Featured Is This What Alexander the Great Looked Like? A Diadochi Tetradrachm

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Curtisimo, Apr 10, 2017.

  1. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish)

    I acquired this coin recently from @John Anthony and I have to say that I am very pleased with it. It is my first coin of the so-called Diadochi, or successors, of Alexander the Great and it is very interesting for a great many reasons not the least of which is its’ depiction of Alexander III the Great. Warning: This post might run a bit long.

    Lysimachus the Diadochi
    Lysimachus is one of the most fascinating and mysterious of the Diadochi largely because there is so little literary information on his life relative to the other companions of Alexander. Lysimachus was born sometime between 361 BC and 351 BC which makes him roughly the same age as Alexander. According to some sources Lysimachus’ family was from Thessaly and therefore not from the Macedonian nobility [1]. Regardless, Lysimachus’ father seems to have been a close adviser to Philip II and Lysimachus spent his youth being educated among the Macedonian elite at Pella.

    Ruins at Pella, Greece – Birthplace of Alexander the Great and childhood home of Lysimachus (Wikipedia)

    Lysimachus first enters the historical record as one of the elite bodyguards of Alexander known as the Somatophylakes at the start of the invasion of Persia [1]. He seems to have been among the second rank of the companions behind Ptolemy, Perdiccas and Leonattus. There is some speculation that he was fortunate to have been present at Babylon during Alexander’s death and was thus able to secure for himself a satrapy when he might otherwise have been overlooked [1]. Another theory is that he rose to greater prominence during the Indian campaign (where he was crowned by Alexander for his services in 324 BC [2]) and so was a natural choice to subdue the difficult and unruly territory of Thrace.


    The satrapy allotted to Lysimachus lacked the resources for him to play a leading role in the wars of the Diadochi that followed the death of Alexander but the strategic significance of Thrace as the gateway between Europe and Asia meant that he still wielded significant influence over world events. Lysimachus was a capable military leader and was able to expand his kingdom into Asia Minor during the Fourth War of the Diadochi after the decisive Battle of Ipsus. However, his fortunes on the battlefield were marked with a few devastating losses. Around 292 BC Lysimachus was defeated by the Getae and taken prisoner for a short time [3]. In 281 BC at the Battle of Corupedium he was defeated by his old ally Seleucus I Nikator and killed in battle (at the age of about 74 to 80).

    The Coins of Lysimachus

    When Lysimachus took control of Thrace in 323 BC he lacked access to a royal mint [4]. This seems to have been a non-issue up until 319 when the myth of a single empire was still intact and the satraps could still petition the royal treasury for the funds they required. From 315 to 301 Lysimachus seems to have been reliant on receiving coinage from his friend Cassander in Macedonia where the mints of Amphipolis and Pella were particularly important [4]. From 319 to 315 Lysimachus lost his access to coined money completely [4] After Lysimachus declared himself Basileus in 306 BC he issued some coins from Lysimacheia in the type of Philip II [4]. After the Battle of Ipsus he gained several mints in Asia Minor and from 301 to 297 BC issued coins in the type of Philip II and Alexander III. After Cassander’s death in 297 Lysimachus began minting tetradrachms and drachms with a deified Alexander on the obverse and Nike with seated Athena on the reverse as seen with my newest example [4]. The consistent style of the Alexander/Athena type coins and the evidence from die studies has led to some speculation that the dies used by Lysimachus were produced at a central location and then distributed to the royal mints. Below is a timeline of the coinage of Lysimachus.


    Reverse: Athena and Nike

    I don’t think it’s possible to overestimate the influence this reverse type of Lysimachus has had on the history of coin design. The seated female deity with shield and some variation of weapon or symbol of victory has lasted from antiquity right down to modern times. In fact, a quick search through my own collection turned up multiple coins spanning over 2,200 years that clearly illustrate this.


    Obverse: Portrait of Alexander

    The obverse of this coin shows the deified Alexander III with the horn of Ammon. The horn is meant to commemorate an event alleged to have taken place during Alexander’s conquest of Egypt. Alexander is said to have made a difficult journey across the desert to consult the oracle at the Siwa Oasis where the priests there proclaimed him the son of Ammon (equated with Zues) and allowed him entry into the Adyton of the temple [6].

    The Siwa Oasis is a vast and isolated place surrounded by desert (Wikipedia)

    The consistent style of the coins of Lysimachus naturally leads to some speculation of how accurately they depict their subject. In order to explore this interesting question I thought it would be useful to look at some of the other most famous depictions of Alexander for comparison.
    Hermes Azara

    The Hermes Azara is a Roman copy of an original sculpture thought to have been made by the famous Sikyonian sculptor Lysippus. It is attested by Plutarch that Lysippus was the only sculptor that Alexander himself saw fit to model him on account of Lysippus’s famed ability to render an accurate portrait [6]. The sculpture is currently in the Louvre museum in Paris.
    Hermes Azara, Louvre Museum, Paris – Image courtesy of Wikipedia

    Alexander Mosaic

    The Alexander Mosiac is a famous mosaic that was discovered in the House of the Faun in Pompeii and is believed to have been copied from an original Greek painting commissioned by Cassander and painted by the famous Philoxenus of Eretria [7]. It is thought to show the Battle of Ipsus where Alexander III decisively defeated the forces of Darius III. It is currently in the Naples National Archaeological Museum.

