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Margaret Thompson on the Coins of Alexander the Great

RJO’s Reviews on Amazon.com

These brief book reviews have been posted to Amazon.com, and they may be viewed there in their original form either collectively (on my public reviews page) or individually (by following the link at each title below).

The Small Change of a Great Empire

Alexander’s Drachm Mints I: Sardes and Miletus
Margaret Thompson
American Numismatic Society, 1983

The vast coinage of Alexander the Great, minted in cities from Greece to India, was the first truly imperial coinage the world had ever seen. This volume, the first of a projected three on Alexander’s drachm mints, presents a detailed account of the coinage produced in Alexander’s name from about 330–300 BC in the cities of Sardes and Miletus in Asia Minor (modern Turkey).

Unlike most of the other mints in Alexander’s empire, which produced the familiar large tetradrachm coins, the mints of Miletus and Sardes, along with those of five other cities of Asia Minor (Abydus, Colophon, Lampsacus, Magnesia, and Teos), “produced the small change of the entire empire.” This consisted primarily of coins in drachm denominations: thick silver pieces about the size of a United States penny and weighing roughly four grams. Although Miletus and Sardes did produce some larger silver denominations, as well as some coinage in gold and bronze, they clearly specialized in the smaller drachms that they issued in the tens of thousands.

Thompson’s study of this coinage is divided into three chapters: one on issues attributed to Sardes, one on issues attributed to Miletus, and one describing sixty-six ancient coin hoards that contain specimens relevant to the chronology of these two mints. Thirty-eight plates clearly illustrate 800 coins, though as is often the case in publications of this kind, the life-size reproductions make many of the details of designs and mint marks difficult to see without magnification. The most common overall type is the one seen on most coins associated with Alexander: a head of Herakles wearing a lion’s skin on the obverse, and a seated image of Zeus holding an eagle and a scepter on the reverse.

Alexander’s Drachm Mints is a scholarly work that will be appreciated by Classical numismatists, specialists in ancient history and economics, and students of the history of Alexander’s extensive empire. The volume is No. 16 in the series Numismatic Studies of the American Numismatic Society (ISSN 0517404X · ISBN 0897221931).


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