Decadrachm. Obverse: Bust of Berenice II.
Gold; Diam. 3.2 cm; 42.755 g
Minted in Alexandria; 246–221 BCE
American Numismatic Society: 1967.152.562
© Courtesy of the American Numismatic Society

The royal consort of Ptolemy III, Berenice II, was related to the king through their grandmother Berenice I, who married Maga, king of Cyrene, before arriving in Egypt. The marriage was primarily arranged to reabsorb Cyrenaica within Egypt. As the couple could not continue the propaganda based on siblinghood started by Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II, coins with the jugate portraits of the new rulers were discontinued. Coin types with the image of the queen, such as this decadrachm, were constructed to emphasize any possible or alleged similarities with both the grandmother Berenice I and the step-aunt Arsinoe II. Thus, Berenice II’s portrait is characterized by large eyes, a pointed nose, and a fleshy neck and chin, as were portraits of the two previous queens. The hairstyle and veil also imitate earlier representations, creating a symbolic image in which the deficiency in the queen’s bloodline is compensated by well-known physiognomy and attributes.

I. N. Svorōnos. Ta nomismata tou kratous tōn Ptolemaiōn. 4 vols. Athens: Sakellarios, 1904–8, cat. 972, pl. XXIX, no. 1.

R. Casagrande-Kim. The Way They Looked: Dynastic Portraiture on Ptolemaic Coins. in: R. Casagrande-Kim ed: When The Greeks Ruled Egypt: From Alexander the Great to Cleopatra. ISAW, 2014. 65-67.