Base Metal:
Alexander the Great
Bronzes

    Alexander the Great's bronze coinage was local in nature. Unlike his larger denomination silver and gold coins, bronzes were used in local marketplaces to buy bread and wine for the family. I've differentiated eight main types of Alexander bronzes, several subtypes, and three denominations.    
                   
   

Alexander the Great Type 1 (quiver type) bronze, four chalkoi (hemiobol), AE18, 7.1g, Macedonia, c. 336-323 BC, M.J. Price 280, SNG Christomanos 220, SNG Alpha Bank 717, SNG Cop. 1038.

Two mint marks appear on this particular variety, the Greek letter delta above the quiver and a trident head (spear head) below the club. The inscription translates into "Of Alexander." The quiver reverse four chalkoi is the most commonly seen Alexander bronze coin, and the above is an uncommonly attractive specimen.

Though it typically was the first design element on these coins to be lost to wear, the quiver can be elaborately decorated and when visible is worthy of close inspection. The quiver on the above coin is decorated with a series of chevrons, or wedge-shaped marks. The chevron symbol in mathematics today signifies an intersection separating higher and lower. It has also been used to designate hierarchy of rank, such as in the U.S. military. Being the shape of a roof, it can also be a symbol of protection or security.

   

This lifetime coin represents the first of eight main types of Alexander bronzes and three denominations. As with most of his silver coinage, the above type features on the obverse Herakles in a lion skin headdress. The reverse of this type features a quiver (arrow case) placed on top of a bow plus a club. The club can be above or beneath the quiver.
                   
Alexander the Great Type 1 (quiver type) bronze, four chalkoi (hemiobol), AE17, 6.5g, Macedonia, c. 336-323 BC, M.J. Price 296, SNG Saraglos 833, SNG München 840-841, Seldarov 435. This is the same bronze type as the previous, only the decoration on the quiver is different. Here it consists of two sideways backward-S curves. Other quiver decorations were used as well on Alexander the Great quiver bronzes.

This sideways backward-S design appeared in ancient times on other items, including plaques and pottery. One possibility is that it was a sun symbol, one of many different kinds of sun symbols used through history. It this case it can be seen as creatively abstracted, with the spirling patterns around the central dots perhaps signifiying the sun as it moves across the sky. Another possibility is that it represents a lyre, an atttribute of the god Apollo, perhaps paying respect to this god who was represented on other Macedonian coins but not this one. Or it may simply be a decoration without any symbolic meaning.

On this particular specimen, which has an A as a mint mark above the club, the quiver design is accentuated not by the coin's pristine state of preservation but by the contrasting patina that appears on the surface of the metal, with higher points lighter and recessed areas darker. Such effects can occur naturally over time or through recent attempts to conserve a coin.
                   
Alexander the Great Type 1 (quiver type) bronze, four chalkoi (hemiobol), AE16, 4.8g, Macedonia, c. 336-323 BC. The is the same type as the previous two, only extremely worn and corroded, and with a sizeable flan chip. This coin grades Poor, and it's an extremely good example of what time can do to an ancient bronze coin. Only the epsilon and delta in Alexander's name are distinguishable in the inscription.
Alexander the Great Type 1B (quiver/abbreviation type) bronze, four chalkoi (hemiobol), AE19, 6.6g, Macedonia, c. 325-310 BC, M.J. Price 386, SNG Alpha Bank 802, Hunterian 332. The above coin is a subtype of the quiver type, with the inscription now reading "BA," which is short for "Basileos Alexandros" or "Of King Alexander." Price believed this coin type was minted both during and after Alexander's lifetime. The mint mark underneath the club on this particular variety is a trident head (spear head). Another subtype (1A) includes the spelled-out royal title: "Basileos Alexandros."
                   
Alexander the Great Type 2 (gorytos type) bronze, four chalkoi (hemiobol), AE19, 4.5g, Western Asia Minor, c. 336-323 BC, M.J. Price 322, Müller 1699, SNG Saraglos 843, SNG Milano 145, SNG Stockholm 284, SNG Cop. 1059, McClean 3516.

