The designs stamped on coins are known as types. These functioned at the
most basic level to identify their issuing authority, which could be an individual
city-state, a ruler or, more rarely, a league or federation. The types also
served a wide range of additional and occasionally overlapping purposes. Some
of the most commonly encountered coin types are those that feature city emblems,
punning images, local deities and heroes, myths and foundation legends, animals,
war commemorations, or ruler portraits.
ca. 394-304 BC
A rose, the Greek word for which is rhodon and thus a punning reference
to Rhodes, the issuing agent.
Dia. 20.0 mm. Photo courtesy Registrar's Office, Univeristy of Pennsylvania
ca. 342-336 BC
Philip II of Macedon
Young naked rider on a walking horse, carrying a long victory palm. This
commemorates Philip's victory in the horse race at Olympia in 356 BC.
Inscribed PHILIPPOU or "coin of Philip."
Dia. 26.0 mm. Photo courtesy D. White. (116k)
ca. 415-387 BC
Head of a lion. Whether because of their perceived characteristics, such
as beauty, wildness, ferocity, swiftness, or wisdom, or because animals
played some part in the issuing city's history or makeup, many different
kinds of animals were used as coin types with frequently beautiful effect.
Dia. 24.0 mm. Photo courtesy Registrar's Office, University of Pennsylvania
ca. 324 BC
Alexander the Great, Babylon mint
Head of Alexander-Heracles in a lionskin helmet. The first coins portraying
Greeks, whether living or dead, developed only after the death of Alexander
the Great in 323 BC His own coin portraits are therefore posthumous; the
coins struck for Alexander during his lifetime in which his features are
merged with those of his ancestral hero Heracles cannot be counted as
Dia. 25.0 mm. Photo courtesy Registrar's Office, University of Pennsylvania
ca. 302-301 BC
Enthroned Zeus holding a Nike or personification of Victory in his outstretched
right hand. The coin type is based, at least in a generalized way, on
the Phidian cult statue of Zeus at Olympia, which by the end of the 4th
century BC was perhaps the most famous statue in the Greek world. Nothing
of these colossal images has survived antiquity intact. Of Phidias's masterpieces
all that has been preserved with certainty are a few sculptor's tools,
molds and bits of ivory excavated from his workshop at Olympia.
Photo courtesy Mediterranean Section, University of Pennsylvania Museum.
ca. 400-375 BC
Racing four-horse chariot with a flying Nike personifying Victory crowning
the driver. The space below is filled with captured Punic arms. This spectacular
coin may commemorate the victory of Dionysius I over the Carthaginian
general Himilcon and the deliverance of Syracuse from its Punic siege
in 396 BC The reverse of the coin is signed by Euaenetus, one of the most
renowned coin designers of antiquity. Commemorative types became especially
popular in the Hellenistic period after Alexander's death in 323 BC
Dia. 34.0 mm. Photo courtesy Registrar's Office, University of Pennsylvania
© Copyright 2002