Ancient coins: GREEK. KINGDOM OF MACEDON. Philip II. (King, 359-336 BC). Posthumous issue, struck 322-317 BC. AV Stater. Images courtesy Atlas Numismatics

Overview:

Macedon

The Kingdom of Macedon was considered a barbaric place by the cultivated Greeks of Attica (such as the Athenians) and the Peloponnese (such as the Spartans) to the South. In fact, a certain king of Macedon named Alexander I (ruled approximately 498-454 BCE) wasn’t even allowed to participate in the Olympic Games until judges issued a formal decision that the Macedonians were Greek in the first place. The people spoke a dialect of the Greek language and shared many of the same cultural and religious practices (including money and the worship of the Olympian Gods), though both tended to be archaic compared to the city-states of southern Greece. Cattle and horses were important sources of wealth and prestige to the Macedonians; the name “Philip”, meaning “fond of horses”, comes from Macedon.

With the arrival of Philip II and his military innovations, the kingdom began its conquest of the South. His son Alexander III – better known as Alexander the Great – finished the job, uniting all of the Greeks under one rule. Alexander then went on to conquer the Persian Empire and parts of Afghanistan and India, creating the largest empire the world had yet seen and ushering in the Hellenistic Age.

Macedon fell in battle to the Roman Republic in 168, the same year the Romans took control of the rest of Greece. The kingdom enjoyed a brief two-year independence from 150 to 148 BCE before it was folded into the province of Macedonia.

Philip II

Philip II was king of Macedon during the second half of the fourth century BCE (359-336). He was a member of the long-running Argead dynasty, which had ruled the kingdom for its almost 450-year existence by the time of his reign.

Unlike previous Macedonian kings (like the aforementioned Alexander I, who had earned the respect of the Greeks for his performance at the Olympic Games), Philip was able and willing to enforce his dominance over the more “civilized” peoples in the traditional regions of Ancient Greece. What made this possible was the development and use of the superior Macedonian phalanx, a disciplined rectangular arrangement of lightly armed infantrymen whose forward motion–enabled by the invention of the hoplite, a kind of Greek shield–was enough to throw most other armies off balance.

After a period of Macedonian political dominance, Philip finally defeated Athens (who had long been weary of the Macedonian threat to the north), as well as the city of Thebes, at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BCE. This allowed Philip to create yet another confederation of Greek city-states called the League of Corinth, of which Philip was in complete control.

He was assassinated by a member of his own bodyguard before he could embark on a planned invasion of the Persian Empire–an invasion that was left to his son and heir, Alexander the Great. This coin was struck posthumously in his honor, circa 322-317 BCE.

The Stater

The origin of the monetary unit known as a stater (the Greek word for “weight”) goes back to the Phoenician shekel (a Semitic word for “weight”). Staters began circulating among the cities of Greece in the eighth century BCE and did not cease production until the Common Era. The first known Greek stater coin (previous versions were ingots) was made of electrum and came from Aegina, an island located between Attica and the Peloponnese. Many different cities issued their own versions of the coin.

Description:

Atlas Numismatics logoThe following description is based on the coin images accompanying this profile, supplied courtesy of Atlas Numismatics

Beautiful lustrous surfaces, struck from extremely artistic dies.”

Obverse:

The obverse features the head of Apollo, Greek god of the sun, poetry, music, the intellect and prophecy, facing rightward. The wonderfully naturalistic portrait takes up almost the entire side of the coin. In all of Classical art and literature, Apollo is portrayed as an eternally beardless and athletic young man; this effigy is no exception. He wears the laurel wreath, which was associated with him through his worship at Delphi, over the luxuriously detailed locks of his curly hair. Berries are positioned at regular intervals among the laurel leaves.

A collector of classic American coins would immediately recognize Apollo’s classic profile, with prominent nose and chin, from many great portrayals of the allegorical Lady Liberty on U.S. coinage.

In the basic version of Greek mythology, Apollo is the son of the sky god Zeus and Zeus’ cousin Leto, as well as the twin brother of the virgin huntress (and Zeus’ favorite child) Artemis. Highly visible die flow lines extend from practically every portion of his head, giving one the impression–especially in gold–of the divine presence of the god.

Ancient coins: Reverse - GREEK. KINGDOM OF MACEDON. Philip II. (King, 359-336 BC). Posthumous issue, struck 322-317 BC. AV Stater. Images courtesy Atlas Numismatics

Reverse:

The reverse features a small, two-horse chariot (known as a biga) and its driver. Both wheels of the chariot are visible, and the wheel closest to the viewer clearly shows four spokes joined in a central hub. The driver, who is standing, wields a whip or crop in his right hand as he holds the reigns with his left. The horses are rearing up on their hind legs, as though they were about to start racing or had to make an abrupt stop. The pose reminds one of rampant animals in Medieval heraldry.

Most impressively, all eight legs of the horses are visible and well-struck.

Beneath the chariot and horse is the legend ΦΙΛΙΠΠΟΥ (“Philippou”) in Greek letters. Immediately under the feet of the horses is a ritual tripod, in which offerings to the gods were often deposited and burnt. The tripod serves as a mint mark of sorts, identifiable with issues from Amphipolis, a city in Macedon, and Kolophon, a city in Ionia (now Western Turkey). This piece is most likely from Kolophon, as the Amphipolitan type features a thinner depiction of Apollo, an exergue line on the reverse and shows only one wheel on the biga.

Strong die flow lines are also present on the reverse.

Edge

While it’s somewhat simplistic to describe the edge of a hammered coin as “smooth”, technical innovations that might require discernment (such as reeding or milled edges) were not invented until the Modern era, so in contrast to such obvious anti-clipping and anti-counterfeiting methods the edge of this ancient gold stater is smooth.

Coin Specifications:

Nationality:  Greek
Issuing Authority:  Macedon
Date:  322-317 BCE
Metal/Alloy:  Gold
Denomination: 1 Stater
Weight:  approx. 8-9 grams

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