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CoinWeek Ancient Coin Series: Macedon Before Alexander

By Mike Markowitz for CoinWeek …..

The extent of the Kingdom of Macedonia is as ill-defined as its history is fragmentary (Raymond, 3).

ANCIENT MACEDONIANS[1] WERE on the margins of the Greek world. Although permitted to compete in the Olympics, the Macedonians spoke a distinctive dialect. While their neighbors were creating novel forms of government like democracy, oligarchy and tyranny, the Macedonians clung stubbornly to archaic tribal kingship.

AR Oktadrachm of the Thraco-Macedonian Tribes
THRACO-MACEDONIAN TRIBES, The Bisaltai. 475-465 BCE. AR Oktadrachm (28.65 gm). C-IS-A-L-T-I-K-WN, a horseman, wearing chlamys and petasos, and holding two spears, leading horse right; EM monogram on horse’s rump / Quadripartite incuse square. AMNG III 3; Raymond pl. II, 2; HPM pl. XI, 4; Traité pl. XLV, 2 var. (legend orientation); Gulbenkian 434 (same dies) ($7500)
Oktadrachm (c. 480-475)
Oktadrachm (Silver, 28.25 g 2), c. 480-475. Rider, wearing petasos and short chiton, and holding two transverse spears in his right hand, on horse walking to right; on horse’s rump, brand in the form of a caduceus; to right, before the horse, hunting dog leaping upwards towards horse’s nose. Rev. in a sunken frame around the linear border of a quadripartite square. Jameson 970 (this coin). Raymond 5 a, pl. 3, 5 (this coin). Svoronos p. 112, 4, pl. XIII, 4 (this coin). Unique.

Alexander the Great was the third king of his name in Macedon, so we might reasonably wonder who those other Alexanders were. The Argead dynasty[2] to which our Alexander belonged claimed descent from the mythical hero and demigod Herakles, but the list of rulers begins with the legendary King Karanos, c. 808 BCE. Skip around a little more (more than three hundred years later), and we get to the first Macedonian king to issue coins in his own name, Alexander I (ruled 498-454).

Alex I

The rugged mountains of Macedon’s surrounding region held rich deposits of silver that were exploited from an early date by non-Greek tribes such as the Derrones, Bisaltai and Orreskioi. Beginning around 500 BCE, they issued heavy trade coins (oktadrachms of about 29 grams and dodekadrachms of 40 grams or more) eventually inscribed with the names of tribes or chieftains. These coins depicted oxcarts, bulls, and riders beside their horses[3], and they inspired the earliest Macedonian coinage.

Alexander I, King of Macedon, 498-455 Diobol (Silver, 1.84 g), c. 480-470. Forepart of he-goat kneeling to right. Rev. Quadripartite incuse square. AMNG III, p. 137, 23, pl. XXVII, 9 = Traité I, 1948 (Paros), pl. LXII, 3. Weber 1845. Very rare, possibly the third example known. Attractively toned. Good very fine.

Under Darius the Great (ruled 522-486 BCE), Persia invaded the Balkans, making Macedon’s kings their vassals. Caught between Persians and Greeks, Alexander I (ruled 498-454 BCE) played a delicate game, helping both sides, earning the epithet Philhellene (“Lover of the Greeks”).

Alexander’s coins are mostly anonymous, copying the types of neighboring tribes. About 480 BCE, he inscribed his name on the reverse of his silver oktadrachm, the letters arranged around a simple quartered square. In 2001, a unique example of this type with a prestigious pedigree brought over $15,000 USD in a Swiss auction[4].

The little silver diobol (1.8 grams) of Alexander I bore the image of a billy goat[5], a pun on the name of his capital, Aegeae (aiga in Greek means “goat”).

The denomination struck in greatest quantity was the silver tetrobol or four-obol piece (six obols make one drachma). There were two different designs for the tetrobol, each using a different weight standard. The heavy tetrobol (about 2.4 grams) depicted a horse[6] and rider with two javelins, and was used for foreign trade. The light tetrobol (about 2 grams), bearing a horse alone, circulated within the kingdom.

