1. the so-called "Queen Cypros" coin
We have already begun to see how the Christian editor of Josephus developed his narrative. According to our thesis he took bits and pieces of authentic historical fragments in order to 'disprove' the original understanding of Agrippa as the messiah. The invention of his wife or mother 'Cypros' is another case in point. According to the existing texts of Josephus Aristobulos and Berenice were the parents of Agrippa I while Agrippa and his wife Cypros had Agrippa, Berenice and two other daughters named Drusilla and Mariamme.
Under our one Agrippa thesis there can be only Marcus Agrippa son of Aristobulos (himself possibly surnamed Agrippa). Already in the existing texts of Josephus there is a report which seems to tackle the 'rumor' that at least one half of the two brothers murdered by their father Herod the Great actually survived into the next era. Could there have been a rival tradition which held that Marcus Agrippa's father Aristobulos also survived like his uncle? There are only tantalizing clues but no definitive answers.
I find it hard to see that the Alexandrian tradition identify Aristobulos and Mary as the parents of St. Mark. The Mary in question is clearly Mary Salome the mother of the disciple John (also called Mark?) as the Copts still infer. The fact that St. Mark is always said to be related to Alexander the Abilarch might also account for his disappearance (he may have moved to Alexandria where he became an influential citizen?). More significant is the fact that the first century Acts of Isidore from Alexandria identifies Salome as the mother of Agrippa. Buried in the Herodian genealogies of Josephus is an Agrippa the son of Aristobulos and Salome.
For the moment however we had better confront the claim of ancient Jewish numismatics experts that "in recent times" Agrippa coins have been discovered which make reference to "Queen Kypros." The first time that this claim was made was in Maltiel-Gerstenfeld's Ancient Jewish Coins (1982) and it was quickly followed by numerous other discoveries of the same coin type and championed by the great Israeli expert on Jewish coins Ya'akov Meshorer.
What almost inevitably gets lost in all the hype is the fact that many scholars aren't as sure as these two that the coins actually say "Queen Kypros." In Andrew Burnetts' much more cautious treatment of the same coin type Roman Provincial Coinage (RPC 1 1992 listed as no. 4975) we read that 'the identity of the portrait is uncertain' and Burnett reads the obverse as [ ]NA SEBAST[ .
As Andrew Burnett noted in a personal correspondence with me recently "Yaakov was a great man but at times he was a bit optimistic in his coin readings." The sentiment has been echoed to me by many other experts in the field as well. Indeed Burnett is honest enough to admit that "the coins are very hard to read" and that is why he goes to such lengths to avoid simply writing out his hunches as definitive readings as we see with Maltiel-Gerstenfeld and Meshorer.
As he notes even though he became more convinced of the arguments of those scholars regarding the "Cypros" reading it is by no means definitive. He notes that in his supplement to RPC (1996):
S-4975 The obverse is probably to be read as
ΚYΠΡΟC ΒΑССI[ΛIССΑ]. 4975/1 can be read
better as [ ]POC ΒΑ-СI[ ], as M. Amandry has
confirmed ; 2. (see Maltiel-Gerstenfield) is illegible; 3.
(Meshorer, Suppl.) can be read [ ]ΚYΠΡΟС [ ; 4.
(Gamala find) perhaps reads [ΚYΠ]ΡΟ[С ] (note
that the illustrations of Gamala 33 and 34 have been
mixed up, as the darkness of the relevant photos
So what are we to make of the coin? Burnett's approach is the right one. It might say BASILISSA KYPROS but it doesn't definitively say this. It is only the solution which is readily available owing to scholar's unfortunate dependence on Josephus. What is an alternative hypothesis? To dig deeper within the father-son relationship that the one Agrippa had with the Emperor Caligula.
If we go back to the Christian corruptions of Josephus for a moment it is difficult not to wonder at the claim that Agrippa had at least one other sister beside Berenice . Her name was Drusilla and we only know about her because the texts of Josephus make rather starling claims about her. A careful examination of all the references makes clear in my mind that "Drusilla" was only invented as a way of distracting attention from the fact that she evidences more of the Agrippa "son of Caligula" relationship. You see Caligula had a sister named Drusilla as well as a daughter which given Agrippa's status as "his son" would lead to him to be brother to at least one of Caligula's "Drusillas."
