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This page gives access to a set of conversion tables for determining the Julian equivalent of Egyptian civil and lunar dates in the Ptolemaic era. Two tables are provided: a table converting civil dates to Julian dates, and a table notionally converting lunar dates to civil dates according to the lunar cycle of pCarlsberg 9.
In this section, several topics are discussed:
- The regnal eras
- The Carlsberg cycle
- The financial year
- The Canopic reform
- The Alexandrian reform
The Soter Era
It has long been known that a series of silver tetradrachms and didrachms of unknown origin, carrying the portrait of Ptolemy Soter on the obverse and the Ptolemaic eagle on the reverse, are dated according to an unknown era (J. Svoronos, Die Münzen der Ptolemäer, Nos 849 etc (Pl. 26a. etc)). O. Mørkholm, NNA 1975-6 23, listed the catalogued specimens for years 48-52, 70-92 (75 unattested), and 101-117 (103 and 108 unattested).
Mørkholm noted several prior suggestions that had been made to explain this era:
Accession era of Ptolemy II commencing 283/2, Phoenician mint
- Era of Philip III commencing 324/3
- Coregency Era of Ptolemy II commencing 285/4
- "Era of Ptolemy Soter" starting in 261/0
- Era of Tyre commencing 275/4, Tyrian mint
- Era of the death of Alexander IV starting in 311/0, Phoenician and Cypriote mints
- Era of Arsinoe II starting in 270/69
Mørkholm's analysis of the evidence showed that the era must have begin c. 260, though "in order not to press the material unduly" he was willing to accept any year between 265 and 255. His own proposal was that these coins were minted in the free Phoenician city of Aradus, and were dated according to the well-known era of that city, starting in 259/8. He suggested that they were intended for trade with the overseas territories of the Ptolemaic kingdom. He showed that the years of issue and the gaps could be correlated with fluctuations in power between the Ptolemaic and Seleucid kingdoms on this solution. Finally, he noted that an E which appeared (though not always certainly) as a mark on the reverse of many, though not all, coins from years 109-117 also appeared on Aradan coins of year 108.
R. A. Hazzard, Imagination of a Monarchy, 25ff., noted that it is necessary first to establish that the numbers on the series actually constitute year numbers. Several other such "eras" which had been claimed by numismatists had later been found to have other explanations. In support of this one, he noted that Mørkholm had shown that the sequence of the dies was also the sequence of the numbers (i.e. no obverse die was correlated with two different "years"). Although he did not note the point, it is also worth noting that both obverse and reverse die sequences change at a much faster rate than the numerical sequence, typically three or four times a "year". Finally, he suggested that the E represented E[NIAUTOU] (i.e. year).
O. Mørkholm, NNA 1975-6 23 at 46, notes that the series is conspicuous amongst Ptolemaic coinage by the near-complete absence of marks other than the year letters. The E is exceptional. Other interpretations of it had been proposed. Svoronos had suggested E[PIFANOUS]. It was more usually considered a magistrate's mark. This is also Mørkholm's view, though he notes that it is hard to understand why some reverse dies have the mark while others from the same year do not.
Hazzard does not discuss or even mention these possibilities. He does consider that the E might represent E[TOUS], but rejects it on the grounds that the normal symbol for this is L. He notes that an eniatous, unlike an etos, might start at any point in the year. It seems to me that this is a dangerous point for his argument, because, if correct, it implies that the number of the series is not an Egyptian or Macedonian calendrical year but an anniversary of some type within such a year, which would be a very unusual way of marking coinage of a well-defined era. One might also wonder why it was not until year 109 that the need for a year marker was noticed, and why that marker was applied inconsistently.
While I think Hazzard's explanation of the E mark is not likely to be right, I think that the case that the coin marks do represent years in an era of some type is fairly well established by the die evidence.
Hazzard then argued that their era, christened the "Soter Era", was an Egyptian era, and that it was introduced by Ptolemy II in 262/1. He does not mention Mørkholm's proposal, nor any other. He adduced the following items of evidence:
The entries of the Parian Marble are evidently counting down to a date of 263/2 or 262/1. The document was intended to glorify the Ptolemaic dynasty and Ptolemy II in particular. A countdown to an important date implies a forward count from that date.
- An analysis of the silver content of Ptolemaic coinage which Hazzard had performed showed that they dropped from 100% silver to 98% silver in 149/8. The same drop is observed in the Soter coinage in year 114. Therefore he concluded that year 114 Soter = 149/8 and year 1 Soter = 262/1.
- Ptolemy II began to identify himself as the son of Ptolemy Soter in 263/2.
- R. A. Hazzard & M. P. V. Fitzgerald, JRASC 85 (1991) 6, showed that the celebration of the Ptolemaieia described by Calleixenos was that of 262, and that it was realigned with the solar year in that year, to be celebrated as a pentateric festival in January thereafter, according to the acronychal rising of Canopus.
Hazzard argues that the political reverses and difficulties of the first 20 years of the reign required a relaunch and renewal, which was achieved in part through the creation of this new era, named after the king's father. He supposes that the era lasted until it was abolished by Ptolemy VIII on his accession in year 117 = 146/5.
That Ptolemy II sought to overhaul and reinvigorate his regime in various ways at this time, possibly even including the publication of the chronicle recorded in the Parian Marble, is plausible enough, and it may even be that the Ptolemaieia was reregulated as Hazzard argues. That this activity led to the launching of a new and otherwise-undocumented Egyptian era that lasted for over a century is, in my opinion, in the highest degree unlikely.
If there are two facts about the coinage that are certain, they are, first, that none of it has been discovered in Egypt and, second, that there is no evidence that any of it was minted there. Hazzard does not discuss this point.
- This theory, unlike Mørkholm's, fails to explain the distribution of dates of issuance. Again, Hazzard does not discuss this point.
- There is no trace of this era in the Egyptian papyri. The best that Hazzard can muster are some references to a Pentateris associated with the Ptolemaieia. At most this proves that there was a recognised pentateric cycle for the Ptolemaeia, not that there was an associated era.
- There is no trace of any calendar associated with the era. R. A. Hazzard, Imagination of a Monarchy, 30, implies that it may have been modelled on the Era of Dionysios, but this calendar was based on the summer solstice, not the acronychal rising of Canopus, and the era began in 285/4, not 262/1.
- There is no obvious reason why a reform of the Ptolemaieia should have necessitated a new era or calendar. The Ptolemies were perfectly capable of attending Olympic Games which were organised according to a lunisolar calendar, even though they themselves did not use one.
- Finally, the assumption that a countdown in the Parian Marble implies a forward count seems completely arbitrary.
As to the date of devaluation, Hazzard's argument depends on accepting a priori that the coinage is an Egyptian series. If it is not then there is no necessary correlation between the date of an Egyptian devaluation and the date of devaluation in the series. It doesn't seem difficult to suppose that it took the Aradans a little while to respond to an Egyptian action, especially since the devaluation was so minor. It may be that it was one of the reasons for ceasing production a few years later.
In short, at this time I find no reason to accept the Soter Era as Hazzard proposes it. Even if his arguments are correct, there seems no justification for making it an Egyptian era rather than a provincial one. Mørkholm's arguments, while not conclusive, appear to me to be sufficient explanation for the coinage.
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