100 Greatest Women On Coins Series: Queen Berenice II

As a successor of Alexander the Great, it is quite clear that this next spotlight in our journey following Whitman Publishing’s 100 Greatest Women on Coins series has an onerous reputation. Immortalized in poetry and on coins of her time, this next woman is a queen with a history that includes murder, marriage, scandal, and more. Author Ron Guth helps guide us through her life and her appearance on coins of all types.

#70 – Queen Berenice II

The only daughter of Magas, the Macedonian king of Cyrene, and Apame, a princess of the Seleucid Kingdom, Berenice II was born in Cyrene (a modern-day Libya) around 266 or 267 BC. Her father, King Magas, would attempt to invade Egypt in the 270s, but failed. In order to protect his kingdom from retaliation, he promised Berenice to the king of Egypt’s son. However, Magas would pass before the wedding. His wife and Berenice’s mother, Apame, would rescind the engagement and instead arrange a marriage for her daughter with Demetrius the Fair, a Macedonian prince. It is unknown whether the two were ever married, but it is very well known that Berenice’s mother and Demetrius became lovers. On Berenice’s orders, Demetrius was killed by assassins while in her mother’s bedroom. Her mother would be spared.

Berenice would ultimately end up marrying Ptolemy III Euergetes I, a son of the Egyptian king. They went on to have six children in a span of seven years. The couple became very popular, and their influence was felt abroad as they built and restored temples and saved their people from starvation not once, but twice when the grain crops failed. Ptolemy III died in 222 BC and Ptolemy IV, his son, became ruler. To avoid a challenge for his position, he would murder his uncle and his younger brother. No one knows why he too decided to murder his mother, Berenice.

Queen Berenice II can be seen on several coins in bronze, silver, and gold, all Ptolemaic Egypt. On gold octadrachms, her appearance is strikingly similar to that of Arsinoe II. It is with their names on the reverse that they can clearly be identified.

According to Guth, collecting difficulty for coins bearing Berenice’s image is moderate. Coins are scarce to rare. Low grade bronze coins can be found for $200 or less while silver versions reach around $800 and higher. Gold versions sell in the thousands or more.