What does this have to do with the "Queen Cypros" coins? It is a well documented fact that Caligula - the "Basileos" - married his sister Drusilla - the "Basilissa" - and had a baby by her before she died in 38 CE. After her death she was deified as Aphrodite whose most famous title in antiquity was "Queen OF Cypros." The title appears as early as the Homeric Hymns, Xenophon, Sappho and many others.
Did Agrippa ever honor the Claudian Drusilla in his coinage. He most certainly did as we see from the most ready source - Meshorer's Treasury of Jewish Coins (2001):
Far closer to the "BASILISSA KYPROS" coin we will encounter later is the Drusilla coin listed as RPC I 4977; Meshorer 117; SNG ANS Dated RY 5 (AD 40/1) of Agrippa I of Judaea. Draped bust of Caesonia/Antonia left, wearing hair in long plait / Drusilla standing facing, head right, holding something and staff:
The point is that there are a number of Agrippa coins which acknowledge and revere the sisters of Caligula (notice the number is THREE the number of sisters attributed to Agrippa in Josephus too):
Yet the RPC I 4977; Meshorer 117 bears a striking resemblance to the so-called BASILISSA KYPROS coins. The fact that she is not explicitly named will be answered shortly. At the very least we must recognize that if there are Agrippa coins which EXPLICITLY honor Drusilla the sister of Caligula it is not out of the question that there are others which honor her COVERTLY as the personified Aphrodite - i.e. "Queen of Cyprus" or "Queen on Cyprus" or by some such similar title.
We can already see the line begin to get blurred when we read Allen Kerkeslager's Agrippa and the Mourning Rites for Drusilla in Alexandria [Journal for the Study of Judaism, Volume 37, Number 3]. He connects the riots in Alexandria in 38 CE with the Jewish communities refusal to venerate Drusilla as Aphrodite. The issue of the aforementioned Drusilla coin three years after his death is puzzling to him. Why should Agrippa have waited so long to finally recognize the divine Sister of Caligula given the Emperor's suspicion regarding their loyalty. Treating the "Queen (of) Cypros" coins as memorials of Drusilla's divine status neatly plugs up that hole for him.
It is interesting that if we look at the Agrippan "Queen (of) Cypros" coins that there is some remarkable similarity with official Roman Drusilla coins from the period. The same woman is depicted carrying a staff in all images and holding an object (an apple?) in her other hand (see bottom coin):
This image is supposed to be the Jewish wife of the king!!!! It is utterly ridiculous. Other images of contemporary queens feature only their heads:
It is downright unbelievable that this provocative image of AN UNVEILED WOMAN is that of the wife of the supposedly law-abiding 'Agrippa I'!!! Why is she holding that staff? What is that strange cultic object on her head?
At the very least we have to begin to recognize that the Drusilla carrying a staff and holding something in her other hand coin:
begins to look remarkably similar to the "Queen (of) Cyprus" coins issued under Agrippa in the same regnal period:
and these in turn imitate the standard Aphrodite/Venus prototype that repeats itself over and over again throughout the Roman period (i.e. a woman holding a staff in one hand and an apple in the other):
Before we get there we should note that the original image of "BASILISSA CYPROS" has a one wearing a hairstyle identified by scholars as belonging to Aphrodite:
The point is of course that there is a very good explanation for the uncanny resemblance between (a) the Drusilla coins (b) the so-called BASILISSA KYPROS coins and (c) coins featuring Aphrodite/Venus the Queen of Cyprus. DRUSILLA, THE SISTER OF CALIGULA WAS VENERATED AS APHRODITE "THE QUEEN OF CYPRUS" AFTER HER DEATH. Agrippa's reference to her in his coinage was as close as he could go to acknowledge the divinity of Caligula's household without infuriating his Jewish subjects.
Now we confront whether the image which appears in the earlier 'Queen of Cyprus' coin matches any known images of Aphrodite/Venus. To begin with there is the strange (and overtly pagan) image of this BASILISSA CYPROS (or some such variant) associated with Agrippa holding an apple and staff in each hand:
I am not sure what coin you have in mind for the "enthroned Drusilla"
reference, unless you are assuming that the "Queen Cyprus" coin should be
read "Queen on Cyprus" or something like that (Meshorer's reading is, once
again, not to be trusted). But I am not bothered by the idea of Aphrodite
or some other goddess appearing on a coin of Agrippa minted in Paneas (as
opposed to Jerusalem). I do not accept the view that Agrippa I was a
model of Jewish piety with qualms about polytheism. There is too much
evidence against it and, in contrast, the evidence usually cited for this
view is ancient propaganda that quickly falls apart when carefully
It is better to look at these coins as presented in Roman Provincial Coinage Volume 1 ( = RPC 1), although Meshorer offers useful material if read with caution about his frequent errors.
