About this artwork
Coinage of Hellenistic Rulers
The Hellenistic period spans the nearly three hundred years between the death of Alexander the Great of
Macedonia (323 B.C.) and that of Cleopatra VII of Egypt (30 B.C.), a descendant of one of Alexander’s generals. The term Hellenistic is derived from Hellas, an ancient Greek word for Greece. It is used to describe both chronologically and culturally the era following Alexander’s conquest of Egypt and Asia, which resulted in the spread of Greek culture across a vast area. The melding of local and Greek artistic styles with the luxurious materials captured in the conquered lands resulted in magnificent artwork, including elegant coinage.
Following Alexander’s death, his empire was divided among his generals, who established independent kingdoms in Egypt; Persia; the eastern coast of the Aegean Sea, including Syria and Palestine; Greece and Macedonia; and Thrace. Almost immediately the generals began to covet each other’s land and power.
Alexander the Great (r. 336–323 B.C.) had an extraordinary impact on much of the world during his relatively short life. By the time he died at the age of 33, he had carefully crafted a reputation that made him seem larger than life, even heroic. In part he accomplished this by claiming that he was a descendant of the great Greek hero Herakles (for more about Herakles, see the entry on this coin in LaunchPad). Here he wears the skin of the Nemean lion, which Herakles killed during the first of his fabled Twelve Labors. Yet the face is Alexander’s, with its distinctively upswept hair and upwardly gazing eyes. Following Alexander’s death, his generals adopted his pose and style on their coinage, and this practice continued for the next two hundred years.
- Ancient Greek
- Tetradrachm (Coin) Portraying Alexander the Great
- 336 BC–323 BC
- ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ Μ
- Diam. 2.8 cm; 17.15 g
- Gift of Mrs. William Nelson Pelouze