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A Talking Coin by Joseph Kleinman

Many of us involved in ancient numismatics wonder what it would be like if our coins could talk, to speak to us of their travels and experiences. No doubt they did much the same things that our modern currency does. Pay for food, lodging, clothing and perhaps transportation. For sure they were brought into pagan temples and paid for sacrifices to various gods and goddesses. Let us now examine a coin of an individual who’s life still has an impact on us to this very day.

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The coin is a Silver Tetradrachm of no less a personage then Alexander the Great. On the obverse of the coin is the head of Alexander posing as the demigod Herakles or Hercules as the Romans would have called him. Why Hercules? Alexander considered himself to be a god, Herakles was the last son of Zeus king of the gods thus the connection. How do we know that the head is that of Alexander? Hercules was often depicted as a mature man having a beard, here we see a beardless youth. Additionally, the depiction closely resembles sculpted busts of Alexander as well as other coin types that make no pretension as to who the subject is.

The reverse of the coin is of equal interest. We see the god Zeus seated on his throne holding an Eagle, his companion bird. This particular reverse type may very well be a representation of one of the “Seven Wonders of the World,” only one of two shown on ancient coins. The master sculptor Phidias created a statue of Zeus in Ivory and Gold which was known throughout the ancient world. This statue was set up at Olympus although it may have been moved to Athens. Behind Zeus is the inscription “Alexander.”

To the ancients, no more had to be said.