Part 1. Setting the Scene

The tetradrachms of Alexander the Great are among the most well-known and popular ancient coins for collectors. With an estimated 60 million having been minted between 336 BC and 290 BC, they were perhaps only second to the Athenian tetradrachm in terms of their success as a currency across the ancient world. The core design of these coins could still be found more than 200 years after Alexander’s death and some have argued they even influenced later Roman denarii (Proffitt, 2021). On the obverse of these coins was a portrait of the Greek hero Herakles wearing a lion-skin headdress, while on the reverse you find his father, Zeus, seated on a throne, an eagle resting in one out-stretched hand and in the other a sceptre. Upon Alexander’s death, his successors — the Diadochi — adapted this design, whether out of respect for Alexander or for their own propaganda, and made certain Alexander’s influence on ancient coinage would continue long after his short-lived empire had collapsed. However, there is still much we do not know for certain about these coins: where and when were they first struck, what inspired the design elements, and what was their purpose?

These questions are all closely tied to one another as the answer to one will likely give us the answer to the others. For example, let’s assume that when Alexander the Great succeeded his father as King of Macedon in 336 BC he immediately started minting coins in his own name. In this example, simply knowing when he started production already tells us they would almost certainly have been minted in his home of Macedonia. It might also tell us why he started minting coins so suddenly, it could suggest: an eagerness to assert his authority, a desperate need to switch to a new weight standard in response to decreasing gold values (Price 1982), a path to paying off his father’s debts, or a combination of all three. Lastly, it would also point to the design of the coins being entirely, or primarily, influenced by wider Greek culture. A matter of a few years’ error in the estimated first mint date could make a huge difference to this interpretation, however. If he were not to have begun minting coins until a few years later in 333 BC, amidst his conquest of the Near East, his motivations and design choices cannot be explained by these reasons alone. In fact, even more questions appear, such as: why did he wait so long before producing his own coinage, how did he fund his campaign prior to the Battle of Issus, and for how long did he continue to mint coins in his father’s name.

The “High” and “Low” Chronologies

The above example was not just a hypothetical but a brief summary of two competing theories over the origin of Alexander’s tetradrachms. One theory, the so-called “High” chronology, holds that Alexander the Great started issuing the Herakles/Zeus tetradrachms soon after coming to power, while also ceasing the production of his deceased father’s own coinage at around the same time in 336 BC (Newell, 1981; Price, 1991). Naturally, this means the tetradrachms would have been first minted in Macedon, likely either at Pella or Amphipolis. The theory further states that the design elements of the tetradrachms, in particular the seated Zeus reverse, must have been known to the Macedonians at the time. The original proponents of this theory, the late Edward Newell and Martin J. Price, are perhaps the two biggest names in numismatics when it comes to Alexander the Great’s coinage. While this theory has held sway for over 100 years, the weight of the evidence for the alternative theory has been tipping the balance in its favour over the past 20 to 30 years.

This second, “Low” chronology, theory posits a slightly more recent origin of Alexander’s tetradrachms, likely dating to the end of 333 BC, and being first struck in Tarsos (modern day Turkey), rather than in Macedon. The inspiration for the throne-seated Zeus on the reverse is argued to have come from the satrapal staters of Tarsos featuring an enthroned Baaltars — an equivalent to Zeus for the Tarsiotes — in a similar pose. Filling the gap between the start of Alexander’s reign and the first tetradrachms a few years later, Philip II’s tetradrachms would have continued to have been minted, now posthumously, and a short-lived series of Alexander “eagle” tetradrachms were also briefly produced. The real need for mass issues of silver coinage in the name of Alexander would not come until he had captured a significant amount of silver bullion from the Persians and had a reason to send a message not only to the population of cities now conquered, but also back home to his people in Macedon. This theory is increasingly taking hold over the original interpretation, largely due to the work of Orestes Zervos and Hyla Troxell in the 1980s and 1990s, though its origins date back to at least Gerhard Kleiner’s 1949 work “Alexanders Reichsmünzen”. Another scholar, François de Callataÿ, independently came to the same conclusions as Zervos (Callataÿ, 1982) and, more recently, Georges Le Rider (2007) found himself convinced by the arguments of Callataÿ, Troxell, and Zervos.


Both the “High” and “Low” chronologies have now been researched, discussed, and debated for several decades without a clear “winner”. I, however, believe that after looking at the totality of the evidence, it is much more likely than not that Alexander first minted his tetradrachms in or around Tarsos in 333 BC. To illustrate why I believe this is the case, I will first outline the key components of the earlier Tarsos “Baaltars” staters that we will then use in the analysis going forward to compare with both Alexander’s tetradrachms as well as earlier Greek examples. This comparison will show that the throne Baaltars is seated on, in particular, reflects ancient Achaemenid furniture style and it is possible to observe a subsequent Greek interpretation and evolution of this style within Alexander’s coinage. A review of known Greek coins that feature a “seated deity” motif will also show that these cannot have possibly served as direct inspiration for Alexander’s tetradrachms.

Next, we will look into the influences of the Tarsiote staters to understand why the Achaemenid motifs are present on these coins and how careful manipulation of these motifs have served as propagandistic tools for the satraps that issued them. The Achaemenids had a strong relationship with the concept of a royal throne dating back hundreds of years, while the Greeks themselves reserved thrones only for deities. From studying this satrapal coinage of Tarsos from the 4th century, we can observe when the satraps decided to change the balance between the Greek and Achaemenid motifs on their coinage for their own needs. For example, in one case a particular satrap changes the Achaemenid-style throne of Baaltars to a Greek one and then uses an Achaemenid-style throne for himself on the reverse of the same coin. These examples will illustrate the power behind these motifs, the ability for them to be leveraged as propaganda, and why they may have been important to Alexander.

A study of these same design elements in the early Alexander tetradrachms of the Near East will further demonstrate the ability for these Persian influences to spread beyond Tarsos while remaining stylistically consistent. I will also discuss why Alexander may have decided to start production of his silver coinage in 333/2 BC following the Battle of Issus rather than 3 years earlier when he ascended to the throne. We then turn to Macedon to understand the links between Philip II’s posthumous tetradrachms and the earliest tetradrachms of Alexander struck in Macedon. The shared control symbols used on both emissions point towards near-contemporaneous production. Moreover, die-linkage between types within each emission suggests there wasn’t necessarily a progression from one control symbol to the next, meaning multiple control symbols may have been employed simultaneously. Price (1982) argues this would make the “Low” chronology unlikely but I argue this may instead simply point to the longevity of control symbols within an emission.

We will then compare the Eastern elements identified on the seated Zeus reverses of Tarsiote “Alexanders” with the very first tetradrachms of Alexander minted at Amphipolis. This will highlight the transmission of Achaemenid furniture style and Tarsiote iconography to the first coins from this mint and a subsequent transformation of this style by the Macedonian engravers. According to criteria set out by Taylor (2018), this transformation will be shown to be chronologically significant: the earliest coins exhibiting more Tarsiote elements than later coins. Such an evolution would not make sense if we were to assume these coins were first minted in 336 BC, before Alexander was even aware of the Tarsos staters. Finally, a brief look at how this transmission of culture may have occurred and how the lack of Macedonian “Alexanders” in hoards prior to 327 BC casts further doubt on the “High” chronology.

Part 2. Gods, Kings, and their Thrones

Baal of Tarsos

Baaltars (“Baal of Tarsos”) was the deity of the city of Tarsos and was commonly found on its coinage issued while under Achaemenid control in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. For the Tarsiote people, he was seen as the equivalent of Zeus to the Greeks. The example below (Fig. 1) was issued by the satrap Mazaios around 360-330 BC, prior to Alexander the Great’s arrival. On the obverse, we see a seated depiction of Baaltars on a stool or backless throne, holding a flowering sceptre in his left hand and grapes in his right. He is bearded but his hair short or tied above his neck, with a bare torso, drapery around the legs and waist, and his feet placed on a crudely drawn footrest. The throne has three toroidal protrusions on each leg, a beaded crossbar and seat decoration support the front and back legs, and a large bell-shape near the feet of the legs depicts drooping sepal leaves arranged circularly around the leg. The legend, spelling Mazaios in Aramaic script, is placed in the right field.

