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The purpose of this web page is to list and discuss some of the aspects of Ptolemaic bronze coinage that seem to be mysterious; questions that remain open and particularly interesting to collectors. I plan to add discussion to this page from time to time. The views expressed here are my opinions, based as well as I can on scholarly reference books and modern published literature. This page is intended to be continuously 'in progress'.

The Two Eagles Question - Why do some Ptolemaic bronzes have two eagles on the reverse?
Common Types - What are the most common Ptolemaic bronzes?

Why do some Ptolemaic bronzes have two eagles on the reverse?

ANSWER 1: One popular answer proposed by some folks is that the two eagle reverses always mean there was some kind of 'joint-rule' or 'co-regency'. Some coins, esp. from the reign of Ptolemy VI, that have two eagles are almost always said to be from the 'joint rule' of Ptolemy VI and VIII. In other words, some folks believe that two eagles *always* symbolize two rulers jointly running the Ptolemaic empire and that the coins specificallly show that they were issued jointly by two rulers. This 'joint-rule rule' (that *all* depictions of two eagles indicate 'joint rule') has been proposed and discussed in some detail on the Ptolemaic.Net web site:
Presenation of the 'Joint-Rule' Hypothesis
There are some happy coincidences that lend support to some aspects of the 'joint-rule' rule, but closer examination of the two-eagle phenomenon overall reveals some problems that are hard to integrate with this idea well enough to make it a general rule that explains all the two-eagle coin designs. The Ptolemies left us no documentation to explain the coin designs so it is often tempting to jump to simple conclusions about their meanings. We want to see patterns in these coins because they are so devilishly difficult to interpret. But we need to be cautious when faced with well-known aspects of the coins that greatly weaken overly general conclusions. Finding patterns is part of the puzzle-solving process but it may be too easy to see patterns where, upon additional reflection, none really exist. Please visit the above web site link to review the presentation of the 'joint-rule rule' and then consider the following issues that make it difficult to accept as an all-inclusive explanation of two-eagle coins (see Answer 2, below).

ANSWER 2: Two eagles may be an indication of a coin's denomination on some issues but might indicate 'joint rule' on some others. Here are some of the significant problems with the 'joint-rule rule' that weaken its generality. In summary, we may be best off trying to understand the 'two-eagle' types in relation to other denominations of congruent issue series at different times rather than to oversimplify the meaning into one general rule applying to the whole history of Ptolemaic bronze coinage. While the Ptolemaic.Net analysis may indeed tie some issues of two-eagle coins to periods of 'joint-rule' (which were many), the inversion of the logic to infer that all two-eagle coins must be illustrations of 'joint-rule' is unconvincing.

A. Most two-eagle coins are the largest coins of series that include smaller coins with only one eagle. You can easily see this on the 'denomination series' page which shows groups of coins in size/weight series that are members of a single 'issue'. For example, the post-reform Ptolemy II coinage of Alexandria, Tyre, and Sidon share a great deal of congruence of several sizes and designs, but only the largest coin in each series has two eagles. If there were a 'joint-rule' we would seemingly expect that *all* the coins of these series would have two eagles, not just the largest one. In this case, the largest coin with two eagles in no way convincingly tells us anything about a 'joint-rule' because all the other coins that are part of the same issue have only a single eagle. What we do see is that each denomination has a particular type of reverse design and the two eagles on these is easier to understand as merely an indication of the coin's size or value or some other interpretation. For example we don't know why some of the coins of these issues have an open-wing eagle and others have a closed-wing eagle. The precise meaning of the reverse designs is an open question. If the coins were meant to indicate a 'joint-rule' then it is quite surprising that most of the coin denominations have no such indication at all.

There may very well have been a short period of time during which Ptolemy II 'jointly ruled' with his (somewhat mysterious) half-brother (aka 'Ptolemy The Son', who was likely in charge of Ptolemaic possessions in Asia Minor in the 260s BC) but we have no historical record that tells us that any coins were made to tell people that two rulers were in charge. Further weakening the association of these two-eagle coins with a 'joint-rule' hypothesis is that the silver and gold coins of this time (the coins of high value compared to bronzes) do not depict two eagles, either.

IOW, for these series it is hard to accept that a 'joint-rule' rule in any way explains the depiction of two eagles on a single denomination of bronzes.

