Rare Coin of Mark Antony and Cleopatra Denarius

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Cleopatra and Marc Antony AR Denarius. Uncertain Eastern mint, autumn 34 BC. K.AEOHATPA BAC1AICHC BACIAEWN T…N, diademed and draped bust of Cleopatra right; at point of bust, prow right / ANTONUARMENIA’DEVICTA, bare head of Marc Antony right; Armenian tiara to left. Crawford, but cf. 543/1 for types of different style and legends; CR1 -; Sydenham -; RSC -; Kestner -; BMCRR East -; RBW -. 3.7lg. 20mm, 4h. Extremely Fine. Unique and unpublished; a coin of great numismatic importance.                                                                                     

This unexpected novum is a remarkable addition to the coinage of these most famous of lovers, and the late imperatorial period in general. Bearing more refined portraits of both Cleopatra and Antony, and more importantly an obverse legend in Greek and a reverse legend in Latin, it offers us new insights into the production of these iconic dual-portrait denarii. Bilingual coins were, although extremely uncommon, not unheard of by the late 1st century BC. Among the earliest are certain Italian coins that bear dual Oscan and Greek inscriptions; there are also numerous issues of formerly Punic-dominated cities, particularly in Spain, where bilingual inscriptions occur, sometimes on the same side as in the case of Bailo (SNG BM Spain 477-8); certain Alexander type issues at Tyre retain their Phoenician-character dating alongside the Greek legends.

The most conspicuously bilingual Greek coins are those of the late Greco- Baktrian and Indo-Greek kings, whose coinage frequently bears a Greek obverse inscription naming the king, and a Karosthi reverse legend. Even in more recent years, a denarius standard coinage had been issued by the Roman-allied king of Numidia, Juba 1, which bore a Latin obverse legend, and a neo-Punic reverse inscription. The precedent therefore certainly existed for such coins when they were considered politically expedient. While a certain number of the Antony-Cleopatra denarii feature the head of the Queen on the reverse die, the vast majority of surviving specimens have a Cleopatra obverse die, and an Antony reverse die.

Though these coins are commonly referred to as denarii of Antony and Cleopatra, it is more proper to refer to them as denarii of Cleopatra, for Antony. The Queen is depicted here with the prow of a galley at the point of her bust, symbolizing her importance to the naval building programme that would eventually see the combined Antonian Ptolemaic navies field 290 warships at Actium. Lamentably, the die was substantially degraded at the time of striking this coin – part of the legend which appears to be ‘T….N’ is illegible – however this degradation of the die is interesting, as is the case of the Queen’s name. We know that despite their scarcity today the dual-portrait denarii were issued in large numbers, and clearly hastily so to pay Antony’s troops.

The numerous die breaks on this specimen point to extensive usage on a level that the (many) other dies with exclusively Latin legends do not. What therefore became of these Greek-legend coins, and why were no other Greek-legend dies produced? Perhaps it was a much smaller part of the issue intended for the payment of a particular group of Ptolemaic-pattern troops, or it may be that this specimen represents a prototype strike that was rejected by Antony or his men, and replaced with the Latin-only coins.

It is noteworthy that the Latin-only coins display Cleopatra’s name in the genitive (Cleopatra). while this coin, in common with the Isis- headdress bronzes of Patras, displays it in the nominative. T. V. Buttrey (‘Grammar and History: Thoughts on Some Late Roman Republican Coins’ in Essays Russo) argues that on the Latin-only issues “Cleopatra acknowledged openly, with the Hellenistic genitive legend, that Antony was, effectively, equal sharer of the monarchy”.

Certainly this appears not to have been the case with this obverse die. and if it did indeed precede the more substantial issue of Latin only dies, this would present us with another possible reason for it being discontinued, and possibly recalled, which could thus explain its exceedingly low survival rate. In any case, this unique and important coin represents one of the last missing pieces of a puzzle which now permits us with a greater degree of certainty to attribute the dual-portrait denarii to a mint authority controlled by Cleopatra, not Antony.

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