Fig. 1 – Stater issued by the Satrap of Tarsos, Mazaios, circa 361-334 BC. Obverse: Baaltars seated on a throne. Reverse: Lion attacking a stag.

Several of these elements are going to be helpful in linking the staters of Tarsos to the later tetradrachms issued under Alexander, namely: a seated deity with a facing twisted torso, drapery around the legs and waist depicted by pairs of flowing lines, a flowering sceptre in one hand with another object in the other, throne-legs decorated with sepal leaves and beaded crossbars supporting the legs, and a small footrest supporting the rigid parallel legs of the deity. Already, the similarities with Alexander’s seated Zeus design inescapably leads one to think this must be no mere coincidence. This conclusion will seem even more certain once we study each element individually in further detail.

Mazaios was not the first satrap of Tarsos to issue staters featuring this design of Baaltars, he was in fact the third. The first to do so, Pharnabazos II, issued staters beginning circa 380 BC with the seated Baal figure on the obverse and a possible portrait of Ares on the reverse (Fig. 2). Here we see many of the motifs described earlier, namely: a flowering lotus sceptre with a dotted staff, a throne with toroidal mouldings around the legs and drooping sepal leaves near the feet, a beaded horizontal crossbar connecting the front and back legs, loose drapery falling away behind Baaltars, and the twisted bare-chested torso pose. The throne from Mazaios’ coinage has one addition compared with Pharnabazos’ stater, which is a beaded decoration as part of the seat platform. Zervos communicated to Troxell that this is another Eastern feature that would be out of place on a wholly Macedonian-designed coin and thus may help link Alexander’s Tarsos tetradrachms with his Macedonian ones (Troxell, 1997).

From this brief look at two examples from Tarsos, we can already begin to notice some similarities with Alexander’s tetradrachms. Even if one is unfamiliar with the intricacies of the throne design, the scene as a whole is redolent of himation-wearing Zeus seated on a throne with a sceptre in one hand and Alexander’s name printed behind him. The elements of the throne described above are also present on many of Alexander’s early tetradrachms (cf. Plate III 1-5) but before going further in our comparison, we must first answer two other questions: what is the origin of this Achaemenid throne design and can it be found on Greek coinage from the 5th or 4th centuries BC?

Fig. 2 – The first “Baaltars” stater issued by Pharnabazos in the early 4th century BC

Coins from Arkadia

When it comes to antecedents for an enthroned deity holding a sceptre in Greek iconography there are several examples that pre-date Alexander’s invasion and could be called upon (cf. Plate II). In terms of coinage, however, the options are relatively small and perhaps the best example are the early 5th century coins from Arkadia. These coins do depict a seated Zeus in a similar position to that of Baaltars on the Achaemenid coins and Zeus on Alexander’s coins: Zeus is posed with one arm holding a sceptre and the other out-stretched with an eagle, his torso twisted to the side, his legs uncrossed and sometimes resting on a footstool. There are, however, some key differences when it comes to the throne Zeus is seated upon. There are often no crossbars at all and when they do occur they do so diagonally – forming an X – rather than horizontally. These crossbars are also portrayed as straight lines, as is Zeus’ staff, rather than as a series of beads as is found on Mazaois’ Baaltars staters of Tarsos, as well as Alexander’s early tetradrachms. The legs of the throne on the Arkadian coins have only one or two bulbous mouldings, if any at all, and these are rounder in shape than the toroidal mouldings found on Achaemenid thrones. The bell-shaped drooping sepal arrangement is also not to be found on this Arkadian coinage. Most Arkadian examples also depict the throne with a back while Tarsiote staters and early Alexanders often have no back (cf. Plate III, 1-5), or if it is depicted on an Achaemenid-style throne, it is done so with a series of beads once more.

In some examples of the Arkadian coins the throne has even transformed into a klismos with concave front and rear legs that spread away from the chair (Fig. 3, cf. Richter, 1966, fig. 178). Klismoi of this type are considered archaic in style and were generally falling out of style just prior to the Hellenistic period (Richter, 1966). The first two examples from Fig. 3 also appear to depict a different furniture type with a completely different style to the klismos. The relatively square form of this throne with the bulbous feet and curved finial on the throne back seems to suggest this may be an “animal-feet” type throne derived from Egyptian furniture (cf. Richter, 1966, figures 40-51). These throne types were common in Greece in the archaic period and, as the name suggests, would feature various types of animal feet carved into the throne legs (Richter, 1966). The backs of the throne would often also feature elements of animals; this one in particular may be depicting a swan neck with the head of the swan as a finial decoration (Richter, 1966, fig. 51). While Greek thrones of this type often had an arm rest, the original Egyptian thrones did not and it was not unusual for the Greek thrones to be missing them as the style frequently varied (Richter, 1966).

Fig. 3 – Reverses of small silver coins from Arkadia, circa 470-420 BC. The reverses all feature a seated Zeus figure with eagle and sceptre.

Now looking at the style of Zeus on these coins, we also find significant differences. His legs are uncrossed but one is in front of the other, reminiscent of known depictions of the statue of Zeus at Olympia by Phidias. In the examples from Fig. 3 we also see that Zeus’ outstretched arm is bent at the elbow with the hand either orientated vertically (palm outwards) or horizontally (palm downwards). The drapery around his waist is also not loosely fitted but folds neatly back across his legs, sometimes hanging down. The flowing lines of the drapery depicting creases and folds are not paired with parallel lines but have a more natural disposition. Compare this to Baaltars in Fig. 1, as well as early Alexander tetradrachms, where the drapery is much looser fitting around the waist, the folds are coarsely depicted by simple lines, and where the himation tends to drop down at the back, rather than across the legs at the front.

Given that the Arkadian coinage was minted as much as 100 years before the first Baaltars stater, it might be tempting to think that Tarsos originally borrowed the design from the Greeks and not the other way around. However, the thrones found on these coins are of completely different style and origin, having more in common with ancient Egyptian furniture than Persian. These thrones also lack the key elements we see on the Tarsiote staters that transmit across to the Alexander types from both the east and west. Other examples of seated deities from Greek coinage are also of no help as they are much more similar in style to these coins from Arkadia than they are to Alexander’s coins (Plate II).

From a brief review of the two likeliest candidates for inspiring the design of the “Alexanders”, we can see that the Tarsiote staters are stylistically much more similar and provide the best opportunity of answering our original questions regarding Alexander’s tetradrachms. And though these staters might tell us a lot about where Alexander may have gotten the inspiration for his coins from, it’s important to understand the origins of these motifs even further back than this. This will not only help answer why Alexander might have borrowed from them but it will also help us understand how unique this iconography might have been to the region and how it has been utilised in the past.

The “Audience Relief” of Apadana

Fig. 4 – Relief of Achaemenid king, Darius the Great, from the Apadana of Persepolis. Dated to the 6th century BC.

The “Audience Relief” found on the Apadana from Persepolis dates to the 6th century BC and shows Achaemenid King Darius the Great seated on a high-backed throne, in one hand holding a sceptre and in the other a lotus flower (Fig. 4). His feet are supported by a footstool and his legs are placed side-by-side and uncrossed. The original Persepolis relief design was copied throughout Asia Minor, often missing some detail from the original relief in each variation but sticking to the general formula in terms of throne design, iconography, and composition (Proffitt, 2021). The throne legs in particular are essentially a signature of Persian style: multiple toroidal mouldings, lion paw decorations, and a drooping sepal design placed just above the feet of the legs (Paspalas, 2000; Proffitt, 2021). Jamzadeh (1996), writing in “The Achaemenid Throne-leg Design” argues that “in Achaemenid furniture, the drooping sepal motif occurs as yet another vegetal element of the throne-leg design” (see Fig. 7). Note that the drooping sepals are not only present on the legs of the throne but also on the legs of the footstool.

