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About This Artwork
Tetradrachm (Coin) Portraying Philetairos of Pergamon, 241/197 BC, Issued by Attalus I
Reign of Philetairos of Pergamon, 282–263 BC
Diam. 2.8 cm; 16.39 g
Reverse: ΦΙΛΕΤΑΙΡΟΥ Α
Gift of Martin A. Ryerson, 1922.4910
Coinage of Hellenistic Rulers:
The Hellenistic period spans the nearly three hundred years between the death of Alexander the Great of Macedonia (323 B.C.) and that of Cleopatra VII of Egypt (30 B.C.), a descendant of one of Alexander’s generals. The term Hellenistic is derived from Hellas, an ancient Greek word for Greece. It is used to describe both chronologically and culturally the era following Alexander’s conquest of Egypt and Asia, which resulted in the spread of Greek culture across a vast area. The melding of local and Greek artistic styles with the luxurious materials captured in the conquered lands resulted in magnificent artwork, including elegant coinage.
Following Alexander’s death, his empire was divided among his generals, who established independent kingdoms in Egypt; Persia; the eastern coast of the Aegean Sea, including Syria and Palestine; Greece and Macedonia; and Thrace. Almost immediately the generals began to covet each other’s land and power.
Kingdom of the Attalids:
Philetairos (r. 282–263 B.C.) was the founder of the Attalid dynasty, which ruled Pergamon for 150 years. His descendants honored him with this stunning portrait; that not only commemorates him as one of Alexander’s contemporaries but also as an exemplary king in his own right. The last of the dynasty’s kings, Attalos III, who died without an heir in 133 B.C., willed Pergamon to Rome.
"Power Struggles: Cleopatra's Relatives and Their Rivals," Gallery 155 (Coin Case),
November, 2001 - 2007.
Karen B. Alexander. "From Plaster to Stone: Ancient Art at the Art Institute of Chicago." in Recasting the Past: Collecting and Presenting Antiquities at the Art Institute of Chicago, by Karen Manchester, (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, 2012). p.29.