What is the significance of the two eagles on many Ptolemaic bronze coins?

66.8g, 42mm;  Svoronos 497 66.8g, 42mm;  Svoronos 497

  22.3g, 30mm;  Svoronos 142422.3g, 30mm;  Svoronos 1424   6.23g, 25mm;  Svoronos 18436.23g, 25mm;  Svoronos catalogue 1843

Weight, diameter and Svoronos' number will be shown when your mouse pointer is held inside a coin image.

Although the image of one eagle (the badge of Ptolemaic royalty) is shown on the vast majority of ancient Egyptian bronze coins, a two-eagle symbol forms the second most common reverse type (see examples above). It is surprising that with such a prominent type the significance of the two eagles has not yet been generally recognized.

Two possibilities have been suggested; one is that the double-eagles are a denomination mark for a doubly-valued coin (i.e., a dioble, Price, 1988). Another possibility is that the two eagles indicate two regents (Feuardent 1869, Poole 1883, Svoronos, 1904). Other early scholars (Strack 1897, Regling, Head, and later, Thompson) spoke against the two regent explanation and there now remains a strongly held belief that the two eagles can not indicate co-regency.

For a historical review of the co-regent hypothesis see page 7 of -

In the three sections below, it is shown that (1) there is no evidence for the double-denomination hypothesis nor for systematic denominational marking by obverse/reverse types; also (2) the chronology of two-eagle coin production corresponds with the chronology of co-regency, and (3) there is ancient documentary evidence that the two-eagles were taken as representing co-regency.

M. Price (1988), with the bronze coins of Ptolemy II, suggested that the 72g coin with the double eagle reverse was a diobol, i.e., double the value of an obol. However, there is good evidence that two eagles do not indicate a double value - click on

Price's assignments of denominational values to various lower weight coins required that a coin with the value of a drachma would weigh an implausibly heavy 216g. Moreover, if the 72g coin is a diobol, an obol would be a coin of 36g. Such a coin apparently does not exist, i.e., no example has been found; also not found is a 216g coin. If such virtual "coins" were deemed to be part of a monetary system they would certainly create bewilderment that would make them practically unusable.

There is further good evidence that the Ptolemaic mint did not use denominational marking by obverses and/or reverses; denominational values were determined by weight and corresponding size - click on                Are there Denominational Indicators on Ptolemaic Bronze Coins?

The chronology of two-eagle coins gives evidence that indicates the two eagles represent a co-regency; two-eagle coins were produced in times of co-regency and none were produced in times when there was a single regent.

Ptolemy II (285-246 BC) made Ptolemy Nios (i.e., the "son") co-regent in 267 BC. Shortly thereafter the two-eagle symbol was introduced by Ptolemy II (see above example) as part of a monetary reform that began within 266-261 BC. During the following reigns of Ptolemy III (246-221 BC), Ptolemy IV (221-204 BC) and Ptolemy V (204-180 BC), all without co-regents, no two-eagle coins were produced. Then beginning in 180-176 BC after a gap of 41 years (221 to 180 BC) without production of two-eagle coins, such coins were re-introduced; their appearance coincided with Cleopatra I becoming co-regent (in 180 BC) with her young son Ptolemy VI. After 170 BC, two-eagles coins were produced for the various co-regencies of Ptolemies VI and VIII with Cleopatras II and III. After the death of Ptolemy VI (in 145 BC) each of Ptolemies VIII, IX and X had co-regencies that produced two-eagle coins. Finally, Ptolemy XII (80-51 BC), without a co-regent, did not produce two-eagle coins but his daughter, Cleopatra VII, struck two-eagle coins beginning with her co-regency (46 BC) with her son Caesarion (see example above) - click on

The playwright Aeschylus (c.525-c.456 BC), in his famous work "Agamemnon", explained that the appearance of two eagles indicated the "two-throned Kings of Argos" (MenelaŘs and his brother Agamemnon) - click on

Such an interpretation of two eagles as two regents was very likely widely known and accepted by the Greeks (and Egyptians). In any case, when (as now) one eagle is universally taken to represent Ptolemaic royalty, it is very reasonable (and essentially intuitive as with the early numismatists) that two eagles would represent co-regency.