The “Audience Relief” of Apadana is extremely similar to the depiction of Artaxerxes III on a rare stater issued by Mazaios sometime in the 4th century BC. This stater (Fig. 5) supposedly shows Achaemenid King of Kings Artaxerxes III in the guise of Baaltars seated on an Achaemenid throne. To ensure his populace doesn’t miss the message — that Artaxerxes is a direct descendent of Darius the Great — Mazaios has borrowed heavily from the style and imagery of the Apadana relief depicting King Darius. Right down to the lotus flower held above his lap in one hand and the crown on his head, which is not found on other Baaltars staters in this style. While the footstool is missing on this coin, the torus mouldings and drooping sepals are present and demonstrate this design is suredly a call-back to the famous Audience Relief of Persepolis or a similar derivative.

Fig. 5 – Stater issued by Mazaios portraying Achaemenid King Artaxerxes III as Baaltars (mid 4th century BC).

Other design elements found on the Persepolis reliefs have also found their way onto the Achaemenid coinage of Tarsos. Some of the satrapal staters issued under Mazaios feature a walking lion (cf. Newell, Tarsus, 11) or a lion attacking a bull (cf. SNG Levante 106) on the reverse, both extremely similar in style to the reliefs of Persepolis (Proffitt, 2021). We might assume then that the original “Baaltars” design as found first on Pharnabazaos’ coinage was directly inspired by these reliefs. As to why we see stylistic differences between these and the stater of Artaxerxes (cf. Plate I, coins 1 & 7), it could be argued that the Artaxerxes design was purposefully a more honest rendition of the original relief as it was depicting the same subject: a King of Kings. On the other hand, the Baaltars design has been adapted to suit a deity, explaining the lack of crown and other stylistic changes. Proffitt (2021) even suggests that Baaltars was partly influenced by Greek reliefs of Zeus from the Parthenon, thus the Greek himation drapery and twisted bare-chested posture — two differences compared to the Persepolis relief.

If the link between the coin of Artaxerxes and the “Audience Relief” is correct, it demonstrates that such Achaemenid motifs could not only find their way onto coins but that they could still be understood by the populace even when separated from their source material by both distance and time. It thus suggests that the relief was widely known across much of the Near East, even if only indirectly through its imitation in other works, otherwise its iconography as found on coins must have been ineffective as propaganda and merely an aesthetic choice. As it also indicates that Pharnabazos’ original Baaltars design was likely based on the Persepolis relief (Proffitt, 2021; Paspalas, 2000), we can use other examples of this iconography being exploited on coins to further argue that its deeper message must have been understood, or at least served some purpose besides artistic merit.

Another satrap of Tarsos, Datames likewise issued staters featured the seated Baaltars design. One of these staters is shown in Fig. 6 below and what is immediately apparent about this stater is the throne that Baaltars sits upon. It is very different to the thrones we have observed on the Tarsos coins thus far: gone are the crossbars, drooping sepals, torus mouldings, and rounded legs. Here we have a throne much more similar to a Greek diphros, which is closer to a four-legged backless chair than it is a throne (Richter, 1966). Looking at the reverse, we also see another seated figure in Persian dress, supposedly Datames himself (Moysey, 1986). But it is here where we find the throne we are used to seeing: crossbars, drooping sepals, torus mouldings, and rounded legs. Clearly Datames’ engravers did not forget how to engrave a Persian throne, rather Datames wanted that throne for himself. This immediately makes sense in the context of Datames’ reign as satrap as he initiated and led the Satrapal Revolt against Achaemenid King Artaxerxes II at the time this coin was first issued (Moysey ,1986). The iconography of Baaltars has perhaps been made more Greek while Datames is clearly in Persian attire and, more importantly, telling his people that he belongs on the Great King’s throne and not Artaxerxes II.

Fig. 6 – Stater issued by Datames depicting Baaltars on a Greek diphros and Datames in Persian attire on a Persian throne (mid 4th century BC).

Moysey (1986) also notes other distinctly Persian iconography from this reverse design: the winged Ahura Mazda, the bow at Datames’ feet, and the arrow in his hands. Aside from being a symbol of the Persian deity, the winged Ahura Mazda can also be found on the Apadana reliefs at Persepolis, just like the throne he is seated on. The bow and arrow likewise call-back to the gold darics and silver sigloi issued by Achaemenid kings from the 6th to 4th centuries BC (Moysey, 1986). It is worth noting that Datames wasn’t himself Persian but of Carian descent. This may explain why on a different stater issued during this time he is seen in Greek attire, the only instance of a satrap being depicted in non-Persian attire on his coinage (Moysey, 1986). With this in mind, it is easy to believe that Datames was well aware of what he was doing when depicting himself with either Greek or Persian iconography.

We now not only found ourselves with the key influences of Pharnabazos’ original Baaltars design but also seen clear indications that the rulers of Tarsos were well aware of the imagery on their coins and what it communicated. And while primarily influenced either from the Persepolis relief directly or an imitation of it, Greek influences refined the depiction of Baaltars in a style of Zeus that made it a more ambiguous and multi-purpose figure (Proffitt, 2021). The coin of a seated Artaxerxes III shows fewer of those mixed Greco-Persian influences but it is still clear that Pharnabazos’ coin and this one share a common ancestor in design. They have the signature Persian throne-leg design and similar iconography with the seated figure: legs uncrossed and next to each other, a flowering lotus sceptre in one hand, drapery around the legs. The throne legs not only contain the same features but in the same amount and in the same places. While one coin has a throne-back and the other does not, this is not unusual as the key recognisable features of this Persian design are primarily the throne legs (Paspalas, 2000; Prottiff, 2021; Tadmor, 1974). These same features are repeated on other Persian legged-furniture, such as footstools, tables, diphroi, and klines found in Macedonian tombs derived from Achaemenid court furniture (Paspalas, 2000).

That only leaves the question of where the Achaemenid style developed – was it from Eastern cultures or perhaps from the West? Stavros Paspalas (2000) writes that the primary influences were likely from earlier Northern Syrian, Assyrian, and Urartu cultures due to similarities in the core elements of the throne-leg design. Again, it is the toroidal sections and the drooping sepal arrangement that has allowed the lineage to be discerned. Paspalas is here in agreement with Helmut Kyrieleis, who also argued in “Throne und Klinen” 30 years earlier that the Achaemenid furniture design was influenced primarily by Near Eastern culture.

Fig. 7 – Close-up of a throne-leg from the relief of Darius the Great on the Apadana at Persepolis. Note how the crossbar also consists of toroidal rings, which may explain the beading we later see on staters of Mazaios and Alexander’s tetradrachms.

While we have seen that the stater types of Tarsos from the 4th century are primarily of Persian influence and depict famous Persian iconography, there is perhaps one last possibility that could see the earliest coins of Alexander originating in Macedonia. Following the Greco-Persian wars in the 5th century BC, it would seem likely for some Persian influence to have lingered in Greece. Would it therefore be possible that the seated Zeus design of Alexander’s tetradrachms were designed in Macedon, independent and ignorant of the staters from Tarsos, even if it is acknowledged that they have Persian influences? To answer that question, we must now look to the earliest tetradrachms issued by Alexander in Amphipolis and Tarsos.

