Berenice II (C. 273-221BC)

Bronze 14


Obverse: Veiled bust of Berenice facing right, wearing diadem.

Reverse: Prow of naval ship.

This piece probably represents the issue of coinage by Berenice during her reign as sole ruler in the absence of her husband Ptolemy III who was obliged to leave Egypt to fight in the Third Syrian War (246-241BC).


Portrait Bust of Berenice II (second half of the third century BC)
Munich, Staatliche Anikensammlugen und Glyptothek

Berenice II was the sole heiress of king Magas of Cyrene and his wife Apame. At her father's wish she was betrothed to the the son of Ptolemy II (the future Ptolemy III). However, after Magas' death Berenice's mother Apame had her engaged to the Macedonian prince Demetrius the Fair in an effort to thwart the plan to reunify the two kingdoms of Egypt and Cyrene. After he arrived in Cyrene, Apame herself became enamoured of the handsome young prince and when their liaison was discovered it brought about the murder of Demetrius. Afterwards, Berenice carried out her father's plan and married Ptolemy III.

In the course of her life Berenice was awarded some of the greatest praise ever accorded to a Greek woman, being immortalized in such poems as Callimachus' "The Lock of Berenice" and "Victory of Berenice". The latter was written in celebration of the triumph of Berenice's racehorses at the Nemean and Olympic games, notable because it was apparently the first epinician (victory ode) written in honor of a woman owner. Berenice was herself an accomplished equestrian and rode horses into the battlefield. She also commanded a sizable fortune of her own, deriving some of her income from shipping and trade.

When Ptolemy III was obliged to leave his kingdom in 246-241BC at the outbreak of the Third Syrian War he left Berenice in control of Egypt as regent. During this time Berenice even struck her own coins that identified her as sole ruler of Egypt and its dominions, of which the above coin is an example. At Ptolemy's departure for Syria, Berenice dedicated a lock of her hair at the temple of ArsinoŽ Zephyritis as a vow for his safe return. When the lock disappeared from the shrine, Conon, the court astronomer, flattered Berenice by identifying the lock among the stars, as the constellation comma Berenices.

Berenice and Ptolemy had four children: Ptolemy IV, ArsinoŽ III, Magas, and another Berenice. After Ptolemy III's death in 222BC, Berenice attempted to raise her favourite son Magas to the throne. Her attempt failed, though, and Berenice's elder son Ptolemy IV had the two murdered. Although he was responsible for her death, Ptolemy IV created a priestesshood and built a temple on the shore of Alexandria in Berenice's honor.

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