Ptolemy III Euergetes, 246 – 221
In the name of Berenice. Decadrachm, Alexandria circa 246-222, AV 42.77 g. Veiled and draped bust r., wearing necklace. Rev. BAΣIΛΣΣHΣ – BEPENIKHΣ Filleted cornucopia; in field, stars and below, E. Svoronos 972 and pl. 29, 1 (Ephesus). Boston, MFA 2277 (this obverse die). Mørkholm, EHC 307 (this obverse die). SNG Lockett 3416 (this obverse die). Pozzi 3236 (this coin). Jameson 1818 (this obverse die). Extremely rare and in exceptional condition for the issue, undoubtedly one of the finest specimens known. An impressive portrait struck on a very broad flan. Good extremely fine Ex Naville 1, 1921, Pozzi, 3236 and Vinchon April 1985, Pflieger, 418 and Leu 54, 1992, 196 sales. From the E. Milas collection. In 250 BC, Magas, the rogue Ptolemaic governor-turned-king of Cyrene died, leaving his daughter Berenice as queen. Although an agreement had been made previously between Magas and Ptolemy II that Berenice would marry Ptolemy III and thus reunite Cyrenaica to Egypt, this was not honoured and Berenice instead married Demetrius the Fair, a scion of the Macedonian Antigonid dynasty. This relationship ended abruptly after Berenice discovered Demetrius in bed with her mother and ordered his execution. She subsequently married Ptolemy III and became a Ptolemaic queen in 246 BC. Berenice and Ptolemy III are said to have enjoyed a happy marriage. When her husband was called to war against the Seleucid Empire in the Third Syrian War (246-241 BC), Berenice famously dedicated a lock of her hair to Aphrodite as a vow for his safe return. According to tradition, the hair mysteriously disappeared in the night after it was dedicated. The explanation for its disappearance was discovered by Conon of Samos, the Ptolemaic court astronomer, when he looked into the night sky and identified a constellation as the missing lock, claiming that Aphrodite had placed it there in acknowledgement of the queen’s dedication. Ever since, the constellation has been known by the Latin name Coma Berenices (”the Lock of Berenice”). Its recognition was memorialized in a poem by the court poet Callimachus later translated into Latin by Catullus.This gold octadrachm was probably struck from plunder brought back to Egypt by Ptolemy III at the conclusion of the Third Syrian War. The iconography of the veiled queen’s portrait and cornucopia reverse follows the model established for the previous octadrachms of Arsinoe II, thereby associating Berenice with the deified queen of Ptolemy II and her identification with both Aphrodite and Isis. The stars flanking the cornucopia on the reverse may refer to the miraculous establishment of the Coma Berenices.