Part 3. Alexander’s Tetradrachms

The First Alexanders of the Near East

Martin Price in his 1982 rebuttal to Orestes Zervos summarises the main point of contention as follows: either the Zeus on Alexander’s coins from Tarsos were transmitted to Macedon by some means and directly influenced the first of Alexander’s new tetradrachms to be minted there, or the Zeus on Alexander’s Macedonian coinage was independently conceived in 336 BC. The obvious conclusion of the latter argument is that it would place the very first of Alexander’s tetradrachms in Macedon, predating his first Eastern tetradrachms by about 3 years. Thus, if it can be shown that the Zeus found on the Macedonian coins borrows from the Tarsiote “Baaltars” style, it not only indicates that the first of Alexander’s tetradrachms were minted in Tarsos but also that they did not begin to be struck until 333 BC.

Before we look at the style of the first Macedonian tetradrachms, let’s begin with an overview of the earliest “Alexanders” from the Near East. Most of Alexander’s coins are undated so our understanding of exactly when they were minted is incomplete. Even when we have dated issues, they are only dated to a specific year and the exact order in which two cities started minting coins within the same year may not be clear. It is then necessary to use historical evidence to help determine the chronology based on: where Alexander was at the time, the order in which he conquered different cities, and what events may have been occurring at that time that could influence the need to mint coins. Through a combination of this, it has been possible for scholars to largely agree on the chronology of Alexander’s first coins in the Near East.

The earliest “dated” Alexander tetradrachm comes from Sidon and is dated to early 332 BC when the Macedonians took control of the city and appointed Abdalonymos as king (Taylor, 2020). Similarly, Tyre (previously attributed to Ake by Price, 1991) struck dated “Alexanders” and the first of these is also attributed to approximately 332 BC. Sidon and Tyre are extremely close together along the eastern Mediterranean coast so it is no surprise that they started producing Alexander’s coins at around the same time. It is not known for certain whether Sidon struck its first coins before Tyre due to uncertainties in the dating system used by Tyre (Taylor, 2020) but it can be assumed Sidon was likely first for a few reasons. First, Alexander’s campaign passed through Sidon before Tyre and it was several months before Alexander had conquered Tyre through siege tactics. Second, the dies used to strike the first tetradrachms at Sidon were also found at Tyre where they too struck the first tetradrachms of that city. Due to die wear analysis it is possible to conclude the dies were first used at Sidon before Tyre (Taylor, 2020).

Fig. 8 – Reverses of the first Alexander tetradrachms from Tarsos, Sidon, and Tyre, respectively. These issues all date to approximately 333/2 BC. Note the shared iconography, particularly in the design of the throne legs.

While Sidon and Tyre have the earliest dated “Alexanders”, it is agreed by both Price and Zervos that Tarsos was likely the location of the very first of Alexander’s tetradrachms in the Near East (Fig. 8). There are several reasons for this, of which perhaps the most convincing is the chronology of Alexander’s campaign. He likely arrived in Tarsos in 333 BC, some 4 months before Sidon, which was also 600km to the south (Fig. 9). After a brief stay in Tarsos recovering from illness, Alexander’s march continued and he soon faced King Darius III at the Battle of Issus in late 333 BC. Here the Macedonians won a resounding victory and Alexander captured significant amounts of silver from the Persian treasury. Arrian puts the total at approximately 3,000 talents (Arrian II.XI), which dwarfs the total Alexander had accumulated through victories, fines, and tributes since the beginning of his campaign (see Price, 1991).

Finding himself only 150km from Tarsos and with significant amounts of silver, we start to see the first Alexander tetradrachms struck with a reverse design that was extremely similar to the satrapal staters of Tarsos. Figure 8 shows the reverses of three tetradrachms minted in Tarsos, Sidon, and Tyre respectively. These are the earliest issues known from each city and clearly have several design elements in common. The drooping sepal leaves we know from the Baaltars staters and the Persepolis reliefs again find their way on to the throne legs. We also find the expected pattern of toroidal sections further up the leg, interrupted by the dotted crossbars joining the front and rear legs. The dotted sceptre, though difficult to make out in some dies, terminates in a flowering lotus. Zeus is seated identically to Baaltars: bare-chested with his torso facing outwards, his right arm stiffly outstretched with palm vertical, his left hand holding the beaded sceptre at his side, and his two legs placed rigidly side-by-side. Unlike the Zeus from the Arkadian silver coins of the 5th century, his himation is wrapped around the waist loosely, falling away to the back rather than across the legs. On both the Tarsos and Tyre examples, we also see signs of the “paired lines” in the himation, depicting its creases and folds, similar to the Mazaios staters.

Fig. 9 – Map showing the location of the Battle of Issus and the mints of Amphipolis, Tarsos, Sidon, and Tyre.

Prior to Alexander, Sidon and Tyre were minting coins on the Phoenician standard with heavily Phoenician-influenced designs. To propose that these cities would be the first in starting to mint tetradrachms in the name of Alexander, on the Attic standard, with a design borrowed from Tarsos seems most improbable. Rather, the most likely sequence of events would be as follows: (1) Alexander defeats Darius at Issus and acquires a significant amount of silver coin or bullion; (2) he then needs to convert this to currency to fund the ongoing campaign and cover other costs; (3) finding himself near the capital of Cilicia, Tarsos, he proposes taking over the significant mint operation in that city and employing the engravers for his own coinage; finally, (5) Alexander adopts the existing design featuring the Tarsiote version of Zeus to pair with a portrait of Herakles⁠—possibly because Zeus can be recognised by the local populace as Baal and Herakles as Melkart (Ramracha, 2019).

What evidence do we have that Alexander felt compelled to issue his first official coinage at this stage of his campaign? Undoubtedly after the Battle of Issus he was in need of money to support his campaign, recruit new soldiers, and pay-off other debts. He started his campaign with a debt of 200 talents and only enough money to last 30 days (Price, 1991). Prior to this victory, he had not acquired extreme sums of money, merely enough to keep his campaign going. If he was to send money back to Macedonia to pay-off debts, would it not make sense to send money that reinforces his position as King and has iconography familiar to Macedonians? It is thought Alexander did not bring with him into Asia his father’s popular tetradrachms (Troxell, 1997), so they were likely unavailable for this purpose. His options would be to send money minted in the name of foreign authorities and featuring foreign gods or to mint his own coins, in his own name, and with the recognisable figures of Herakles and Zeus.

Additionally, Alexander had recently proclaimed himself King of Asia in a letter to Darius III and asked Darius to acknowledge his dominion over these lands: “I am, by the gift of the gods, in possession of your land. […] whenever you send to me, send to me as the king of Asia, and do not address to me your wishes as to an equal; but if you are in need of anything, speak to me as to the man who is lord of all your territories” (Arrian II.XIV). At this time, much of the coinage being issued across Asia Minor and the Levant was in the name of the local Persian satrap or King under the authority of the Achaemenid Empire. If Alexander was to proclaim himself lord of Darius’ territories, he must replace Darius’ coinage with his own.

Sending A Message

As to why the seated Baaltars design from Tarsos was borrowed, it was likely for several reasons. First, there are many similarities between this deity and Zeus. Aside from Zeus being an appropriate figure for a coin that would need to be popular back home, the ambiguities with other deities known to the Asia Minor populace would allow for the design to serve multiple purposes. Proffitt (2021) suggests that the Baaltars staters of Tarsos may have been an attempt at appealing to three cultures: local Cilicians, Greeks, and Persians. Baaltars was known across Cilicia as Baal and featured on coins of other cities. Baaltars would have also been recognisable to Greeks as Zeus due to shared motifs: himation, eagle, beard, hair style, sceptre, and throne. An example of this may already exist within Tarsiote coinage from Pharnabazos’ rule. Moysey (1986) theorised that the “female head” found on earlier staters of Pharnabazos possibly depicted Arethusa and was chosen specifically to appeal to Greek mercenaries that were to be paid with those coins and were familiar with Arethusa’s portrait from Sicilian currency. 

