Archaeologists Discover Rare Bronze ‘Lovers’ Coin’ Depicting Mark Antony and Cleopatra
Archaeologists have discovered a bronze coin depicting Cleopatra and Mark Antony in the ruins of a first-century house in Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee.
The rare coin measures 22 millimetres in diameter (about the size of a quarter) and weighs just 7.59 grams, however, its historical weight is far greater. Its date shows that it was minted in the last half of the year 35 or the first half of 34 BC and bears the image of Mark Antony on one side and Cleopatra on the other. On her side are the Greek words “of the people of Ptolemais”.
Ptolemais is the Greek name for ancient Akko, which was founded in the 3rd century BC and named after Ptolemy II Philadelphus (the king of Ptolemaic Egypt from 283 BC to 246 BC). The inscription shows that the coin was minted in the Mediterranean port of Akko – today better known as Acre – and at a time when both Mark Antony and his bitter rival Octavian were in their prime and no one knew who would prevail.
Dr. Donald T. Ariel, head of the Israel Antiquities Authority Coin Department, has said that cities of the ancient Middle East had a habit of minting coins bearing the portraits of whoever was in power, and Mark Antony was most definitely powerful in the year stamped on the coin.
Professor Rami Arav, director of the Bethsaida Excavations Project, suggests that the minting of the coin may have had to do with Mark Antony's victory over the Parthians, rulers of a land in what is now northeastern Iran and Armenia, in 35 BCE. He then granted Armenia to Cleopatra’s sons and gave Cyprus to her daughter Selene.
Cleopatra also appears on coins from the same period, found in cities further north up the Lebanese coast. That same year Mark Antony, still deeply involved with Cleopatra, moved the capital of the empire from Rome to Alexandria, Egypt. The coin, which has been dubbed the ‘lovers’ coin’ is extremely rare because only six coins have been found with the portraits of Antony and Cleopatra anywhere in the world.
Eleven months after Mark Antony was defeated by Octavian in the battle of Actium in 31 BC and in a brief land battle at Alexandra, he took his own life, stabbing himself with his sword in the mistaken belief that Cleopatra has already done so. When he found out that Cleopatra was still alive, his friends brought him to Cleopatra's monument in which she was hiding, dying in Cleopatra's arms in an immortal star-crossed lovers’ moment. Cleopatra was allowed to conduct Antony's burial rites after she had been captured by Octavian, but realising that she was destined for Octavian's triumph in Rome, she eventually took her own life, leaving a dramatic ending to the glory days of Antony and Cleopatra.