The Exchange : The Coins of Alexander

The Coins of Alexander

Alexander the Great, son of Philip II, king of Macedon, was one of the most successful generals in all of history. Undefeated in battle, Alexander spread his empire across Persia, Asia Minor, Egypt and Syria. In conquering these areas, Alexander created Hellenistic culture, blending Asian and European lifestyles. Throughout his empire, the young conqueror issued distinct bronze, silver and gold coins.

A Brief Summary of Alexander's Life

Alexander was the son of Philip II; Philip was the King of Macedon, an area in northern Greece. The Macedonian king had Alexander tutored by Aristotle, and young Alexander learned much from the great philosopher. Alexander was clearly a capable leader because at the age of 16 his father left him in control of Macedon. Then, in 336 B.C.E, when Alexander was 20, Philip was assassininated, and Alexander became the ruler of Macedon and all of its allied territories.

Alexander then began killing off all of his nearby enemies in Macedon and throughout the Balkan peninsula. After his enemies were suppressed, in 334 B.C.E Alexander launched his campaign into Asia Minor. Alexander fought some of the Greek city states located there, and met the Persians at the battle of Issus in 333 B.C.E. Then, after that, Alexander conquered Gaza, Phoenicia and Syria. Next, the great general conquered Egypt in 331 B.C.E. Alexander then began marching towards Babylon, and defeated the Persian army at the Battle of Gaugemela.

Meanwhile, in Greece, Sparta led a revolt against Macedon. It was quickly put down by one of Alexander's generals, Antipater. After the Spartan defeat, Alexander chased the Persian king, Darius, across hundreds of miles, only to finally discover the king dead. Darius' death marked the end of the Persian Empire. To keep the recently conquered Persian aristocracy happy, Alexander appointed many Persian leaders as governors in his new empire.

After conquering the great Persian Empire, Alexander began an invasion of India. His army fought their way to the Hydaspes River, and stopped there. They built a navy and sailed across the Indus river. Yhey then began marching west towards Persia. However, during the march, many troops died of dehydration and heat.

After that, in Persia, Alexander caught a fever and died, leaving no successor to his empire. The empire was split into four sections: Asia, Egypt, Greece and Thrace. His generals and their descendants ruled these empires until, eventually, Alexander's empire was torn apart by the Romans.

 

Alexempire 

A map of Alexander's Empire

Types of Coins

The most common type of coins issued throughout Alexander's empire were the silver drachm and tetradrachm. Both featured the same design; however, a tetradrachm was worth four drachma. Gold and bronze coins were also minted, but are less common.

The design on the drachm (and tetradrachm) featured Herakles (a.k.a Hercules) on the obverse wearing a lionskin cloak. However, some think that it is not Herakles but Alexander himself on the coin. On the reverse of the coin there is an image of Zeus sitting in a throne, facing left. He is holding an eagle, his sacred animal, in his left, hand and a staff in his right. Some issues of the coin have Zeus' legs side by side and some show one leg behind the other.

 

Alexander Coin 

A silver drachm

The gold staters issued by Alexander featured Athena on the obverse wearing a helmet decorated with a serpent. The goddess Nike is depicted on the reverse holding a wreath in one hand and a stylis (naval standard) in the other.

 

Download 

A gold stater

The bronze coins of Alexander had the same obverse design as the silver drachm. On the reverse there was a bow in a case and also a club. The placement of the bow and club varied, sometimes with the bow on top and sometimes vice versa.

 

Alex AE 

A bronze hemiobol

The inscriptions on Alexander's coins were relatively consistent. The inscription used most often was ALEXANDROU (of Alexander). The other common inscription was ALEXANDROU BASILEWS  (of Alexander the King). This second inscription was typically not used in mainland Greece because the ancient Greeks did not like the idea of a single king ruling over everything.

The empires that followed Alexander's typically used the same types of coins, except with the ruler of that particular area's name instead of Alexander's on the coins.

Overall, the coins issued by Alexander the Great are excellent ancient coins to collect. There are plenty of silver coins on the market available to collectors.

 

Sources cited:

www.coinsoftime.com

www.brown.edu

www.historyodmacedonia.org

For images:

http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/oldwrld/armies/alex.html 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:AlexanderCoin.jpg

 

Written by Will Schrepferman at 00:00

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