Second, as I discussed earlier, the iconography of the seated Baaltars figure evokes the famous Apadana reliefs at Persepolis of the Great King. By placing Zeus on this throne, Alexander is suggesting that Darius has lost his kingdom and now the Greek gods rule these territories. In a paper discussing Greek funerary thrones and Alexander’s relationship with thrones, Palagia (2018) says: “[t]he concept of the throne among the Greeks was reserved for the Great King of Persia”. She goes further to say that since the Peloponnesian War, Greeks would have familiarised themselves with the Persian throne and its place in Achaemenid iconography as a seat of power and royalty. Alexander would even later sit on Darius’ throne at Susa following the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC and commission a portrait of this moment. Suffice to say, the Macedonians were acutely aware of the message they were sending by placing Zeus on a Persian throne.

To illustrate just how aware Alexander and his leaders were of throne iconography, Mazaios’ successor as satrap replaced the Persian throne of Baaltars and Zeus with one of clear Greek heritage. The stater shares the seated Baaltars design of the earlier satraps but with some important differences (Fig. 10a, left). First, note that Baaltars’ hair is now long and flowing, covering the neck, and contrast this with the Baaltars stater issued by Pharnabazos (Fig. 2). Price (1982) noticed this too and points out this flowing hair of Baaltars is of Macedonian influence and likely a characteristic borrowed from Zeus. The biggest change, however, is in the style of the throne. The motifs focused on earlier are all gone: no beaded crossbar, no torus mouldings, and no drooping sepals. Instead, what appears to be depicted is a Greek 4th century throne with rectangular legs and decorative volutes (cf. Fig. 10b; see Richter, 1966, Fig. 111). This is even more clearly illustrated on a later tetradrachm of Tarsos, also issued by Balakros as satrap, where the form of the throne is much closer to extant depictions from Greek art (Fig.10a, right). The throne-leg is divided into the upper and lower members with the cut-out section decorated by volutes. A solid back to the throne is also present, which, if found on Persian-style thrones, is depicted with beads rather than straight lines.

Fig. 10a – A stater (left) and Alexander tetradrachm (right) issued by Mazaios’ successor, Balakros, as satrap of Tarsos circa 330-323 BC.

Why might Balakros change the throne style after years of precedence from not only previous satraps but also Alexander’s own tetradrachms? Knowing exactly when Balakros issued these coins would be of enormous help as he was appointed satrap of Tarsos in 333 BC, as the first “Alexanders” were being struck, and remained satrap until his death until 323 BC. The emission of the staters may have begun at any point during this time, while the tetradrachms featuring his monogram likely didn’t start until 327 BC or even later (see Price, 1991). It is possible that Balakros, being of Macedonian nobility, desired to put his own touches on the design to more clearly reflect his heritage. Assuming the staters were produced first, Alexander could have allowed him this freedom due to the limited distribution of the staters compared to his tetradrachms. At some point later, the staters must have have been phased out entirely, perhaps because they were on a different weight standard to the Attic tetradrachms, and Balakros may have had more freedom to alter the design of the tetradrachms given Alexander had dismantled the Achaemenid Empire by 330 BC.

Fig. 10b – Apulian loutrophoros depicting a seated Zeus or Hades on a throne with rectangular legs and volute decorations, circa 340-330 BC.

Recall the staters of Datames discussed earlier, where Datames replaced Baaltars throne for a more Greek-inspired one, saving the symbolism of the Persian throne for the Achaemenid King himself, Artaxerxes II. For the Persian throne is a royal throne and you can only have one King of Kings. This is different to how it was used in Greece at the time; before Alexander the Great, thrones were reserved for deities, not kings (Palagia, 2018). As we have seen, the Achaemenid satraps of Tarsos understood the importance of the Persian throne very clearly, as did Alexander and Balakros, who would use the throne’s symbolism against the Achaemenids. It is not a coincidence that Alexander’s first tetradrachms in the Near East all used this style of throne for Zeus, similarly it is not a coincidence that Balakros changed the throne style to a Greek one on the coins he issued as satrap.

The totality of the evidence from both the coins and the historical circumstances makes it more probable than not that the established mint facilities at Tarsos produced the very first Alexander tetradrachms in the Near East. Not only did Alexander have multiple reasons to start issuing his coinage soon after the Battle of Issus, but he was also extremely close to Tarsos at the time and from which he would borrow their iconography for his own coins. Despite their disagreements about when “Alexanders” were first struck in Macedonia, both Price and Zervos likewise agree that Tarsos mint struck the first Near Eastern tetradrachms and that the Baaltars staters influenced the style of these tetradrachms.

It is also agreed that the mints of nearby cities were influenced by this style for not only the seated Zeus design but also for the Herakles portrait on the obverse. This is hardly surprising given it is known that engravers from one mint would travel to others when needed. Such as one example noted by Price (1991) where he describes a craftsman who started engraving dies for the first tetradrachms at Sidon, then engraving the first dies at Tyre, and finally moving to Tarsos to engrave some of its later dies. We can thus assume the distribution of production for “Alexanders” in the Near East began at Tarsos and spread out towards other mints in order of proximity, reaching the cities of Aradus, Byblos, Sidon, and Tyre in only a few months. Where the Macedonian tetradrachms fit into this timeline is the next question to address; whether they are dated to the beginning of 336 BC or the end of 333 BC, it matters little for the sequence we’ve established for the Near East.

Part 4. Macedon

Control Marks of Amphipolis

The first Alexander tetradrachms minted in Macedon were likely struck at Amphipolis and though this remains a tentative label for the mint as it is not known for certain (Troxell, 1997), Amphipolis will be used in the discussion going forward. Since these tetradrachms were not dated like those of Sidon and Tyre, it is more difficult to say which ones were struck first. The different types could be identified by the symbols in the left field of the reverse design, such as a ship’s prow or stern. Hoard evidence helps narrow down when these different types were struck to approximate date ranges. Within these date ranges, the types can be ordered further by a die study analysis as well as identifying changes in style. This last method in particular will be especially important for understanding why the first tetradrachms of Macedon were likely derived from the tetradrachms first struck at Tarsos.

The order in which the first tetradrachm types of Amphipolis were struck is largely agreed upon by proponents of both sides. Hyla Troxell in “Studies in the Macedonian Coinage of Alexander the Great” has assigned them to “Group A”, of which there are 5 main types representing the symbols: prow, stern, janiform head, thunderbolt/fulmen, and finally rudder. Martin Price has them similarly ordered and numbered according to his cataloguing sequence, starting with the right facing “prow” symbol tetradrachm as Price 1 and ending with the “rudder” symbol as Price 10 and 11. Although this ordering is not disputed, it is important we first look at how this ordering was determined before we analyse the styles of these types and to do that we must go back to the final tetradrachms of Alexander’s father, Philip II.

Throughout Philip II’s reign, he struck silver tetradrachms with a consistent design that featured a bearded portrait of Zeus on the obverse and a youth riding a horse on the reverse. Like the early Alexander tetradrachms, Philip’s tetradrachms also featured control marks (symbols) on the reverse that help us identify the order in which they were struck. For our purposes we’re only going to focus on the tetradrachms in Philip’s name that were likely struck following his death in 336 BC and over the course of Alexander’s life (i.e. prior to 323 BC). Le Rider, in his seminal 1977 work on Philip II’s coinage, believed these posthumous issues were struck no later than 329/8 BC, giving us a range of approximately 7 to 8 years in which they were likely produced. These types in particular are important to the discussion at hand for two reasons: first, knowing when Alexander decided to stop minting his father’s coins may help us determine when he started minting his own coins, and second, these posthumous tetradrachms share the same control marks as the earliest Macedonian “Alexander” tetradrachms.

