100 Greatest Women On Coins Series: Cleopatra Thea

If we asked you to name a famous Cleopatra, could you? You are probably thinking right at this second, “there is more than one?” In short, yes there is, and most people do not know that. While you might be thinking about the most famous Cleopatra, Cleopatra VII, who also happens to be on this list, we are going to focus on Cleopatra Thea.

Continuing on in our breakdown of Whitman Publishing’s 100 Greatest Women on Coins publication, we take a look at one of the numerous Egyptian Cleopatras. With help from author Ron Guth, we will explore the mortal woman whose name contradicts her.

#30 - Cleopatra Thea

With her name meaning Cleopatra the Goddess, Cleopatra Thea was actually a mortal. Born to Ptolemy VI and Cleopatra II around 164, very little is known about her early life as a young girl. However, later in life, the first of Thea’s three husbands was Alexander Balas. Balas was the ruler of the Seleucid Kingdom which encompassed a large part of the Middle East from Turkey through modern day Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. He ended up dying while fighting Demetrius II Nicator of Syria in 145 as Demetrius returned to avenge his father’s death at the hands of Balas in 150. Cleopatra Thea would then marry Demetrius and stay with him until he was taken into captivity by the Parthians.

While Demetrius was away, Thea ended up marrying his younger brother, Antiochus VII of Sion. However in 129 BC, the Parthians released Demetrius from captivity and he returned home to claim both his throne and his wife. Three years later after he returned home, he would be defeated in Damascus and Cleopatra Thea would end up outlawing him from the city. He would then later be tortured and killed.

Seleucus, Demetrius’ son, would then take the throne as the rightful heir, but Thea had other plans. She arranged for Seleucus to be murdered so she could take the throne and rule alongside her son, Antiochus VIII. Her plans would fail though as her son refused to cooperate and she would go on to attempt his murder by poisoning his wine. Antiochus would flip the script though and make her drink the poisoned wine. Cleopatra Thea died of poisoning in 121 BC at perhaps her own hands. She became well-known for being a determined woman who would go to any lengths, even murder, to get to where she wanted to be, leading to her demise.

Cleopatra Thea can be found on coins from the Seleucid Empire with her first husband, Alexander Balas. She can also be found on coins with her son, Antiochus VIII Grypus, the same son she tried to poison. Guth makes it known that Thea always took the foreground position on coins even when it was with her husband, the King. The foreground position is the position of honor.

Collecting difficulty for coins including Cleopatra Thea is said to be moderate according to Guth. Bronze coins featuring her image are the most affordable as silver coins are more expensive. Certain coins featuring Thea can also run into the thousands of dollars range.