Alexander died in 454 BCE and his alcoholic son Alcetas II, came to the throne. No coins are known for Alcetas, who was murdered by a nephew in 448. The father of that nephew, Perdikkas II (spelled “Perdiccas” in some sources) became king.

Perdikkas II

The facts that during the first seventeen years of his reign Perdiccas was only master of the western half of his kingdom, and that during the remainder of his life he was almost continuously engaged in warfare, may serve to explain how it is that so few coins have come down to us from his forty-one years’ reign (Head, xlviii).

The long reign of Perdikkas II (448-413 BCE) was dominated by the epic Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, in which Macedon repeatedly switched sides.

KINGS of MACEDON. Perdikkas II. 451-413 BCE. AR Tetrobol (16mm, 2.31 g, 3h). Heavy Macedonian standard. Aigai mint(?). Struck circa 432-422 BCE. Warrior, wearing kausia, holding two spears and rein, on a horse charging right / Forepart of lion right; kerykeion above; all within shallow incuse square. Raymond Group IV, Series 2, 202 (A27d/P24c); HGC 3, 792.

Perdikkas lost control of the silver mines and his coinage is limited to small denominations: light and heavy tetrobols, diobols, and tiny obols. On the reverse of his coins, the forepart of a charging lion appears[7]. Real lions still roamed Macedon’s hills during this era, and royal lion hunts were a popular theme in Macedonian art. But the lion on the coins may be a reference to the mythical Nemean lion killed by Herakles.

Perdikkas died in 413 BCE and his son Archelaus became king.

Archelaus I

A great builder, art patron, and reformer, Archelaus I moved his capital from Aegeae to Pella. He provided Athens with ship timber from Macedon’s forests. And under his 14-year reign, Macedon became a major power in the Greek world.

KINGS of MACEDON, Archelaus. 413-399 BCE. AR Stater or Didrachm (10.42 gm). Head of Apollo right, wearing taenia / ΑΡΧΕ−Λ−ΑΟ, horse walking right, with trailing reins, all within linear square. Westermark Group II, series 2 (O42/R62); SNG ANS 67 (same reverse die?). Lightly toned, good VF. ($500).

Archelaus’ coinage was abundant, in good metal, and of fine Classical style. He issued small denomination bronze, indicating a thriving urban economy where people needed to make small daily purchases. From his time forward, all Macedonian royal coins bear the king’s name, often abbreviated to a few letters. The standard type was the stater or didrachm of about 10.6 grams, which bears a male head on the obverse and a walking horse on the reverse[8]. Often described as Apollo, the head nonetheless lacks his emblematic laurel wreath; Kraay (page 144) suggests that the effigy may be Perdikkas I, a legendary early king (c. 700-678 BCE).

Like many ancient rulers, Archelaus was killed while hunting, possibly assassinated by a royal page. Archelaus’ brother Aeropus II became king in 399.

Aeropus II

Kings of Macedon. Aeropos, 398/7-395/4 BCE. Tetradrachm (Silver, 23 mm, 10.49 g, 10 h). Young male head to right wearing simple taenia. Rev. ΑΕΡΟΠΟ Horse walking to right, reins trailing below. AMNG I, pl. 29, 23 = Traité IV 822, pl. CCCIV, 11. SNG Alpha Bank 172. SNG ANS 76. SNG Ashmolean 2434 A. Westermark, Remarks pl. LXIX, 12. Very rare. Finely toned and of lovely style.

Aeropus reigned just four years; his coins are very rare. A magnificent stater–“finely toned and of lovely style”, according to the catalog–brought almost $44,000 in a 2018 European auction[9].

He was succeeded by his nephew Archelaus II, who died in another hunting “accident” after only a year.