(1) The "enthroned Drusilla" coin that the review of Meshorer mentioned is indeed the obscure [CAES]ONIA/[ANT]ONIA coin that I mentioned. She is standing, not seated, so I am not sure that "enthroned" is the best word to use here. As I mentioned before, Kokkinos, Antonia Augusta (2nd ed.) is the best discussion of this coin.
(2) As far as the Cypros coin, images of deities and images of historical personae are not always easily distinguished and were in fact of presented identically precisely for the purposes of royal and imperial propaganda. One pertinent example is the Drusilla coin in question, which presents Drusilla in a form resembling a deity. So I see no problem with Agrippa presenting his own wife as a deity, whether or not you want to identify her form as that of Aphrodite, Demeter, Tyche, or Atargatis. This is the same king who appears on another coin that may present a ritual celebrated in the rather non-kosher setting of a pig being sacrificed in the temple of Jupiter at Rome; RPC 1.4983.
(3) Agrippa was not the first Jewish king to present his image on a coin. E.g., see Philip in RPC 1.4939, who happily shows his own head on one side and a temple to Augustus on the other in 1/2 CE. It appears that such polytheistic tendencies were a family tradition long before Agrippa minted coins. Don't forget that Agrippa had set up images of his daughters in Caesarea Maritima, so a coin with an image of his wife may have been based on some image of his wife in Paneas. Agrippa was just doing what any other Roman royal figure like himself would do if indeed he presented his wife like a local deity. He was not just Jewish, but a Roman citizen of praetorian rank. Whether the "Cyprus" in question is his wife or (as you seem to suggest) the island, there is no problem with presenting the features of a female deity on his coin.
At one point it is claimed that she was betrothed to marry Antiochus the son of Antiochus the king of Commagene but the marriage was cut off by Agrippa because the foreign
She was six years of age at the time of her father's death at Caesarea in 44. Her father had betrothed her to Antiochus Epiphanes, the son of Antiochus IV of Commagene, with a stipulation from her father that Epiphanes should embrace the Jewish religion. The prince in the end refused to abide by his promise to do so, and the marriage had still not been contracted on her father's death. (Her 10 year old sister Mariamne was in a similar situation, with an unfulfilled betrothal to Julius Archelaus Epiphanes, the son of Antiochus, the son of Chelcias). Also on Agrippa's death:
“ ...the inhabitants of Caesarea and of Sebaste forgot the kindnesses he had bestowed on them, and acted the part of the bitterest enemies; for they cast such reproaches upon the deceased as are not fit to be spoken of; and so many of them as were then soldiers, which were a great number, went to his house, and hastily carried off the statues of [Agrippa I]'s daughters, and all at once carried them into the brothels, and when they had set them on the brothel roofs, they abused them to the utmost of their power, and did such things to them as are too indecent to be related. They also laid themselves down in public places, and celebrated general feastings, with garlands on their heads, and with ointments and libations to Charon, and drinking to one another for joy that the king was expired, not only unmindful of Agrippa, who had extended his liberality to them in abundance, but also of his grandfather Herod the Great, who had himself rebuilt their cities, and had raised them havens and temples at vast expense. ”
Once Drusilla's brother Herod Agrippa II had been assigned the tetrachy of Herod Philip I (along with Batanea, Trachonites and Abila) in around 49/50, he broke off her engagement to Epiphanes and gave her in marriage to Azizus, King of Emesa, who, in order to obtain her hand, consented to be circumcised. She left him for Felix, becoming his third wife while still in her teens. She was with him when Paul defended his faith. (Acts 24 and 25) He also married Mariamne to her betrothed.
