Print this page

Coinage in Philip and Alexander's time

Coinage on Philip; as Philip gained controll of Macedonia he also eventually gained control of all twenty four ancient cities including the invaluable mints. He began his royal coinage at Pella (358-356) shortly after came Amphipolis and so on. The island of Thasos retained its independence until at least 340, for it supported Byzantium against Philip in 340/39 and joined the League of Corinth in 338/7. After the siege of Byzantium by Philip in 340/39 a celebrated historical event I may add, Lee Rider, BCH LXXX (1956), p. 18, where he remarks that numismatic evidence now requires that scholars abandon the hypothesis that Philip conquered Thasos in 340 BCE. 

A few precious metal coinages terminated by Philip’s conquests, and others that survived for varying periods. Apart from the Chalcidian campaign there seems to be no correlation between the date a city came under Philip’s control and the demise of its coinage. Yet most of these coinages did end during his lifetime. In several cases—Amphipolis, Philippi, and Maroneia—it appears that the coinage was partly co-opted to serve the ends of Philip’s imperialism and was discontinued when its usefulness was exhausted. In each of these three cases the cessation of minting may be correlated with new operations elsewhere: royal silver was first struck at Pella when the Amphipolitan series wound up; the royal Macedonian gold coinage began shortly after the last gold issues of Philippi; and coining resumed at Abdera with the closure of the Maroneia mint. This system points to a royal monetary policy that evolved in piecemeal out of an earlier phase in which Philip opportunistically drew on civic mints and coinages. The cites which continued their coinage the longest period of time after falling into Philip’s controll was Abdera and Thasos for they were very close to the precious metal deposits around Mt. Pangaeus. 

Latter coinages of Abdera, Aenus, Maroneia, and Thasos displayed a difference in weight standard or in the size of denominations minted. In light of archaeological evidence, which shows the wine and agricultural trade continued to flourish; monumental public buildings continued to be constructed, but now they were financed by wealthy individuals rather than the state.


Philip was sagacious in adapting means to ends and the major ancient cities that were important to his consolidations with his new Macedonia coinage were; Abdera, Acanthus, Aeneia, Aenus, Amphipolis, Dicaea, Eion, Maroneia, Mende, Methone, Neapolis, Olynthus, Pella, Philippi (Crenides), Potidaea, Pydna, Saloniki (Thessalonica), Scione, Sermylia, Stageira, Thasos, Therme, Torone, and Tragilos.  


Coinage on Alexander III; the kings money was struck in three metals and a variety of denominations, these were the most important: Gold Stater, obverse; head of Athena right in crested Corinthian helmet. Reverse; winged Nike standing left, holding wreath in right hand, stylis in left; Silver Tetradrachm, obverse; head of young Herakles right in lion’s skin headdress. Reverse; Zeus seated left on throne, eagle on outstretched right hand, with left hand leaning on a long scepter. Bronze Unit, obverse; head of young Herakles right in lion’s skin headdress. Reverse; bow in case and club. All these normally bear symbols on the reverse which distinguish the mints and issues.


After a decade or less of lavish expenditure, Philip at his death left a nearly empty treasury and possibly a debt as well to Alexander. Griffith, Greece and Rome 12 (1965) p. 127, perversely interprets this tradition as indicating merely that Philip’s annual income was insufficient for the Asian campaign. Under Alexander the Amphipolis mint achieved a much greater output than under Philip.


Though Alexander continued to mint Philip’s gold these types were by no means suited to the ambitious and soaring mind of Alexander, who therefore selected Pallas “the patroness of the besiegers of Ilium” and a war like Nike with a “trophy-stand.” The curiosity of other scholars, however, has not been so easily satisfied, and a considerable literature has grown up about the identification of Pallas and Nike: Athena Promachus, Pheidias’ heroic bronze statue which stood on the Acropolis between the Erechtheium and the Pyopylaea, a dedication, according to Pausanias, from the spoils of the Persians defeated at Marathon. It may be added that when Pallas appears on the obverse of Pella’s own coins it is in the form of Athena Parthenus as a possible original from the ancient Palladium of Pella.


(I5.I) Plutarch quotes Aristobulus that on his crossing to Asia Alexander had only 70 talents in the war chest while Duris says it was provisions for 30 days and Onesicritus adds his debt was 200 talents besides. Curtius (X. II) said he inherited 60 talents along with a debt of 500, while Arrian gives the most extreme of all (VII.9.6): Philip’s debt of 500 talents had increased by borrowing 800 more. If Philip’s debt was a total of 1,300 talents this account would have been no problem.  Interest at Athens ranged from 12% to 18%. If there was a yearly interest of 234 talents to pay the mines at Philippi alone yielded 1,000 talents.


