Featured A Lifetime Issue of Alexander the Great with Interesting Interpretations

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Curtisimo, Mar 22, 2020.


Who do you think is depicted on the obverse?

  1. Karanos: Mythical king of Macedon

  2. Rhesus: King in the Iliad

  3. Apollo: The Greek Zoolander

  4. Other: Bacon and the like

Results are only viewable after voting.
  1. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    This coin is extra cool because it is a lifetime issue of Alexander the Great and because it used to belong to my friend @Severus Alexander ! It’s a humble coin at first glance but punches way above its price bracket in terms of cool historical interest.

    These coins were made to circulate locally in western Macedonia and were probably struck at the ancestral capital city of Aegeae or possibly at the administrative capital of Pella. But who is shown on the coin and what does it reference? There are a few interesting possibilities.

    KINGS OF MACEDON: Alexander III 'the Great' (336-323 BCE), lifetime issue.
    AE15 “half unit.” Macedonian mint.
    Dia.: 15 mm
    Wt.: 4.13 g
    Obv: Diademed head right.
    Rev: AΛEΞANΔPOY, Horse prancing right; below, torch.
    Ref.: Price 338.

    Ex AMCC 2, lot 23 (Nov. 9, 2019)

    Karanos: the First Macedonian King

    By the time of Alexander the Great, Karanos was the officially recognized founder of the Agread dynasty to which Alexander belonged. This legendary king was central to the Macedonian royal family’s claim of decent from southern Greece.

    Karanos was the son of Temenus, who was one of the Heracleidae kings that conquered the Mycenaean Peloponnese and as a result became king of Argos. After the death of Temenus, Karanos lost out in a power struggle for the kingship and decided to leave Argos and consult the oracle at Delphi. The oracle advised him to found a settlement on the Haliakman River at the first place were he encountered goats grazing [2]. There he founded the settlement of Aegeae (derived from the Greek word for goat).

    The “palace” of Aegeae, built under Philip II. This building is one of the possible locations for the striking of my above example.

    Hoard evidence suggests that these coins were struck in western Macedonia [1]. If struck at Aegeae for local circulation then associating the diademed head on the obverse with the mythic first king would seem to make this interpretation very plausible.

    Rhesus: Thracian King in the Iliad

    Rhesus was a Thracian king who met an unfortunate end in book 10 of the Iliad.

    The story begins when Dolon, a Trojan spy, is captured by Diomedes and Odysseus. Dolon tells the Greek heroes that the Thracian king, Rhesus, has recently arrived to assist the Trojans and that he and his weary soldiers are sleeping at a vulnerable spot at the edge of the camp. He tells them that Rhesus possesses the swiftest and greatest horses among the Trojans and that he also possessed god-like arms and armor made of gold.

    Armed with this information, Diomedes and Odysseus set upon and kill Rhesus and his men in their sleep and steal the magnificent horses.

    Diomedes and Odysseus stealing the horses of Rhesus. The slain Thracians shown above. Painted ca. 360 BC.

    This ignominious end for Rhesus in the Iliad would hardly seem to justify the development of a local hero cult in Thrace but it seems that this is exactly what happened. In the 5th century a play attributed to Euripides titled Rhesus shows how the details of Rhesus’s life were later expanded. In the play, Rhesus is said to be the son of the river god Strymon and one of the nine muses. At the end of the play Rhesus’s mother appears to announce that he will be resurrected and become immortal, but he will have to spend eternity living in a cave (usually taken to be the caves of the Pangaion Hills mountain range).

    So what does this have to do with Macedonian coins? Ancient writers associate Rhesus as a legendary king of the Bisaltae tribe. This tribe, who lived near the mouth of the Strymon River, were among the first people in the region to issue coins in the late 6th / early 5th century BC. These coins show a horse and figure holding two spears that is thought to be a depiction of Rhesus [2][3]. When the Macedonian kingdom under Alexander I annexed the territory of the Bisaltae during the Persian Wars he adopted the design of the Bisaltae coins for his regal coinage essentially unchanged.

    A coin attributed to the Bisaltae. Photo courtesy of CNG

    A coin attributed to the Macedonian king Alexander I. Photo courtesy of CNG

    Therefore, if the OP coin struck under Alexander III is a reference back to earlier regal coins, as it appears to be, then it is entirely possible that the head on the obverse shows Rhesus and the reverse is a reference to his magnificent horses mentioned in the Iliad.

    Apollo: Because he is Young and Pretty?

    Another common attribution for the head on the obverse seems to be Apollo. Price [1] discounts this theory as less likely than other possibilities but I think it can’t be ruled out entirely. Apollo appears on other Macedonian coins of the period and anytime you have a young, clean shaven, male head on a coin, Apollo has got to be on the list of usual suspects.

