About this artwork
The purpose of the first portrait coins was to identify the ruler. The front side became a mirror of the sovereign’s self-image. The back was often used to communicate the ruler’s accomplishments or intentions. The profile portrait was used because it suited the very shallow depth and limited surface of the coin. The tiny images were carved by engravers into bronze dies, one for the front and another for the back. The coins were then struck, one by one, in a process similar to how modern coins are created today.
As Alexander the Great (ruled 336–323 BCE) swept across the Persian Empire, conquering kingdoms from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indus River, he paid his army with coins that portrayed him as he wished to be seen: youthful and clean-shaven with hair tousled and eyes cast skyward. The image became the model for subsequent royal portraiture. The back (reverse) of this coin depicts the god Zeus seated holding an eagle with wings closed. On the lower left is a small Nike running right while holding a wreath aloft.
Currently Off View
- Arts of the Ancient Mediterranean and Byzantium
- Ancient Roman
- Tetradrachm (Coin) Portraying Alexander the Great
- Roman Empire
- 336 BCE–323 BCE
- Reverse: BAΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΠΟΥ
- Diam. 2.7 cm; 17.13 g
- Gift of William F. Dunham