The Dating of the Coinage of Alexander the Great by Zoe Sophia Kontes 02

In his "Alexanders Reichmunzen" of 1947 Gerhard Kleiner proposed that Alexander did not begin to mint his own coins at the beginning of his reign.He contended that the young king did not take this step until 331 B.C., two years after the Battle of Issus, and that he did so at Tyre, upon his return from Egypt. In the meantime Alexander relied on the continued minting of coins of his father Philip and his own so-called 'eagle' tetradrachms, augmented by existing coins of Athens and Persia. Kleiner's theory was based on the style of the seated Zeus on the reverse of Alexander's silver tetradrachm, which he argued was derived from Cilician coinage minted under Mazaeus, the most recent Persian satrap.In arguing these lower dates, he had to amend Newell's dating of the coinage of Sidon and Ake from 333/332 to 331, an amendment that would later prove to be incorrect. His ideas were generally dismissed at the time, but more recent scholars have revived his work, with additions of their own. We will leave Kleiner for now, to continue with our chronological study, but the debate over the dating of the Alexanders, begun by him, is probably the most highly contested and engaging question regarding the current study of the Alexanders.

In 1955 Margaret Thompson and Alfred R. Bellinger published a work detailing the Alexander drachms of Asia Minor.While Newell had included drachms in his study of this coinage, the tetradrachms were not his main focus. Thompson and Bellinger's work was the first of its kind, and made clear a fact noted by Newell: Alexander's mints had different functions. Some mints, principally the seven discussed in their work, were established for the express purpose of minting small silver for the empire, while others, particularly those in Macedonia, were responsible for the larger coinage. Thompson and Bellinger proposed that this was not an arbitrary system set up by Alexander, but a logical progression based on existing local coinages. Persian sigloi, not minted on an Attic standard, were commonly used in Asia Minor. Therefore the drachm, rather than the tetradrachm, would have been more familiar means of exchange for the people of this area.The drachms were a significant part of the overall coinage, and their sequences are entirely separate from the tetradrachms. Thompson and Bellinger established the arrangement of drachms from the seven main mints (along with the staters associated with them) based on the close die links among the coins. They used three important dates as the backbone of the chronology for this arrangement: 334, the year in which Alexander began his campaigns in Asia Minor, 323, the year in which he died, and 317, the death of Philip III. None of the Alexander drachms of Asia Minor can have been produced before 334, any coins that bear Alexander types but the name of Philip III must be after 323, and no coinage of Philip III can have been minted later than 317. This study added an important piece to the overall study of Alexander's coinage, in organizing the coinage as well as providing the basis for determining its chronology.

In 1977, Georges Le Rider published a first and only comprehensive study of the coins of Philip II, Alexander the Great's father. This work established the chronology of Philip's coinage, and in doing so provided a new perspective on the history of Philip's reign in general. Philip's large gold coins were struck on an attic standard and began late in his reign (according to Le Rider), with obverse: laureate head of Apollo facing right; reverse: Nike in a chariot drawn by two horses, with the legend PHILIPPOU. A fractional issue had obverse: head of Herakles r. and reverse: kantharos, bow and club, with the legend PHILIPPOU. The large silver denomination was struck on the local Macedonian standard of approximately 14.52g, with obverse: laureate head of Zeus facing right. The reverse had two forms. Between 359 and 348 it showed horseman facing left with kausia, raising right hand in salute, PHILIPPOU. The second reverse struck between 348 and 336 was jockey facing left with palm branch, PHILIPPOU. The Philip coinage also included bronze units with obverse of a young head with taenia, and reverse of a horseman with the inscription PHILIPPOU.
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Gold stater (8.63 g.) diam. 1.8 cm. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, ex Henry Augustus Greene.
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One quarter Stater (2.50 g.) diam. 1.1 cm., Brown University Collection, gift of Capt. John R. Lewis.
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Silver tetradrachm (14.34 g.) diam. 2.5 cm. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, ex Henry Augustus Greene.

Le Rider set the beginning date for Philip's silver coinage at his accession of the throne in 359 B.C.. He divides the coinages into two series, the first commencing in 359 at Pella, and the second in 357 at Amphipolis.The striking of both series continued until 329/8, (although perhaps with a brief cessation in 336) then resumed again c. 323/2, after the death of Alexander. The posthumous issues at Pella continued until c. 315/4, while those at Amphipolis were struck all the way until 294 B.C., when Demetrius Poliorcetes began striking his own types. Le Rider places the first striking of the gold issues later in Philip's reign, perhaps 345 B.C. or even as late as 342. He asserts that like the silver, the gold stops in 329/8, and resumes in 323/2.At both mints, the gold was last minted around 310. Le Rider's dates are important to our study of the dates of Alexander's coinage. If Philip's coinage was being minted in 336 B.C., then either the two were minted simultaneously, or Alexander did not start minting until later. If the silver did stop for a bit in 336, (perhaps due to Alexander's short lived eagle coins) while the gold continued, this perhaps can be explained by the fact that the gold was minted on an Attic standard, as were Alexander's coins. Le Rider argues that if the coinage of Philip did not stop immediately upon the minting of the new Alexanders, then it was not long afterwards. He provides as evidence the fact that the common symbols shared by the two issues (prow, stern, janiform head, rudder) do not occur again in Alexander's lifetime. Yet he mentions a group of Philips which have all the same symbols with the addition of a bee, hinting perhaps that this group continued later than the others.

