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Coins of Alexander the Great

Coins of Alexander the Great
Category: Articles
Author Name: Oleg Zamansky
Posted: 10-25-2016
Last Updated:

Alexander the Great is well-known in history for the massive empire he formed in just one decade, without suffering a single defeat! Additionally, he had great success conquering the field of numismatics with his large history of coinage. Struck in huge quantities using fine silver and gold, an impressive amount of these now-ancient artifacts have survived in good condition over the course of 2,300 years! Collectors world-wide will be excited to know that several of these intricate coins are now available from MCM to be added to your growing collection.


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Alexander III – Greatest Conqueror in History

Alexander III, King of Macedon, better known as Alexander the Great, is considered by many historians to be the greatest military commander of all time. Ascending to the throne of Macedonia at the young age of twenty, Alexander spent most of his ruling years campaigning through the vast regions of Asia and northeast Africa. By the age of thirty, he earned the title “the Great” and had created one of the largest empires of the ancient world, stretching from Greece to northwestern India. His untimely death in June, 323 B.C. is likely the only thing that stopped further conquests.

Alexander the Great's Head on a CoinThe economic prosperity he spread throughout his empire, and the legacy he left after his death, all seem to be clear evidence of this. According to the ancient Greek historian Diodorus, Alexander the Great had plans for huge temples and monuments to be built all over his kingdom, as well as circumnavigating the entire continent of Africa. One of his most ambitious plans was to unite the culture and race of all Europe and Asia. Although those plans were never acted upon in a larger sense, Alexander III certainly began his efforts early into his rule. He did not stamp out local customs, but embraced them. He even forced many of his most powerful generals to wear the garb of those they conquered in order to assimilate customs. This made Alexander III a very well-liked ruler.

With his military tactics, ferocity on the battlefield, and a near perfect record of victories, it is not surprising how highly Alexander the Great is thought of today! While much of his legend survived through records created by famous Greek historians such as Diodorus, plenty of physical evidence has survived as well, through statues, art, and even the coinage of Alexander III himself!

Alexander the Great CoinsAlexander the Great Coins

While many different coins were struck for Alexander the Great, the three main precious metal denominations were Silver Drachms, Silver Tetradrachms, and Gold Staters. These coins were all heavily produced under his reign, but what made these coins so numerous were his Diadochi – historical figures close to Alexander the Great in life, who carved their own kingdoms out of Alexander’s territories after his death. They continued to strike Alexander III type coins posthumously out of their own, smaller kingdoms, creating millions of coins nearly identical to those he had issued.

Some of the best known Diadochi that struck coinage of Alexander III were Seleucus I, Ptolemy I, Lysimachus, Cassander, and Phillip III. Many examples of the coins below were struck by these men in the name of Alexander III. These can typically be distinguished by control marks and/or inscriptions relating to the ruler who issued them.

Alexander the Great Silver Tetradrachms

Silver Tetradrachms The Silver Tetradrachms of Alexander the Great are some of the best known ancient coins in the world. Valued at 4 Drachms, these large silver coins formed the backbone of Macedonian silver currency during the reign of Alexander III. They were first minted using only metal obtained from Macedonian mines, but later captured Persian silver was used as well. Experts speculated that tens of millions of these coins were struck. His coins were created not only to pay Alexander III’s vast army, but also to circulate abroad as an international trade currency.

Although there are a large number of varieties, most Silver Tetradrachms of Alexander the Great have an obverse design of a lion-skin-clad head of Heracles, and a reverse design featuring Zeus, seated. These designs honored the Greek gods, and were a fitting match for this young conqueror.

This coin was minted in accordance with the Attic weight standard that had been established by the City-State of Athens centuries earlier. This means that the Tetradrachms weighed roughly 17.2g, although this weight fluctuated greatly in later years. The diameter and thickness of these coins depended on how the planchet was prepared, but their diameter was somewhere between a U.S. quarter and a half dollar.

