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Alexander Updates

By Reid Goldsborough

Martin Price 's 1991 two-volume book The Coinage in the Name of Alexander the Great and Philip Arrhidaeus is the most important reference for the coins of Alexander the Great. It 's not only the premier attribution reference, it also includes a lot of useful, interesting background information. The book is available from among other sources the Swiss Numismatic Society for about $350.

Just as Price corrected previous numismatists, others have corrected Price. The most voluminous and important effort is the 2007 book Alexander the Great: Coinage, Finances, and Policy by Georges Le Rider (pronounced zhorzh lih-rih-DAY). This is translation and update of Le Rider 's 2003 book, written in French. The English version was financed by the Aristotle Onassis Foundation, published by the American Philosophical Society, translated and updated by W.E. Higgins, and reviewed by Hyla A. Troxell.

Other corrections to Price are included in Hyla Troxell 's 1997 book Studies in the Macedonian Coinage of Alexander the Great, papers by Charles A. Hersh as well as by Richard Ashton and Silvia Hurter in the 1998 book Studies in Greek Numismatics in Memory of Martin Jessop Price, R.H.J. Ashton 's article "Kaunos, not Miletos or Mylasa" in the 2004 Numismatic Chronicle, and Andrew P. McIntyre 's article "The Alexander Tetradrachms of Termessos Major" in the 2006 Numismatic Chronicle. Le Rider 's book includes some of these corrections and a great deal more.

It has been said that scholars march in lock step behind one another. No scholar would say that, and at every opportunity Le Rider tries to topple the established wisdom, using painstaking research and astute logic. His main target, though not his sole target, is Price.

As with other things Le Rider has written, perhaps most notably his 1992 Revue Suisse de Numismatique book review of Price 's work, you can feel in his words his professional rivalry with Price, Frenchman vs. Englishman. Price, for his part, had taken on Le Rider, among other places disputing the conclusions in Le Rider 's most important book, his 1977 Le monnayage d 'argent et d 'or de Philippe II frapp en Macdoine de 359 294, on pages 85 to 87 of Price 's most important book.

Here in my view are the most important areas in which Le Rider differs from Price. I 'll leave out all qualifiers such as "likely" and "probably," which are in the book. According to Le Rider ...

* Alexander didn 't give coinage the import that Price believed. After his ascension in 336 BC he minted and heavily used his father 's coins in Macedonia while initiating a trial coinage, his eagle tetradrachms, which he minted in small numbers. (Unfortunately, Le Rider mentions the smaller eagle denominations only in passing.) In places Alexander conquered he heavily used their coinage, most notably imitative Owls, lion staters and tetradrachms, and Persian darics. Le Rider treats Alexander 's lifetime coinage more as royal than imperial.

* It wasn 't until Alexander 's victory at Issos in 333 BC that he initiated his Herakles-head silver tetradrachms, with this victory having changed Alexander 's quest from a war of liberation to a war of conquest. It wasn 't until Alexander 's victory at Tyre in 332 BC that he initiated his Athena-head gold staters, with the stylis on the reverse referring to Alexander 's new mastery of the seas. Le Rider accurately describes the dating of the first Alexanders as being the "object of sometimes passionate debate."

* Tarsos in southern Asia Minor was the first city to issue Alexanders in both silver (in 333 BC) and gold (in 332 BC), with Le Rider giving to Tarsos staters that Price attributed to Sidon. Alexander 's tetradrachms derived directly from the lion staters that the Persian satrap Mazaios issued at Tarsos.

* Sidon initiated Alexanders in 333 BC, Amphipolis in 332 BC. The cities of western Asia Minor began issuing Alexanders only in 325 and Babylon only in 324 BC.

* The Alexanders that Price gave to Ake were actually struck at Tyre, beginning in 332 BC. Alexander 's lifetime Egyptian coins were struck at Alexandria, not Memphis, beginning in 324 BC. The Susa Alexanders were initiated only after Alexander 's death in 323 BC.

* Alexander 's "great series" of tetradrachms from Macedonia were issued at one mint, his most prolific, in Amphipolis, not mostly at Amphipolis and partly at Pella. Alexander 's Macedonian staters were issued not at Amphipolis but Pella.

* The royal title "Basileos" appeared on Alexanders only after Alexander 's death, initially referring to Alexander 's son, Alexander IV.

* Tetradrachms with the right leg of Zeus drawn back (crossed legs), rather than both legs being parallel, appeared first at Sidon in 325 BC, with Alexandria adopting this design in 324 BC, Tyre in 322 BC, Babylon in 321 BC, and Amphipolis in 315 BC. Le Rider refers to these as "new style" Alexanders but mentions no other mints regarding this.

* The rare "Memphis" bronzes that Price believed were the first coins to depict a portrait of Alexander were issued not in Memphis in 332 or 331 BC but in western Asia Minor, with no convincing evidence that they were struck during Alexander 's lifetime.

* The rare elephant medallions weren 't struck by Alexander in Babylon but by Perdikkas in Babylon after Alexander 's death. Le Rider also disagrees here with Frank L. Holt, who in his 2003 book Alexander the Great and the Mystery of the Elephant Medallions made the case that they were struck in India shortly after Alexander 's victory in 326 BC over the Indian king Poros at the Battle of the Hydaspes River.

How persuasive are Le Rider 's arguments in favor of these positions? I 'll let you decide. Personally, Le Rider has changed my mind on several issues, including the downdating. On the other hand, Le Rider 's penchant for disagreeing with Price creates a shiver of concern, however slight, about his overall objectivity.

Price is still preeminent as an attribution reference. Le Rider, however, will likely prompt you to annotate your copy of Price.

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