The conquests of the Macedonian Kings Philip II (359 to 336 B.C.) and
Alexander III “the Great” (336 to 323 B.C.) profoundly changed the
Greek world. During their reigns the era of the city-state was fast
coming to an end as the two rulers helped foster a new devotion to empires.
Also, Alexander’s conquests allowed Greek culture to take root in
some of the most distant outposts of the Near East.
After the era of Philip and Alexander, Macedon remained a powerful
state, even if somewhat diminished. Coins were struck in large
quantities by the kings and regents who ruled afterward, and
eventually by their conquerors, the Romans. The sustained output of
silver coinage is a testimony to the productivity of the mines, which
had enabled Philip II and Alexander III to pursue their conquering ambitions.
Though gold had been mined in very large quantities under Philip II
and Alexander III, the productivity of the mines must have suffered
afterward, as issues of Macedonian gold coinage trailed off greatly
near the late fourth century B.C., by which time most coins of
Macedonian kings were composed of silver or copper.
Tetradrachms of the types introduced by Philip II and Alexander III
continued to be struck in large quantities by Alexander’s half-brother
Philip III (323 to 317 B.C.) and son Alexander IV (323 to 310 B.C.).
Though both reigned as kings, real authority in Macedon was held by
the regents Perdiccas, Antipater, Polyperchon and Cassander.
The last of these, Cassander, was regent from 316 to 305, and king
from 305 to 298 or 297. His only tetradrachms were of the Philip II
and Alexander III types, though he did strike at least four types of
small bronzes in his own name, each with a different design.
Another Macedonian king, Demetrius I Poliorcetes (“the besieger”)
(306 to 283 B.C.), produced some interesting silver coins. He was
constantly meddling in regional affairs and tried to establish a
kingdom wherever his fleet allowed him to stake a claim. From 294 to
288, he occupied Macedon, where he issued his own coins.
In addition to the familiar Macedonian types, Demetrius struck two
types of his own in silver. One bears on the obverse his portrait and
on the reverse the sea-god Poseidon seated or standing with one foot
perched upon a rock. These perhaps were the first European coins to
portray a living person. Demetrius’ other type shows on its obverse
the goddess Nike upon the prow of a galley and on its reverse a
striding figure of Poseidon.
When Demetrius was forced out of Macedon in 288, power was assumed
by a series of men: Lysimachus, Pyrrhus Ptolemy Keraunus, Meleager,
Antipater Etesias, and Sosthenes. We might presume that most, or all,
of these men (whose reigns collectively span 288 to 276 B.C.) issued
tetradrachms of the familiar Macedonian types.
Beginning in 288 or 287 B.C., Lysimachus (305 to 281 B.C.) struck
tetradrachms in Macedon that bore an important new design. The obverse
featured a portrait of the deified Alexander III and the reverse
showed a seated figure of Athena holding Nike, who crowns Lysimachus’ name.
The next kings of Macedon were Antigonus II Gonatas (277 to 239
B.C.), Demetrius II Aetolicus (239 to 229 B.C.), and Antigonus III
Doson (229 to 221 B.C.).
No distinctive coin types are known for Demetrius II Aetolicus.
However, two large issues of tetradrachms with new designs were struck
in the name of the Macedonian kings named Antigonus. The correct
assignment of these coins may always be up for debate, yet there is a
general agreement on their attribution.
Assigned to Antigonus II Gonatas is a type bearing on its obverse a
Macedonian shield with the bust of the god Pan and his throwing stick
(a lagaboon), and on its reverse a striding figure of Athena.
Given to Antigonus III Doson are tetradrachms bearing on their
obverse the head of the sea-god Poseidon, and on their reverse the god
Apollo reclining on the prow of a galley. A recently discovered
variant of this type — which may belong to Antigonus II Gonatas —
bears the wreathed head of Zeus instead of Poseidon.
Innovation in Macedonian coin design continued under King Philip V
(221 to 179 B.C.), who supplemented a small issue of Alexander-type
tetradrachms with two large issues of tetradrachms bearing new types.
His first new type pairs the now-familiar striding figure of Athena
with his bearded portrait. The next type — decidedly less common — has
on its obverse a Macedonian shield decorated with the head of the hero
Perseus and on its reverse a knotted club in an oak wreath.
The return of royal portraiture under Philip V was continued by King
Perseus (179 to 168 B.C.), whose features closely resemble those of
his predecessor. The reverse of Perseus’ tetradrachms shows an eagle
standing on a thunderbolt within an oak wreath.
Though Perseus ruled long enough to issue a great many of these
coins, he could not defend his kingdom from the growing power of Rome.
In June of 168 B.C., his army was defeated by legions under the Roman
general Aemilius Paullus. It brought an end to the last of three wars
between Macedon and Rome, and secured Macedon as the easternmost
territory then under Roman rule.
Since the Romans continued to work the Macedonian mines, they struck
a great many tetradrachms for local use. Two types were struck in very
large quantities, the first seemingly from 167 to 148 B.C. It shows on
its obverse the head of Artemis in the center of a Macedonian shield
and on its reverse a knotted club in an oak wreath. A similar issue,
perhaps made for a Roman diplomatic mission in 148 to 147 B.C., adds
to the reverse design a hand holding an olive branch.
The second major type (for which two rare variants are known), bears
the name of a Roman quaestor named Aesillas. Probably struck from
about 95 to 65 B.C., it pairs the head of the deified Alexander III
with a wreath enclosing a money chest, a club and a chair.
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