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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Silver Medallion from the Time of Caracalla – Invoking the Memory of Alexander the Great

CNG 97, Lot: 469. Estimate $500.
Sold for $400. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

MACEDON, Koinon of Macedon. temp. Caracalla or Severus Alexander. AD 198-217 or AD 222-235. AR Medallion (10mm, 0.54 g, 9h). Head of Hercules right, wearing lion skin / Lion, with mouth open, advancing right on ground line. AMNG III/1 901.2 and pl. IV, 8 = K. Dahmen, “Alexander in Gold and Silver,” in AJN 20 (2008), 34 = Berlin Inv. 1875/10 (same dies). VF, toned. Extremely rare, AMNG cites only two examples, both in the Berlin Münzkabinett.

Even after Macedon became a part of the Roman Empire, Alexander the Great continued to be a great inspirational icon, evidenced by the almost continuous reference to him on the coinage of the Koinon of Macedon. Not only was Alexander viewed in Macedonia as its greatest hero, but his conquest of Achaemenid Persia prefigured the Greco-Roman wars with the Parthians and, later, the Sasanians. With these empires posing viable threats to Roman interests in the East, and Caracalla and Severus Alexander envisioning themselves as a second Alexander (Severus Alexander going so far as to have his imperial coinage after AD 231 carry the obverse legend IMP ALEXANDER PIVS AVG), it was important that these emperors include the conqueror’s homeland in his itinerary as he made his march eastward to retrace Alexander’s steps and fight the Parthians. During this period, a number of special issues in gold and silver, such as this small medallion, were struck (for the gold issue, see Triton XVI, lot 690). While the depiction of Alexander varied – Lysimachus-style diademed head of Alexander for the gold issues and head of Hercules wearing lion skin for the silver – the reverse of these issues show a lion advancing right, a type which was already familiar on early royal Macedonian royal coinage and bronze Koinon issues (Dahmen, pp. 507-8). Arguing that these gold and silver issues could not be either circulating money or athletic prizes, he concluded that (p. 519 and note 129) these small medallions were possibly magisterial donatives which also served the function of amulets, issued by local liturgies who venerated Alexander and wished to show their loyalty to the emperor.