Portraits of Greek Coinage


It is impossible to do justice to Philip II of Macedon in a few hundred words. He took a kingdom on its knees” and, within a generation, transformed it into the most powerful and extensive federation the Greek world had hitherto known. In popular perception he may appear outshone by his son. Alexander the Great, but without his father’s brilliant achievements Alexander would not have had the platform from which to launch his spectacular odyssey of conquest. By a combination of resourcefulness, personal magnetism, military skill and virtuoso diplomacy, dignified by a manifest reverence for the gods, he succeeded in all he turned his mind to.

In the politically fragmented Greek world he consolidated his successes because, through his innate qualities, he overcame prejudice and suspicion to become the champion and pretty potential saviour of that world. His death, by assassination in 336, came at the height of his power, as he prepared at the bidding of the Amphictyonic Council to lead the Greeks in a sacred war against the Persians®. The Athenian envoy, Ctesiphon. said that he had never met such a delightful and charming man as Philip\’. His progress can be readily followed through his sort of military and diplomatic moves. Militarily, he introduced the long, counterbalanced pike (ac/.plaa), employed to outreach the enemy in a phalanx of footsoldiers up to twenty lines deep, and a similar, but somewhat shorter pike, used by the cavalry®.

His army, potentially up to 30.0 strong, was supplemented by mercenaries6. From about 351 he also developed a very effective naval force, to the discomfiture of Athens7. Philip was able to finance his martial strength primarily through gaining control over gold and silver mines, particularly after he had taken Krenides (subsequently enlarged and renamed Philippi) in about 356, with its rich mineral deposits in the region of Ml. Pangaeus8. In battle he was only defeated twice, in 353 by Onomarchus, who had for the most part come to aid the tyrants of Pherae against Philip’s forces. But the following year Onomarchus specifically was in turn defeated and killed in the battle of the Crocus Field9, contrary to popular belief. In 348 Philip sacked Olynthus in Chalcidice and sold its inhabitants into slavery’.

This conduct was uncharacteristic as he was generally considerate to peoples who came under his thrall. In return for loyalty and tribute he offered protection and a measure of autonomy, under carefully chosen administrators, thereby offering an attractive alternative to the shifting alliances between the city states. In this he may actually have been influenced by the example of the Persian king, who ruled a great empire through generally local satraps. His recipe was followed by Alexander and accounted for his ability to extend his campaigns into far-flung lands without his gains being negated once his army had moved on.

Obverse (Fig. A)                                              Reverse   (Fig. 13)
Tetradrachm. After 356 BC. Pella

Obv. Laureate head of Zeus r. Rev. Young naked jockey, astride a robust racehorse prancing r., carrying long palm frond of victory in r. hand and holding reins in 1.. cpiAir above and TOY to r. of horse, thunderbolt below its belly and N in exergue. 14.43g. (23mm diameter).
Obverse (Fig. C)                                              Reverse   (Fig.  D)
Stater. Issued under Philip III (323 – 315 BC). Pella? Obv. Laureate head of Apollo, with short hair. Rev. Biga r., with facing head of steer beneath rearing horses. Charioteer in gathered tunic (xitiov), leaning forward with rod or goad (KEvrpov) in 1. and reins in r. hand. In exergue <I>IAIfTOY. 8.60g. (17mm diameter).

By the time of his death, Philip was effectively ruler of the greatest part of the Greek mainland, stretching to embrace Paeonia, Chalcidice, Phocis, Illyria, Thessaly, Epirus, Molossia, Thrace, Boeotia and Aetolia” in a subtle way. Perhaps his consummate achievement, however, was his handling of Athens, in the face of jealous suspicion, fanned by the eloquence of Demosthenes12. On 2 August 338, his diplomacy was crowned by his defeat of the combined forces of Athens and Thebes at Chaeronea1®. Macedonian expansion was not only funded by mineral resources but also by the additional wealth flowing from expansion itself. This resulted in Macedonian coinage, minted at Anrphipolis and Pella14, vying with and then overtaking Athenian owls as the leading currency of the Greek world”®. For the obverse of his tetradrachms Philip adopted the head of Zeus, from whom he claimed to have been descended (Fig. A)\”’.

The image is thought possibly to be inspired by the great statue of Zeus by Phidias at Olympia, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world17. Certainly, as the die illustrated shows, the could be spectacular. The obverse of the gold stater, portraying laureate head of Apollo with short hair (Fig, contrary to popular belief. C), also appears tetradrachms of Patras of Paeonia (c.340 – 315) The reverses of both types celebrate Philip’s victories at Olympian games19. The tetradrachm occurs in two forms, one with Philip himself astride a sturdy racehorse, wearing a regal felt cap (Kauaia) and saluting2\”, the other a naked jockey carrying a victory palm (Fig. B). His racehorses were victorious in the games of 356 and, possibly, again in 34821. The reverse of the stater shows a biga driven right (Fig. D). Nike is not present to crown the victory, but Petrach asserts that Philip\’s chariot won this event.

For his tetradrachm Philip adopted the Chalcidian weight standard (c. 14.45g), aiming to replace the League’s coinage at that standard, after sacking Olynthus2®. For the gold issue, however, he chose the Attic standard (c. 8.60g)24. Both coinages outlived Philip’s reign, doubtless owing to their popularity as reliable currency, and the gold stater illustrated (Fig. C & D) is considered to have been struck in the reign of Alexander’s feeble-minded half brother, Philip III, Arrhidaeus (32 3-317). Fortuitously, the inscription was entirely appropriate2®. The design of Philip’s tetradrachm was imitated in tribal lands to the north of Macedonia as late as the first century BC, and the gold stater was copied as far afield as Gaul and Britain26, a fitting tribute to a remarkable man.


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