Alexander the Great,
son of Philip II, king of Macedon, was one of the most successful
generals in all of history. Undefeated in battle, Alexander spread
his empire across Persia, Asia Minor, Egypt and Syria. In
conquering these areas, Alexander created Hellenistic culture,
blending Asian and European lifestyles. Throughout his empire, the
young conqueror issued distinct bronze, silver and gold coins.
Summary of Alexander's Life
Alexander was the son
of Philip II; Philip was the King of Macedon, an area in northern
Greece. The Macedonian king had Alexander tutored by Aristotle, and
young Alexander learned much from the great philosopher. Alexander
was clearly a capable leader because at the age of 16 his father
left him in control of Macedon. Then, in 336 B.C.E, when Alexander
was 20, Philip was assassininated, and Alexander became the ruler
of Macedon and all of its allied territories.
Alexander then began
killing off all of his nearby enemies in Macedon and throughout the
Balkan peninsula. After his enemies were suppressed, in 334 B.C.E
Alexander launched his campaign into Asia Minor. Alexander fought
some of the Greek city states located there, and met the Persians
at the battle of Issus in 333 B.C.E. Then, after that, Alexander
conquered Gaza, Phoenicia and Syria. Next, the great general
conquered Egypt in 331 B.C.E. Alexander then began marching towards
Babylon, and defeated the Persian army at the Battle of
Meanwhile, in Greece,
Sparta led a revolt against Macedon. It was quickly put down by one
of Alexander's generals, Antipater. After the Spartan defeat,
Alexander chased the Persian king, Darius, across hundreds of
miles, only to finally discover the king dead. Darius' death marked
the end of the Persian Empire. To keep the recently conquered
Persian aristocracy happy, Alexander appointed many Persian leaders
as governors in his new empire.
After conquering the
great Persian Empire, Alexander began an invasion of India. His
army fought their way to the Hydaspes River, and stopped there.
They built a navy and sailed across the Indus river. Yhey then
began marching west towards Persia. However, during the march, many
troops died of dehydration and heat.
After that, in
Persia, Alexander caught a fever and died, leaving no successor to
his empire. The empire was split into four sections: Asia, Egypt,
Greece and Thrace. His generals and their descendants ruled these
empires until, eventually, Alexander's empire was torn apart by the
A map of Alexander's
The most common type
of coins issued throughout Alexander's empire were the silver
drachm and tetradrachm. Both featured the same design; however, a
tetradrachm was worth four drachma. Gold and bronze coins were also
minted, but are less common.
The design on the
drachm (and tetradrachm) featured Herakles (a.k.a Hercules) on the
obverse wearing a lionskin cloak. However, some think that it is
not Herakles but Alexander himself on the coin. On the reverse of
the coin there is an image of Zeus sitting in a throne, facing
left. He is holding an eagle, his sacred animal, in his left, hand
and a staff in his right. Some issues of the coin have Zeus' legs
side by side and some show one leg behind the other.
A silver drachm
The gold staters
issued by Alexander featured Athena on the obverse wearing a helmet
decorated with a serpent. The goddess Nike is depicted on the
reverse holding a wreath in one hand and a stylis (naval standard)
in the other.
A gold stater
The bronze coins of
Alexander had the same obverse design as the silver drachm. On the
reverse there was a bow in a case and also a club. The placement of
the bow and club varied, sometimes with the bow on top and
sometimes vice versa.
A bronze hemiobol
The inscriptions on
Alexander's coins were relatively consistent. The inscription used
most often was ALEXANDROU (of Alexander). The other common
inscription was ALEXANDROU BASILEWS (of Alexander the King).
This second inscription was typically not used in mainland Greece
because the ancient Greeks did not like the idea of a single king
ruling over everything.
The empires that
followed Alexander's typically used the same types of coins, except
with the ruler of that particular area's name instead of
Alexander's on the coins.
Overall, the coins
issued by Alexander the Great are excellent ancient coins to
collect. There are plenty of silver coins on the market available