NGC Ancients: Jugate Portraits on Ancient Greek Coins

Posted on 8/11/2020

Ancient die engravers found a novel way to depict two people on a coin.

Among the most intriguing of all ancient coins are those bearing more than one portrait. They come in all metals and types and feature a good mix of gods and mortals. Sometimes these portraits “confront” each other and other times they’re shown in a form known as “jugate,” in which one portrait overlaps another.

We’ll start with the coin above, a bronze pentassarion struck A.D. 217 to 218 at Marcianopolis, which shows confronted busts of the emperor Macrinus and his son, the Caesar Diadumenian. On coins with confronted busts, the person of greatest honor appears on the left.

By comparison, the next coin (above), a silver tetradrachm of King Ptolemy IV (222-205/4 B.C.), shows the jugate busts of the gods Serapis and Isis. With this arrangement, the subject of greatest honor appears closest to the viewer, with the lesser subject portrayed in what amounts to the background.

In this survey we’ll discuss some of the more important ‘jugate’ portraits coins, starting this month with Greek coins and continuing next month with Roman coins. Except for the two introductory coins shown above, we’ll restrict ourselves to jugate portraits of humans.

One of the most familiar ancient Greek coins with jugate portraits is the gold octodrachm shown above, issued by King Ptolemy II of Egypt (285/4-246 B.C.). The obverse portrays Ptolemy II and his sister-wife Arsinoe II and the reverse shows the jugate portraits of his deified parents King Ptolemy I (305/4-282 B.C.) and Berenice I.

The greatest appreciation for jugate coin portraits existed in the Seleucid Kingdom, based in Syria. Shown above is an excessively rare gold octodrachm issued c.175 B.C. It portrays Laodice IV and her young son Antiochus, son of the deceased King Seleucus IV (187-175 B.C.).

Laodice IV seems to have married three times, each time to one of her brothers. The first of these brothers died before he could be crowned king, the second, Seleucus IV, fathered the young Antiochus shown on this coin.

After Seleucus IV was assassinated in 175 B.C., his widow Laodice IV briefly supported her young son’s claim to the throne (as reflected by this coin), but she soon relented and apparently married her third and final brother, Antiochus IV (175-164 B.C.), who five years afterward found it expedient to murder his young nephew Antiochus.

Another Seleucid coin with a jugate portrait is the silver tetradrachm (above) portraying Demetrius I (162-150 B.C.) and his wife Laodice V. Their marriage also was a family affair in every sense of the word, for they were blood siblings, both being children of the royal couple Seleucus IV and Laodice IV (and, thus, siblings of the murdered child Antiochus, who appeared on the gold octodrachm previously discussed).

Politics during the Hellenistic Era was an incredibly international affair, with various kings and their rivals being supported by the Romans and/or rulers of other Greek kingdoms. Sometimes this created civil wars and international wars.

Above is a silver tetradrachm depicting King Alexander I ‘Balas’ (152-145 B.C.) and his wife, Queen Cleopatra Thea. Alexander I, a supposed son of King Antiochus IV, was backed by foreign powers against the unpopular Seleucid King Demetrius I. In 150 B.C., Alexander I defeated Demetrius I, and claimed the Seleucid throne.

In that same year, Alexander I married Cleopatra Thea, the eldest daughter of one of his foreign supporters, king Ptolemy VI (180-145 B.C.) of Egypt, in hopes of forging unity between the neighboring kingdoms. Hence, this celebratory coinage. However, the hopeful action did not result in long-lasting cooperation since Alexander I was incompetent (or unfortunate) enough that five years later his father-in-law backed another candidate for the Seleucid throne.

We continue with the intermarriages and royal intrigues of the Seleucid Kingdom with the two coins above, a silver tetradrachm and a 21mm bronze coin depicting Cleopatra Thea and one of her four sons who reigned as a Seleucid king, Antiochus VIII.

As described earlier, Cleopatra Thea had married Alexander I. She was fortunate to survive his fall and marry two subsequent men who became Seleucid kings. One of them, Demetrius II (146/5-138 and 129-125 B.C.), fathered two of her four royal offspring, one of whom was Antiochus VIII, the one portrayed on these two coins with his mother, with whom he ruled jointly from 125 to 121 B.C.

But the ‘royal vacancy’ available for Antiochus VIII was made possible only because his mother had murdered the boy’s brother, Seleucus V. This was a bad start to a brief co-reign that ended with Cleopatra Thea trying to poison Antiochus VIII, only to have him sense the danger and turn the tables – forcing his mother to drink the poisoned wine she had offered him. His mother died as a result, and he continued to reign from 121 to 96 B.C.

The jugate portrait tetradrachm above, depicting the brothers Antiochus XI and Philip I during their brief co-reign of c.94-93 B.C., offers further evidence of the murderous intrigues of the Seleucids. These brothers joined forces after their elder brother, Seleucus VI (96-94 B.C.), was killed in a revolt.

Though a cooperative venture, the joint reign did not last long, for Antiochus XI apparently drowned while crossing the river Orontes in Syria after his army was destroyed by a cousin, the rival Seleucid King Antiochus X (c.94-88 B.C.). Philip I was more fortunate, for he continued to reign until at least c.83 B.C., and perhaps even until c.75 B.C.

We now leave the complete moral desolation of the Seleucid Kingdom and move further east to Bactria, where the silver tetradrachm (above) was issued by the King Eucratides I (c.170-145 B.C.) in honor of his (presumably) deceased parents Heliocles and Laodice.

On this piece, which belongs to a ‘pedigree’ series, his parents are shown with jugate portraits, while Eucratides portrays himself wearing a wide-brimmed Boeotian helmet. It has been suggested that the father, Heliocles, never reigned, whereas his mother, Laodice may have been a Seleucid noblewoman since she wears a royal diadem.

Also from this easterly kingdom is the silver tetradrachm above. Rather than a commemorative ‘pedigree’ issue, this is a standard issue which shows King Hermaeus and Queen Calliope, who are believed to have reigned c.105-90 B.C. Very little is known of the rulers from this era in Bactrian and Indo-Greek history, in which coins are a primary source of evidence for supplementing or correcting the other types of documentary evidence.

Another eastern kingdom was Elymais, located in what today is southeastern Iraq and southwestern Iran. Shown above is a silver tetradrachm dated to 81/80 B.C. It depicts Kamnaskires III & Anzaze, who in about 82 B.C. ‘re-founded’ Elymais as an independent kingdom after what appears to have been about fifty years of disruption by usurpers and neighboring forces in the region. They seem to have reigned for about a decade.

Our final two jugate coins are from the Nabataean Kingdom, which grew wealthy by controlling trade routes through the Arabian Desert by which goods from the East flowed to markets in the Mediterranean. Shown above is a silver drachm of Obodas II (or III) and his wife Hagaru I, who reigned from c.30 to 9 B.C. This particular coin, struck at the Petra mint, bears their jugate portraits and was issued in the 16th year of their reign, equal to 15 or 14 B.C.

Our last piece, the 17mm bronze coin above, was struck at Petra and depicts King Aretas IV and his wife, Queen Shaqilat (c.9/8 B.C.-A.D. 40). Despite the paltry value of this ‘bronze’ in the ancient marketplace, it was issued at the height of Nabataean success under this dynamic king. At this point in history, the Nabataeans had long enjoyed a cooperative relationship with their biggest clients, the Romans, who officially recognized the state.

Images courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, LLC and NGC.

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