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Tetradrachm (Coin) Portraying Alexander the Great

A work made of silver.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of silver.


297-281 BCE, issued by King Lysimachus of Thrace


Greek; minted in Ephesus, Asia Minor (modern Turkey)

About this artwork

Following the premature death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, his generals, friends, and heirs engaged in forty years of wars over his empire. Lysimachus (reigned 323–281 BCE), one of Alexander’s companions and bodyguards, used the king’s image on his own coins in order to cast himself in the role of successor and legitimize his claim to the kingdom of Thrace. Alexander, responsible for establishing the conventions of royal portraiture, is depicted in his preferred manner: youthful and clean-shaven, with long locks of hair rising above his forehead and eyes cast upward. Additionally, he is shown with horns curling around his ears. These “horns of Ammon” symbolize Alexander’s claim that he was the son of the Egyptian god Ammon—a claim reportedly confirmed by the oracle at the sanctuary of Zeus-Ammon at Siwa, Egypt.

On the reverse of the coin, Lysimachus exerts his own royal autonomy by naming himself “king.” The goddesses Athena and Nike (Greek for “victory”) crown his name with laurels, which symbolized victory or honor. The lion on the shield at Athena’s side references Lysimachus’s famous exploit of killing a lion with his bare hands and reinforces his association with Alexander, who used the skin of the Nemean lion as a symbol of power and courage.


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Arts of the Ancient Mediterranean and Byzantium


Ancient Greek


Tetradrachm (Coin) Portraying Alexander the Great


Ephesus (Minted in)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

297 BCE–281 BCE




Reverse: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩ[Σ] ΛΥΣΙΜΑΧΟΥ "[minted by] King Lysimachus"


Diam.: 3.1 cm (1 1/4 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Martin A. Ryerson

Reference Number


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Extended information about this artwork

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