046 - fig1

PHRC046 : Dedication (fake?) to Queen Kleopatra VII, Salamis - Cyprus (47-42 BC) Dedication

This terracotta representation of Eros riding a rooster was dedicated to a queen Kleopatra whose identity is revealed by a Cypriot bronze coin of Kleopatra VII found together with the statuette. The rare iconography of the coin, which represents the queen suckling a baby Ptolemy XV Kaisarion in an attitude associating them with Isis and Horus (and possibly with Aphrodite and Eros), allows us to narrow down the chronological limits of the dedication to the early years after the birth of the son of Kleopatra and Caesar. However, various problematic details concerning the text and palaeography of the inscription, together with the notorious habit of the Cesnola brothers to enrich their collection of Cypriot antiquities with little scruple for the provenance of the purchased objets, do not allow to reject the hypothesis that the inscription is a modern fake intended to increase the commercial appeal of this otherwise trivial votive statuette.

Photo 1: drawing of the statuette, from A. Palma di Cesnola 1884, p. 189
Photo 2: drawing of the bronze coin of Kleopatra VII found together with the statue, from A. Palma di Cesnola 1884, p. 189
Photo 3: photo of a specimen of the Cypriot issue depicting Kleopatra VII suckling a baby Ptolemy XV, from the Classic Numismatic Group website

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Object Type: Statue
The statue was probably complete. The inscribed surfaces of the basis was worn.
Material: Terracotta


Text written on the surface of the statue basis
As it appears in the figure, the writing with A with horizontal bar, Σ with parallel hastae and no apices, points to the late 3rd / early 2nd cent. BC. This would make Kleopatra I or Kleopatra II a suitable recipient of the dedication. However, it is improbable that the author of the drawing in Cesnola's book would reliably reproduce small palaeographic details of the inscription. For a more radical intepretation of the writing style, see Commentary.


Original Place: Salamis
Date: Between 47 and 42 BC
Justification: historical context
Provenance: Cesnola reports that this terracotta was found together with a coin, which appears to be a specimen of Kleopatra’s rare Cypriote bronze issue representing the queen with the little Ptolemy XV Kaisarion. Since no information is provided about the time and place of finding, it is probable that the two objects were sold to either Luigi or Alessandro Palma di Cesnola by a local, perhaps via the mediation of one of their collaborators


Text constituted from: A. Palma di Cesnola 1884, p. 189.

Other editions:

See also: Strack 1896, p. 275, no. 174; Salamine XIII 73.

Images: A. Palma di Cesnola 1884, p. 189.

Further bibliography: on the archaeology of Salamis, see PHRC047; on the evidence of Isiac cults in Hellenistic Salamis, cf. RICIS 401/0101 with Anastassiades 2009a; on the Cypriot bronze type of Kleopatra VII as Aphrodite with Kaisarion/Eros, see Bennett 2001-2011 and Anastassiades 2009b; Hölbl 2001, p. 276, 279, 290 on the corresponding Egyptian link of Kleopatra and Kaisarion with Isis and Horus. On the questionable collecting methods of L. Palma di Cesnola, see Marangou 2000, p. 247-249.

Online record: PHI


[Τῆ]ι Κλεοπάτ[ραι] βασι[λίσσηι].


