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Triton XXIV

Lot nuber 468

KINGS of MACEDON. Alexander III 'the Great'. 336-323 BC. AR ‘Medallion’ of 2 Shekels or Tetradrachm (24mm, 15.35 g, 9h). Local (Satrapal) mint in Babylon. Struck circa 325-323 BC.

Triton XXIV
Lot: 468.
 Estimated: $ 10 000

Greek, Coin-in-Hand Video, Silver

Sold For $ 16 000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

Go to Live

KINGS of MACEDON. Alexander III 'the Great'. 336-323 BC. AR ‘Medallion’ of 2 Shekels or Tetradrachm (24mm, 15.35 g, 9h). Local (Satrapal) mint in Babylon. Struck circa 325-323 BC. Archer, in Persian attire, drawing bow right; monogram to left / Elephant walking right; Ξ below. Price pp. 452–3 and pl. CLIX, I (same dies); F. Holt, Alexander the Great and the Mystery of the Elephant Medallions (Berkeley, 2003), Appendix A, E/B 1–3 (dies 1/A) = M.J. Price, “Circulation at Babylon in 323 B.C.” in Mnemata: Papers in Memory of Nancy M. Waggoner (New York, 1991), 14–6 = M.J. Price, “The ‘Porus’ Coinage of Alexander the Great: a Symbol of Concord and Community” in SPNO, Obv. A/Rev. a, i–iii. Toned, typical rough and porous surfaces. Near VF. Very rare, one of approximately twelve known, of which four are in museums, none in CoinArchives.

From the Collection of a Northern California Gentleman, purchased from Frank Kovacs, October 1995.

Undoubtedly one of the most fascinating and intriguing issues associated with Alexander the Great, the ‘Poros’ Coinage has sparked debate about all aspects of its production and meaning. One point that is not contentious for a consensus of scholars is the interpretation of the designs; clearly they commemorate the great victory of Alexander against Poros at the Hydaspes. What is still debated is where, when, and under what circumstances were they produced. Both W. Hollstein (“Taxiles’ Prägung für Alexander den Grossen,” SNR 68 [1989], pp. 5-17) and F.L. Holt (Alexander the Great and the Mystery of the Elephant Medallions [Berkeley, 2003]) advocate for an emission struck while Alexander was in India, though they differ on the circumstances. Curtius (8.12.15) mentions that, while Alexander was in Taxila prior to the battle at the Hydaspes, Taxiles (Omphis) gave Alexander 80 talents of silver (signati argenti), and Hollstein suggests that the Poros coinage was the form in which this silver was given to the Macedonian king. M.J. Price disagreed, noting that the medium of coinage at Taxila was silver punch-marked bars, and the use of Greek types and monograms by Taxiles would be unlikely (cf. Price p. 452, n. 9). Moreover, M.J. Olbrycht’s analysis of the regalia of Alexander on these coins concluded that they are Iranian, rather than Indian (“On Coin Portraits of Alexander the Great and His Iranian Regalia,” Notae Numismaticae VI [2011]: 13–27). Similarly, with the exception of the elephant and its riders, the types on the coins are of specifically Iranian, and not Indian, iconography (cf. M.J. Olbrycht, “Macedonia and Persia,” in J. Roisman and I. Worthington, A Companion to Ancient Macedonia [Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2007]: 361). None of these aspects of the coins seem consistent with an issue that Taxiles would strike for Alexander, and the depiction of such a battle scene is unlikely prior to the famous encounter at the Hydaspes, let alone an amicable exchange of gifts between these two kings (see also R.J. Lane Fox, “Text and Image: Alexander the Great, Coins and Elephants,” BICS 41 [1996]: 103–4). In contrast to Hollstein, Holt placed the issue after the battle of the Hydaspes and considered the coins as aristeia, awards for meritorious service that would be handed out after the conflict. Holt’s theory has two flaws. The first is that Alexander and Poros were allies following the conflict, so such an issue would be highly unlikely while Alexander was still in India. The second problem is that it seems unlikely that Alexander would decide at this point in his long campaign to use a medallion or coinage as aristeia, when other objects, such as spoils of the battle, would suffice (and probably had sufficed before).

