Antony and Cleopatra
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Description: Marc Antony and Cleopatra AR Tetradrachm. Uncertain Phoenician mint, 36 BC. BACIΛICCA KΛEOΠATPA ΘEA NEWTEPA, diademed and draped bust of Cleopatra right, her dress embroidered with pearls / ANTWNIOC AYTOKPATWP TPITON TPIWN ANDPWN, bare head of Antony right. RPC 4094; McAlee 174; Prieur 27; BMC 53. 15.08g, 27mm, 1h.
Near Extremely Fine. Good metal for the issue, and aesthetically very pleasing. Rare.
This tetradrachm, struck after the return of Antony to the East, proclaims the new political alliance between the triumvir and the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. Antony’s choice to leave the sister of his rival Octavian was a bold move which completely separated him from his homeland, though the many titles and honours he received when he made this transition are symptomatic of the irresistible allure of the luxurious Eastern world.
Despite Antony having been away for four years, during which time he had married another woman and fathered two daughters (see lot 926 for the younger daughter, Antonia Minor), Cleopatra eagerly accepted Antony’s invitation to join him in Antioch, where the two were married and made ostentatious display of their partnership. Her acquiescence is understandable considering that she had already borne twins for Antony, and no doubt considered herself equal to the task of beguiling him once more and manipulating him to her will. The difficulty of maintaining the Ptolemaic Kingdom intact while Rome greedily ogled her rich and bountiful, but weak, country was no doubt the prime motivating factor. Though this coin confirms their political union, the individual sovereignty of both Cleopatra and Antony is distinctly maintained by their placement on obverse and reverse respectively rather than displaying them in a conjoined bust format.
This issue has been traditionally assigned to Antioch, however R. McAlee points out that the letter forms (C for Σ and ω for Ω) are inconsistent with those on contemporary Antiochene issues. Moreover, Antioch remained in Roman rule despite Antony granting vast tracts of territory to Cleopatra. The placement of Cleopatra, not Antony, on the obverse also points to a mint within Egyptian territory, perhaps in Phoenicia. For this same reason, a military mint moving with Antony appears unlikely. Nonetheless, the dating of the coin suggests that it may well have been issued in support of Antony, and in particular of his Parthian campaign, a great undertaking involving more than 100,000 Roman and allied troops which ultimately proved to be a complete failure that cost the lives of about 25,000 men.
This joint issue coinage (along with the similar denarius type) no doubt contributed to the increasingly prevalent view in Rome that Antony had deserted his Roman values and indeed the Roman people; a view that was shortly thereafter firmly cemented by the Donations of Alexandria, in which ceremony Antony paraded himself dressed as Dionysus and proceeded to distribute Rome’s eastern territories to the children of Cleopatra and grant them many titles. When Octavian obtained Marc Antony’s from the temple of Vesta, distaste turned to outrage as it was read out in the Senate that Antony wished to be buried with Cleopatra in Alexandria. When the Third Triumvirate expired on the last day of 33 BC the Roman world again found itself at war.