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Alexander the Great in Asia

The newest addition to my collection is tied to Alexander the Great at a turbulent time near the end of his life or shortly after his death. As Alexander proposed to push further east beyond the Hyphasis River, his armies pushed back (326 BCE). In the West he dealt with threats and misbehavior from his satraps/governors. The coin is a drachm from Lampsakos with interesting provenance.

Charles Le Brun (1619-1690), Alexander and Porus, 1673, the Louvre, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons. Alexander and King Porus during the Battle of the Hydaspes in 326 BCE (today the river Jhelum in Pakistan a tributary of the Indus River). Alexander's horse, Buchepahlas, dies after this battle.


"Alexander founded two cities, one where the battle took place, and the other on the spot whence he started to cross the river Hydaspes; the former he named Nicaea,694 after his victory over the Indians, and the latter Bucephala in memory of his horse Bucephalas, which died there, not from having been wounded by any one, but from the effects of toil and old age; for he was about thirty years old, and quite worn out with toil."
-Arrian, Anabasis of Alexander, 1.19.4

After this battle and the subsequent capture of Sangala together with Porus, the men pushed back on further conquests. Coenus spoke up on behalf of the men of Alexander's army:

"Do not lead us now against our will; for thou wilt no longer find us the same men in regard to dangers, since free-will will be wanting to us in the contests. But, rather, if it seem good to thee, return to thy own land, see thy mother, regulate the affairs of the Greeks, and carry to the home of thy fathers these victories so many and great. Then start afresh on another expedition, if thou wishest, against these very tribes of Indians situated towards the east; or, if thou wishest, into the Euxine Sea."
-Arrian, Anabasis of Alexander, 1.27.10

The Hyphasis River is the easternmost boundary of Alexander's empire, and in the end he turned back home. Hydaspes was is last major battle in the region. Coenus did not make it home and died in 326 BC.

Kings of Macedon, Alexander III 'the Great', 336-323 BCE. AR Drachm (15mm, 3.98 g, 12h), Lampsakos mint, struck under Kalas or Demarchos, circa 325-322BCE

Obv: Head of Herakles right, wearing lion skin

Rev: Zeus Aëtophoros seated left; in left field, Demeter (?) standing facing, holding two torches; monogram (Δ over O) below throne

Ref: Price 1356; ADM II Series V


Margaret Thompson, in "Alexander's Drachm Mints II" ANS (1991), describes this coin in Series V, and dates it to 325/4-324/3 BCE. She notes:

"Series V must surely be the output of at least two years (325/4 and 324/3) and this is the time when a considerable amount of money would have been needed to reimburse the mercenaries being sent home from Asia. It should be noted, too, that drachms of Series V and VI in very fresh condition were included in the crucial Asia Minor 1964 Hoard, securely dated to ca. 321 B.C"

An interesting commentary (by Terence "Terry" Cheesman) on this coin can be found on numisforums:

Commentary: Though the symbols are different the very distinctive monogram appears to link the two series together. The tetradrachm 1355 does exhibit a later image of Zeus with the foreleg reverted back which can be seen on the drachm 1356 and even on the drachm 1347. To me this would indicate that the mint at Lampsakos did not commence production until after the death of Alexander III. Production was initially slow and there is no evidence of a sudden striking of Gold staters as can be seen on the coinage struck at Sardes. Thus I am more inclined to position this mint as starting later in 323 BC with limited production which changed somewhat later.

The the uncrossed legs are often taken as an indication a "lifetime issue" of Alexander III, i.e. issued during his reign from 336 to 323 BC. Alexander the Great died at 32.

Quoting again from the interesting thread on numisforums:

It is definitely not clear that authorities decided to  use uncrossed vs crossed legs as an indication of lifetime vs  posthumous. While nearly all crossed leg examples are posthumous, not all uncrossed leg examples are lifetime. I forget the exact numbers but something like 25% of uncrossed leg types are posthumous. You would not expect such a large error if the intent was to use the leg position as a lifetime indicator. You'd also want to ask yourself: why should Zeus' leg position have anything to do with Alexander's death? As many researchers have shown, what we see instead is a transmission of crossed legs as a stylistic choice beginning in the Levant around 325 BC. In  fact, we actually know exactly when it originated as it first appeared  on dated issues of Sidon (325/4 BC) and then soon after on dated issues  of Tyre (324/3 BC) but it didn't completely take over until about 320  BC. Susa, was also an outlier in that it continued minting uncrossed leg  examples for some time after Alexander's death. 

