopatra Thea. As wife of Alexander I Balas, 152-145 BC. AV Stater (18.5mm, 8.54 g, 1h). Ptolemaïs (Ake) mint. Special marriage issue, 150 BC. Diademed and veiled bust right, wearing stephanos and single-pendant earring / BAΣIΛIΣΣHΣ KΛEOΠATPAΣ, filleted double cornucopia. SC 1840 (this coin referenced and illustrated); HGC 9, 871 (this coin illustrated); Athena Fund 69 = CSE 408 = A. Houghton, “The Double Portrait Coins of Alexander I Balas and Cleopatra Thea” in SNR 72 (1988), 1 (this coin). VF, a couple light marks, slightly flat at high point of reverse. Extremely rare, one of two published (SC one in Aleppo).  From the collection of Dr. Lawrence A. Adams. Ex Athena Fund (Part 1, Sotheby’s Zurich, 26 October 1993), lot 69; Numismatic Fine Arts XXVII (4 December 1991), lot 74; Arthur Houghton Collection (Numismatic Fine Arts XVIII, 31 March 1987), lot 355.”

I hate rare coins.  They make such troubling historical evidence.  Anyway.  No other portrait of Kleopatra Thea that I’ve seen really looks a thing like this one.  BUT that smile can help but make me think of the enigmatic Venus on that odd Sullan issue:


RRC 375

I got here because of intaglio with double cornucopiae and I wanted to assure myself of the strong Ptolemaic link to the type and think a little about its Roman use.

I wish I had any explanation for it on the uncia in Herennius’ series from c. 108 or 104 BCE (RRC 308).

C. Considius Paetus’ issue surely refers to Caesar’s recent African/Ptolemaic adventures/conquest and how that ties to his claim to universal dominion (RRC 465/8).

Crawford thinks Paetus is not otherwise known, but there is an old suggestion that he is the same as the Considius pardoned at Thapsus, based on Hirt. B. Afr. 89.

Addendum. 20 July 2018. There is a double cornucopia on a New Style Tetradrachm of Athens dated by Mattingly to 120/119 BCE.  Thompson 543e from IGCH 0289.  (and Thompson 543-555).




1 thought on “An enigmatic smile”

  1. Hmmm…one wonders if there is a distinction between the double cornucopiae (which is more clearly Ptolomaic) and the single cornucopia on the RR coins, but even then the Ptolomaic connection with Faustus Cornelius Sulla might be strained at best.

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