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Research Coins: Feature Auction

Sale: Triton VIII, Lot: 129. Estimate $10000. 
Closing Date: Monday, 10 January 2005. 
Sold For $8000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

KINGS of MACEDON. Alexander I. 498-454 BC. AR Oktadrachm (28.78 gm). Struck circa 492-480/79 BC. Horseman, wearing chlamys and petasos, and holding two spears, leading horse right / Quadripartite incuse square. Raymond pl. II, 6; AMNG III pg. 49, 7 (Bisaltai); HPM pl. XII, 2 (Bisaltai; same obverse die); SNG ANS 1; SNG Alpha Bank -. Near EF, minor die rust. Good metal for issue. ($10,000)

From the William and Louise Fielder Collection.


The paucity of evidence for the early history of the Macedonian region in the Greek authors indicates an apparent disinterest in the region prior to the onset of Philip II. Apart from mythology, in which the region was populated by wild half-humans, Herodotos, in his limited descriptions of this period, interchanges Thrace and Macedon as well as Thracian and Macedonian, so that the entire region and its inhabitants seemed in their origins a nebulous, semi-barbaric group. In fact, the author’s description belied the actual close relationship between the two. A number of tribal groups inhabited the mountainous northern region of Macedon, Paionia, and Thrace; all of them were headed by chieftains who eventually adopted the nominal title of BASILEUS, such as Getas of the Edones (see lot 223 below). At the same time, these groups entered into a monetary alliance based upon a common weight standard, common denominations, and common numismatic designs emphasizing regional mythological associations, such as Ares-Diomedes, Hermes-Apollo, and Dionysos, as well as the inclusion of specific symbols, such as the caduceus. By the end of the Persian wars this alliance weakened, in part because of the internal strife over Medizing, in part because of the rise of the Macedonian royal house.

According to Herodotos, their origin can be traced to three Argive brothers of the house of Temenos and members of the Heraklidai who had invaded the Peloponnesos after the Trojan War. Exiled from their home, they had been forced to wander northward, eventually settling in Lebaia in far northern Macedon, where they hired themselves to the local king out as herders. The youngest of these three, Perdikkas, tended the sheep and goats, considered to be the least important task. An omen, however, demonstrated his future greatness and, upon report to the king, the young men were once again forced into exile. Before leaving, they demanded their due. Replying that they could have the sunlight coming through the smoke hole in the roof, Perdikkas marked the circle of sunlight on the ground with his knife and gathered it up within his garment. Understanding this to mean that the boy would eventually rule all the lands under the son, the king tried to have the young men killed. Saved from this fate, they made their way to Edessa near the region of the Bisaltai (according to the later author Justin, through the agency of a goat, for whom they renamed the city Aigai), and from there established the future Macedonian royal house.

By the end of the sixth century BC, the Macedonian royal house became the influential power in the regional alliance; it had already been in diplomatic contact with the Peisistratid tyranny in Athens. The wars with Persia further extended Macedon’s importance, especially that of its young prince, Alexander I, the son of Amyntas. An astute politician, Alexander deftly maneuvered this precarious situation. Although he early on offered his sister’s hand in marriage to a Persian to offset punishment for his revenge against the high handedness of a Persian embassy in 514-513 BC, Alexander maintained an aloof but cordial relationship with the Persians as they moved through the region in 492 BC, forcing the other tribes to Medize. At the same time, he worked towards a stronger association with the Greeks. Herodotos says that on the eve of the battle at Plataia, Alexander entered the Athenian camp to report that a delay in engaging the Persian’s would help to further diminish their already low supplies. In return, he hoped the Greeks (in particular the Athenians) would assist him when the time came, thereby forging a relationship between the rising power in the north with the rising Greek city-state.

As Raymond has cogently argued, the types of Alexander’s coinage reflects the position of the developing Macedonian state. The earliest types draw from those of the Thraco-Macedonian alliance of which Macedon was a part. Uninscribed issues, like our coin, earlier assigned to the Bisaltai must now be assigned to Alexander at the stage at which Macedon remained an equal member of the alliance and had not yet achieved pre-eminent power in the region, since similar issues inscribed with his name are later and fall into the period after the Persian Wars when Alexander, confident in his support from the Athenians after Plataia, began to consolidate Macedonian control over the other tribes.