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Egypt: Coins of the Ptolemies

The first coins minted in Egypt are datable to the Late Dynastic Period, most likely produced to pay Greek soldiers serving the Egyptian king (Bolshakov 1992). There are also Persian coins were minted by the Persian king Artaxerxes III, most probably in Memphis. From the Ptolemaic Period on coins were minted regularly in Egypt. A first issue bears the name of Kleomenes of Naukratis, 330-323 BC, who governed Egypt for a period after the death of Alexander the Great. Coins then become part of the economy, and especially from the time of Ptolemy II on there is a rapid increase in circulation of coins. The coinage of Ptolemy I belongs to the earliest examples showing the head of a king, which later become very common (although already common under the Macedons).

Egypt has no great silver mine (that being the main metal for coinage in ancient Greek). Gold coinage was not very practical for taxation and daily use, and therefore the Ptolemies minted bronze coins. These were equal to silver coins (one bronze drachma = one silver drachma). However, these coins were mainly produced for the 'local market' and were not often found outside of Egypt. Even in Egypt itself the state demanded a special tax when payments were made in bronze coins..

Coins were soon an important part of the Ptolemaic economy (compare UC 32050, recording payment in 'silver pieces'). However, several written sources seem to show that there was a vigorous cash flow. Payments were often made by a complex web of debt and debt settlement (von Reden 2001).

UC 72049 Four bronze coins modelled on Ptolemy I issues, with eagle on reverse and the head of Zeus on the observe. Ptolemy I connected himself on the coins with the attributes of a deity. His coins were struck till the end of the Ptolemaic Period. (see the observe, or a head in detail)

the main Greek currency (in silver)
tetradrachma four drachmae about 14-17 gr.
didrachma-stater two drachmae about 6-8.5 gr.
drachma   3-4.2 gr.
obol 1/6 drachma 0.5-0.7 gr.



Hellenistic coinage


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