In 1982, Orestes Zervos discussed Alexander's earliest coins, championing Kleiner's theory of a lower date, which had been for the most part dismissed. His article was essential in that it posed a serious challenge to the traditional dating system worked out by Newell, spurring much discussion among scholars. As of today, opinion is quite divided on the subject; there are as many proponents of low dates as high. This was not the case after Kleiner's article was published, and Zervos deserves the credit for being the first to provide successfully an alternative to a well-established tradition.In his article Zervos argues that while difficult to comprehend, Kleiner's argument was essentially correct. He reorganizes and explains Kleiner's ideas, corrects them as necessary and provides additional evidence for his theories. Zervos emphasizes not only the iconographic but also stylistic characteristics of the early Alexander coins, and provides sufficient numismatic evidence for his proposals. Kleiner had not done this, having based his dating system on iconography and history, and having attempted to alter the numismatic evidence to suit his theory by lowering the date of the Sidon and Ake coinage.

Zervos principally details Kleiner's theory regarding the silver tetradrachms. Kleiner argues that the seated Zeus type on the Alexander tetradrachms was based on the Cilician type of the Baal of Tarsus, which implies that Alexander (or his officials) had seen these coins before minting his own. Because the figures of Zeus of the earliest Alexander coins of Tarsus and the earliest of Amphipolis are so similar, Kleiner argues that the Baal minted by Mazaeus was the prototype for the Zeus at the same mint for coins issued by Alexander, and from them the Zeus of Amphipolis was derived. In other words, the Alexander coins were first minted in Tarsus, and minting in Amphipolis began subsequently. Zervos outlines five characteristics of the coins showing eastern ('oriental') origin in style. These five characteristics are: 1) the figure's legs fixed stiffly together, 2) the unnatural position of the hand extended and holding the eagle (all fingers visible), 3) the awkward twisted position of the torso, 4) the large roll of drapery at his waist, and 5) the design of the throne on which the figure sits (particularly the 'bellcovers' on the legs). These eastern elements are found on the earliest tetradrachms of Amphipolis, in contrast, Zervos claims, to the classical styles of the local Macedonian coinage of the time (the Alexander gold coinage as well as the posthumous Philip II gold). With regard to the obverse head of Heracles, Zervos agrees with the traditional theory that this type was derived from the Heracles used on the coins of Alexander's predecessors. Yet he does not believe that this contradicts his theory; rather he explains the types as having been introduced separately at Tarsus and Amphipolis. Used first at Tarsus to compliment the Zeus reverse, when later adopted at Amphipolis, the head was an independent continuation of Macedonian type in a local style unconnected to the iconography at Tarsus. Therefore since the two types are decidedly distinct, the style of Heracles cannot be used in argument against the lower dating system.

Zervos provides evidence from three hoards containing Alexander tetradrachms. First, the hoard of Kyparissia, whose burial Newell dated c 328-327 B.C., contains more Amphipolis tetradrachms than those of Tarsus. Previous scholars had argued therefore that Amphipolis must have been minting first. Zervos believes that this is not necessarily true, as Amphipolis produced more coins in general. Secondly, in examining the Demanhur hoard, he argues that as Newell described them, a greater percentage of the Tarsus coins than those of Amphipolis were worn. Thus, Tarsus had been minting prior to Amphipolis. Thirdly, in the small hoard of Mageira, thought to be the earliest hoard containing Alexander coins, only one lifetime coin was foundaó tetradrachm from Tarsus. Zervos, while admitting that none of these hoards provides solid evidence, they at least cannot be used to contradict his theory. Next taking Alexander's gold into consideration, Zervos is able to correct Kleiner's original hypothesis that the beginning of the Alexander coinage came in 331 after the fall of Tyre. This seems to have been Kleiner's chief confusion, which was based on the gold types.Kleiner regarded the obverse of a helmeted Athena (with reverse of a Nike holding a wreath and stylis--a naval standard, a cause for much discussion among modern scholars as to its 'Panhellenic' reference), as representing naval activity. Therefore, because of the stylis, he dated the coinage to after the Battle of Tyre (where Alexander did in fact use ships). As he did not separate the commencement of the gold minting from that of the silver, he dated both to 331. In order to make this date feasible, however, Kleiner had to lower the dating of the coinage of Sidon and Ake, established by Newell in 1916 as beginning in 333/2, in order that the Tarsus coins would be the first. Zervos argues that because of the common coin types at both mints, the coinage must have been planned in Macedonia and in Tarsus, and since the silver was based on the Tarsus silver, the gold too must have been minted later than the Tarsus silver. If this is the case, then the beginning of the silver coinage can be dated to 333 B.C., after the battle of Issus. More importantly, the date concurs with the evidence of the dated coins of Sidon and Ake, which Newell found to have begun in 333/2.


1 comment:

  1. Very interesting article, thank you very much. It helps me to date my own coins more accurately!