Gold Mnaieion

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The mnaieion (lit. one mina) is an ancient gold coin of exceeding rarity which was minted as a fractional of the drachm. Commonly referred to as the octodrachm (8 drachms' worth) it is a gold coin of exceeding beauty characterized by its relatively large size and heft, with some examples weighing near an ounce by weight. Made of pure refined gold, it was minted along with the other denominations of the drachm by circa 220 BC onwards, although the production of such heavy and extremely valuable coins was limited at the time.

The height of the production of the mnaieion came about during the Ptolemaic reign of Egypt (circa 305 BC), when many examples of such coins were in limited circulations all throughout the Upper and Lower kingdoms of Egypt.

Decidedly influenced by Greek coinage, the mnaieion were typified by their highly detailed obverse busts and use of Grecian mythological symbols which would later be adopted by the standard coinage of the fledgling Roman Republic (the aureus). The mnaieion is an oddity of ancient coinage in that it possesses the highest value of its time – worth as much as a hundred silver drachms, or a mina (50 shekels) of silver. [1] Some rare finds depict the Ptolemaic dynasty along with an assortment of mythical and symbolical devices and legends that suggests that the mnaieion might not have been used as general currency in daily commerce.

One of the most noted finds of this rare example of ancient gold coinage was discovered in Israel, at Tell Kedesh, near the Lebanese border. The coin, dated back to circa 191 BCE was said to have been minted in Alexandria during the time of Ptolemy V. The gold coin, weighing nearly an ounce, bore the (reputed) image of the wife of Ptolemy the Second, Arsinoe II Philadelphus. A leading expert on the field, Dr Donal T. Ariel, suggests that the coin may have served a ceremonial purpose instead of a monetary one, owning to the extremely valuable nature of the coin which made it unavailable except for the most elite of individuals at the time. His hypotheses, stemming from the known fact of the deification of Arsinoe II by edict of her brother-husband Ptolemy II, may have influenced his idea of the coin being a religious 'offering' instead of a coin for general use. [2] The coin may have even been used as a type of temple currency, offerings acceptable only to shrines and temples but which was taboo if used for purchase. Ariel adds that compared to other coins dating from the same period, this certain mnaieion was comparable to other examples created during the Ptolemaic Dynasty which was reserved, if not for ritual use, then for personal use by the royals of the court in much the same way as bullion is now kept for the sake of investment.

Other examples of mnaieion / octodrachm are rare coins minted during the reign of Antiochus III (223 – 187 BC), Ptolemy III Euergetes (246 – 221 BC) as well as many other issues throughout the span of the Ptolemaic Dynasty. Because of their express use as either coins for investment or ritual, not many examples of mnaieion exist to this day, and rare pickings are highly sought after by collectors and investors alike.

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Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for ©

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