NGC Ancients: Silver Tetradrachms of Azes and the Enduring Legacy of Alexander the Great
Posted on 11/6/2012
The Macedonian King Alexander III “the Great” (336-323 B.C.) ranks high among the conquerors in the history of the world. He was hailed a god in his own lifetime, and after his death he was worshipped for centuries. In Roman times his tomb was still a locust of worship, with emperors traveling great distances to gaze upon him even five centuries or more after his death.
Alexander’s most enduring accomplishment was his exportation of Greek culture to the Near East – regions today comprised of many nations, including Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He achieved this by leading his Greek army through the region, as far as the border of India, after which he settled at his new court at Babylon. One of his visionary acts was to have his top officers marry women of local nobility at a ceremony at Susa in 324 B.C. to assure that Greeks and their subject peoples forged family ties.
Consequently, a long line of kings who embraced Greek cultural values ruled this region in the centuries after Alexander’s death. Among them were two kings named Azes, who struck beautiful coins showing on their obverse the ruler on horseback and on their reverse a Greek god – usually Zeus, Poseidon or Athena.
These coins are among the most meaningful documents of Alexander’s legacy in the Near East. They are especially interesting for their bilingual inscriptions: “[coin] of the great king of kings, Azes” which occurs in Greek on the obverse and in the local Kharoshthi script on the reverse.
No stronger testament to the legacy of Alexander exists than these coins, for they were issued about three centuries after Alexander’s passing, yet they still betrayed the cultural footprints of the conquering Greeks.
The Azes who appears to have issued these coins ranks among the towering figures who ruled in India and neighboring regions. He capitalized on trade with the West, dominating part of the silk route and reaping the benefits of the traditional trade routes from India. He unified the Punjab and extended his influence over a vast tract of land – a fact which his coins confirm, for they circulated over a very large territory.
Tetradrachms of Azes tend to sell for several hundred dollars in the mid-grade range (generally VF), and high-grade pieces – AU and MS – often command prices at the high end of that range.
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