The usual close identification of free Greek poleis with their patron deities and heroes is also underscored by the exceptions, types dictated by tyrants, oligarchs, or kings, who often substituted for the traditional civic badge types referring specifically to themselves or to their achievements. The best examples in Archaic and Classical Greek coins are the coins of Syracuse depicting a quadriga or four-horse chariot on the obverse (nos. 15, 16, 18, 19). Although almost always accompanied on the reverse by an image of the local nymph, Arethusa, the entirely secular image of the quadriga usually occupied the principal side and referred to the ruling aristocracy, the Gamoroi, and their equestrian pastimes. Similarly, in the early fifth century when the South Italian city of Rhegion was ruled by the tyrant Anaxilas, he introduced a mule-car on the obverse of its coins, according to Aristotle a reference to the tyrant's Olympic victory in 484 or 480 B.C. In 461 B.C., when the sons of Anaxilas were overthrown, the city rejected the types associated with the family and introduced types referring to their patron deity, Apollo. In the Hellenistic period, when the Greek poleis were absorbed into the kingdoms of Alexander the Great and his successors, the usual obverse depicted a portrait of Alexander or the living king (see nos. 41-47, 49-56, 58, 59). Nevertheless, the Greek poleis often clung to their old identification with their patron deities and chief sanctuaries. The most striking examples of this are the coins of the cities of Asia Minor that were freed from royal Seleukid domination by the Treaty of Apamea in 188 B.C. Soon afterward they abandoned the royal portrait types of the kings who had dominated them and issued the coins known today as "autonomous wreathed tetradrachms," featuring their patron deities. On its wreathed tetradrachms, Magnesia-on-Maeander, with its famous sanctuary of Artemis Leukophryene, depicted Artemis on the obverse and her twin Apollo on the reverse, his local identity underscored by the city's badge, the maeander, on which he stands (no. 48). Despite their "up-to-date" Hellenistic style, these coins look curiously old-fashioned next to contemporary strongly individualized royal issues (nos. 41-47, 49-59).

Although the Greek polis persisted in the Hellenistic kingdoms of Alexander and his successors, and although in brief periods of freedom poleis such as Magnesia-on Maeander celebrated their autonomy on their coins (no. 48), coinage was forever changed by the Hellenistic institution of divine kingship and the development of ruler portraiture in coinage. The Hellenistic world, however fragmented its kingdoms, was cosmopolitan, characterized by a universalist outlook, in which Greeks were just one people in a community far larger, more complex, and all-encompassing than the old polis. New cities were founded far from Greek soil, and Greeks inhabited them, mixing with people from other cultures to form new and larger political entities ruled by sovereigns who styled themselves deities. As coinage increasingly served their interests and as they established mints all over the Hellenistic world, the coinage of the polis, with its local types and relatively limited circulation, became a provincial relic of the past.


Carradice, I. and Price, M., Coinage in the Greek World. London, 1988.

Head, B.V., Historia Numorum: a Manual of Greek Numismatics. Oxford, 1911(reprint, Chicago, 1967).

Jenkins, G. K., Ancient Greek Coins, 2nd ed. London, 1990.

Kraay, C., Archaic and Classical Greek Coins. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1976.

______________ Greek Coins. New York, 1996

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