Berenice (* 28 BCE ‒ † ?)
Berenice, the oldest daughter of Agrippa I and sister of Herod Agrippa II, was a Jewish queen (Fig. C.). After several short marriages, among them to her uncle Herod of Chalcis, she went to live with her brother, with whom she was said to have a relationship. She appears to have assumed the position of queen beside Agrippa II in all areas. Berenice was highly engaged politically at the time of the First Jewish War (66 – 70 CE). According to Flavius Josephus, she is said to have vainly attempted “with bare feet” to dissuade the procurator Gessius Florus from massacring the Jewish populace (De bello Iudaico 2,310 ff.). Roman sources also describe her as dynamic, while her brother frequently appears only as her companion.
Berenice maintained a long affair with the later emperor Titus, whom she had met during the First Jewish War. She was considered inappropriate to be the wife of an emperor due to her religion and ancestry, and perhaps also her age, and the two were forced to separate when Titus was elevated to emperor in 79 CE. Berenice’s fate during the last years of her life is largely unknown; the exact date of her death is also unclear.
The Women in Coinage
Livia is the first woman to be shown in Jewish coinage. Her portrait, with her typically knotted hair, is presented in the Jewish coinage of the tetrarch Herod Philip (4 BCE – 34 CE) with the Greek legend ΙΟΥΛΙΑ CEΒΑCΤH (Julia Sebaste). The reverse shows three spikes of grain held by a hand and the accompanying inscription ΚΑΡΠΟΦΟΡΟC (karpophoros, that is, bearing fruit) (No.1A). The combination of the three spikes of grain with the term karpophoros is commonly seen in connection with the fertility goddess Demeter or Ceres. Emperor Tiberius had forbidden the deification of his mother following her death in 29 CE, but a connection between Livia and Demeter-Ceres, which enabled an indirect cultic worship, is documented in the eastern regions of the Roman Empire. This appears to find expression in coin No.1A.
The nearest parallels, showing a certain correspondence with this depiction by Philip, come from Alexandria, where the Livian iconography played an earlier and much larger role (No.6A). Livia first became part of imperial coinage with a coin type minted by Tiberius on her recovery following a serious illness in 22 CE (No.7B), to be followed by the later women of the imperial house (for example No.8B). Even before, on coins of the procurator Valerius Gratus (15 – 26 CE), Livia’s Greek name was given together with that of her son Tiberius (No.5B).
Herod Agrippa I (38 – 44 CE) seized the opportunity to portray women of the Roman imperial house, such as Antonia Minor or his own wife Cypros. In his loyalty to the Roman imperial family, he even introduced otherwise scarcely known depictions of Caligula’s wife Caesonia (No.2B) and his sister Drusilla into coinage. The coin portraits of his wife Cypros emphasize her exceptional position. As Antonia Minor, Cypros also appears as a priestess in the cult of the Divus Augustus.
Berenice, the famous sister of Herod Agrippa II, can also be found on coinage (No.3A). She wears a veil, a common depiction for respectable women in this period. This recalls the earlier pictorial tradition of the female Ptolemies (No.4A), which paved the way for the iconography of Roman women. The reverse shows the Seleucid anchor, a symbol of authority that also emphasizes the right to succession, which underscores Berenice’s position (see above).
U. Hahn, Die Frauen des römischen Kaiserhauses und ihre Ehrungen im griechischen Osten anhand epigraphischer und numismatischer Zeugnisse von Livia bis Sabina, Saarbrücken 1994
Y. Meshorer, A Treasury of Jewish Coins. From the Persian Period to Bar Kokhba, Jerusalem 2001
Y. Meshorer et al., Coins of the Holy Land. The Abraham and Marian Sofaer Collection at the American Numismatic Society and the Israel Museum, New York 2013, 2 vols.
P. Schäfer, Geschichte der Juden in der Antike. Die Juden Palästinas von Alexander dem Großen bis zur arabischen Eroberung, Tübingen 2010