Origins of Alexander's Tetradrachms: Amphipolis or Tarsos?

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Kaleun96, May 21, 2022.

  1. Kaleun96

    Kaleun96 Well-Known Member

    Hi all!

    I recently picked up this new Alexander tetradrachm from Amphipolis and it sent me down a rabbit hole of research, cumulating in a fairly lengthy article on how the tetradrachms of Alexander likely originated.

    The coin below is a "Price 4" type, which probably indicates to some of you that it's thought to be a fairly early type. It is in fact thought to be the second "Alexander" type minted in Macedonia and, if you're to believe Martin Price, the second "Alexander" ever. If, on the other hand, you believe the first Alexander tetradrachms were struck in Tarsos, then this coin is interesting for the Eastern features it retains from its likely inspiration: the satrapal staters of Tarsos.

    If this kind of thing interests you, feel free to read through the article on my website at the link below and let me know if you have any thoughts or feedback (or if I get anything badly wrong!). I'd copy the article here in its entirety but it's 8000+ words and has multiple figures. Hopefully this is allowed:


    If you'd rather not spend your weekend reading it, I will give a very brief summary.

    Whether "Alexanders" were first struck in Macedonia in 336 BC or in Tarsos in 333 BC may not be super interesting to everyone but it does have consequences for interpretations of why Alexander chose the designs he did (Herakles portrait, seated Zeus) and why he started minting his own coinage in the first place. If he ordered their production in 336 BC, it may have been due to a need to establish his authority or resolve the issues with the weight-standard Philip II had been using for his tetradrachms. But if Alexander didn't start producing his own coins until 333 BC, he must not have been too concerned with continuing to mint his father's coins for a time, and the need for his own coinage must have stemmed from his campaigns in the Near East.

    In the article, I argue why Alexander tetradrachms are derived from the Tarsos staters and that this must mean they were not struck until circa 333 BC. I primarily rely on the stylistic elements of the throne of Zeus/Baaltars to connect the staters to the early tetradrachms of Alexander in both the Near East and Macedonia. I also show how there were no equivalent parallels for this throne style in earlier Greek coinage so it is unlikely they were inspired by Greek furniture design and could not have been minted in 336 BC when Alexander was likely not aware of the Tarsos staters.

    My coin in particular exhibits some of the "Eastern" elements from the Tarsos staters when it comes to the throne design and flowering sceptre but there's also some interesting links with Philip's last emission of tetradrachms that helps identify which of Alexander's types were the first to be struck in Amphipolis. While some of the "Eastern" elements soon disappear from the Amphipolis tetradrachms, some elements do linger and others even make a reappearance a few years later. At times we also see completely different throne styles from coins minted in the same city, perhaps only a few years apart (e.g. Arados). I wasn't able to follow this thread since my article was already too long and broad but I'd be interested in doing so another time to get a fuller picture of the ebb and flow between "Eastern" and "Western" style in Alexander's tetradrachms.

    Thanks for reading!
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  3. Carl Wilmont

    Carl Wilmont Well-Known Member

    Interesting study and very nice tetradrachm above- with many more coins to enjoy viewing and reading about on your informative website, @Kaleun96!

    This example is attributed to Tarsos:


    Kingdom of Macedon, Alexander III 'the Great' AR Tetradrachm. Tarsos, circa 327-323 BC. Head of Herakles right, wearing lion skin headdress / ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ, Zeus Aëtophoros seated left, holding sceptre; globule below left arm; plough in left field, Θ below throne. Price 3019; Müller 1284; SNG Ashmolean 2891. 17.10g, 27mm, 4h.
    Last edited: May 21, 2022
    Edessa, Andres2, Kaleun96 and 3 others like this.
  4. kirispupis

    kirispupis Well-Known Member

    Nice tet! I don't have any Alexanders that early, though I do agree with you that they started in Tarsos based on the Baaltars design. Here are my two that may have "influenced" Alexander, though the second one may have been issued after Alexander started issuing his own tets.

    Tarsos. Mazaios, Satrap. Circa 361-334 BC. AR Stater.
    Baaltars seated left, holding sceptre surmounted by an eagle in right hand,
    left arm at side; grain ear, bunch of grapes to left, monogram under throne
    / Lion attacking bull above double row of turreted walls.
    SNG Levante 113; SNG France 360
    Ex Fenzl​

    Cilicia, Tarsos AR Stater.
    Balakros, satrap of Cilicia under Alexander III.
    Circa 333-323 BC.
    Facing bust of Athena, draped, wearing triple-crested helmet and necklace / Baaltars seated to left, holding lotus-tipped sceptre; grain ear and grape bunch to left, B above ivy leaf to right, T below throne.
    SNG Levante Suppl. 21; SNG BnF 368; SNG von Aulock 5964.
    10.79g, 26mm, 6h.
    Ex Roma​
    Edessa, Johndakerftw, Andres2 and 3 others like this.
  5. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Well-Known Member

    This is my example of Price 4.
    Tetradrachm of Alexander III 332-326 BC Obv, Beardless head of Herakles right in Lions skin headdress. Rv Zeus Aetophoros seated left Price 4 Troxell Group A 1 17.25 grms 25 mm Photo by W. Hansen alexandertd59.jpg I am in agreement that the standard silver coinage of Alexander began at Tarsos circa 333 BC I have some reservations about the start of the AV Stater coinage at that mint at the same time. I think your paper is well researched though I am puzzled that the Le Rider book "Alexander the Great Coinage Finance and Policy" was not in your bibliography. Overall excellent:)
  6. Kaleun96

    Kaleun96 Well-Known Member

    Great example! You don't often see so much detail still present in Alexander's curls. It looks like the obverse style is a bit different to what you normally see, in particular the lion's ear stands out. Have you found many die matches? Both my obverse and reverse die are quite uncommon, if I recall correctly, none in Troxell or PELLA and only 2 in ACSearch. But the style of my obverse die is quite similar to a lot of other examples, particularly in the "bean" shape of the lion's ear.

    Thanks! I think I cited that book once when referring to Le Rider's position on the debate but at the time I didn't have a copy to read myself, I just knew he expressed that opinion in that book. I did find a digital copy online (hosted by so I assume it's a legal copy) when I was putting the finishing touches on the article and from memory it didn't contain anything that I absolutely had to include so I left it out. I think if I were to dedicate more lines to the topic of Alexander's finances and Philip's II coinage I'd probably go back and reference it more. You mention the AV coinage which is another thing I omitted entirely from my article in interests of time and brevity but that would be another interesting area to dig more into in the future.
    Edessa likes this.
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