It appears that it was shortly after her first marriage was contracted that Antonius Felix, the Roman procurator of Judaea, met Drusilla, probably at her brother's court (Berenice, the elder sister, lived with her brother at this time, and thus Drusilla probably did too). Felix was struck by the great beauty of Drusilla, and determined to make her his (second) wife. In order to persuade her, a practising Jew, to divorce her Jewish husband and marry him, a pagan, he took the following steps:
“ While Felix was procurator of Judea, he saw this Drusilla, and fell in love with her; for she did indeed exceed all other women in beauty; and he sent to her a person whose name was Simon, a Jewish friend of his, by birth a Cypriot, who pretended to be a magician. Simon endeavored to persuade her to forsake her present husband, and marry Felix; and promised, that if she would not refuse Felix, he would make her a happy woman. Accordingly she acted unwisely and, because she longed to avoid her sister Berenice's envy (for Drusilla was very ill-treated by Berenice because of Drusilla's beauty) was prevailed upon to transgress the laws of her forefathers, and to marry Felix. ”
She was about twenty-two years of age when she appeared at Felix's side, during St. Paul's captivity at Caesarea - Acts 24:24 reports her thus:
"Several days later Felix came [back into court] with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess."
Acts gives no further information on her subsequent life, though Josephus states that they had a son named Agrippa after his uncle - this son perished together with his mother, Drusilla, in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79.
1. ^ Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, xix. 9. § 1.
2. ^ Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, xx.7.1
3. ^ Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, xix. 9. 1 and xx.7.1
4. ^ Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, xx.7.1
5. ^ Atomos in some manuscripts
6. ^ Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, xx.7.2
7. ^ Mentioned in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, xx.7.2, and in a lost section of the work.
There certainly was an Agrippa coin where a woman appeared identified as BASILISES KYPROS on the other side of the King's portrait. The question again is whether a slavish adherence to Josephus is the only path to explain the coin:
Once again it seems an open and shut case. Agrippa is on the one side and the female figure on the other is the "Cypros" identified in the surviving works of Josephus as his wife.
Of course, there is something odd about the portrait if it truly is that of this Jewish Queen. Agrippa I was supposed to be a "law abiding" Jew. The fact that he put his own portrait on coins is odd enough in light of this consistent claim. Now his "wife" is depicted not only unveiled but in a full body portrait dressed up like a pagan goddess? One might have accepted - at least theoretically - a modest bust portrait - but what appears on the coin is indeed quite unprecedented. Why is she holding a staff in this provocative manner? Why are her legs spread open in this vulgar manner (something present even in the licentious Emperor Caligula's portrait of his wife and sisters).
I can show you dozens of Queen portraits in the period - none look like this!
So we are back to where we started, trying to make sense of this coin. Yet we ought to clear the air about this supposed wife of Agrippa I. As Daniel Schwartz notes:
This woman plays almost no role in any other part of Josephus' narrative (he mentions her elsewhere only in his genealogical lists) and she seems to be mentioned only once more in all of ancient literature.
Indeed even Schwartz recognizes that this 'other reference' isn't an actual reference to Cypros. The passage in question comes from the Greek Anthology AND DOESN'T MENTION CYPROS AT ALL. It speaks of a tapestry given by a "queen" to the reigning Roman Emperor which contained "a perfect copy of the harvest bearing Earth and all that the land encircling Ocean girdles, obedient to great Caesar and the gray Sea too." [Greek Anthology IX, 778]. You have to change the word karpos (fruit) to kypros and then you have the Queen called 'Cypros' but this is clearly a stretch.
In short we have only one meaningful reference to Cypros in Josephus and Schwartz raises questions about this one.
Of course we go much further than Schwartz. We are putting forward that there never was an 'Agrippa I' and his wife was developed from an unusual connection between Marcus Agrippa and Caligula. In the previous section (year 2) we discovered that Agrippa called himself 'the Son of the King' - i.e. Caesar. Now we will posit that as Caligula's adopted 'Son' he was developed by the editor of the existing text of Josephus to being the 'brother' of Caligula's daughter Drusilla who is universally acknowledged to have been venerated (posthumously) in the period as Aphrodite 'the Queen of Cyprus.'
Of course it is well established in numismatics that only the barest details typically appear on coins. They rarely spell out full sentences. As such I will put forward that the proper reading of this coin should not be "Queen Cyprus" but 'Queen of Cyprus.' It falls into line with what we read occurring in contemporary history namely that when his sister Drusilla died suddenly in 38 CE:
Caligula never really recovered from the loss. He buried his sister with the honors of an Augusta, acted as a grieving widower, and had the Roman Senate declare her a Goddess as "Diva Drusilla", deifying her as a representation of the goddess Venus or Aphrodite. Drusilla was consecrated as Panthea, most likely on the anniversary of the birthday of Augustus.
