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    PTOLEMAIC EGYPT. Ptolemy III Euergetes (246-222 BC). AV mnaieion or octodrachm (27mm, 27.72 gm, 11h). NGC Choice XF 5/5 - 3/5, Fine Style, brushed. Posthumous issue of Alexandria, under Ptolemy IV, ca. 219-217 BC. Bust of deified Ptolemy III right, wearing radiate diadem and aegis, ornate trident over left shoulder, the central tine ornamented with lotus finial; dotted border / ΠTOΛEMAIOY-BAΣIΛEΩΣ, cornucopia bound with radiate royal diadem, containing grain ear, pyramidal cake and pomegranate, grape cluster hanging from left side of rim; ΔI below, dotted border. CPE 888. Svoronos 1117.

    Ex Heritage Auction 3026 (Long Beach, 25 September 2013), lot 23221.

    No other kingdom or empire in the ancient world could produce such large gold coins, and this display of economic clout drew thousands of mercenary soldiers into Egypt's service. This large and powerful army was put to maximum use by the third king of the Ptolemaic dynasty, Ptolemy III Euergetes. Shortly after inheriting the throne of the Pharaohs, he launched a massive invasion of the neighboring Seleucid Kingdom of Syria. Easily crushing all resistance, he even reached Babylon, where he proclaimed himself King of Kings. Ptolemy III's powerful portrait appears on gold mnaieions struck by his son, Ptolemy IV Philopator, who succeeded him in 221 BC.

    A very special thanks to Catharine Lorber, who provided this research and commentary, to give some perspective of the enormous purchasing power of mnaieions:

    It is tricky to estimate the purchasing power of the Ptolemaic mnaieion in terms of the modern economy. Although we possess price and wage data from Ptolemaic Egypt, our modern standard of living is so much higher that comparisons may not be entirely reliable.

    The average price of an artaba of wheat during the reign of Ptolemy II was 2 drachms. The mnaieion, equivalent to 100 drachms, could purchase 50 artabas at this average price. The current price of wheat in the US, as of 30 August 2019, is $4.60 per bushel. The bushel and the artaba are nearly identical measures of volume—a bushel is equivalent to 27.2155 kg, an artaba to 30 kg. The current price of 50 bushels of wheat, $230, could be deemed more-or-less equivalent to the mnaieion. This figure should be increased by 10%, to $250, to account for the 10% difference between the bushel and the artaba. However we should take into account that one of the blessings of modern life is an abundance of inexpensive food.

    The typical pay of an ordinary soldier in third-century Ptolemaic Egypt was 1 drachm per day, thus 30 drachms per month. (The Egyptian month was exactly 30 days long.) The mnaieion was equivalent to a soldier's pay for 3⅓ months. Current pay for an enlisted soldier in the US Army, at the lowest pay grade, is $1680.90 per month (1). This amounts to $5703 for 3⅓ months. According to this measure, then, the mnaieion would be equivalent to $5703.

    During the reign of Ptolemy II the pay of a mounted patrolman was 100 drachms per month, exactly one mnaieion (2). This may be compared with the pay of a California Highway Patrolman (3): minimum $4357.25 per month, average $7443 per month, maximum $12,714 per month. The average pay of a Texas Ranger is $4167 per month (4). It would be tempting to adopt the low figures of $4167 and $4357.25 because of their congruence with one another, and their relative closeness to the figure derived from military pay. But documents from third-century Ptolemaic Egypt indicate that the pay of mounted patrolmen fell in a range from 20 to 100 drachms per month (5). There were probably different pay grades, just as in the modern military and in other modern organizations, and 100 drachms per month was apparently the top pay rate. According to this example, the mnaieion would be equivalent to $12,714.

    We can certainly conclude that the mnaieion had great purchasing power, but in terms of its modern equivalent the best we can do is suggest a range between $4000 and $13,000.

    1 Source:
    2 P. Rev. Col. 12 (259/8 B.C.)
    3 Annual minimum $52,287, annual average $89,316, annual maximum $152,570, according to
    4 Based on average annual pay of $50,000. Source:
    5 P. Petr. III 93, 20 drachms; P. Petrie III 128 239 B.C.), 30, 40, 50, 80 drachms.

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