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Oxford displays coins of Alexander the Great

November 24, 2016 – Before the conquests of Alexander the Great (ruled 336-323 BC) coinage was a phenomenon centred mainly on the Mediterranean world. With his defeat of the Persian Empire, Alexander extended coinage to the east. He issued enormous quantities of coins at many different mints, creating one of the first truly international currencies. 

The display

Starting on November 15, 2016 the display at the Ashmolean Museum focusing on the coinage of Alexander the Great is produced as part of the Oxford-Paris Alexander project, which will digitise and make available online records and images of the coins in the name of Alexander the Great in the collection of the Ashmolean and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Silver tetradrachm of Alexander III of Macedon from the Babylon mint, probably struck between 327 and 323 BC. Photo: © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.Silver tetradrachm of Alexander III of Macedon from the Babylon mint, probably struck between 327 and 323 BC. Photo: © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

Silver tetradrachm of Alexander III of Macedon from the Babylon mint, probably struck between 327 and 323 BC. Photo: © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

The exhibits

The vast majority of Alexander’s coins were silver tetradrachms. The obverse shows a head of Heracles wearing a lion’s scalp, while the reverse image is Zeus seated on a throne holding an eagle in his outstretched right hand and a sceptre in the left. Many of the silver coins also have a symbol indicating where the coin was minted. In this case a Nike to the left of Zeus in addition to a monogram and the letter ? below the throne.

Gold stater of Alexander III of Macedon from the Amphipolis mint, probably struck between 330 and 320 BC. Photo: © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.Gold stater of Alexander III of Macedon from the Amphipolis mint, probably struck between 330 and 320 BC. Photo: © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

Gold stater of Alexander III of Macedon from the Amphipolis mint, probably struck between 330 and 320 BC. Photo: © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

The beautiful gold coins issued for Alexander have a head of Athena wearing a crested helmet on the obverse, while the reverse features Nike holding a wreath in her outstretched right hand, with a mast in her left. The appearance of Nike has been taken as an allusion to victory, while the mast may suggest that the victory was naval in nature, although an exact connection to an historical event is not certain.

More information is available on the website of the Ashmolean Museum. 

Here you can find the website of the Oxford-Paris Alexander project.

If you want to prepare your visit to Oxford you should read this CoinsWeekly article on Alexander’s coins.

And the essential facts about Alexander the Great are recapped here and here. 

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