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Research Coins: Feature Auction

CNG 88, Lot: 788. Estimate $300.
Sold for $1100. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

MACEDON, Koinon of Macedon. Pseudo-autonomous issue. temp. Severus Alexander(?), AD 222-235. Æ (26mm, 11.03 g, 5h). Beroea mint. Struck circa AD 231. Head of Hercules right, wearing lion skin / Alexander the Great on Bucephalus rearing right; star below. AMNG III 735; SNG Copenhagen 1372-3 (both refs date coins to time of Gordian III). Near EF, dark brown surfaces.

From Group CEM.

The coins of the Koinon of Macedon, featuring the head of Alexander the Great on the obverse, comprise one of the largest issues of pseudo-autonomous coinage for that area. Gaebler, in his introduction to the section on the pseudo-autonomous coinage (AMNG III, p. 14 and Münzkunde IV [for a more detailed study of his findings]), assigned these coins to a period in the mid-third century with their issue commencing under Elagabulus and ending under Philip I (AD 218-249). Gaebler’s conclusions were based on the apparent die links between some of these pseudo-autonomous coins and those bearing imperial portraits; the very few pseudo-autonomous coins in the series which actually do have a date on them (all 275), he read as AD 244/5, based on a similarly dated issue bearing the portrait of Philip I (Münzkunde IV, p. 311). The remaining coins can only be arranged according to the absence or presence of the Koinon’s status as neokoros, listed along with the ethnic on the reverse.

Based on the coinage, the Koinon of Macedon, with its central administrative site at Beroea, held two neokoroi during this period. Each neokoros was a grant of a right to possess special imperial status (with all of the benefits it possessed), including the construction and maintenance of a temple dedicated to the emperor (or emperors) who bestowed it. That it was highly regarded is evidenced by the frequency with which it was recorded on the issues of various provincial cities. It proclaimed a unique and highly personal bond between the recipient city and the emperor, and could be withdrawn at the imperial discretion.

The Koinon of Macedon appears to have had such a loss (see B. Burrell, Neokoroi: Greek Cities and Roman Emperors [Leiden: 2004], pp. 194-5). Coins of Elagabalus for Macedon show that the Koinon received a second neokoros under that emperor, a status that continued into the reign of Severus Alexander (AMNG III 300-3 [Elagabalus]; 304-7 [Severus Alexander]). By AD 231 (cf. Burrell, p. 194 and notes 23-24), Severus Alexander withdrew the Koinon’s status altogether (AMNG III 322-40), but probably in response to preparations for the impending war against the Sasanians, granted a new neokoros (AMNG III 308-14). In AD 239, Gordian III, probably again in response to a second war against the Sasanians, bestowed a second neokoros on the Koinon (AMNG III 315-20). The coins of Severus Alexander are all of a military theme, showing either Athena, or the emperor in military pose. Apart from a reverse showing a lion, the coins of Gordian III are games-related. Those pseudo-autonomous coins, such as ours, with such clear references to Alexander’ military prowess, should be assigned to Severus Alexander.

Even after Macedon became a part of the Roman Empire, Alexander the Great continued to be a great inspirational icon. Not only was Alexander still seen in Macedonia as its greatest hero, but his conquest of Achaemenid Persia prefifured the Greco-Roman wars with the Parthians and Sasanians. With Persia reasserting itself under the Sasanians, and war between the two powers quickly coming to a head, Severus Alexander must have seemed a second Alexander. Although he had adopted the name Alexander many years before, beginning in AD 231, his imperial coinage carried the obverse legend IMP ALEXANDER PIVS AVG along with the martial imagery that suddenly began to appear. As he made his way eastward to retrace Alexander’s steps and fight the Sasanians, Severus Alexander must have stopped in his hero’s homeland, to meet the local populace and capitalize on the influence of Alexander the Great for victory in war.