Alexander
Lion Skin

 

Alexander the Great tetradrachm (17.2g), from Amphipolis, Macedonia (present-day northern Greece), c. 336-323 BC, Sear Greek 6713v., SNG Cop. 675, M.J. Price 93

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

This coin type is the single most numerous of all ancient Greek coins, with hundreds of millions struck at more than one hundred different cities on three continents during its nearly three-century run.

The obverse of virtually all of Alexander-type silver coinage, both coins like this one struck during Alexander III's lifetime as well as the posthumous issues, features a portrait of Herakles/Hercules, the greatest mythological hero of antiquity, wearing his trademark lion skin headdress, with the open mouth of the dead lion positioned so as to appear to be biting the back of Herakles' skull. The lion skin refers to Herakles' killing the Nemean lion in his First Labor.

The same or similar lion-skinned Herakles image appeared on the coinage of previous Macedonian kings, including Philip II c. 359-336 BC (Sear Greek 6686), Perdikkas III c. 365-359 BC (Sear Greek 1514), Amyntas III c. 393-369 BC (Sear Greek 1510), and Archelaos I c. 413-399 BC (SNG Cop. 507). According to legend, this Macedonian royal line, the Argead dynasty, was descended from Herakles.

The model for the first Macedonian Herakles coins was a tetradrachm from Kamarina, Sicily c. 450-420 BC (Sear Greek 758), according to Charles Seltman in his 1949 book Masterpieces of Greek Coinage. These coins more clearly depict the lion's jaws wrapped around the back of Herakles' head. Even earlier coins depicting Herakles include staters from Dikaia, Thrace, c. 515-490 BC (Sear Greek 1345), and electrum hektes from Erythrai, Ionia, Asia Minor, c. 6th century BC (Boston MFA 1806, SNG von Aulock 1942).

Rulers after Alexander issued the same Herakles/Zeus type as Alexander but with their own inscriptions, including Philip III, Seleukos I (and his successors Antiochos I, Antiochos II, and Seleukos II, who typically retained Seleukos' inscription), Lysimachos, Antigonos II, the Paeonian dynast Audoleon, and the Thracian dynasts Kersibaulos and Kavaros. Seleukos I issued one unusual issue in Alexander's name that's identical to a standard posthumous Alexander tetradrachm except that it features Zeus holding Nike instead of an eagle.

Other rulers, regions, and peoples, before, during, and after Alexander's time, issued coins featuring a portrait of Herakles on the obverse but with different reverses. Still other coins depict Herakles in other ways on coins -- see
Hercules from Beast Coins for an introduction to this.

The reverse of Alexander's large silver imperial coins features Zeus seated on his throne holding an eagle, his symbol, and a scepter, which refers to his status as king of the gods. The legend on these coins reads, in Greek, "Of Alexander," as on this specimen, or "Of King Alexander." This specimen features a bucranium (ox head) in the reverse left field, which is a mint control mark.

Alexander's Herakles silver coinage was minted as dekadrachms (rare), tetradrachms, diddrachms, drachms, 5th tetradrachms (rare denomination used in Babylon), hemidrachms, diobols, obols, 30th tetradrachms (rare denomination used in Babylon), hemiobols, and tetartemorions (quarter obols), with some of the hemiobols and quarter obols featuring different reverses than the larger denominations. His bronze coinage, minted for local use, was more varied in style, but the most common types also feature Herakles wearing a lion skin headdress on the obverse. Alexander's gold coinage used a different design entirely, with Athena wearing a crested and plumed Corinthian helmet on the obverse.

Alexander the Great was the single greatest conqueror of all time, never losing a battle between his ascension to the Macedonian throne at age 20 to his premature death from malaria, bird flue, overmedication, poisoning, alcoholism, or a combination of two or more of these causes at about the age of 33. He spread Greek culture from Egypt to India, changing the world and leaving a legacy that included not only his massive coinage. Yet his attempt to unite East and West proved ultimately a failure. The current onflict between the Islam dominated East and Judeo-Christain dominated West, which has existed for more than a thousand years, is only the latest example of this disunity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ancient fourree counterfeit Alexander the Great tetradrachm (13.9g), a copy of a posthumous Alexander tetradrachms minted in Amphipolis, c. 315-294 BC, M.J. Price 486

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

This is a silver-plated bronze counterfeit, minted in ancient times. As with similar fourrees, the plating on this coin was likely broken through circulation or corrosion from having been buried in the ground for two millennia. This allowed gases and liquids to enter underneath the plating, further breaking it down.

This specimen shows all three layers of a silver-plated fourree. The orange is the bronze core, while the green is the "eutectic" layer separating the silver plating from the bronze core and is believed to consist of 72 percent silver and 28 percent copper.

The making of counterfeit coins like this in ancient time could be punishable by death, a punishment for this crime that has existed at various times and in various places since then as well.
Here are other pages of mine on Ancient Fourree Counterfeits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thracian imitation Alexander-type tetradrachm (16.0g), 3rd century BC, Sear Greek 212, CCCBM 192v.

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

This is a "barbarous copy" of a coin of Alexander's son, Philip III, having a characteristic scyphate (cup-shaped) flan. Disagreement exists over whether these and similar coins were minted by ancient Thracians or Celts, but the styling of Celtic imitations is typically more curvilinear.

The Thracians also imitated coinage of Alexander himself, with the difference being in the reverse legend. The Alexander imitations use Alexander's name, the Philip III imitations, like this one, use Philip's, though in both cases the legend is often blundered, with the letterforms indicating that the engravers were illiterate and were just copying the shapes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next: Lysimachos Lion

 

 

 

 

 

 

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© 2014 Reid Goldsborough

Note: Any of the items illustrated on these pages that are in my possession are stored off site.