The Ptolemies came from a royal Greek family, and were the rulers of Egypt from 305 to 30 BC. Their coins commonly feature a curly-haired, bearded bust of Zeus right, portrayed with rams horns. The horned Zeus, or 'Zeus Ammon', was a deity worshiped by some ancient Greek Egyptians. The Egyptian deity Amun-Ra was portrayed with ram's horns, and the ancient Greeks identified him with Zeus. In this way the bust nicely ties together traditional Egyptian beliefs with the Greek pantheon.
The reverse is commonly one or two eagles standing on a thunderbolt. One eagle symbolizes one king, and two eagles mean a joint reign - this could be either two kings or a king and his queen. The inscription of 'PTOLEMAIOU BASILEWS' or 'King Ptolemy' is found on many coins, and isn't of much help to identify a specific ruler. Rather, one must be able to identify the symbols ('control marks') in the fields next to the eagle(s). Often the presence of a central dimple (from where the coin was lathed smooth and round) can help to date very worn coins. The weight standard also changed a bit over time, but these intricacies are outside the scope of this page.
The coin in our picture comes from Ira and Larry Goldberg. It is from the joint reign of Ptolemy VI & Ptolemy VIII, 22.9 grams, 170-163 BC, Alexandria, with the head of Zeus-Ammon. This coin sold for $150 US dollars in a 2014 auction. CoinQuest thanks the Goldbergs for use of their coin image.
Having a real date in the field is an uncommon occurrence, but is found on some coins. It's written as a a regnal year, the number of years since the king's reign started, with the accession year as year 1. It's written in Greek numerals, starting with an L (for 'year'), followed by a few Greek characters. For example, 'L lambda delta' means 'year 34' and corresponds to 137/136 BC, within the reign of Ptolemy VIII.
Values are generally the same for all rulers, though larger coins are worth much more than smaller ones:
SMALLER COINS (under 8 grams):
worn: $5 US dollars approximate catalog value
average circulated: $25
well preserved: $70
MEDIUM COINS (8 to 16 grams):
average circulated: $40
well preserved: $150
LARGE COINS (16 to 30 grams):
average circulated: $110
well preserved: $325
HUGE COINS (30 to 50 grams):
average circulated: $250
well preserved: $600
ENORMOUS COINS (50 to 75 grams):
average circulated: $400
well preserved: $900
Coins with a legible date, very clear inscriptions, or strong, well-struck control marks are worth more - multiply the above values by 1.5
Coins with the eagle standing right instead of left are less common - add one-third to the values above.
All values on this page are rough approximations of all mints and control marks. Please refer to our Important Terminology page found at the top left in order to properly interpret these catalog values.