If Drusilla was Aphrodite then the connection with the title 'Queen of Cyprus' is unavoidable for Aphrodite was always identified by this title in the literature dating back all the way to the Homeric Hymns. The list of these references would include:
Sappho "The Anactoria Poem"
Not the thought of child nor beloved parents was remembered, after the Queen of Cyprus won her at first sight.
Aelian Various Histories Book Three
The Queen of Cyprus work'd them to prostitute themselves, insomuch as in some parts of Peloponnesus they ran up and down, as it is said, naked and raging.
Athenaeus of Naucratis The Deipnosophists
“0 Queen of Cyprus! Hither to thy sanctuary Xenophon hath brought a troupe of one hundred girls to browse, gladdened as he is now that his vows are fulfilled.'
The Homeric Hymns
Muse, tell me the things done by golden Aphrodite,the one from Cyprus, who arouses sweet desire for gods and who subdues the races of mortal humans, and birds as well, who fly in the sky, as well as all beasts all those that grow on both dry land and the sea
A fuller list of references appears in A reconsideration of the Aphrodite-Ashtart syncretism Stephanie L. Budin. As Jay Keys notes (Politics of Caligula):
A fragment of the Arval Acta, from A.D. 38, refers to the consecration of the divae Drusillae or the divine Drusilla, and a Greek inscription found in Mytilene refers to Drusilla as "The New Aphrodite". Gaius' promotion of his sisters might have begun as a political move, but his well-documented fascination with them helped fuel his image of madness rather than cunning. In fact, their unrivaled elevation helped build an image of an entire family line that was divine and worthy of producing rulers.
It is noteworthy that elsewhere in the existing texts of Josephus Drusilla is developed into an imaginary sister of Agrippa. It is claimed for instance that Felix married this Drusilla daughter of Agrippa I when in fact as Tacitus makes clear she is another Drusilla completely. Yet another 'mistake' in the existing text which have 'nothing to do' with a conspiracy against Agrippa'!!!
Æ 23mm (11.53 g, 12h). Caesarea Paneas mint. Dated RY 5. laureate head of Gaius (Caligula) left, [G]A[I]W KAISARI SEBASTW [GERMANIKW], NOM[ISMA]/BASILE[WS]/AGRIPPA, Germanicus in triumphal quadriga right, holding eagle-tipped scepter; [car decorated with Nike standing right]; LE in exergue. RPC I 4976; Burnett, Coinage 4; Meshorer, p. 93-94 and 116M (same obv. die); SNG ANS 261 (Tiberias; same dies); Hendin 549. Near VF, brown patina, areas of soft strike and porosity, light scratches in right field of obverse. Very rare.
Æ 23mm (10.72 g, 12h). Caesarea Paneas or Tiberias mint. Dated RY 5 (AD 40/1). Laureate head of Gaius (Caligula) left / Germanicus in triumphal quadriga right, holding eagle-tipped scepter; [date in exergue]. RPC I 4976; Burnett, Coinage 4; Meshorer 116; Hendin 74. Near VF, black patina with traces of orange overtones, area of hard bright-green patina on reverse. Extremely rare.
Agrippa I, king of Judaea, 37-44. Bronze, Caesarea Panias year 5 circa 40-41, æ 12.09 g. [GAIW] KAISARI [SEBASTW GERMANIKW] Laureate head of Gaius l. Rev. [NOMIS] BASILEWS AGRIPPA Germanicus in triumphal quadriga r.; in exergue, LE. A. Burnett, The Coinage of King Agrippa I of Judaea, Mélanges Bastien, p. 28, 4. Hendin 74. J. Meshorer, Jewish Coins, p. 138, 186. RPC 4976.
Bronze (AE, 2.70 g 11), Caesarea Paneas, year 5 = 40/1. (beginning lower left) […] […] Bare head of Agrippa II to left; to left, L. Rev. (beginning above at 11 o’clock)  [ ] Crossed cornucopias. AJC 4. Bromberg II, 350 (choice VF, $14,500). Hendin 552. RPC 4979. TJC 119. Very rare. One of the most legible examples of this coin known. Good fine.
Like so many of the great rarities of Jewish coinage, this piece is very worn. It is, however, nevertheless one of the best examples available (there are three in the Hecht Collection, all significantly inferior (Y. Meshorer, Ancient Means of Exchange, Weights and Coins. Haifa, 1998, 303-304a [304 and 304a are both illustrated by the same coin]).
1. the so-called "Queen Cypros" coin