If Alexander’s army of invasion and Parmenio’s advanced force was 40,000 foot and 6,000 horse (G.T. Griffith, The Mercenaries of the Hellenistic World, Cambridge, 1935, p. 12) it could not have been supported for 30 days on 70 talents. Unfortunately silence prevailed with the sources on the matter of the soldiers’ daily wage in Alexander’s army. However, we have a detailed proposal by Demosthenes (First Philippic, 28f.) for an expeditionary force against Philip that was never raised. His calculations allows 2 obols a day for foot soldiers, one drachma for horse, citizen and mercenary alike. By the time of Alexander the pay of a Greek mercenary was 4 obols a day and we may assume the pay of all privates was the same; in that case the pay for a horseman was also double Demosthenes’ figure. Now the pay of the foot soldiers for 30 days would be 800,000 drachmae (40,000 x 4 obols x 30 days divided by 6), that of the horse 360,000 drachmae (6,000 x 12 obols x 30 days divided by 6). The total, one hundred ninety three and one third talents (1,160,000 divided by 6,000), even at Demosthenes’ figures the sum would be ninety six and two thirds talents with no allowance for the pay of  higher ranks or any other military expense. Therefore, seventy talents would not have lasted three weeks even at starvation wages.    


At the time of Alexander’s invasion of Asia the currency in the east consisted mostly of Persian gold darics and silver sigloi and Athenian tetradrachms. The gold darics and the Athenian tetradrachms enjoyed a world-wide circulation for the last hundred-fifty years and were well known and acceptable to Alexander’s soldiers. From the battle of the Granikos to the invasion of India, for the pay of his troops he relied on principally upon the fabulous huge hoards of wealth which had been stored away by the Persian monarchs which now fell into his hands. Naturally Alexander would issue coins bearing his own name and types to take the place, as soon as possible, to a fast vanishing dynasty and empire. In fact his own coinage had already begun to appear in Macedonia, Thrace, and Asia Minor. Facilities were close at hand for him to issue his own coins nearer to the scenes of his immediate operations. His overthrow of the Persian power had interrupted the activities of the satrapal mints in Cilica and the autonomous mints of Arados, Byblos, Sidon, Tyre, and Gaza. In busy commercial centres and at important and convenient points Alexander had all the needed mints, appliances, and workmen for an immediate issue of his own coins. It is indeed natural that Alexander made great use of the Sidonian mint; in addition, it formed the principal base for the operations against Tyre. While large sums of money-more than enough to pay the soldiers for the present-had been captured at the battle of Issos (Arrian II, 11, at Issos 3000 talents; a still larger amount at Damaskos) and, later, at Damaskos, Alexander would not delay the appearance of a coinage bearing his own name and types.

Circa 325 -- 315 B.C

A very rare coin was produced in Pella, the head of young Herakles facing left in lion’s headdress. The depiction of Heracles facing left is highly unusual clearly departing from the customary Alexandrine coinage and present only in coins from Macedonian mints. Scholars have variously explained such variations as experiments, similarly with the explanations in the very nations and Philip II coinage, Newell maintains that the departure from the original design might have been an experiment of a major mint most likely of Pella an important Macedonian mint but with a limited geographical circulation only a major mint could have afforded to introduce new, possibly unwelcome elements and their coin production without criticism.  Price argues instead that perhaps the divergence in design was meant to mark the work of a part particular mint, perhaps a newly opened facility.

 The next objective for Alexander was the mints at Babylon and Susa of course make no mistake the biggest prize of them all was Persepolis.  

As you observed no army passed present or future can be successful without good logistics. Without logistics you have no army and without money you have no logistics, this is why Alexander was so successful because capturing the mints was his prime objective.  Forgive me for I must stray to let it be known that all of Alexander's battles were important but the two most important battles were no doubt Gaugalmela and the battle for Persis. As most of us have known Gaugamela was a major battle and Persis was considered a minor battle but nonetheless the most important battle over all and allow me to explain; this battle to accurately conquer the Persian Empire and in a state of fear actually started at the Susian Gates. 

The surtrap of Persepolis, Susa, and Babylon was an ingenious fellow by the name of Ariobarzanes.  After the battle Gaugamela Ariobarzanes was furious of the outcome of the battle Gaugamela that he had no intentions of turning tail and run like the coward Darius the third. While Alexander was gloating with a swollen head Ariobarzanes rounded up all the Persian fighters he could find for an ingenious trap with good intelligence to eliminate Alexander for ever. 

