Ptolemaic Kingdom. Ptolemy I Soter. as Satrap, 323-305 BC. Alexandria, in the name of Alexander III, ca. 311/0-305 BC

Ptolemaic Kingdom. Ptolemy I Soter. as Satrap, 323-305 BC. Alexandria, in the name of Alexander III, ca. 311/0-305 BC


AR Tetradrachm, 15.75g (27mm, 12h). Diademed head of Alexander r., wearing elephant’s skin headdress / AΛEΞANΔPOY, Athena r., ΘE monogram, Corinthian helmet r. above ΔI and eagle standing r. on thunderbolt.

Pedigree: Ex R. C. Lockett Collection (Glendining, 21 February 1961), lot 2781; Ex Cartwright Collection (Münzhandlung Basel 4, 1 October 1935), lot 950.

References:  Svoronos 177; Zervos issue 33, dies 534/d (this coin cited); SNG Copenhagen -; SNG Lockett 3394 (this coin)

Grade:  Lovely strike with excellent details. Removed from an NGC slab where graded Ch AU*; Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5. Fine style (gk1190)

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Ptolemy I Soter was the founder of the Ptolemaic Dynasty. The average person likely doesn’t recognize that the Ptolemies were Greeks and that a long history of indigenous Egyptians had ruled well before the Ptolemies. Cleopatra VII, arguably the most famous as well as the last of the Ptolemies and Hellenism in Egypt, was actually Greek. Everything changed around 331 BC when Alexander the Great entered into battle and ultimately was victorious against the Persians at Gaugamela. It was also at this time that Alexander first encountered the elephantine army that the Persians had assembled under their leader Darios III. It was in fact those 15 elephants that Alexander took from Darios to assemble his own elephantine army. The obverse of this coin is an allusion to that monumental event showing the deified Alexander with the elephant skin headdress.

Alexandria, where this coin was struck was envisioned and created by Alexander. Alexander was far different than the Persian overlords before him in Egypt. While the Persians were largely uninterested in the people of Egypt, only taking their valuable resources as tribute and placing satraps there to rule, Alexander understood the importance of assimilation to Egyptian customs, as well as conversion of the population to Greek ideals. He even went so far as to become anointed as pharaoh in 332 BC in Memphis.

After Alexander’s death, Ptolemy Soter obtained the right to administer Egypt from Perdiccas. Soter had marched with Alexander in Afghanistan and commanded a division. Not as much is known about Soter from historical writings which is unfortunate. What is certain is that it wasn’t particularly easy for Ptolemy Soter to continue as Alexander had. One good thing that Ptolemy did to secure the support of the Egyptian and Greek communities was to put to death Cleomenes of Naucratis, who was installed by Alexander himself. Cleomenes, used his position to hold important Egyptian corn “hostage” during a famine in mainland Greece. He also ruthlessly extracted double taxes from the Egyptian priesthood. By killing Cleomenes, Ptolemy showed good will towards the native population. Just like Alexander, Ptolemy was was anointed pharoah by the Egyptians.

On Ptolemy Soter’s death, his son Ptolemy Philadelphus, grew Egypt by leaps and bounds. The Ptolemaic dynasty ruled for another three centuries until the death of Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony and the Roman success at Actium in 31 BC. 

This coin has a long pedigree dating back to 1935. It also was part of the Lockett collection and was auctioned in 1961 by the British auction firm Glendining.