Fig. 11 – A posthumous tetradrachm of Philip II, dated between 336-328 BC. The obverse features a portrait of Zeus while the reverse shows a youth riding a horse. Below the horse is a bee symbol and between the horse’s front legs is a right-facing prow.

On its own, it may not seem significant that Alexander’s Amphipolis tetradrachms utilised the same control marks as his father’s posthumous coinage. However, coupled with the fact that these same symbols were never used again on Alexander’s Macedonian coinage while he was alive suggests that Philip and Alexander’s tetradrachms may have been struck contemporaneously for a time (Price, 1982). It is accepted by both Price (1982) and Troxell (1997) that the prow, stern, janiform head, and rudder symbols were being used at the mint that was striking Philip’s II last tetradrachms (of this period) when they started to transition to Alexander’s first Macedonian tetradrachms. Though it remains unclear whether external factors necessitated the use of these particular symbols or if it was just done out of convenience, the conclusion that this points towards contemporaneity between Philip and Alexander’s coins seems inescapable.

Complicating the matter, both Le Rider’s posthumous Philip types and Troxell’s “Group A” Alexander types demonstrate frequent obverse die linkage within their respective groups (Fig. 12). This would not be too problematic if the number of types in each group was relatively small as it seems possible that a mint as productive as Amphipolis could be operating 4 or 5 anvils at a time, each striking tetradrachms with a unique control mark. However, the posthumous Philip II group consists of 16 unique reverse types (Price, 1982), each depicting a different combination of a symbol and one of these secondary attributes on the reverse: symbol below the horse, symbol between the horse’s legs, or symbol paired with a bee. If these types are grouped by this second attribute, most die linkage is found within their subgroups; for example, the tetradrachms with the symbol below the horse tend to be die linked to one another.  However, the “stern between horse’s legs” type is obverse die linked to the “stern below horse” type as well as three other types belonging to the “bee” subgroup.

Fig. 12 – Die-linkage of the final issues of Philip II’s tetradrachms and Alexander III’s earliest Amphipolis tetradrachms. Taken from “Alexander’s Reform of the Macedonian Regal Coinage” (Price, 1982).

The problem this creates is that it suggests all of Philip’s posthumous tetradrachms of this period either were struck within a relatively short timeframe or they employed the same control marks over a number of years. Martin Price would say the former scenario is the only possibility and as it would not be logical for Alexander to pause the production of his father’s coins for a few years only to start it up again before suddenly switching to his own types, the last of Philip’s coins must have been struck no later than the first Alexander tetradrachm circa 336 BC. Troxell (1997) has a different take. She believes it possible for the Philip and Alexander types to have overlapped in production for a time. Philip’s silver coinage was well-known and accepted locally but there’s evidence it wouldn’t have been as useful in Asia Minor due to the more obscure weight standard it was struck on (Troxell, 1997). Alexander could then have used his father’s Attic-standard gold coinage for needs outside of Macedonia and relied on the silver tetradrachms for everything else. He then wouldn’t have a need to start striking his own silver coinage until well into his campaign, where he likely exhausted much of the money he brought with him by the end of 333 BC. Under this theory, Alexander would not have been too concerned about striking coins under his father’s name, contrary to Price (1982), and instead his father’s tetradrachms were more gradually phased out. This could explain the addition of the bee symbol, pointing to the moment when Alexander’s coins were introduced with the same control symbols (Troxell, 1997). Indeed, Price has even placed this subgroup at the end of his Philip II sequence (Price, 1982, p.187).

Based on the evidence we have at hand, it may not be possible to conclusively resolve the question of when these Philip II tetradrachms were minted and why they share the same control marks as the earliest Macedonian “Alexanders”. But I reject Price’s assertion that Philip’s latest tetradrachm must date earlier than Alexander’s first tetradrachm – this does not necessarily need to be the case. I also disagree that Philip’s coins must be dated no later than 336 BC but instead likely either overlapped to some degree with Alexander’s or ceased production immediately prior to this circa 333/2 BC. Thus, having found that the known evidence from Philip’s coins is not inconsistent with the hypothesis that Alexander’s tetradrachms originated in Tarsos in 333 BC, let’s finally turn our attention to the style of the first “Alexanders” struck in Macedon.

The First “Alexanders” of Macedon

The earliest Alexander tetradrachms of Macedon, likely struck at Amphipolis, not only share some elements with earlier Philip II coinage but also Persian elements of the Tarsiote staters we’ve previously discussed. These remnants of Achaemenid influence on Tarsos appear in the very first few types in Troxell’s “Group A”, subject to interpretation by the Macedonian engravers, but are nearly completely missing in “Group B”. At first, Troxell’s argument that the influence is strongest in only the earliest types seems to contradict the die-linkage Price observed; after all, how can there be a transition in style if many Group A types were issued at the same time? Price’s die-linkage argument would seemingly make any argument of a transformation within this group difficult to support, however, the work of Troxell has done much to alleviate this potential issue. Her 1997 study of Alexander’s Macedonian coinage illustrates how Persian elements appear sporadically across several of the earliest types but are not present on all dies within those types. The occurrence of these elements then becomes less and less frequent throughout the “Group A” types before disappearing entirely by “Group B” (Troxell, 1997 p.88). The pattern is not so much of a transition from one style to another but a haphazard and awkward attempt at adopting stylistic elements the engravers were unfamiliar with.

Even if several of these early types overlapped in their production, there still had to be a first type, perhaps the prototype, that would define the Macedonian style of Alexander’s tetradrachms. There are two Greek features of these early tetradrachms that help us identify which type from Troxell’s “Group A” may have been the very first. One feature is the prow symbol we have discussed much of already. On Philip’s coins (see Fig. 11), the prow always faces right. This is the same direction as the horse faces and thus the prow is “sailing away” from the horse. But within the “Group A” Alexander types, one type (Price 1) depicts a right-facing prow “sailing into” the seated Zeus figure, while another type (Price 4) depicts a left-facing prow. An obvious conclusion is that the right-facing prow type likely came first as that is what the mint engravers would have been used to carving. This conclusion is perhaps a bit tenuous but there is an additional feature that likewise suggests this type was the very first at Amphipolis.

Figure 8 shows a didrachm issued under Philip II with a portrait of Herakles on the obverse (left) and a “Price 1” Alexander tetradrachm (right), also with a portrait of Herakles on the obverse. Aside from the obvious similarities in the portraiture, there is a unique feature that is common between them but is seen on no other Alexander tetradrachms outside of “Group A” at Amphipolis. The hair of Herakles consists of two rows of curly locks rather than the standard one row that is found on nearly all other Amphipolis tetradrachms. Only three dies from “Group A” exhibit this characteristic and two of those obverse dies were used to strike “Price 1” types. This feature combined with the right-facing prow on the reverse of Price 1 strongly suggests that this must be one of the very first Alexander types struck at Amphipolis, if not the very first (Troxell, 1997). Following this, the left-facing prow type (Price 4) was struck as it shares an obverse die with one of the Price 1 dies that exhibits the double-row hair locks. A combination of several other types from “Group A” may have then soon followed as production ramped up. Either way, this gives us good reason to believe Price 1 and Price 4 were likely early issues and would be the most likely types to demonstrate stylistic similarities with their Tarsiote antecedents.

Fig. 13 – Left: didrachm issued under Philip II featuring a portrait of Herakles on the obverse. Right: one of Alexander’s first tetradrachms struck at Amphipolis also featuring a portrait of Herakles on the obverse. Note how the hair of Herakles consists of two rows of locks in both examples.

