Coin with the head of Alexander

Greek, 305-281 BC

Silver coin of Lysimachus (Coin with the head of Alexander)

Download this video to watch in your favourite media player, or to view this video online please enable javascript.

Using this on a mobile device? Tap the image to watch.
On desktop, requires Flash player or click image to download.


Watch more BSL video descriptions

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.


Athena

Athena

The Greek goddess Athena

Shown here on the reverse of this coin, Athena (or Athene) was a virgin goddess of arts, crafts and war, and patroness of the city of Athens.
Read the full article

31.

Coin with head
of Alexander

Listen now

Related products

Book

A History of the World in 100 objects

 
By Neil MacGregor

Accompanies the BBC Radio 4 series


Object details

Mint of Lampsakos (modern Lâpseki, Turkey)


Width: 3 cm
Weight: 17.250 g

 

CM 1919-8-20-1

Room 22: Alexander the Great

    References

    G.K. Jenkins, Ancient Greek coins (London, Seaby, 1990)

    I.A. Carradice, Greek coins (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)

    R.R.R. Smith, Hellenistic royal portraits (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1988)

    O. Mørkholm, Early Hellenistic coinage (Cambridge University Press, 1991)

    I.A. Carradice and M.J. Price, Coinage in the Greek world (London, Seaby, 1988)

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    A.P. Bosworth, Conquest and Empire: The Reign of Alexander the Great (Cambridge, 1993)

    A.P. Bosworth, The Legacy of Alexander: Politics, Warfare, and Propaganda Under the Successors (Oxford, 2005)

    Glenn R. Bugh, The Cambridge Companion to the Hellenistic World (Cambridge, 2006)

    A. Erksine, A Companion to the Hellenistic World (London, 2003)

    R. Lane-Fox, Alexander the Great (London, 2006)