About This Artwork

Greek, Kingdom of Pontus

Tetradrachm (Coin) Portraying Mithradates VI of Pontus and Bithynia, 90/89 BC, reign of Mithradates VI of Pontus and Bithynia (120–63 BC)

Diam. 3.1 cm; 16.87 g
"King Mithradates Eupator"
(Monogram: ΒΚ)
(In field: ΗΣ Θ)
"Year 208 month 9"

Gift of Martin A. Ryerson, 1922.4928

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 Pontus

Mithridates of Pontus VI (r. 120–63 B.C.) was the last of the Hellenistic kings to fend off the encroaching Romans. He issued this coin during his temporarily successful military campaign to free Greece from Roman rule. Like others before him, Mithridates purposely adopted the tousled hair and fierce gaze of the young Macedonian king (see no. 1). However, at the time this coin was struck, Mithridates was 50 years old, demonstrating that well over two centuries after Alexander’s death, his portrait was still the archetypal image for kings.

—Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

"Power Struggles: Cleopatra's Relatives and Their Rivals," Gallery 155 (Coin Case), November, 2001 - 2007.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Dionysos Unmasked: Ancient Sculpture and Early Prints, Gallery 150 and 154, July 31, 2015 - February 15, 2016.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Of Gods and Glamour: The Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art, Gallery 151, March 17, 2016 - present.

Publication History

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.

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