Kings of Macedon. Pausanias, 395/4-393 BCE. Didrachm or Stater (24 mm, 10.54 g, 9 h). Head of Apollo to right, wearing taenia. Rev. [Π]ΑΥΣ-ΑΝ-Ι-Α (the Ν retrograde) Bridled horse, with trailing rein, walking right with his left foreleg raised. SNG ANS 85 var. Westermark Pl. LXIX, 24 var. (=Hess-Leu 45, 1970, 139). Extremely rare.
Pausanias, a son of Aeropus, became king after his father was killed. He was opposed by Amyntas II during a chaotic period of instability. Pausanias lasted only about a year (394-393 BCE) before he was assassinated by Amyntas III.

Perhaps consequently, his coins are scarce. A stater[10] of Pausanias brought over $11,000 in a recent European auction.

Amyntas II

Kings of Macedonia, Amyntas II circa 395/4-393 d=26 mm Stater circa 395-393, AR 10.79 g. Young male head r., hair bound with taenia. Rev. AMY / N – T / A Horse at pace r.; all within incuse square. SNG Ashmolean 2435. SNG Lockett 1395. AMNG pl. XXIX, 27.

Amyntas II, nicknamed “the Little”, was a nephew of Perdikkas II. He briefly seized the throne in 393 before he was assassinated. His rare stater copies the design used by his predecessors[11]. The reverse of his small bronze dichalkon shows the fore part of a wolf[12], which was the civic emblem of Argos, the ancient Greek city the Argead dynasty claimed as their place of origin.

KINGS of MACEDON. Amyntas II. 395/4-393 BCE. Æ Dichalkon (1.87 g, 1h). Aigai or Pella mint. Young male head right / Forepart of wolf left. Westermark, Remarks, type 3. VF, green patina. Extremely rare.

Amyntas III

After decades of instability, Amyntas III became king in 393 BCE and restored order, ruling for 23 years. A pretender named Argaeus briefly seized the throne in 393 but was driven out a year later.

Amyntas forged lasting alliances with neighboring tribes and cities. His formidable wife, Eurydike[13], bore three sons who each became king of Macedon in turn: Alexander II, Perdikkas III, and Philip II. On his fairly common silver stater[14], Amyntas replaced the youthful male head on the obverse with a bearded head of Herakles wearing the pelt of the Nemean lion[15] as a head-dress.

Alexander II

Alexander II, King of Macedon, 370-367 Tetrachalkous or hemiobol (AE, 3.64 g 12). Head of Apollo to right, wearing taenia; below chin, . Rev. [] Horse rearing to right. SNG ABC 236. SNG ANS 110-111. Westermark, KME, p. 313, 1. Very rare. Dark green patina. Very fine.
Eldest son of Amyntas III, Alexander II became king after the death of his father in 371 BCE. The youthful king survived a series of invasions and revolts with Athenian help but was assassinated two years later at a festival by his brother-in-law, Ptolemy of Aloros[16], who became regent for Alexander’s under-age brother, Perdikkas III. No silver coinage is known from this brief reign, and even the bronze is rare. The only example to appear recently, a hemiobol (3.6 grams), brought over $1,200 in a 2008 Swiss auction[17].

Perdikkas III

Macedonian Kingdom. Perdiccas III. 365-359 BCE. Diobol, 0.85g. PellaObv: Head of bearded Herakles facing right, wearing knotted lion-skin. Rx: Π-Ε-Ρ Club and bow crossed. The whole within incuse square. Of exceptional quality. Coins of Perdiccas III rarely come to the market. About EF.

Little is known about the five-year reign of this young king, who executed his regent shortly after taking the throne in 365. Perdikkas III tried to reconquer some northern territory and fell in battle in 360 against the Illyrians. Silver coins of Perdikkas III are rare; a tiny diobol (.85 gram) bearing the head of Herakles, with his bow and club on the reverse, sold for $5,000 in a 2010 auction[18]. The more common bronze coinage appeared with several attractive designs, including a lion breaking a javelin in his jaws[19].