                   
    This Alexander bronze type, like the first on this page, also features Herakles on the obverse and a soldier's weapons on the reverse. But in this case the weapons are a gorytos (case for bow and quiver) along with a club, and the bow lies within the gorytos rather than underneath the quiver.

Often the gorytos is referred to as a bow case, but it also holds arrows as well so is probably best referred to as a gorytos. Sometimes it's erroneously referred to as an arrow case or quiver, by dealers as well as attribution references, with no distinction made between the gorytos and quiver bronze types. SNG Manchester mistakenly referred to it as a bull's head based upon the worn specimen they had to attribute. Gorytos bronzes are seen less frequently than the quiver bronzes. The mint mark on this particular variety, below the club, is the letter E.

Based on their findspots, this and most other gorytos bronzes that Price attributed to Macedonia may be better attributed to western Asia Minor, according to Richard Aston in his paper "The Coins of the Macedonian Kings, Lysimachos and Eupolemos in the Museums of Fethiye and Afyon" in the 1998 book Coins of Macedonia and Rome: Essays in Honour of Charles Hersh. The evidence Aston presents for this position isn't overwhelming, and he acknowledges that more findspots are needed. Still, this subtle but clear design difference and the greater number of extant quiver bronzes argues for these two types having different geographical origins.

It's neatly logical that the most common of Alexander's bronzes, which like all bronzes were primarily local coinage, originated from Alexander's homeland of Macedonia, and that this less common type originated in Asia Minor, where important Greek cities, now freed by Alexander, were situated. The neatly logical isn't always correct in numismatics as elsewhere, but in the absence of convincing evidence supporting complexity, it can simply make sense.
   
                   
    Alexander the Great Type 2A (gorytos/royal title type) bronze, four chalkoi (hemiobol), AE20, 5.6g, Western Asia Minor, c. 323-310 BC, M.J. Price 2800, SNG Saraglos 857, SNG Christomanos 229, SNG München 919, SNG Milano 269, SNG von Post 21, SNG Tübingen 1147, SNG Cop. 1113-1115, AMNG III/2 Table XXXI No. 35, Weber 2185, McClean 3515, Hunterian 336. This is one of the gorytos bronzes that Price does attribute to Asia Minor, in this case to an uncertain mint in western Asia Minor. Price didn't indicate his reasoning or precedents for this attribution.    
   
   
                   
    In the past, the above variety was often attributed as an anonymous issue. SNG Tübingen, SNG Cop. and AMNG III/2, for instance, attributed it this way, though McClean and Hunterian gave it to Alexander. The inscription consists of just the royal title "Basileos" ("King"), the full meaning of which could be "Of King Alexander," or it could refer to another king as this bronze type was issued by others besides Alexander. Along with the inscription, the styling of this particular variety is also distinctive, particularly Herakles' battle-fierce gaze, which may well be meant to refer to Alexander himself. During Alexander's reign the East was more receptive to such statements of regal authority than Greece or Macedonia. The mint mark on this specimen, below the club, is a torch, sometimes called a race torch.

Other subtypes feature as an inscription the abbreviation "Basi" (2B) or the initials B-A (2C).
   
                   
    Alexander the Great Type 2 (gorytos type) bronze, one chalkos (eighth obol), AE11, 1.5g, Miletos, Ionia, Asia Minor, c. 323-319 BC, M.J. Price 2102A. The inscription on this specimen is "Of Alexander," and the mint mark is a grain ear.    
   
   
                   
This is the smallest of Alexander's bronze denominations. Like the previous two coins, this specimen depicts a gorytos along with a club. The quiver type also is seen in the smaller one chalkos size, though this denomination with both types is seen much less frequently than the larger four-chalkoi coins.

The one chalkos bronze was the smallest denomination coin used during the time of Alexander, when a loaf of bread cost one obol. Being of such small value, the one chalkos bronze was likely not of much use, much like U.S. half cents were before they were discontinued in the 1850s and U.S. cents are today.
                   