    Apollo - “Yes I use special shampoo AND conditioner”


    [1] Price, Martin. The Coinage in the Name of Alexander the Great and Philip Arrhidaeus. The Swiss Numismatic Society in Association with British Museum Press. London, 1991

    [2] Isaac, Benjamin H. The Greek Settlements in Thrace Until the Macedonian Conquest. Brill, 1986

    [3] Head, Barclay V. Catalogue of the Greek Coins, Macedonia etc. London, 1879


    So what do you think? Please vote on your favorite interpretation in the above poll.

    Also please post your;
    Lifetime Alexander coins
    Bisaltae coins
    Coins with founder heroes
    Coins showing characters from the Iliad
    Apollo looking pretty
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  3. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    I'm going with Apollo, because he's beardless.
    Ryro, TIF and Curtisimo like this.
  4. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    I think it's apollo too.

    Alexander III the Great (336 - 323 B.C.)
    AR Tetradrachm
    O: Head of Alexander as Hercules right, wearing lion-skin headdress.
    R: AΛEΞAN∆POY, Zeus enthroned left, right leg forward (archaic lifetime style), eagle in extended right hand, long scepter vertical behind in left hand, bow on left.
    Salamis mint, struck 332-323 B.C.
    Price 3139 ; SNG Alpha Bank 662; Newell. Salamis 7.

    Lifetime Issue
  5. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    Curtisimo likes this.
  6. Ancient Aussie

    Ancient Aussie Supporter! Supporter

    Great coin Curtis, with amazing historical background. As for the obverse I'm in the Apollo camp, interesting write up. Alex.jpg Macedon Alexander the Great lifetime issue.
  7. Ryro

    Ryro They call me the 13th Caesar Supporter

    It’s hard to compel me not to see the similarities between it and his dads coin and not say it’s... BACON FACE MAN!
    (Apollo is my strong inclination)
  8. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    ALEXANDER III AR Lifetimes

    Makedon Alexander III Lifetime Tet Myriandrus mint-Alexandria near Issus

    Makedon Alexander III - Alexandrine Babylon Di-Shekel Tet 24mm 16.35g LIFETIME 328-311 Baal-Lion

    Makedon Alexander III 336-323 BC AR Obol 7mm 0.51g Babylon Lifetime Herakles lion skin Club bow quiver wreath M Price 3744

    The obverse... I think it is Bucephalus... :) i always root for the Horse.
  9. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    I understand any of the AE coins of Alexander III are Lifetimes, as they were transacted locally and produced during the life of the King.


    Makedon Alexander III 336-323 BC AE 16 4-1g Salamis-Cyprus mint Herakles club bow quiver SA Price 3143

    Makedon Alexander III 336-323 BC AE 16 Eagle Tbolt Crescent

    Makedon Alexander III 336-323 BC AE 19 Quiver Club

    Makedon Alexander III 336-323 BC AE 18 Bow Case Club

    Makedon Alexander III 336-323 BC AE 17 Quiver Club

    Again, I think it is Bucephalus.
  10. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Interesting writeup, Curtis. I went the traditional route : no beard, looks pretty = Apollo.

    MACEDONIA Alexander III - AR Tetradrachm Amphipolis 2895.jpg
    MACEDONIAN KINGDOM. Alexander III the Great
    AR Tetradrachm. 17.17g, 24.4mm. MACEDONIA, Amphipolis. Lifetime issue, struck under Antipater, circa 332-326 BC. Price 44. O: Head of Herakles right, wearing lion skin. R: AΛEΞAN∆POY, Zeus Aëtophoros seated left; in left field, forepart of Pegasos upward.
  11. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter


    SNG ANS 474

    Hmmm... I still think it is Bucephalus...
  12. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    Looks like Apollo is a near consensus so far (with a strong endorsement of Bucephalus for the mighty reverse steed :) ).

    Did Apollo have any special significance in relation to horses? Perhaps the obverse and reverse don’t necessarily need to be directly associated?

    I can understand why Apollo is a popular choice... all beardless and ready for a night on the town. Though in the reference book for the coins of Alexander III and Philip Arrhideus Price makes the argument against Apollo on the grounds that the head is stylistically different than contemporaneous depictions of Apollo on other Macedonian issues.

    It was interesting studying the different theories. One could spend a career studying the details of these humble little coins.
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2020
    Alegandron likes this.
  13. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    I think people are saying Apollo because the coin looks very similar to the common (and much larger) Philip coins. I voted Karanos because Price knows a heck of a lot more than I do about these coins. Plus it would be much cooler. :D

    Awesome photo, btw!

    Here's an even tinier bronze, a quarter unit (12mm), issued under Philip III Arrhidaios. I wonder who that is on the obverse?

    Screen Shot 2020-03-22 at 10.07.56 PM.jpg
    ex @Justin Lee
  14. Paul M.

    Paul M. Well-Known Member

    I voted bacon, because, really, who the bleep knows? But, I think if you twisted my arm and made me vote for one of the other three, I’d also vote for Apollo, despite the style.