(S. Caneva)
To Kleopatra the Queen


(S. Caneva)
A Kleopatra la regina


À Cléopâtre la reine


This small statue dedicated to queen Kleopatra represents a boy riding a rooster. This iconography is a common one in Hellenistic votive terracottas and can be intepreted as a representation of Eros. The Egyptian god Harpokrated (Horus-the-Child) also often appears in terracottas of the same type (cf. LIMC IV, s.v. Harpokrates, nos. 313, 315), even though he is usually identified by details that are absent here (see Barrett 2011, p. 247-260): the typical gesture of bringing his index to his lips, the Egyptian children’s sidelock, the lotus bud, the double crown, or the radiate crown (the last attribute identifies Harpokrates in a terracotta from Salamis mentioned by Cesnola right after our statue, p. 189-190). The hypothesis of an Eros/Harpokrates statuette would perfectly match the historical context suggested by the Cypriot bronze coin of Kleopatra VII. This rare issue, to be dated after the birth of Ptolemy XV Kaisarion in 47 BC or after the death of his father Julius Caesar, in 44/3 BC, depicted the queen suckling the prince on the obverse, a detail equating Kleopatra to Isis with Horus as well as possibly recalling Aphrodite with Eros; the reverse represented a double cornucopia, establishing a clear link with Arsinoe II, and the legend ΚΛΕΟΠΑΤΡΑΣ ΒΑΣΙΛΙΣΣΗΣ (Bennett 2001-2011; Anastassiades 2009b). The parallel between Kleopatra and Isis with Horus-Harpokrates (Horus-the-Child) also played a prominent role in the construction of Kleopatra’s royal figure in Egyptian temples (see Hölbl 2001, p. 276, 279, 290; Anastassiades 2009b). Hellenistic Salamis has delivered a third-century dedication to Sarapis, Isis and the Theoi Euergetai, which provides a prececent of the link between ruler cult and the Isiac gods in this city. This earlier dedication could point to the existence of a local shrine where the Egyptian gods were venerated, and where the dedication of our statuette might have taken place ( Salamine XIII 56 = RICIS 401/0101, dedication to Sarapis, Isis, Ptolemy III and Berenike II; on Sarapis and Isis at Salamis, Anastassiades 2009a).

However, this story might be too beautiful to be true. First of all, the total absence of information about the context of finding does not allow us to precisely understand the archaeological link between the votive terracotta and the coin of Kleopatra VII: should the latter be considered as part of a dedication, or did it simply fall and was unearthed nearby the statuette? Secondly, if we follow the drawing and accept the interpretation of the vertical bar before the name of the queen as the final letter of the dative article [TH]I, we should conclude that this is the only extant dative dedication to Kleopatra VII in a period when dedications related to Ptolemaic rulers rather took the form of genitive or hyper + genitive dedications. Even more strikingly, the syntax of the dedication is entirely at odds with the patterns we know. There is no need for an article before the personal name of the queen and, most importantly, to my knowledge the royal title always precedes the personal name in inscribed dedications. Accordingly, one would rather expect the dedicatory formula (THI) ΒΑΣΙΛΙΣΣΗΙ KLEOPATRAI, or more plausibly (THΣ) ΒΑΣΙΛΙΣΣΗΣ ΚΛΕΟΠΑΤΡΑΣ, whereas the sequence ΚΛΕΟΠΑΤΡΑΣ ΒΑΣΙΛΙΣΣΗΣ appears in the legend of the coin found together with the statuette.

We can propose two different hypotheses to explain these uncommon details. The first is that the donor chose for an anomalous formula under the influence of the numismatic type, which also inspired him with regard the ideological message of the dedication. This is not entirely impossible, since the reign of Kleopatra VII testifies to the decline of the traditional Ptolemaic patterns and formulae of ruler cults and a variety of new experimentations are documented in the epigraphic evidence of the period. However, the various oddities shown by this inscription urge us to take into account a second hypothesis. It is possible that the seller of the coin and statuette added a fake dedicatory inscription to increase the value of an otherwise trivial object; in doing so, he copied the word order of the coin legend, only changing the case so that the text would look like a dedication to the queen. A copy of the numismatic legend would also explain the writing of A with horizontal bar and the absence of apices, which appear as remarkably conservative features in the epigraphy of Cyprus during the reign of Kleopatra VII but make perfect sense in relation to a numismatic inscription. It is indeed known that Cesnola’s desire to increase his collection of Cypriot antiquities often led him to overlook the risks of purchasing objects of dubious provenance. As observed by Marangou 2000, p. 247-249, this was especially the case of the Salamis campaign of 1874, which delivered fewer threasures than expected during the excavations led first by Luigi Palma di Cesnola and later by his brother Alessandro (see commentary to PHRC047).

S. Caneva, on 10.05.2019
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Travocial - Social Travel & Storytelling Practicalities of Hellenistic Ruler Cults
Marie Curie PISCOPIA project no. PISC14IGRU, University of Padova (2015-2017)
FNRS project no. 98368 (2017-2020)
Stefano Caneva
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The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Commission, Seventh Framework Programme, under Grant Agreement n° 600376 (2015-2017), and from the Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS), Belgium (2017-2020).
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