    Alexander the Great Type 3 (eagle type) bronze, two chalkoi (quarter obol), AE17, 3.8g, Macedonia, c. 336-323 BC, M.J. Price 160, SNG Alpha Bank 707, SNG Cop. 1024, SNG Aberdeen 142, Seldarov 449, Liampi 6-8, Weber 2141. The above specimen features on the reverse an eagle facing right with his head reverted, standing on a thunderbolt (sometimes called a fulmen, which is the Latin word for lightning), both being attributes or symbols of Zeus. The inscription reads "Of Alexander." An A mint mark appears in the reverse left field above the eagle's wing.    
   
   
Alexander's Eagle bronzes are part of his Eagle coinage that also includes various silver denominations, including a stater, drachm, hemidrachm, diobol, and obol. Alexander's Eagle coins are seen much less frequently than his huge issue of Herakles and Zeus imperial silver coins and his Herakles and weapons local bronze coins.

The largest silver Eagle denomination, the stater, was in all probability Alexander's short-lived first coinage, and these coins are rare today. The Eagle stater was based on the same Chalchidian League weight standard as used by Philip II rather than the Attic standard used by Alexander for the vast bulk of his coinage. The Eagle fractions, however, were based on the Attic standard and are more plentiful today. It's not clear what place the Eagle bronze coinage played. It's one of three bronze quarter-obol types Alexander minted, the other two being the Apollo/horse type and the Macedonian shield type (see below).
Alexander the Great Type 4 (horse type) bronze, two chalkoi (quarter obol), AE16, 4.6g, Macedonia, c. 336-323 BC, M.J. Price -, SNG Alpha Bank 774-776, SNG Milano 164, Seldarov 451, Hunterian 327. This coin depicts on the obverse a figure wearing a diadem who is sometimes identified as the god Apollo, sometimes as a generic young male.

This likely was one of Alexander's standard bronze denominations, half the value of his Herakles/weapons bronzes, though not seen as frequently. The above specimen features as a mint mark an A. Price includes this type with 34 other mint marks, but not one with an A. This variety, with an A mint mark, is included in some other references.
Alexander the Great Type 5 (horseman type) bronze, four chalkoi (hemiobol), AE17, 7.1g, Macedonia, c. 336-323 BC, M.J. Price 371A, Seldarov 468. The above lifetime bronze features as a mint mark a thunderbolt under the horse.

This type is similar to the previous, only the horse has a rider, and it's much less commonly seen. Aside from the inscription, which reads "Of Alexander," it's identical to the common Apollo/horseman bronze type of Alexander's father, Philip II, and it's likely a transitional issue leading to Alexander's Apollo/horse type. Philip III, Alexander's half brother, issued an identical type. The weight of this particular specimen is heavier than the two listed in Price, which he indicates are half units (two chalkoi). It may be that these coins are full units (four chalkoi).
Alexander the Great Type 6 (Herakles/horseman type) bronze, four chalkoi (hemiobol), AE19, 5.5g, Macedonia, c. 323-317 BC, M.J. Price 372. This is another Alexander horseman type, in this case featuring Herakles on the obverse. The inscription, partly off the flan, reads "Of Alexander." The letter B beneath the horse is likely short for Basileos or King. A caduceus head (winged staff) appears as a mint mark to the right of the B.

Richard Aston believes that on the basis of findspots this coin may be an issue of western Asia Minor. But Philip III, Alexander's half brother, and Kassander, who killed Alexander's widow and son and became king of Macedonia, both issued identical bronze types with their own inscriptions after Alexander's death. The above coin is more likely a transitional posthumous Macedonian issue leading to the Philip III and Kassander bronzes, with the Herakles obverse paying homage to Alexander and the horseman reverse paying homage to Philip II, who was still venerated in Macedonia.
Alexander the Great Type 7 (Macedonian shield type) bronze, two chalkoi (quarter obol), AE15, 4.2g, Macedonia, c. 325-310 BC, M.J. Price 416v. (no pronounced helmet crest), SNG Christomanos 233, SNG München 900-901, SNG Alpha Bank 845-848, Liampi 41-50. This variety depicts a thunderbolt on the boss, or raised inside portion, of the shield. The boss is sometimes called the episema, which is the Greek name for a symbol of a particular city or clan placed in the center of a soldier's shield. The episema on shields served the same symbolic purpose to the ancient Greeks as flags. The mint mark on this specimen, under the helmet, is another thunderbolt. The initials B-A, on either side of the helmet, are short for "Of King Alexander."