In short, there's virtually no evidence to suggest uncrossed vs crossed  legs is a purposeful indication of lifetime vs posthumous Alexander  tetradrachms. 

The figure partly on the left edge of the flan was identified as Demeter by Price. Her left shoulder and spear are all that are on the flan on this coin. Some auction listings identify her as Artemis Phosphoros, the daughter of Demeter. Several ancient references to “Artemis Phosphoros” are listed on Theoi. The edited image shows the positioning of Artemis. I remain uncertain about the identification here: Why Demeter and not Artemis Phosphoros, or Kore?


Here is a posthumously issued reverse from a different mint is shown with "crossed legs" for comparison.

Where is Lampsakos?

Lampsakos is today the city of Lapseki in Türkiye on the eastern side of the straits of Gallipoli, also known as the Dardanelles. This strait was the Hellespontes to the ancient Greeks.

Who governed the region where this coin was minted?

This coin would have been issued under one of the satraps appointed by Alexander: either Kalas “son of Harpalus” (Calas) or his successor Demarchos. Arrian of Nicomedia describes Granikos, the first Battle of Alexander’s campaigns into Asia Minor. Kalas led the Thessalian cavalry on the left wing.

“Having appointed Calas to the post of viceroy of the territory which had been under the rule of Arsites, and having commanded the inhabitants to pay to him the same tribute which they had paid to Darius, he ordered as many of the natives as came down from the mountains and surrendered to him to depart to their several abodes.”
-Arrian, Anabasis of Alexander, 1.17.1

Harpalus was a boyhood friend of Alexander, an important figure in Alexander’s story and director general of the royal treasury. Kalas was more likely a cousin of Harpalus than his son (See Heckel Chapter 14). Diodorus Siculus tells tells the sensational version of the disgrace of Harpalus:

“Although he had been charged as satrap with the administration of a great country, he first occupied himself with the abuse of women and illegitimate amours with the natives and squandered much of the treasure under his control on incontinent pleasure.”
- Diodorus Siculus, Library 12.108.4

It was around this time, circa early 324, that Alexander replaced Kalas with Demarchos as satrap/viceroy in Hellespontine Phrygia, perhaps linked to the fall of his relative Harpalus.


Badian (1961) reviews the case of Harpalus and presents an alternative to the posthumous tales that distract from the more serious political maneuvering of Alexander and his rivals. He argues that Harpalus, Cleander and others were removed as a threat to Alexander with Harpalus in control of financial resources.


At some point I will have to organize a post on the death of Alexander. There are quite a few theories about how he died including:

I find the arguments for Malaria compelling. The contemporary story from Ephippus argues that it was Dionysus who struck down Alexander the Great (along with too much alcohol):

"according to Ephippus in his On the Burial of Alexander and Hephaestion (FGrH 126 F 3); he [Proteas] was in good physical health his entire life, despite the fact that he spent much of his time drinking. At one point, for example, Alexander asked for a cup that could hold two choēs [~3 quarts], drained it, and toasted Proteas. Proteas took the cup, praised the king at length, and emptied it; and everyone applauded. Shortly thereafter, Proteas asked for the same cup, and again drained it and toasted the king. Alexander took the cup and made a concerted effort to empty it, but could not manage the feat, and instead collapsed on his pillow and let the cup slip from his hands. He fell sick and died as a consequence because Dionysus was angry at him, since he besieged the god’s native city of Thebes"
Athenaeus, The Learned Banqueters, Book X.434.a-b 

The speculation illustrates that much of what we know about the past is not fact but rather a mix of fact and what is remembered or retold. This is part of the appeal of an ancient coin - it is physical evidence unedited by years of retlling, and even the coin presents opportunity for interpretation & speculation.

One additional feature of the coin above, is the Provenance. This coin is from the collection of numismatist Elvira Eliza Claine-Stefanelli (1914-2001). A small non-academic publication of hers sits on my desk: Bulletin 229: "Numismatics, an ancient science". It is a brief overview of numismatics through the ages and an extensive bibliography. The section on Roman numismatics (p.46-49) puts many of the other authors of books and (today) digital resources in context: Cavedoni, Mommsen, Eckhel, Cohen, Babelon, Grueber, Gnecchi, Laffranchi, Mattingly, Pink, Affoldi…the bulletin was published in 1965 (pre-Crawford RRC).


References (others listed inline)

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