There are other examples of multi-denomination series for which the only two-eagle coin is the largest of the group (see the 'denomination series' page of

B. There are periods for which historians tell us there was a 'joint-rule' for which we have no apparent coins with any two eagle designs at all. For example, Holbl and Manning (recent reference books on Ptolemaic history) both tell us that Ptolemy I and II were co-rulers during the last two years of the life of Ptolemy I (ca. 285-283 BC) prior to Ptolemy II becoming the sole ruler after his father's death. We don't see any two-eagle coins from this time at all.

C. There are some large (~AE36, ~40gm) two-eagle coins that were issued late in the reign of Ptolemy IV or early in the reign of Ptolemy V. Once again, they are only the largest coins of their time (with smaller contemporary issues having single eagles) and don't seem to relate in any simple way to a 'joint-rule'. See the Huston and Lorber paper on the Coinex hoard (link available on Some of these coins are unusual in that the Ammon horn appears at the top of the head or emerging from the forehead, but the eagle legs are bare and these types were well-dated (in the paper cited) to the time period during which we don't have any easy connection to a 'joint-rule'. Some had previously grouped these with the overall issue of Svoronos 1423 but they do appear to be different, earlier, types and need their own catalog numbers reflecting their different times of issue and design properties. Ptolemaic.Net has a different analysis for the dating of the Coinex Hoard that will be addressed below in a separate discussion. There is good reason to believe the Ptolemaic.Net dating of the Coinex Hoard is mistaken.

D. The one series for which the two-eagle reverse is found on a multi-denomination series of related coins is the so-called 'joint-rule' series of Ptolemy VI (jointly ruling with Ptolemy VIII). These are the common issues of Svoronos 1423, 1424, 1425, 1425, etc. They *all* have two eagles on the reverse and this sets them apart from other examples of issues where only the largest size has the two-eagle reverse. This is the best candidate for a group to which a joint-rule explanation of the design might be appropriate. But Holbl tells us that this time period might actually may best be desdribed as 'triune rule' with Ptolemy VI, VIII, and Cleopatra II (their sister) all ruling together. Yet we don't see *any* coins with *three* eagles that are part of this well-known series of mostly common coins.

E. The late 2nd C. BC issues of Cyprus which have a number of two-eagle types (with a variety of symbols to the left) may also be problematic in that some of the coins share symbols between both two-eagle and one-eagle design types. The existence of both large and small sizes with both reverse types makes these coins the most difficult to analyze or synthesize into a consistent meaning of the number of eagles on the designs. They may very well have been issued in periods of 'joint-rule' but it isn't clear why there is once again no consistency of two-eagle designs across all the denominations. The meaning of two-eagles on some of these coins is open to interpretation, but we do note that in each case the largest coin always has two eagles.

In summary, while some two-eagle coins do appear to have been made during times of 'joint-rule' it is very difficult to turn this association inside-out and use the two-eagle design to infer an illustration of joint rule for all the two-eagle types any more than we can interpret all the coins with Zeus Ammon as having a particular meaning (compared to Laureate Zeus, for example). The Ptolemaic Bronze coinage is best interpreted by comparing the coins to one another in related issue series and it is probably wise to resist the temptation to jump to 'one size fits all' conclusions about the meanings of the designs. There simply is no rule that convincingly relates the number of eagles on a particular type of coin to any particular combination or pairing of rulers.

What are the most common types of Ptolemaic bronzes?

This is an important question especially for beginning collectors who may wish to start their collections with nice coins that they can expect to purchase at moderate prices. If we examine the specimen counts in reference books we can make some inferences about the answer to this question. Svoronos online (see the link at is perhaps the best source of the basic data but it's tedious to page through it on the net and figure out the counts. I did just that a few years ago to build a database for easy access to all the information in that online resource so I can give some answers fairly quickly. Svoronos is very helpful because, unlike museum collections that often have one or two of a particular type, Svoronos counted all the pieces he could find in many museums and private collections.

Svoronos lists about 650 Ptolemaic bronze types and the specimen counts range for each type from as few as 1 specimen observed to as many as over 100. In a few cases there is no count listed. So let's have a look at the TOP TEN commonest types listed by Svoronos and then some additional information based on hoards and recent market offerings that have appeared long since Svoronos reported his data.

