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Kleopatra VII’s Empire and the Bronze Coinages of Ituraean Chalkis

Katie Cupello

This paper explores the ways in which the bronze coins struck for Kleopatra VII at Ituraean Chalkis (i.e. Chalcis sub Libano in Coele Syria) simultaneously express the queen’s authority as a monarch in her own right and as a partner to Mark Antony. Kleopatra received Chalkis from Antony, the Roman triumvir with hegemony over the eastern provinces, as part of the territorial grant of 37/6 B.C.E. This grant restored to the queen areas that were once part of the overseas empire of the Ptolemies, including Coele Syria and part of Phoenicia. I consider the design choices made by those in charge of the Chalkis mint in order to illustrate what these coins communicate about Kleopatra in relation to her newly expanded empire and her relationship with Antony. The discussion focuses primarily upon the target weight standard, the size and number of denominations, the images and inscribed legends of the obverse and reverse types, and the dating system used.

The Kleopatra bronzes from Chalkis are not unknown (Seyrig 1950; Burnett et al. 1992, nos. 4771-4773; Hölbl 2001; Meadows and Williams 2001; Williams 2003; Weill Goudchaux 2006; Ager 2013; Meshorer et al. 2013 ). Study of the Chalkis mint’s output, however, has consciously pushed aside the Kleopatra coins in favor of treating as a somewhat cohesive group the bronze coinages of the three native Ituraean tetrarchs who ruled Chalkis before and after Kleopatra: Ptolemaios son of Mennaios (85-40 B.C.E.); Lysanias (40-37/6 B.C.E.); and Zenodoros (30-20 B.C.E.), to whom Octavian restored the tetrarchy (Kindler 1993; Herman 2000-2002; Herman 2006; Wright 2013; Meshorer et al. 2013 is an exception). Plugging Kleopatra back into the Chalkis equation is a step towards a better understanding not only of these particular coins, but also the coins issued for Kleopatra by other mints such as Berytos, Orthosia, and Ptolemais.

I address the Kleopatra coins from Chalkis in two parts. First, I present the results of a metrological analysis comparing the coins of Kleopatra with the coins of the three Ituraean tetrarchs. This kind of analysis uses the weights and diameters of as many surviving examples as possible to determine, if doable, the weight standard and number of denominations that are the basis for a particular coinage. It seems, at this point, that the bronzes struck for Kleopatra fit into the scheme already established at the mint of Chalkis; therefore, there was continuity in this respect. Second, I use other facets of the coins’ design to demonstrate that Kleopatra was not simply another tetrarch of Chalkis. For example, the Greek legends boldly label her portrait as “Queen Kleopatra” as opposed to “tetrarch and chief priest.” Her position as queen is further reinforced by the absence of an ethnic, used at other mints like Berytos, asserting the identity of Chalkis and its people. Moreover, one of the three reverse types paired with Kleopatra’s image is an unnamed portrait of Antony. We have thus an unequivocal declaration of Kleopatra’s authority over Chalkis as queen of her Egyptian and foreign kingdoms with Antony as the subordinate guarantor of her newly obtained territories. This Kleopatra/Antony type of Chalkis makes for a rather interesting comparison with the familiar double-headed silver tetradrachms and denarii depicting the queen and the triumvir. Recent work has determined that Kleopatra, not Antony, occupies the dominant position on the obverse of both denominations (Walker & Higgs 2001; Williams 2003; McAlee 2007). On these coins, however, the obverse and reverse legends provide names and titles for each of them. Here Antony is on more equal footing, but we are left to wonder just who was in charge and what the vision of a Romano-Ptolemaic empire might have been. After all, the territorial grant of 37/6 B.C.E. was also the first occasion upon which Antony publicly acknowledged his children by Kleopatra. In the words of Shakespeare, “Let Rome in Tiber melt” indeed.

Session/Panel Title:

Minting an Empire: Negotiating Roman Hegemony through Coinage

Session/Paper Number


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