(54) Egypt, Ptolemy I Soter - AR tetradrachm, c. 305-283 B.C., 14.31 g. (inv. 91.096).
Obverse: Diademed head of Ptolemy I r., with aegis; small D behind ear.
Reverse: Eagle standing l. on thunderbolt, wings open; in l. field, R above monogram;
Provenance: Edward Gans, 1959.
Bibliography: O. Mørkholm, Early Hellenistic Coinage from the Accession of Alexander to the Peace of Apamea (336-188 B.C.) (Cambridge 1991) 63-66.

After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C., his general Ptolemy claimed Alexander's land in Egypt. In 305/04 B.C. he assumed the title of king, and the same year he was given the title Soter or Savior for saving the people of Rhodes from Demetrios Poliorketes, king of Macedonia (see no. 43). The Ptolemaic dynasty that he established controlled Egypt until it was taken by Rome in 31 B.C.

Ptolemy's first coinage depicted a portrait of the deified Alexander on the obverse, but with his increasing independence he became the first of Alexander's successors to replace it with his own image. The portrait is highly individualized, with deep-set eyes, high forehead, beaked nose, and prominent chin, and yet the distant gaze, partially open mouth, and the arrangement of the hair recall portraits of Alexander. He wears the royal diadem and an aegis, an attribute of his patron deity, Zeus, around his neck. This portrait type continued on the obverse of tetradrachms throughout the Ptolemaic dynasty (see nos. 55, 59). This coin is dated to the reign of Ptolemy I by the small D, probably the engraver's initial, behind Ptolemy's ear. The reverse depicts an eagle on a thunderbolt, both attributes of Zeus, which Ptolemy adopted as his personal badge.


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