From the beginning, however, the Successors of Alexander were rivals, and the history of the decades after Alexander's death is one of warfare and constantly shifting alliances as they attempted to enlarge and consolidate their holdings. In these struggles coinage and coin portraits in particular played an important role. The first tentative steps in this direction were taken by the Successors who replaced the Herakles/Alexander type with portraits of the deified Alexander as a way of showing reverence for their predecessor and demonstrating their close association with him. The first to do so was Ptolemy I of Egypt (c. 367-282 B.C.), a childhood friend of Alexander who immediately laid claim to Alexander's cult and image in order to legitimize and consolidate his rule and enhance his prestige among the Successors. In 321 B.C. Ptolemy hijacked Alexander's body on its way to burial in Macedonia and had it enshrined in a magnificent tomb in his capital, Alexandria. About the same time he issued tetradrachms with an obverse portrait of Alexander wearing a headdress consisting of an elephant's scalp, complete with trunk and tusks. The headdress, undoubtedly inspired by Herakles' lionskin cap on Alexander's own coins, refers to Alexander's eastern conquests, in which his troops overcame an Indian army reinforced by some 200 elephants. Beneath the elephant scalp Alexander's head sprouted ram's horns, the distinctive attributes of Zeus Ammon, the Egyptian god whose priests had recognized Alexander as his son when he visited Egypt in 331 B.C. Around 300 B.C. Seleukos I (c. 358-281 B.C.), the man who by this time had inherited Alexander's eastern dominions, issued drachms and tetradrachms with an obverse portrait that has sometimes been identified as Seleukos himself but that is more likely a portrait of the deified Alexander (no. 49). The head is youthful and idealized and wears a helmet of leopardskin, an attribute of the god Dionysos, who, like Alexander, had conquered India. The leopardskin was probably inspired by the lionskin of Herakles in the earlier portraits of Alexander. The helmet also has the horn and ear of a bull, an attribute of Poseidon; the bull's horn recalls the ram's horns of Zeus Ammon. The references to India on the coin were meant to recall Seleukos' achievements and his close association with Alexander; he had led Alexander's guard in his Indian campaign. Finally, the most famous and influential portrait of the deified Alexander appeared in 297 B.C. on the tetradrachms of Lysimachos (c. 361-281 B.C.), a member of Alexander's bodyguard who established a kingdom in Thrace after the death of Alexander (no. 45). In these he wears no animal headdress but only the royal diadem and the horns of Zeus Ammon. The coins were issued at many mints and continued to be struck by many cities long after the death of Lysimachos. In all these coins of Alexander's Successors and in other portraits of Alexander, notably the official court portrait of the king by the Greek sculptor Lysippos, the model for the divine Hellenistic king was established. He was youthful and, in contrast to Greeks, Persians, and others in the territory he conquered, usually beardless, like a youthful Greek god or hero. He gazes upward, toward the gods on Olympos or to the heavens, as Alexander was said to have done. He wears the royal diadem, first adopted by Alexander, and often has divine attributes.


[LU Home] | [Bearers of Meaning] | [Contents] | [Essays] | [Catalogue] | [Glossary]

All contents copyright (c) 1996.
Lawrence University
All rights reserved.