NGC Ancients: After Alexander — Lysimachus, the Thraco-Macedonian King

Posted by Josh Illingworth, NGC Ancients on 2/12/2013

This month, NGC Ancients looks at the life and coinage of Lysimachus, one of the successors to Alexander (III) the Great.

After the mysterious death of the Macedonian king Alexander III (“The Great,” 336-323 BC), his ambitious plans for a global empire were shattered by battles for his throne between his many would-be successors, commonly called the diadochi. One of the most prominent amongst them, Lysimachus (c.360-281, r.305-281 BC), would eventually live long enough, and fight well enough, to call himself king of Thrace, Macedon, and Asia Minor.

By virtue of his father’s relationship with the Macedonian king Philip II (359-336 BC, and the father and predecessor of Alexander III), Lysimachus enjoyed a privileged position in the court of Alexander. As befitted a young nobleman, he was duly educated and distinguished himself well enough in battle to become one of Alexander’s bodyguards during his Persian campaigns. During Alexander’s lifetime, in 324 BC, he was crowned at Susa for his brave actions during the Indian campaigns.

Following the death of Alexander in 323 BC, a power struggle erupted between various diadochi for control of the empire. Unsurprisingly, it splintered into several territories controlled by Alexander’s former generals. Lysimachus spent much of the next fifteen years engaged in alliances and battles against other diadochi, reflecting the ever-shifting political landscape. By 309 BC, he had carved out a large swath of territory between the Black and Mediterranean Seas.

Logically enough, Lysimachus soon began issuing coinage in copper, silver, and gold. For the first part of his reign, he used the coinage types of Alexander. Featuring the by-now familiar image of Heracles on the obverse and a seated Zeus on the reverse, this silver drachm (struck 301-299 BC at the Colophon mint) still displays the name of Alexander III, who at this point had been dead for over two decades. The pentagram beneath the throne was a personal emblem of Lysimachus.

By contrast, this drachm (struck 299-296 BC, also at Colophon) is nearly identical to the one discussed above, with the exception of the reverse inscription to the right of the throne, which now bears the name of Lysimachus, and a different symbol to the left of the throne.

Lysimachus also continued to issue tetradrachms with the types of Alexander, which were identical in design to that of the drachm. This coin, attributed to Lysimachus and thought to have been struck 310-290 BC, demonstrates a political desire to be linked to Alexander and the associated military and political greatness.

This silver tetradrachm, probably struck 299-296 BC, demonstrates that Lysimachus had begun substituting his name for that of Alexander as early as this time period, but still continued to strike coins bearing either his name or Alexander’s for some time thereafter.

Lysimachus did eventually issue coinage solely in his name, which featured a different design than the one originally employed by Alexander. This tetradrachm, issued 287-282 BC, features an idealized portrait of the deified Alexander on the obverse, and a seated Athena holding Nike on the reverse. He also issued gold coinage employing these design elements, denominated as staters. This piece, attributed to the Alexandria Troas mint c.297-281 BC, is a particularly excellent example of the series.

The types of Lysimachus were popular enough in commerce to be adopted in other places, and by other kings. This gold stater, minted in Byzantium (Thrace) in about 175-150 BC, features the same images of the deified Alexander and Athena Nikephoros. It is especially interesting because it demonstrates that this design was still being used over a century after the death of Lysimachus, attesting to its popularity in ancient commerce.

The next example was produced at an even later date, probably 88-86 BC. It bears the name of Lysimachus, but was actually struck under the Pontic king Mithradates VI.

The type had become so iconic by the first century BC that it was even being crudely imitated by the inhabitants of Kolchis, an ancient region on the Black Sea south of the Caucasus Mountains.

Despite his early success, the later years of Lysimachus were not happy ones. Largely self-inflicted problems plagued him in both his personal and public lives. He died in 281 BC, leaving behind a legacy of conquest and coinage.

Images courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group.

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