    The Alexander Mosiac showing the Battle of Issus (Images courtesy of Wikipedia)
    Comparison with Coins of Lysimachus

    To my eye the nose of Alexander in the coin portrait seems somewhat more slender and idealized than the other two depictions. However the facial features and jaw line seem pretty consistent, especial between the sculpture and coin.

    In honor of this iconic coin the Greek mint issued the 100 Drachmes coin from 1990 to 2000 with a design that drew its inspiration from the coins of Lysimachus.


    So what do you guys think? How does the coinage compare to the other depictions of Alexander III?

    …also please post your Diadochi and Alexander III coins!

    [1] Lund, Helen. Lysimachus: A Study in Early Helenistic Kingship. London: Routledge, 1992. Print

    [2] Heckel, Waldemar. Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great: Prosopography of Alexanders Empire. Wiley-Blackwell, 2005. Print. pp. 153-54

    [3] Hornblower, Who’s Who in the Classical World. Oxford: Oxford University Press. P. 238

    [4] Thompson, M. "The Mints of Lysimachus," inEssays Robinson.

    [5] http://www.greece.org/alexandria/alexander/Pages/siwa.html

    [6] http://www.livius.org/articles/objects/azara-herm/

    [7] https://www.astro.rug.nl/~weygaert/alexandermosaic.html
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2017
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  3. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

    Wonderful post! Thanks for the fantastic writeup. Here is my only coin of Alexander-a lifetime tet.

    Alexander Price 6.jpg
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  4. Ancient Aussie

    Ancient Aussie Supporter! Supporter

    Great write up Curtisimo, I wish I had more Alexander coins only have one of his common AE, but there is definitely quite a few bust versions kicking around, I remember looking intently at the famous mosaic in the Naples museum a few years ago and thinking it doesn't look much like him on coinage. 20161231_101855.jpg

    Attached Files:

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  5. TIF

    TIF Well that didn't last long :D Supporter

    BIG thumbs up for your post!

    What a great summary. Where did you get that fantastic timeline-- or did you make it?!

    Collecting at least one coin of each member of the Diadochi is a "someday" goal for me.

    Also, I really like your new "coin over water" photo template. Very original and subtle :) You might not want to use it for bronze coins though... you know... moisture can incite bronze disease :D

    Here's my best Alexander :)

    AR tetradrachm, 17.14 gm
    late lifetime issue, struck in Aradus c. 324/3 BCE
    Obv: Head of Herakles right, wearing lion skin headdress.
    Rev: BAΣIΛEΩΣ AΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ; Zeus seated left, holding eagle and scepter; I in left field; AP monogram below throne
    Ref: Price 3325
    ex Colosseo Collection (images by Colosseo Collection)
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2017
  6. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

    Great coin and great write up , Curtisimo

    Here's my Lysimachos tet:


    And a statue of Alexander,his 2 different coloured eyes (brown and blue) added his to his divine status.

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  7. gregarious

    gregarious E Pluribus Unum

    nice tet and write up curtis. i was too tight to buy any tets, but i do have 3 coins of him. one of the ar coins was the 1st major ancient i bought 14 years ago. Alexander coins 001.JPG Alexander coins 003.JPG
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  8. TIF

    TIF Well that didn't last long :D Supporter

    Ryro, ShannaS, RAGNAROK and 7 others like this.
  9. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter

    Great post! Until someone invents a time machine and goes back to take a snapshot of Alexander, we will have to be content with artists' renditions. The best we can say is that he was a handsome young man with classically Greek features.

    The OP coin illustrates one of the difficulties in grading ancient coins. Since all ancient dies were hand-cut, the coins will display a variety of styles, depending on the abilities of the various engravers. The coin in question has some surface roughness and circulation wear, but the style is highly refined and elegant - High Greek in every sense of the expression.
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  10. Sallent

    Sallent Live long and prosper

    Great OP post and wonderful coins by everyone on this thread.

    Here is my one and only minted under Seleukos I Nikator, who knew Alexander in person. Alexander III Tetradrachm.jpg
  11. Alegandron

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

    Love the post @Curtisimo ! I enjoy Alexander's history as well as teh Generals and Leaders that revolved around Philip II and Alexander III. Such a huge historical change during that time!