Before comparing these early Amphipolis tetradrachms to the earliest Tarsos tetradrachms, let’s remind ourselves what Achaemenid features we should be looking to find on the Amphipolis coins if we are to believe they are descended from the Tarsos archetype. Starting with the throne, most important is perhaps the drooping sepal arrangement found near the bottom of the throne legs. We should expect to see this feature being larger in size than the toroidal sections found above it and also we should expect to see some attempt to portray the “leaves” with vertical grooves. Next, we will look for the toroidal mouldings, how many they number, and how they are arranged. Typically, Achaemenid thrones had four to five but we know from the Tarsos staters to expect about three: one immediately below the seat, followed by a small gap and another toroid, then a gap for the crossbar, and a final toroid above the drooping sepals. There should be at least one horizontal crossbar, sometimes two, and these should consist of a linear series of beads. Likewise, Zeus’s staff should consist of similar beads arranged vertically and topped by a lotus flower. Zeus’ outstretched right arm should be stiffly oriented with the palm facing outwards. His legs also will be parallel and rigid, without signs of one leg being bent and drawn back behind the other. Lastly, Zeus’ himation will be wrapped loosely around the waist and falling away to his rear and the folds of the cloth possibly depicted using paired lines.

While footstools and flowering sceptres have some precedent in Greek iconography (Troxell, 1997), they are still associated with Eastern cultures and any observed tendency for Amphipolis types to transition away from these elements may indicate a “Hellenization” of the tetradrachm design. The footstool and flowering sceptre can be found intermittently on Group A types, starting from the very earliest (A1) type. By the time of Group B, which likely overlapped somewhat with Group A’s production (Troxell, 1997), only two dies feature a footstool and none with flowering sceptres. The footstool would not re-emerge until Group F, dated to approximately 325-323 BC, along with some other Tarsiote imagery such as drooping sepal leaves on the Throne-legs. An influx of coins from the Eastern mints carried by returning soldiers of Alexander’s army could be one explanation for this re-emergence (Troxell, 1997). Taylor (2018) applied a similar analysis to the earliest “Alexanders” minted at Babylon and provides a useful definition for identifying meaningful change in iconography: “an iconographic element is of chronological significance where that change is permanent, given effect on all subsequent dies in the sequence”. Although the footstool and flowering sceptre are inconsistent across dies within a type, the fact that they disappear quickly from all dies is of significance.

Turning our attention back to the throne, figure 14 shows an example of an early Amphipolis tetradrachm with the left-facing prow (Price 4). We can obvserve the signature elements from the Tarsiote tetradrachms on this die in particular, namely: drooping sepal leaves, horizontal beaded crossbars, beaded sceptre with lotus flower, outward-facing palm, rigid parallel legs, and a hemation falling away to the back of the waist. Note how the drooping sepals have been rendered less accurately than we see on Tarsos tetradrachms. They have lost some of their shape, becoming rounder and only having a series of parallel grooves to depict the “leaves”. Some examples of this same type show the sepal leaves as a more globular, irregular arrangement, like we see on the Tarsos examples, while other examples have diminished the feature even further than we see in this example and show no attempt at distinguishing the individual leaves. Troxell (1997) notes this inconsistency is common in the “Group A” tetradrachms with a given specimen often exhibiting at most only two of: a flowering sceptre, a drooping sepal, or a footstool.

Fig. 14 – An early “Alexander” tetradrachm struck at Amphipolis, designated A1 by Troxell and P4 by Price. The reverse has a left-facing prow symbol but, more importantly, it clearly shows the drooping sepal design on the throne legs and a flowering lotus sceptre.

Given this mix-and-match of iconography, as well as the variation in style within each element, it seems likely that the Macedonian engravers were simply interpreting the Tarsiote coins as best they could. On some examples it may not have been clear what the drooping sepals were, what topped the sceptre, or whether the footstool was not just a horizontal line beneath the throne – particularly if some of these elements were partly off-flan. By the time the engravers were carving the Group B dies, nearly all of the Tarsiote iconography had disappeared and none of it is to be found on Group C or D dies at all (Troxell, 1997). Some examples in Group A also render the letter Xi (Ξ) with a vertical line down the centre, as is common on the Tarsiote coinage. Less than 10% of Group A dies have this particular element and while it is not unique to Tarsos, or the Near East in general, it is consistent with the appearance and disappearance of other features that are more Eastern in origin (Troxell, 1997).

Martin Price was aware of these arguments in his 1991 reference work on Alexander coinage but he remained unconvinced that the throne elements were Eastern in origin and could not be derived independently from earlier Greek art. He gives several examples for what he deems to be similar thrones from Greece: first, a depiction of a seated Zeus on an Apulian vase; and second, the depiction of a statue of Asclepius on a coin from Epidaurus. Starting with the Apulian vase, Price cites the 1966 work “The Furniture of the Greeks, Etruscans and Romans” by Gisela Richter in which Richter has analysed Greek throne style from the Archaic period onwards. Interestingly, she finds little influence of Persian style on Greek thrones at the time. Comparing late Archaic Greek thrones with the Persepolis relief, she states “[t]here is hardly a parallel to such a hybrid mixture on the many extant representations of Greek thrones. The Greeks, with their innate feeling for form, seem to have shrunk from such heterogeneous combinations”.

Moving towards the fourth century, Greek thrones increasingly featured turned-legs rather than the more Archaic-derived rectangular form, separating the leg into an upper and lower member (Richter, 1966). However, these were relatively simple, elongated, designs with only gradual curves in the turnings of the leg. Richter specifically links the throne from the Apulian vase that Price refers to (Fig. 10a) and the throne from the Epidaurus coins (Fig. 10b) as being of the same style. They are, however, much different to the Achaemenid thrones that feature on the reliefs of Persepolis and coins of Tarsos. The Greek thrones tend to feature at most a single horizontal crossbar but often none at all. The legs of the more Archaic throne styles thin dramatically in the middle but are otherwise of a consistent rectangular form. The latter Classical-style thrones tend to narrow towards the feet, feature no drooping sepal arrangement, and often only one have protrusion of significance that is flatter than the toroidal shapes we see from Achaemenid thrones. 

Fig. 15 – (a) Apulian loutrophoros depicting a seated Zeus figure on a throne with turned legs, mid 4th century BC. (b) Drachm from Epidaurus showing Zeus seated on a throne similar to the one on the Apulian loutrophoros, dated to the mid 3rd century BC.

Price, however, believes Richter would consider the thrones to be of the same style, arguing that Richter placed the figure of the Apulian vase close to a photo of an Alexander tetradrachm for this very reason. A close reading of Richter’s text indicates her true intention. The tetradrachm figure is not referenced by Richter until her section on Hellenistic throne style, where she describes “[i]n the Hellenistic period the change from the earlier simplicity becomes increasingly apparent. A series of bosses is often added to the lower member of the legs. […] In the backless throne of Zeus on the reverses of Macedonian coins there appear four superimposed turnings in the legs and a number of bosses on the stretcher.” (Richter, 1966 p.22). The throne from the Apulian vase is of the earlier Classical-era style. It could not be clearer that Richter makes a distinction between the throne of the Epidaurus drachms and the throne of the Alexander tetradrachms. The Epidaurus drachm is also doubly irrelevant because it also dates to the mid 3rd century, nearly a century after Alexander minted his first tetradrachms.

This leaves us with no plausible Greek inspiration for the style of the thrones found on the first tetradrachms of Amphipolis. Aside from the number of other similarities, the argument based on the design of the throne legs itself is perhaps strong enough to point towards the tetradrachms of Tarsos as being the archetype for the seated Zeus design of Alexander’s coins. Greek furniture style of the pre-Hellenistic period simply lacked the necessary features of the Persian throne style and Greek thrones were still heavily leaning on their Egyptian roots in the mid 4th century (see Plate II). And while it cannot be ruled out that Persian throne style was known to some Macedonian craftsman of the 4th century BC, evidence points towards the earliest extant examples likely having come following Alexander’s conquest of the Achaemenid Empire (Paspalas, 2000). Naturally, this draws us to our next question: how did the mint at Amphipolis become aware of the Tarsiote coins, and what does the hoard evidence tell us about when these coins were first struck?