Perdikkas III. 365-359 BCE. Æ 18mm (9.97 g). Head of Herakles right, wearing lion’s skin headdress / Lion standing right, breaking javelin with its jaws. Cf. SNG ANS 114; cf. SNG Alpha Bank 240. VF, hard black patina. Rare.

Perdikkas III left an infant son, Amyntas IV[20], who was quickly deposed by Philip II, a brilliant military commander, shrewd nation-builder, and father of Alexander the Great. Philip’s vast output of silver and gold circulated widely and influenced Western coinage for centuries. But that is a story for another day…

Collecting the Macedonians

Auction catalogs and reference books are arranged according to traditional geographic regions. The category “Kings of Macedon” usually appears after listings for Macedon’s tribes and independent cities. Collecting the early kings is a challenge since many of the coins are so rare. The standard reference in English is Hoover (2016), which is still in print (list price $65).

* * *


[1] The name “Macedonia” has been a bone of contention between modern Greece and the mainly Slavic Republic of Northern Macedonia. To avoid offense to any ethnic sentiments, the ancient kingdom, which included the territory of several Balkan nations, will be referred to as “Macedon”.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argead_dynasty

[3] CNG Triton VIII, January 11, 2005, Lot 218, realized $9000 (estimate $7500)

[4] Leu Numismatic Auction 81, May 16, 2001, Lot 173, realized CHF 27,000 ($15,581) estimate CHF 32,000

[5] Leu Numismatic Auction 81, May 16, 2001, Lot 174, realized CHF 2900 ($1673) estimate CHF 2750

[6] CNG Triton VIII, January 11, 2005, Lot 131, Realized $500 (estimate $500)

[7] CNG Electronic Auction 452, September 18, 2019, Lot 149, realized $160 (estimate $150)

[8] CNG Electronic Auction 52, November 6, 2002, Lot 23, realized $600 (estimate $500)

[9] Nomos Auction 16, May 10 2018, Lot 66, realized CHF 44,000 ($43,816) estimate CHF 45,000

[10] Nomos Auction 15, October 22, 2017, Lot 58, realized CHF 11,000 ($11,185) estimate CHF 7,500

[11] NAC Auction 33, April 6, 2006, Lot 121, realized CHF 5,250 ($4,071) estimate CHF 4,000

[12] CNG Mail Bid Sale 82, September 16, 2009, Lot 408, realized $550 (estimate $200)

[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurydice_I_of_Macedon

[14] CNG Electronic Auction 223, December 2, 2009, Lot 34, realized $625 (estimate $150)

[15] https://coinweek.com/ancient-coins/lions-ancient-coins/

[16] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ptolemy_of_Aloros

[17] LHS Numismatik Auction 102, April 29, 2008, Lot 132, realized CHF 1300 ($1259) estimate CHF 500

[18] Gemini Auction VI, January 10, 2010, Lot 63, realized $5000 (estimate $3500)

[19] CNG Electronic Auction 129, December 21, 2005, Lot 61, realized $295 (estimate $150)

[20] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amyntas_IV_of_Macedon


Head, Barclay. Catalogue of the Greek Coins in the British Museum: Macedonia Etc. London (1879)

Hoover, Oliver. Handbook of the Coins of Macedon and Its Neighbors. Lancaster, PA (2016)

Kraay, Colin. Archaic and Classical Greek Coins. New York (1976)

Kremydi S. “Coinage and Finance”, Brill’s Companion to Ancient Macedon. Robin Lane Fox (editor). Leiden (2011)

Raymond, Doris. Macedonian Regal Coinage to 413 B.C. New York (1953)

Sear, David. Greek Coins and Their Values, Volume 1: Europe. London (1978)

Seltman, Charles. Greek Coins (2nd edition). London (1955)

Mike Markowitz
Mike Markowitz
Mike Markowitz is a member of the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington. He has been a serious collector of ancient coins since 1993. He is a wargame designer, historian, and defense analyst. He has degrees in History from the University of Rochester, New York, and Social Ecology from the University of California, Irvine. Born in New York City, he lives in Fairfax, Virginia.

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