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. Whereas modern coinage is cast by pouring molten metal into molds, these coins were struck, one by one.
Coins were an efficient form of publicity, particularly when new rulers needed to legitimize their succession or strengthen their reputation.
Alexander the Great’s successors used his coinage until his great friend, Ptolemy (r. 305–282 B.C.), seized Egypt, called himself “pharaoh,” and issued new coins that replaced Alexander’s face with his own.
Currently Off View
- Ancient and Byzantine Art
- Ancient Greek
- Tetradrachm (Coin) Portraying Ptolemy I Soter
- 305 BC–284 BC
- Diam. 2.7 cm; 13.42 g
- Gift of William F. Dunham