(49) Syria, Seleukos I Nikator - AR tetradrachm, c. 301 B.C.?,
17.0 g. (inv. 91.089).
Obverse: Head of Seleukos or Alexander r., wearing helmet of leopardskin adorned with horn and ear of bull.
Reverse: Nike crowning trophy of armor r.; head of Helios below; monogram in r. field; : of King Seleukos.
Provenance: Hesperia Art, 1961.
Bibliography: R.A. Hadley, "Seleucus, Dionysos, or Alexander?," Numismatic Chronicle 1974, 9-13; O. Mørkholm, Early Hellenistic Coinage from the Accession of Alexander to the Peace of Apamea (336-188 B.C.) (Cambridge 1991) 72.
Seleukos I Nikator (Conqueror) was one of the generals of Alexander the Great and assumed control of Babylon after Alexander's death. By degrees he became ruler of Alexander's eastern dominions, with the exception of Egypt, defeating his rivals Demetrios and Lysimachos. In 305/04 B.C. he assumed the title of basileus or king. Like the other successors of Alexander, Seleukos I initially issued coins with the types used in Alexander's coinage, but like the others also he soon issued coins with his own types and in his own name.
The date and even the interpretation of these tetradrachms that he issued at Susa are uncertain. The youthful head on the obverse may be an idealized head of Seleukos incorporating some aspects of Alexander's portrait, but it has also been suggested that it is Alexander himself. The leopardskin of the
helmet refers to the god Dionysos, whose attribute was a leopard and who, like Alexander and Seleukos, conquered India. The helmet recalls the lionskin cap worn by Herakles on coins of Alexander, and the bull's ear and horn recall similar divine attributes in portraits of Alexander (see no. 45).
The reverse has also been variously interpreted. The trophy crowned by Nike consists of a tree trunk hung with a cuirass or breastplate, a helmet, and a shield, clear references to military victory. It is usually taken to refer to Seleukos' important victory over Antigonos Monophthalmos at the Battle of Ipsos in 301 B.C., but it has also been seen as a generalized reference to Alexander's and Seleukos' Indian victories.
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