Alexander the Great Silver Drachms

Alexander the Great Silver Drachms

While not produced in the same sheer numbers as the Silver Tetradrachms, Silver Drachms of Alexander the Great were the second most common silver denomination produced in the Macedonian kingdom and successor kingdoms. Dr. Martin Price in his book “The Coinage in the Name of Alexander the Great” estimates that 55 million Silver Drachms were struck in Asia Minor, where most Alexander III Drachm coinage was struck. Research has also shown that most Silver Drachms bearing Alexander III’s designs were actually struck posthumously.

The Silver Drachm carried the same design as the Tetradrachm on most of its issues, displaying the same symbols honoring the gods. Not as many cities struck these smaller silver coins as did the Tetradrachms, which resulted in fewer varieties. One unique Silver Drachms of Alexander the Great, however, is an uncommon type known as an “Alexander Eagle Drachm.” Instead of showing the typical reverse image of Zeus seated, this unique type simply shows an eagle perched on a branch.

Alexander’s Drachms conformed to the same Attic weight standard as the Silver Tetradrachms. This meant that each Silver Drachm was struck out of approximately 4.3g of silver. Also like the Tetradrachm, size and weight did vary depending on when they were struck and who issued them. The approximate diameter of these silver coins is between that of a U.S. dime and a nickel.

Alexander the Great Gold Staters

Alexander the Great Gold Staters Gold Staters of Alexander the Great were not as common as his Silver Tetradrachms and Drachms, but there were still plenty of issues during his reign and those of the Diadochi. Through mines located in Macedonia and Thrace, followed by massive amounts of gold taken from Persia, Alexander III had no shortage of gold.

These Gold Staters, like the Silver Tetradrachms and Drachms, display designs that honor the divines of Greece. This time, however, it is the goddesses of Greece that are honored. Each coin is struck with an obverse design featuring Athena wearing a Corinthian helmet and a reverse showing a winged Nike, holding a laurel wreath and what is presumed to be a stylis (a section of a Greek ship’s stern). Alexander” is inscribed in Greek on the reverse, and is usually accompanied by at least 1 Mint mark.

Alexander the Great had these coins struck to a standard all of their own accord. At roughly half the weight of his Silver Tetradrachms, the valuable Gold Staters weighed roughly 8.55g. When experts examined the metal used, they discovered that it was almost pure, at roughly .997 fine! These coins were struck fairly regularly, and usually had a diameter very close to a $5 American Gold Eagle.

Buy Coins of Alexander the Great

If these coins of Alexander the Great have sparked your interest, you should consider adding some of them to your collection! ModernCoinMart always has a good selection of Ancient Greek Silver Coins, and their inventory will often times includes very high examples of Alexander III Silver Tetradrachms. All of their ancient coins are graded by the Ancient Coin Division of the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), the only official name in ancient coin grading.

In addition to these options that are regularly available, ModernCoinMart (MCM) recently secured a large number of Alexander the Great Silver Drachms. Check out the selection before they are gone, or view our entire selection of Macedonian coinage.

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About The Author

Oleg Zamansky Oleg Zamansky is the President and CEO of Coin Maestro, LLC and is an expert in foreign coins, paper money, medals, and sets. Oleg's coin career started in 1983 when his great-grandmother gave him his first foreign coin - 1 Israeli Shequel and ever since, his numismatic journey began. According to Mr. Zamansky, "Due to frequent volatile markets, people need to secure their investments and numismatics is the best way. Coin collecting is the most educating, investment protective business today, and also quite fun." Mr. Zamansky graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2001, became a partner at RINA Systems, LLC in 2005, and holds a 3rd degree black belt in Tae-Kwon-Do. Today, he is a member of the American Numismatic Association and the Numismatic Guarantee Corporation. Currently, Mr. Zamansky resides with his family in Cincinnati, Ohio and is a contributing writer for ModernCoinMart. His thoughts and opinions may not be shared with MCM or its staff.

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