    Still looking for a nice, lustrous, lifetime Alexander tet. I have a drachm but, sadly, no photos. Speaking of small change, @Alegandron, that obol is super cool.
    Alegandron and Curtisimo like this.
  15. Orielensis

    Orielensis Supporter! Supporter

    I'd assume Apollo is most likely – primarily because the portrait on your coin is quite similar to these:

    Makedonien – Philip II, AE Unit, Apollo und Reiter.png
    Philip II, Kingdom of Macedonia, AE unit, 359–336 BC; Macedonian mint. Obv: Obv: laureate head of Apollo r. Rev: ΦΙΛΙΠ[ΠΟΥ], young rider on prancing horse r., A below. 18mm, 6.21g. Ref: SNG ANS 894, 935.

    Makedonien – Philip II, 1:5 Tetradrachme, Apollo und Reiter.png
    Philip III Arrhidaios (in the types of Philip II), Kingdom of Macedonia, AR 1/5 tetradrachm, 323–317 BC, Amphipolis mint. Obv: head of Apollo right, wearing tainia. Rev: [Φ]IΛIΠΠ[OY]; horseman riding right; branch below. 13mm, 1.78g. Ref: Le Rider pl. 46, 28; Troxell, Studies, Group 8, 385.
  16. NewStyleKing

    NewStyleKing Beware of Greeks bearing wreaths Supporter

    Apollo Obverse reverse Apollo Gryneos, Myrina c 160's- 150's BC

    Ryro, Orielensis, Curtisimo and 4 others like this.
  17. Pavlos

    Pavlos You pick out the big men. I'll make them brave!

    Very nice coin with a clear reverse. I am going for the traditional choice as well: Apollo!

    This is my favorite Apollo coin:

    Demetrios II Nikator (146 - 138 B.C.). First reign. Æ Denomination B, Uncertain mint 94 in Northern Syria (145 – 144 B.C.).
    Obverse: Laureate head of Apollo right, hair rolled, two long locks escaping down neck.
    Reverse: BAΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΔHMHTPIOY ΦIΛAΔEΛΦOY NIKATOPOΣ (“of King Demetrios the Victorious”); Filleted tripod.
    Reference: SC 1918;
    5.78g; 18mm
    Deacon Ray, Paul M., Bing and 4 others like this.
  18. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    The lack of locks (as on Pavlos's coin) argues against Apollo. Why is Apollo the standard interpretation of the common Philip coin?

    Screen Shot 2020-03-23 at 3.28.30 PM.jpg
  19. robinjojo

    robinjojo Supporter! Supporter

    In Circe, Apollo comes across as vain and untrustworthy, but he has always been handsomely portrayed on classical Greek coins, so yes, my vote is Apollo.
    Curtisimo likes this.
  20. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    A fun post and informative post, @Curtisimo. I went with Apollo - so here's an "Apollo looking pretty":
    Phillip II Macedon.jpg
    Kings of Macedonia, Philip II, 359-336 BC, AE Unit, uncertain mint in Macedonia
    Obv: Head of Apollo right, wearing Taenia.
    Rev: Youth on horse right, ΦIΛIΠΠOY above
    Size: 20 mm, 6.42 g

    The portraits look suspiciously similar:
  21. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    I voted OTHER.

    I am going to create a new Internet sensation, as I believe folks BELIEVE everything on the Internet is a TRUE STORY!

    I think Alexander really liked his older brother, Arrhidaeus...


    Philip III Arrhedaeus & Alexander IV, 323-317 BCE
    AR Drachm, 2.595g, maximum diameter 13.0mm,die axis 270o
    Amphipolis mint
    Obv: diademed head of of Apollo right
    Rev: ΦIΛIΠΠOY, naked youth pacing right on horseback, palm frond in right, reins in left, E in wreath below
    Ref: Le Rider p. 123, pl. 45, 31 - 32; SNG ANS 621, SNG Cop -, SNG Alpha Bank -,
    EX: ForumAncients
    Comments: VF, struck with worn dies, porous, bumps and scratches
    Very Rare
    Struck in the name of Philip II or his bastard son Philip III Arrhidaeus. Philip III and Alexander's infant son,Alexander IV, were made joint kings after Alexander's death in 223 B.C. Alexander the Great's mother, Olympias, allegedly poisoned her stepson Philip III as a child, leaving him mentally disabled, eliminating him as a rival to Alexander. Neither Philip III nor Alexander IV was capable of actual rule and both were selected only to serve as pawns. Perdikkas held power, while Philip III was actually imprisoned. In 317, Philip III was murdered by Olympias to ensure the succession of her grandson.

    Hey! Anything to post a COOL COIN from Makedon.
    :D :D :D
    Curtisimo, Bing and Johndakerftw like this.
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