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About This Artwork
Tetradrachm (Coin) Depicting the God Zeus, Reign of Phillip II (359–336 BC)
Diam. 2.6 cm; 14.47 g
"(minted by) Philip"
Gift of Martin A. Ryerson, 1922.4923
The Olympic Games
The official record of quadrennial games honoring the supreme Greek god Zeus at a sanctuary dedicated to him at Olympia began in 776 B.C. With few interruptions, they took place every four years for about 1,100 years. In A.D. 394, the Christian emperor Theodosius I (r. 379–95) abolished them as pagan rites.
The most prestigious competition remained the footrace, but eventually it was supplanted in popularity by the horse races. Horses were symbols of socioeconomic status, since only the privileged could afford to buy, feed, and train them and transport their teams and trainers to Olympia every four years. In time, many of the victors in the horse races included kings and tyrants.
Philip II, king of Macedon, who minted this coin, owned the horse that won the race in Olympia in 356 B.C. The same year his son was born; he would grow up to become Alexander the Great (356–332 B.C.)
The Art Institute of Chicago, Ancient Art Galleries, Gallery 155, April 20, 1994 - February 6, 2012.
The Art Institute of Chicago, Of Gods and Glamour: The Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art, Gallery 151, November 11, 2012 - present.
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.