Svoronos 1424 - 126
Svoronos 974 - 82
Svoronos 1384 - 60
Svoronos 1871 - 50
Svoronos 964 - 48
Svoronos 965 - 47
Svoronos 610 - 46
Svoronos 1238 - 44
Svoronos 1718 - 42
Svoronos 1872 - 42

Svoronos 1424 - This is a medium bronze (AE34, ca 28-36gm) of Ptolemy VI with Zeus Ammon obverse and two eagles on the reverse with a double-cornucopia at the left of the eagles and no other control marks. In the marketplace, however, we find far fewer of these fairly large two-eagle bronzes compared to the next smaller size (Sv. 1425, AE25-28, ca. 20-24gm) which are actually available to collectors in very large numbers though Svoronos listed only 7 specimens. The 1424 type looks almost identical to its smaller relatives (1425 and 1426) which seem very plentiful today for collectors and the latter are often $20-100 while the larger, heavier 1424 is seldom available at all and more expensive.

Svoronos 974 - A fairly large bronze (AE40, ca 45gm) of Ptolemy III (listed in some references as Ptolemy IV) with Zeus Ammon obverse and an eagle standing with its head turned back toward a cornucopia protruding from its right shoulder and a letter E (or variation of E) in the eagle's legs. In today's market it appears this may be the most common of all Ptolemaic bronzes and they are always available on Ebay and from dealers in plentiful quantities. These make a great starter coin for any collector because they are large and impressive and often very low priced even for nice pieces. As with any Ptolemaic bronze, exceptional specimens command a substantial premium but nice examples can easily be found for $50-100. I believe this is actually the most common Ptolemaic bronze because some hoards that appeared in recent years contain hundreds of these and some groups that appear on the market contain up to 80% of this one type. The actual count of these coins likely dwarfs any other, perhaps thousands of pieces are available and in collections. These are also interesting because there are closely related types that look very similar but which have different letters in the eagle's legs (LAMDA, 'none', ALPHA, C, etc.) that are somewhat more scarce but appear to have been made about the same time. Among these alternatives the LAMDA is the most easily found and the 'no letter' type next, with the C scarce and the ALPHA type noted in only a few known specimens.

Svoronos 1384 - Another coin of Ptolemy VI (AE28, ca 15-19gm) with the Isis head on the obverse and and open-winged eagle on the reverse and a PI-ALPHA combination monogram at the left of the eagle. In the market this type is somewhat more scarce than the preceding types but it does count among the more common types and easily found in medium to better grades for $75-300. Superb examples are rare and expensive ($500+).

Svoronos 1871 - Cleopatra VII (AE28, ca 18gm) with the head of Cleopatra VII on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse with the letter PI to the right of the eagle. The reverse actually has the queen's name: KLEOPATRAS. This is an interesting case because it is very common in the collections cited by Svoronos but fairly scarce in the market and also very expensive for collectors even in poor condition. The fame and popularity of the legendary Queen Cleopatra makes this coin much more expensive than its scarcity warrants - the demand is always high for coins that portray the real Queen Cleopatra. This type does appear for sale fairly often and any collector can obtain one but even in fair (worn nearly smooth or corroded or damaged) condition the prices tend to start at around $200-300 and in excellent condition reach into the $5000 range.

Svoronos 964 - Ptolemy III (AE42, ca 72gm) with Zeus Ammon and the usual eagle reverse with the CHI-RHO monogram in the eagle's legs. This is often a very beautifully rendered coin made with great care (smoothly rounded edges, very round, and sharply struck). This type is one of the two largest sizes of Ptolemaic bronzes - among a number of others of Ptolemy II, III, and IV. The price of large Ptolemaic bronzes has risen in recent years so these coins aren't necessarily low but nice examples are available easily for collectors because some recent hoards had many specimens. The finest examples are easily over $1000 but nice pieces range from $300 - $500.

Svoronos 965 - Ptolemy III (AE36, ca 36gm) with Zeus Ammon and the usual eagle reverse with the CHI-RHO monogram in the eagle's legs. This is the half-size of Sv964. The prices are lower than for the larger Sv. 965 and nice examples are available easily for collectors because some recent hoards had many specimens. The finest examples are easily over $500 but good coins are available and range from $100 - $300. Given the more recent developments since Svoronos counted specimens this type and Sv. 964 probably don't range among the top ten of common types any more.

I'll be adding comments on the other types listed and some that today are probably even more common than Svoronos was able to discern.

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