    Thrace -Lysimachos AR drachm 305-281 BCE RARE Alexander head-Ammon horns - rev Lysimachos Athena.JPG
    Kingdom of Thrace,
    Lysimachos, 305 - 281 B.C.,
    Portrait of Alexander the Great
    Silver tetradrachm, 14.3g, maximum diameter 28.7mm, die axis 180o
    Ephesus(?) mint, c. 294 - 281 B.C.;
    Obv: diademed head of Alexander the Great wearing the horn of Ammon
    Rev: BAΣIΛEΩΣ (king) ΛYΣIMAXOY (Lysimachos), Athena enthroned left resting arm on shield, transverse spear resting against right side, Athena holds Nike crowning name with wreath, ΣΠE(?) monogram under her hand
    extremely rare
    Ref: Apparently unpublished; Müller -, Thompson -, SNG Cop -, SNG Tübingen -, Armenak Hoard
    Comment: VF, high-relief unusual style portrait, toned, tiny flan crack, light marks. This coin was previously attributed as Thompson 166, but that type has a bee under Athena's arm and a similar, but not identical, monogram in the exergue. We were unable to find another example of this type.
    Ex: Roma Numismatics e-auction 5 (23 Feb 2014), lot 353;
    Ex: Forum
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  12. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Thanks for the fantastic writeup; I really enjoyed it! That's a great coin, too... I think the reverse is in especially excellent style.

    Lysimachos, Lampsakos mint:
    Lysimachos Tetradrachm.jpg

    AtG, Pella mint:
    Alexander III - Tetradrachm Price 245.jpg

    Seleukos I AE, Winged Head of Medusa with features of Alexander:
    Seleukos I - Medusa Bull.jpg

    Another Tet, temp. Kassander - Antigonos II Gonatas:
    Kassander Tetradrachm.jpg
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  13. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

    couple of more Seleukos I Nicator coins:

    P1150912.JPG P1180067.JPG olifant op bal 2.jpg
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  14. Mikey Zee

    Mikey Zee Delenda Est Carthago

    Very impressive! An extremely interesting and informative write-up.... and fantastic coins everyone!!

    Here's my example of the Lysimachos Tet from Pella; Athena seated with shield, 29 mm, 16.53 grams:

    lysimachos tet, pella, 16.53g, 29mm.JPG Lysimachos tet athena seated with shield.JPG
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2017
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  15. gregarious

    gregarious E Pluribus Unum

    i've alway noticed that second drachm of mine seemed to be different than the other one in style and could very well be one minted by Seleukos
  16. Alegandron

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

    I have a few more Lysimachus that are AE's:

    Thrace Lysimachus AE 14 306 BC Apollo forepart of Lion.JPG
    Thrace Lysimachus AE 14 306 BC Apollo forepart of Lion

    Thrace - Lysimachos 305-281 BCE AE14 Lysimacheia mint 2-7g Young Mail Helmeted - Forepart Lion SNG Cop 1159 var
    PIC: In the Hand of the Coin-God @John Anthony

    Thrace - Lysimachos 305-281 BCE AE20 Sysimachia mint 4.64g 19.5mm Athena - Lion SNG Cop 1153 Muller 76
    Ryro, Puckles, stevex6 and 19 others like this.
  17. ancientone

    ancientone Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the historical background and awesome OP Curtisimo! My only Lysimachos AR Tetradrachm with find patina.

    Kingdom of Thrace, Lysimachos AR Tetradrachm.
    Kingdom of Thrace, Lysimachos AR Tetradrachm. Early-mid 3rd century BC. Diademed head of the Alexander right / BASILEWS LYSIMAXOY, Athena Nikephoros seated left. Sold.
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  18. TIF

    TIF Well that didn't last long :D Supporter

    What a majestic portrait!
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  19. maridvnvm

    maridvnvm Well-Known Member

    There is such a variation in style between the mints too.

    This one is attributed to Ainos based on style and is quite distinctive.

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  20. Ancientnoob

    Ancientnoob Money Changer

    Alexander III Lifetime for Pella, Macedonia


    and the not so Alexander issued by Mithridates VI of Pontus. Odessos, Thrace

    Ryro, Puckles, stevex6 and 21 others like this.
  21. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish)

    Thanks TIF! I actually made the timeline because I was having trouble keeping the coin issues straight with the chaotic events of the Diadochi period. Hopefully it helps others that are likewise struggling.
    My new deal with myself is that all coins purchased above a certain threshold will get a full essay style write up. It's really helping me learn more about my coins (and slowing down my bidding to the benefit of my bank account ;))

    Also, thank you for the compliment on my backdrop :) I think I will have to keep and eye on my bronze coin photos to see if they start changing ;)

    Thank you both. I totally agree that even though this coin has some issues with surfaces and wear the style really jumped out at me. When I saw this one I thought that the reverse was the finest style that I've seen of the type.

    Excellent coins everyone! Thanks for sharing and keep them coming!
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2017
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