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Research Coins: Printed Auction

Sale: CNG 81, Lot: 647. Estimate $300. 
Closing Date: Wednesday, 20 May 2009. 
Sold For $675. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

PTOLEMAIC KINGS of EGYPT. Ptolemy V Epiphanes. 205-180 BC. Æ Drachm (32mm, 28.64 g, 12h). Alexandreia mint. Struck circa 197-183/2 BC. Wreathed and draped bust of Isis right / Eagle standing left on thunderbolt. Svoronos 1233; Weiser 129; SNG Copenhagen 246. VF, brown patina, a little rough. Exceptional for issue.

From the Norman Frank Collection.

Isis was an ancient Egyptian goddess, whom the Greeks and Romans also worshipped, and whose cult experienced widespread popularity throughout the Greco-Roman world. While her popularity among all levels of society was due, in part to her role as the ideal wife and mother, it was her role in the resurrection of her husband Osiris that had the greatest impact, since it offered individuals an opportunity for salvation and the possibility of an afterlife.

The daughter of the Egyptian earth god and sky goddess, Isis was married to her brother, Osiris, with whom she conceived a son, Horus. When Seth, their brother, treacherously slew Osiris and scattered his dismembered parts far and wide, Isis dutifully located all the portions but one, and with her magical powers, resurrected Osiris's corpse. Osiris then became ruler of the Egyptian underworld and Isis became associated with the growing of grain and the fertility of the soil, since, according to later Egyptian mythology, the tears she shed for her dead husband caused the Nile to flood. Annually, the death and rebirth of Osiris was ritually reenacted, and soon Isis's role in these events became more prominent, especially under the Greeks and Romans, who downplayed or ejected completely the role of Osiris. Isis's role as the mother of Horus also became a regular feature of her worship. Horus served both as the avenger of his father's murder and as the protector of the living Pharaoh. By the time of the Ptolemaic kings, Isis gained special importance, since she could not only serve as the protectoress of the Ptolemaic queens, but also support the Macedonian adoption of the Egyptian royal policy of intermarriage between brother and sister.

During the late first century BC, Isis drew converts from all over the Roman Empire. She was especially popular in Italy. At Rome, a large temple complex was built for her and at Pompeii, archaeological excavations have located the remains of her temple there. In Greece, the traditional centers of worship included areas for the goddess, and epigraphic evidence shows she had adherents in Gaul, Spain, Pannonia, Germany, Arabia, Asia Minor, Spain, and many shrines even in Britain. Her competition with early Christianity was quite strong, and it is now recognized that many of her attributes were assumed by the developing role of the Virgin Mary in early Christian iconography.