Cleopatra was an extremely contentious figure for Romans. After openly carrying on an affair with Caesar in Rome, she had fled Rome after his death with their illegitimate son, Caesarion. She and Antony met shortly after in Tarsus to discuss her loyalty and support, as she represented the wealthiest and most resourceful eastern state of the Mediterranean, but things quickly evolved. Cleopatra bore him twins a year later. Antony moved forward with responsibilities in Rome and elsewhere, and married the sister of Octavian to ease tensions between the men. They would have two daughters before he returned east. Reunited with Cleopatra, he had another son by her. At this point, their union, while perhaps not technically a marriage by Egyptian standards, was as much de facto. This was unsettling to even Antony’s supporters. After subduing Armenia, Antony grew more brazen, and even staged an imitation of a Roman triumphal parade in Alexandria to celebrate. There he further publicly distributed various territories – including Roman provinces – to Cleopatra and her children as they sat upon golden thrones. This came to be known as the “Donations of Alexandria,” and it is commemorated here on this denarius. All the regality of the situation (note the crown of Armenia behind Antony’s portrait on the coin) would have made the most charitable Roman uncomfortable, and Antony’s rival Octavian seized the opportunity to confirm Rome’s fears. He illegally seized Antony’s will and read it to the people of Rome, revealing that he wished to be buried in Alexandria, leaving everything to Cleopatra and their children. Octavian would then have the outraged populace swear loyalty to him as he declared war on Cleopatra – not Antony. Indeed, for many years scholars assumed that on Antony and Cleopatra’s joint coinage, the former was featured on the obverse; now evidence seems to indicate that -- at least on some of the coins -- it is the Queen of Egypt, not her consort, who was prioritized on the more significant side of the coin.
On this denarius we see that the two figures are made to look similar as a representation of their union, a common convention on ancient coinage. Traditionally, women reflect their husbands in such instances, but in this case it is Antony’s profile that diverges from his earlier depictions, here imitating the Ptolemaic features of Cleopatra, with a more prominent chin and hooked nose. KHK.