The battle for Persis

Arobarzanes was well prepared for any such advance and had made ready to ambush the invading forces.  Using to his advantage wisely he had built a defense of wall across the narrow pass with artillery hidden behind it, and 40,000 infantry and 700 horse ranged along the ridges of the summit. The Macedonians were outnumbered by more than two to one; Alexander mounted a direct assault over the difficult rocky terrain, as they reach the narrow section of the past at that time Arobarzanes gave the order to attack and, using the catapults unleashed a barrage of rocks, arrows, and javelins.  This immense firepower rained like a thunderstorm into the gorge to inflict huge casualties on Alexander's men; by leading his men into an ignorant and hopeless position Alexander realized his error and sounded a temporary retreat, hastily backing off down the gorge to a clearing 3 miles west. Furious with himself for having failed to foresee the possibility of a trap Alexander realized he must find an alternative route to the impenetrable way ahead and a means of avenging the fallen, in which their were many. Arrian is very clear about what happened to Craterus. By keeping many fires going all night he had orders to stay behind and guard the rear of the pass during Alexander's advance.


Many times Alexander would fall into the foulest smelling stench of stool and come out smelling like a rose and this event was no exception. However Alexander's luck continued: if they did not reach Persepolis in time not only the treasures could be lost, but Parmenio's column would be an easy slaughter to a Persian surprise attack. However, a local shepherd claimed there was an obscure mountain path around the gates.  During the hours of darkness Alexander took his elite units on a nightly march moving blown down trees and rocks that would be stable on an unused pass, this nightly backpacking endeavor was quiet and fast. And believe me this shepherd boy was well rewarded.


To speed up his advance to Persepolis Alexander decided to divide his army at the point where the royal road branched south-East, sending Parmenio and the heavy infantry and baggage train on the lower road across the plains through Shiraz.  Alexander himself would leave a force of around 20,000 light-armed shock-troops across the snowy, frosted terrain Zagros Mountains and through the narrow 10km long pass of the Persian Gates.  Alexander was prepared for touch resistance at the pass no doubt one of his biggest blunders of all of his campaign.  According to Arrian Alexander took with him the Royal Agema squadron of the companions, another double squadron of Calvary, the guards (Hypaspists), Perdiccas' battalion, the Agrians and the most lightly armed of the archers. The battalions of Philotas, Coenus, and Amyntas received orders from Alexander to proceed in a different direction. Arrian also says Ptolemy had the command over 3000 troops. 


Luck will beat skill any day and when you have skill and luck on your side you are unbeatable! With Alexander's plans of communiquι to Amyntas, Philotas, and Coenus with their three infantry brigades in position; Craterus and his men advance from the entrance of the gorge.  Alexander supported by Ptolemy assembled at the back of the pass behind the Persian positions. Before the beginning of the dusk of dawn when the sky turns a dark blue and you can still see stars Amyntas, Philotas, and Coenus attacked with their brigades Craterus and his men advance from the entrance of the gorge as Alexander simultaneously launched his assault from behind the enemy lines continuing to battle a scream of vengeance. With Ariobarzanes already engaged on three fronts Alexander signaled Ptolemy and his 3000 infantry to attack down the gorge into the sides of the defenders were they were cut to pieces in intense hand-to-hand combat, luckily for Ariobarzanes he was able to escape with a few others on horseback but for the rest of his men the battle was complete carnage in its purest form. There would be no military honors given the enemy in this battle for their bodies were mutilated to un-recognition. Ariobarzanes returned to Persepolis before Alexander arrived, only to be denied entrance to the city. News of the outcome of the battle had convinced the citadel commander of Persepolis to surrender the capital to Alexander. Ariobarzanes had no choice but to get out of Dodge and completely disappeared from the face of the earth.


When Alexander arrived to Persepolis it was one of the most beautiful citadels he had ever seen but more important the treasure was all intact. Imagine diamonds, silver, gold, and emeralds as large as footballs (uncut). Did I mention the huge talents of coinage?


Diodorus says that the capture of Susa brought in 40,000 talents of uncoiled gold and silver and 9000 talents of darics; that of Persepolis, 120,000 talents reckoning the gold added value in silver.  Arrian (III.. I6. 7) Susa 50,000 talents, Persepolis, 120,000 talents.  Curtius (V. 2. II; 6. 9).  Susa, 50,000 talents, Persepolis, 120,000 talents.  Plutarch, (Alex., 36. I; 37. 2) Susa 40,000 talents coined, Persepolis an equal amount of coin.  Justin (XL. 14. 9) Susa 40,000 talents, Persepolis 120,000 coin.


In 1975 a movie was made called The “Man Who Would Be King” based on a short story by Rudyard Kipling, adapted and filmed by John Houston in 1975 along with Michael Caine and Sean Connery. This movie has similarities and it was slightly about Alexander the great. For a brief moment it showed a small portion of Alexander's treasure and this small treasure was massive.

Part 4 next


Written by Andy