From East to West

How do we suppose that the engravers of Amphipolis became aware of the designs of the Tarsiote coins? Would it perhaps not be more reasonable to assume that the general design was communicated to them via written word or illustration? That may well be the case but it is also plausible for the coins from Tarsos to have reached Macedon itself. As Philip II tetradrachms are not found in hoards of Asia Minor (Troxell, 1997), it is clear that Alexander was not receiving silver currency from back home while on his campaign. Instead, it is more likely he was sending money back – possibly to pay off existing debts but also to recruit soldiers. The Roman historian Curtius has Alexander sending money to Antipater back in Macedon on two occasions in 333 BC, both before the Battle of Issus (Price, 1991; Troxell, 1997). Additionally, any soldiers leaving the campaign to go back home would receive their pay in the form of tetradrachms and take these home with them. 

We have at least three reasons why newly minted tetradrachms from Tarsos could find their way back to Amphipolis relatively early: to repay debt, to recruit new soldiers, and to pay soldiers returning home. It would thus be expected then to find evidence of Tarsiote coins in hoards from 333 BC onwards. There are two such hoards from Greece with burial dates between 330-325 BC that are relevant here (Fig. 16). The first is IGCH 76 from Kyparissia in the Peloponnese with a burial date circa 327 BC. This hoard contained four Philip II tetradrachms, three of which belong to the posthumous group discussed earlier, 15 Alexander tetradrachms from Amphipolis (Groups A-D), four Alexander tetradrachms from Tarsos, and 1 from Tyre (Newell, 1921). From this we can conclude that the Amphipolis mint had likely been operating for some years under Alexander and that Philip’s coins were possibly still in circulation or even still being minted. Though it does not give us much indication for exactly how long Alexander’s coins may have been available in Greece. On the other hand, it does show that coins from as far away as Tarsos and Tyre had managed to reach the Peloponnese but, perhaps not surprisingly, numbered less than the coins from the much closer mint of Amphipolis.

A second hoard (IGCH 74) from the Peloponnese city of Mageira is equally as interesting. This hoard is tentatively dated to 330-325 BC but contains only a single Alexander tetradrachm. This tetradrachm is an early issue from Tarsos no less (Price 2993, 1991). The absence of any Amphipolis tetradrachms is quite significant, particularly if this hoard is dated closer to 325 BC than 330 BC. That the hoard only contained 5 tetradrachms in total is worth keeping in mind however. Nonetheless, it shows that tetradrachms from Tarsos had no trouble making it to the Peloponnese in perhaps as little as a few years. Additionally, if we are to believe Price’s “High” chronology for the Amphipolis mint, it would be especially surprising if we are to find no hoards containing these coins until as much as 9 years later (i.e. IGCH 76). Compare this with Zervos and Troxell’s “Low” chronology, where we see the first hoard evidence of an Alexander tetradrachm in as little as 3 years (if IGCH 74 is dated closer to 330 BC than 325 BC).

Fig. 16 – Map showing the location of the two hoards at Mageira and Kyparissia, as well as the mints of Amphipolis and Tarsos

It could perhaps be argued that even if Tarsiote tetradrachms reached Amphipolis sometime around 333/2 BC that the mint authorities would want to remove any suggestion of Eastern iconography or style in the locally made coins. However, it doesn’t appear that Macedonians had any trouble accepting the Persian furniture style during Alexander’s conquest. Furniture from Macedonian tombs dating to the early Hellenestic period have clear Persian-inspired legs that parallel those of the Persepolis throne relief, Tarsiote staters, and Alexander tetradrachms (Paspalas, 2000). Paspalas further believes following Alexander’s campaign, Greek craftsmen would have been well-aware of Achaemenid style and what differentiated it from Greek furniture style. The sudden introduction and spread of this style across all types of Greek legged-furniture also indicates its acceptance within Macedonian society. As discussed earlier, Richter (1966) identified this trend as the start of a new phase in Greek furniture. Paspalas (2000, p.543) also describes how Persian iconographic elements transformed over time in Greece, similar to what is apparent in the earliest “Alexanders” of Amphipolis. Specifically, he notes how the drooping sepal arrangement loses some of its form and detail, becoming a more simplified pattern of broad leaves.

So In addition to money, it seems likely that Achaemenid court furniture was also finding its way back to Macedon. The immediate impact it had on Greek furniture style is clear and should provide a close parallel to how we might expect engravers at a Macedonian mint to react when confronted with tetradrachms from Tarsos. Rather than suppressing these Eastern elements, we have seen that they adopted them – or at least tried to. The influence of court furniture was perhaps more successful though, as the engravers at Amphipolis struggled with the Persian design elements before giving up on them almost completely. Soon, more Classical Greek stylistic elements would take over and begin to shape the seated Zeus reverse; transforming it into a much closer rendition of the Statue of Zeus at Olympia.

Even Alexander, who readily embraced Persian tradition and culture, was soon having portraits of himself seated not in an Achaemenid-style throne, but a Greek one (Palagia, 2018). Alexander is thus not sitting on a royal throne any longer, but a divine one. Recall the letter Alexander sent to Darius III following the Battle of Issus – Alexander demanded Darius address him as the king of Asia. By placing Zeus on an Achaemenid throne, a throne known and respected across the Near East as belonging to the Great King, Alexander was telling the world that this throne, this empire, was no longer Persian but Greek.


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Plate I – Cilicia

(1) Pharnabazos stater, Tarsos, 380-374 BC; (2) Datames stater, Tarsos, 378-372 BC; (3) Datames stater, Tarsos, 375 BC; (4) Mazaios stater, Tarsos, 361-334 BC; (5) Mazaios stater, Tarsos, 361-334 BC; (6) Mazaios stater, Tarsos, 361-334 BC; (7) Mazaios stater, Tarsos, 342-338 BC; (8) Mazaios stater, Tarsos, 361-334 BC; (9) Mazaios tetradrachm, Babylon, 328-311 BC; (10) Balakros stater, Soloi, 333-323 BC; (11) Ariarathes I drachm, Gaziura, 333-322 BC; (12) Nagidos stater, Nagidos, 400-385 BC.

Plate II – Greek

(1) Tarentum nomos, 425-415 BC; (2) Tarentum nomos, 470-465 BC; (3) Tarentum nomos, 430-325 BC; (4) Rhegium tetradrachm, 450-445 BC; (5) Eryx tetradrachm, 412-400 BC; (6) Epidaurus drachm, 250-245 BC; (7) Mantinea hemidrachm 462-428 BC; (8) Perrhaiboi trihemiobol, 450-430 BC; (9) Aetna drachm, 476-470 BC.

Plate III – Alexanders

(1) Tarsos tetradrachm, Price 2990, 333/2 BC; (2) Sidon tetradrachm, Price 3647, 333/2 BC; (3) Tyre tetradrachm, Price 3238 (Ake), 333/2 BC; (4) Amphipolis tetradrachm, Price 4, 332-326 BC; (5) Tyre tetradrachm, Price 3238 (Ake); 333/2 BC; (6) Amphipolis tetradrachm, Price 78, 325/4 BC; (7) Tarsos “Balakros” tetradrachm, Price 3051, 325-320 BC; (8) Paphos tetradrachm, Price 3120, 325-317 BC; (9) Arados tetradrachm, Price 3332, 324-320 BC; (10) Arados tetradrachm, Price 3426, 320-310 BC; (11) Babylon tetradrachm, Price 3581, 326-323 BC; (12) Mylasa tetradrachm, Price 2074 (Miletus), 300-280 BC.