Billon tetradrachm of the city of Alexandria, reign of Commodus

Roman Period, AD 189/90
From Alexandria, Egypt

The Pharos, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire in 30 BC. Unlike other provinces it had a centrally administered coinage produced by the Roman administration. Nonetheless, like other provincial coinages the basic design consisted of the emperor's portrait on the obverse (front) and a local design on the reverse. The depiction of local architecture is common on such reverse designs. The architectural designs on these coins often provide the best evidence for how ancient buildings might have looked.

This coin offers one of the few surviving images of the famous Pharos (lighthouse), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Pharos had been built at the mouth of the harbour at Alexandria by the famous architect Sostratos of Cnidus at the beginning of the third century BC. It was still standing when this coin was produced some five hundred years later, in the reign of the Roman emperor Commodus (AD 180-192). The lighthouse no longer stands, but coins such as this are one way that we can see how it would have looked. The portrait of Commodus appears on the other side of the coin.

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More information


K. Butcher, Roman provincial coins: an int (London, Seaby, 1988)

T. Cornell and J. Matthews, Atlas of the Roman world (Phaidon, 1987)

A. K. Bowman, Egypt after the Pharaohs 332 B (London, The British Museum Press, 1986)

A.M. Burnett, Coinage in the Roman world (London, Seaby, 1987)


Diameter: 23.000 mm

Museum number

CM 1956-4-9-83 (BMC 3123)



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