The most significant problem for both Hollstein and Holt, however, is the record of where the ‘Poros’ coins have been found. Nearly all of the extant examples, of all the denominations in the series, are from the Iraq 1973 Hoard; only one coin, a dekadrachm, has an eastern provenance (Bukhara – but this provenance is only anecdotal). If this coinage was produced and distributed in the east, it seems incredible that nearly all that are known today would be from a single hoard found in the region of Babylonia. Moreover, the Poros coins in the hoard exhibit almost no wear, which suggests they did not circulate much, if at all, prior to the deposit of the hoard. It is more logical that the coins were produced in relatively close proximity to the hoard – in Babylonia. Although Price originally thought the issue belonged in India, he finally decided they probably had “a Mesopotamian origin” (Price, p. 452). R.J. Lane Fox, “Text and Image,” advanced a plausible argument for Susa, based on the coins’ epigraphy, AB monogram and Ξ, noting that these may equate to Aboulites, Alexander’s satrap of Susa, and Xenophilos, the garrison commander, who also was the keeper of the treasury in Susa. While this theory is intriguing, Lane Fox noted the difficulty of assigning the coins to Susa, which produced high quality Alexanders, and substantiating the circumstances for such a coinage by these two officers. This theory also ignores the Iranian character of the imagery noted by Olbrycht, which would make little sense for an official issue by the Macedonian administration as Lane Fox suggests. Price, who originally advanced the theory (“The Porus Coinage of Alexander the Great,” 83–4), rejected it as “highly speculative,” as did Hollstein and others.

In Babylonia at that time, there were at least two mints operating: an imperial mint in Babylon that produced the Alexander-type coinage, and at least one mint striking issues that were of a local character. This ‘local’ (or ‘satrapal’) mint was responsible for the Baal/Lion staters of Mazaios and his successors that were struck on the Babylonian shekel standard, and is thought to have produced coinage for the local Babylonian economy. If the ‘Poros Coinage’ was struck in Babylonia, it must have been at the ‘local’ mint, for the local coinage has the same characteristics – very thick flan, uneven striking, somewhat porous metal, less refined style – while the coins of the imperial mint were of a totally different character – relatively thinner flans, even striking, good metal, and a refined style. It is logical to assume that if this coinage was a commemorative coinage struck by Alexander for his Macedonian commanders, they would have been struck at the imperial mint, using its refined dies and higher quality metal. In fact, the imperial mint did produce a series of Alexander-type dekadrachms (Price 3598 and 3600), which were of the same high quality as the ubiquitous tetradrachms. The mint workers there had the experience to produce high quality dekadrachms, and it would only make sense for them to produce the ‘Poros Coinage’ if Alexander wanted to have them struck within the context of his imperial coinage. The fact that the coins were not produced there strongly suggests that they were not meant to be an official commemorative issue by Alexander for his Macedonian commanders. This also makes sense considering that Alexander never even issued a commemorative coinage for his greatest achievement, the defeat of the Persian Empire at Gaugamela, which had been not only his own goal, but the goal of his countrymen, and at least some of the Greeks who fought with him.

As the series was struck at the ‘local’ mint, it is most likely that the coins were struck for members of the local population, rather than any of the Macedonians or Greeks. At the time of the battle at the Hydaspes, there was a large contingent of troops in Alexander’s army who were raised from the local populations of the eastern satrapies (see, e.g., N.G.L. Hammond, “Alexander’s Non-European Troops and Ptolemy I’s Use of Such Troops,” BASP 33 [1996]: 99–109; and M.J. Olbrycht, “First Iranian military units in the army of Alexander the Great,” Anabasis 2 [2011]: 67–84). Unlike the Macedonians and Greeks, who probably would have viewed Gaugamela as the most significant victory during their tenure under Alexander, to the troops raised from the populations of the east, the victory over Poros would have been the most important event in which they had participated. Thus, the event commemorated on the coins, the regalia of the figures on the coins, and the particular mint point to the recipients being local, probably Iranian, leaders who had served under Alexander. The identification of the exact people involved, however, cannot yet be determined with certainty, although Alexander’s Persian Companion Cavalry (Arr. 7.6.3) is an attractive possibility (the horseman on the obverse may serve a dual purpose as a reference to both Alexander and the Persian cavalrymen, both of whom would have been armed with a xyston as depicted on the coins). Alexander’s popularity among the eastern leaders was significantly high, possibly even more so han among his war-weary countrymen and accompanying Greeks, so he certainly would have had good reason to reward them with such an issue (see also Olbrycht, “Macedonia and Persia,” 361). Using the local mint, which was controlled by Alexander’s Babylonian satrap, for such a purpose would be perfectly reasonable.

The final winners of all Triton XXIV lots will be determined during the live online sale that will be held on 19-20 January 2021. This lot is in Session Two, which begins 19 January 2021 at 2 PM ET.

Winning bids are subject to a 20% buyer's fee for bids placed on this website and 22.50% for all others.

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