About this artwork
The front (obverse) of this coin portrays a diademed head of Antiochus VIII Grypos to the right. On the back (reverse), the god Zeus is depicted, enthroned with a sceptre and Nike with a wreath; a lightening bolt is above.
Certainly the best-known face in antiquity was that of Alexander the Great (reigned 336–323 BCE), whose profile graced coins for two hundred years. He collected the treasure of conquered kingdoms as he swept across the Near East, and with this rich booty he set up mints that produced coins bearing his portrait. Such self-advertising was new to Greece. Mithrapata (reigned 380–370 BCE) is thought to have been the first living person to present his portrait on coins. Previously coins had pictured divinities and mythical characters.
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.
The primary purpose of portraiture was to create an accurate likeness of the subject. The reason for Antiochos’s (reigned 125–96 BCE) nickname, “Grypos” (“hook nose”), is apparent from his lifelike portrait seen here.
Currently Off View
- Arts of the Ancient Mediterranean and Byzantium
- Ancient Greek
- Tetradrachm (Coin) Portraying Emperor Antiochos VIII Grypos
- 104 BCE–96 BCE
- Diam. 3.1 cm; 16.50 g
- Gift of William F. Dunham