All 2 entries tagged Cleopatra

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January 24, 2014

Sosius, Zacynthus, and the Temple of Apollo Sosianus in Rome

Coins of Sosius from Zacynthus

Gaius Sosius, one of Mark Antony's generals, provides an excellent example of the role played by individuals other than the triumvirs in the civil wars at the end of the Republic. Sosius, who was governor of Syria and Cilicia in 38 BC and assisted in placing King Herod on the throne, was a staunch supporter of Antony, and was in a position of some power at Antony's naval base at Zacynthus. We know this because between 39 BC (when the base was founded) and 32 BC, a series of coins were struck under Sosius' authority (RPC 1 1290-3).

The obverse of the first two coins carries the portrait of Antony. The reverse of issue 1 bears a Ptolemaic eagle, a reference to Antony's alliance with Cleopatra. The second issue, struck in 36 BC, names Sosius as imperator and carries a military trophy on the reverse, a reference to Sosius' victory in Judea. It is unusual that Sosius uses his coinage to advertise his own personal achievements rather than that of the triumvirs, though the portrait of Antony on the obverse underlines the fact that Sosius was acting under Antony's support and patronage.

Temple of Apollo Sosianus

The third issue carries the head of Apollo on the obverse, and a tripod on the reverse. Sosius is named as consul designate. The imagery is identical to the pre-Roman local coinage of the island, which had a famous cult to Apollo. But after his triumph in Rome in 34 BC (for his victories in Judea), Sosius vowed to rebuild the temple of Apollo in the Campus Martius, today known as the temple of Apollo Sosianus. The declaration that a supporter of Antony was rebuilding a temple to Apollo in Rome, soon after Octavian had vowed his famous Apolline temple on the Palatine, was a powerful statement. It may be that this third issue of Sosius references his building activities in Rome, and the Roman general adopted local iconography to communicate his message. The users of the coin may have seen either a reference to the local cult of Apollo and local coinage, or a broader reference to Sosius' activities, or both.

The fourth coin, which carries a head of Neptune on the obverse and a dolphin and trident on the reverse, was struck after Sosius had fled Rome early in his consulship in 32 BC, and references his position as a commander of Antony's fleet just before Actium. Although Sosius fled the capital only a few days or weeks into his consulship, the coin still names him as consul, indicating that both he and Antony believed he still held the position.

(Coin images reproduced from Bahrfehldt, JIAN 11 (1908), pl. XIII)

September 01, 2013

A bronze coin struck in Cyprus showing Cleopatra VII and her young son Caesarion, 48–30 BC

Writing about web page Coin of the Month, November 2012

In 58 BC, Rome annexed Cyprus from Egypt. ersin_cleopatra.jpgUntil then, the island had been an important part of the Ptolemaic Empire and had been ruled by the Ptolemies since c. 312 BC. From 58 BC, Cyprus was governed by Rome until Julius Caesar gifted the island to Cleopatra in c. 48-47 BC. The restoration of Ptolemaic power was also later confirmed by Marc Antony. As the final foreign stronghold to be confiscated from the Ptolemies, the annexation of Cyprus was a defining moment, contributing to the demise of the dynasty. The imagery depicted on this coin reflects the tactical decisions made by Cleopatra VII, the last ruling Ptolemy, who found herself trying to maintain power and authority over her lands during this period of political upheaval by aligning herself politically first with Julius Caesar, and then later with Marc Antony. On the front of the coin is an idealized portrait of Cleopatra as Aphrodite, the most important deity of Cyprus, whose sanctuary at Palaipaphos was famed in antiquity as the birthplace and home of the great goddess. On the coin, Cleopatra is also shown with her son by Julius Caesar, Caesarion, who is depicted as Eros in front of her. It is thought that the coin was issued to celebrate the birth of Caesarion. By appearing as Aphrodite and Eros, Cleopatra appears to be aligning herself with the ideology of the Caesars as being descended from Venus (Aphrodite's Roman counterpart) in order to secure a future for herself and her son, perhaps as Caesar's heir, in a very local context. With the suicides of Antony and Cleopatra following their defeat at the hands of Octavian at Alexandria, Cyprus along with Egypt fell under the control of Rome once and for all. The image of Aphrodite, represented as a sacred cone rather than in anthropomorphic form, remained an important symbol of Cyprus and was depicted on coinage minted in Cyprus under future Roman Emperors.


This month's coin was chosen by Ersin Hussein, a PhD student in her final year of study. Ersin's PhD research focuses on the province of Roman Cyprus. Central to this study is the way in which the material record reflects the culture and society of Cyprus under Rome by demonstrating the adoption and assimilation of Roman practices while maintaining local, Cypriot customs.

(Coin image above reproduced courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc;

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