This is one of Alexander's Macedonian Shield bronzes, which fill the obverse with the shield. Other Macedonian Shield varieties have as their boss or episema a club, star, torch, double ax, pellet (sometimes called omphalos or navel of the world), caduceus, Herakles head, and Medusa head. The reverse of these coins depicts a Macedonian helmet decorated with horse hair. This particular specimen doesn't have a pronounced bristly crest of hair seen at the top of the helmet on most, but not all, coins of this variety. Macedonian Shield bronzes were also issued by successive Macedonian kings until and including Perseus, the last king of Macedon, who reigned c. 179-168 BC, according to Katerini Liampi. Before Lampi, starting with Head, coins of this type were generally attributed to the anonymous interregnum period c. 288-277 BC, with the B-A inscription interpreted as the first two letters of "Basileos" ("King") rather than the first letter of "Basileos" and the first letter of "Alexandros" ("Of Alexander"). Price dated these coins beginning during the latter part of Alexander's life, c. 325 BC, and ending c. 310 BC, agreeing with Liampi's early views. Liampi later argued based on new hoard evidence that they were minted as early as 334 BC, and SNG München consequently dated them c. 334-310 BC.

Price believed that these coins were the half unit of the quiver/royal title bronzes (Type 1A and 1B). This would make sense if you follow Price's dating for the Macedonian Shield bronzes, beginning c. 325 BC. In this case, the Apollo/horse type is the logical choice for the half unit of the quiver bronze (Type 1). But this falls apart using Liampi's early dating of the Macedonian Shield types.
Alexander the Great Type 7 (Macedonian Shield type) bronze, two chalkoi (quarter obol), AE17, 3.3g, Salamis, Cyprus, c. 323-315 BC, M.J. Price 3158, SNG Helsinki 55, SNG von Post 29, SNG Cop. 1124-1125, Liampi 170-192. This Macedonian Shield bronze depicts Medusa (gorgeneion) on the shield's boss. The mint mark on the reverse, to the bottom left of the helmet (not very obvious in this photo), is a caduceus (winged staff). This specimen is wider but lighter than the previous, with an attractive contrasting patina.
Alexander the Great Type 8 (barbarous type) bronze, Thracian imitative, AE-16, 4.7g, Thrace, c. 3rd century BC.

This and the next specimen are likely coins minted by Thracians living north of Greece in lands that correspond to present-day Bulgaria. As with many imitatives in general, what most distinguishes the Herakles portrait on the obverse of these two pieces is the overlarge nose. But the reverses are distinctive as well, the iconography being blundered. With official Alexander bronzes of this type, a quiver (arrow case) rests on top of a bow. With these two imitatives, the bow is split apart, indicating the die engraver didn't understand what he was supposed to be engraving. The club beneath the bow has unrealistically large nodules in it.

The letters on the reverse copy the B-A of later Alexander quiver bronzes. Only the letters on this piece appear to be in minuscule or lower case, or resemble it. Greek lower case letters first appeared sometime after 800 AD, having developed from the Byzantine minuscule script. Alexander imitative bronzes, on the other hand, were minted c. 3rd century BC.

One possibility is that this resemblance is coincidental. Thracian die engravers in general were illiterate, not reading and understanding the Greek words they were copying from their coins but copying them instead as design elements. Another possibility is that this piece is an over-clever modern forgery, though nothing else about it suggests that it's modern.

                   
    Alexander the Great Type 8 (barbarous type) bronze, Thracian imitative, AE-18, 5.9g, Thrace, c. 3rd century BC. This bronze imitative is similar to the previous one, though the nose is even larger. With this piece, the bow is now split into not two but three different pieces. No inscription is visible.    

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