Coin with the head of Alexander
Greek, 305-281 BC
The conquests of Alexander III of Macedon,
known as ‘Alexander the Great’, changed the world for ever. This
coin has his image on it, even though it was minted by one
of his successors.
Following his death in 323 BC Alexander’s generals divided his vast empire between themselves at two conferences at Babylon (in 323 BC) and Triparadeisus (in 321 BC) and began to squabble over his legacy.
In the period of turmoil that followed, known as the Successor Wars, the image of the deified Alexander played an important part, as his Successors tried to cast themselves as his heir. This was part of an attempt to claim legitimacy of rule through association with Alexander, even though the Successors were not blood-relatives of the Argead dynasty (Alexander’s family).
One of the most striking examples of this is seen here on a coin of Lysimachus, one of Alexander’s generals . Lysimachus (reigned 305-281 BC) was allotted the kingdom of Thrace in Northern Greece, to which he later added parts of western Asia Minor (modern Turkey).
Early in the third century, Lysimachus began to produce stunning silver and gold coins. On the obverse (front) of the coins is a head of Alexander with the ram's horn of the Egyptian god Ammon. On the reverse (back) is the goddess Athena, seated, and a Greek legend which translates 'Of King Lysimachus'.
The reference to Ammon is from the story of Alexander’s expedition to Siwa Oasis after his conquest of Egypt. The priests of the shrine of Ammon there greeted Alexander as the son of Ammon and the rightful Pharaoh of the land of Egypt. This link to the god Ammon was understood in Greek terms as equivalent to Zeus, and the deity was often known in Hellenistic times and later as ‘Zeus Ammon’.
The emphasis on Alexander’s divine nature was important for Lysimachus, because through his association with Alexander, he was also connected to the gods.
These coins were minted after about 305 BC in a variety of cities under Lysimachus’ control and the example here comes from the city of Lampsacus in north western Asia Minor. This late beginning to coin minting in the name of Lysimachus was more or less in line with the other successors. Each had waited before introducing their particular innovations in coin design.