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Do you think that the Alexander the Great tetradrachms are depicting just hercules , Alexander or both ?


Kosmas
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There is always a big discussion about this. IMHO it's both. Alexander as Hercules or Hercules remsembling Alexander. 

Before this coinage Hercules  was often depicted as bearded guy, and if you look for other coins depicting Alexander,

e.g. https://www.acsearch.info/search.html?id=2733168

or

https://www.acsearch.info/search.html?id=2663012

there is defintely a resemblance.

 

 

Edited by shanxi
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9 minutes ago, shanxi said:

There is always a big discussion about this. IMHO it's both. Alexander as Hercules or Hercules remsembling Alexander. 

Before this coinage Hercules  was often depicted as bearded guy, and if you look for other coins depicting Alexander,

e.g. https://www.acsearch.info/search.html?id=2733168

there is defintely a resemblance.

 

 

I totally agree with you !

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I think impossible to say, but it is well known that these portrait styles are the Hellenistic ideal.  A small ivory portrait was found in Philip's tomb which many attribute to Alexander, but again its impossible to say who it actually represents.  Sadly the Macedonians just didnt label their portraits!

 

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I agree that it may be impossible to say for sure with current evidence, but I do learn toward accepting at least some Alexanders as intending to portray his features (especially the posthumous ones, maybe some of the "late lifetime" or "possible lifetime" ones after 325). 

There are two things I always think of when this discussion comes up:

(1) The "disguised portrait" issue applies to many different Hellenistic (and sometimes earlier Persian/Achaemenid) coins, as well as coins from the Roman Republican period (including late Greek coins, such as the Aphrodite triobols/hemidrachms temp. Cleopatra), and even Roman Imperial (does Fecunditas with children represent Lucilla with Lucius Verus the younger, Aurelia Lucilla, and Lucilla Plautia; or Spes represent Helena holding Constantine II and Constantius II?). There is a very active debate over several Melqart issues of Carthage (based on comparisons to the surviving busts, I do think that both types, with club and without, probably represent Hannibal), and both contemporary and posthumous portraits of Scipio Africanus. Harlan Berk (100 Greatest Coins, at least in the 1st ed.) even argued that the Philip II Tetradrachms are probably portraying Zeus with Philip's features. (I have others in my notes files.) There are various kinds of evidence that can be used to form opinions about unnamed, possibly "disguised portraits," they're just usually not strong enough to be decisive.

(2) It's worth broadening the discussion to include the question, "How were they received?" In some cases, regardless of the engravers' intentions, it seems that the coins were accepted by the public as portraying, or at least representing, the rulers in question. Tetradrachms of Alexander and Philip were referred to as "Alexanders" and "Philips" at the time. (I'm not sure, but I don't think the gold staters, which clearly did not portray them, were called Philips and Alexanders -- or were they?) Very shortly (on the conservative time-scale of the ancient world) after the introduction of Philips and Alexanders, other Hellenistic kings began using their own portraits on coins. (After first portraying the posthumous / deified Alexander.) At a minimum, it seems the Hellenistic culture had become primed to accept the faces on coins as being those of their kings. Once other Seleukid Kings were portrayed on coins, it seems hard to imagine that contemporary posthumous Alexanders wouldn't have been viewed as portraits, too.

Regarding Alexander, I often feel that some of the portraits of him do resemble the coins. In particular, the "Alexander Mosaic" at Pompei (admittedly, composed two hundred years after his death). Below: Are these portraits of the same man, or just similar artistic emphasis on big eyes and noses and snarling lips?

spacer.png  image.png.c016101b8847d9ba8a7ae1da5af173dd.png

Edited by Curtis JJ
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I think in general the answer is no. However, if you change the question slightly to "do some Alexander tetradrachms feature Alexander's likeness as Herakles" then the answer is maybe, if not probably.

In my mind the two main points that lead me to answer "no" to the general question are:

1.  Incredibly similar portraits of Herakles are known to pre-date Alexander, not only on Macedonian coins but on other Greek coins.

2. There is way too much stylistic variation in the Herakles on the Alexander lifetime tetradrachms to be able to say they all are in his likeness.

It gets more complicated if you start thinking about the intent of the engravers or, as @Curtis JJ mentions, the reception of the coins. Did the engravers try to depict some features of Alexander even when their Herakles looks vastly different to another mints? Similarly, did it start out as Herakles but as time went on people just assumed it was Alexander's likeness?

The earlier Macedonian kings such as Amnytas III were known to favour the bearded Herakles but even Amyntas issued a beardless Herakles not too dissimilar to the Herakles we know from Alexander's coins. On Philip's didrachms, staters, and even tetradrachm, the Herakles is very similar to the Alexander ones and even demonstrate similar stylistic variation that we see in Alexander lifetime tetradrachms; if not in exact styles, at least in breadth of style.

From Asia Minor, there's a few small silver denominations with a very "Greek" style of Herakles, I've linked one below. While the lion-skin headdress is a fair bit different, the facial features are strikingly similar to those we see on Alexanders. Though the dating of these coins is uncertain beyond "4th century", I personally think they would likely be minted prior to 330 BC. Busso Peus has suggested a date of 400-360 BC in some auction listings but I wouldn't be surprised if they were minted a bit later than that.

So I think at best you can try and link a particular die, or perhaps style from a mint at a particular period, to a known depiction of Alexander (hoping instead that this depiction hasn't itself included characteristics of Herakles). I can't see any convincing evidence for supposing that the entire series of Alexander tetradrachms struck during his lifetime were including his likeness in Herakles' portrait: the breadth of style and similarity to earlier coins is just too great. For those reasons, I wouldn't go around saying "this is Alexander as Herakles" but if you want to make that argument for a particular type/die, then I'm all ears.

Herakles under Philip II

 

611899.jpg.8100a8c15c46f8fcddcdbadeb2115735.jpg

eesa.jpg.f51e5573ae819b05c414a5701e51b12c.jpg

2312684.jpg.b04eb375fd77fe7199b1bc570f496e64.jpg150761.jpg.37016ba2f10ba1b68e9982f473ace6f3.jpg82731.jpg.142ef3f694c51303477117b0f206c643.jpg188424.jpg.2aa4d968c740c6d294dd4a03ba57dc6a.jpg

 

Herakles under Amnytas III (this one's mine)

1163_amyntas_diobol_resized-1536x819.png

4th century Cilician obol

9278391.jpg.65947d1b3c29431ebdaa9fabf329ec5e.jpg

Kamarina tetradrachm (425-400 BC)

33185.jpg.8199615438de4e073075c31b82086cac.jpg

 

And lastly, here's a plate I created for one of my articles that shows some variation in the portraits of Herakles. Most of these are lifetime issues from different mints but a few are posthumous.

article_origin_plates_alexanders.jpg.dfc578789290ef87b093f3c7936e18fb.jpg

 

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Posted (edited)

I pretty much agree with the points already raised by @Kaleun96, though I'd also add that depictions of living people - even kings - were considered highly distasteful by the Greeks and Macedonians at the time. This would change soon under Demetrios I Poliorketes and (maybe) Seleukos I Nikator. Also, this practice was more tolerated by the Persians, as some satraps did this - especially on bronze issues but some silver.

Therefore, I'm of the belief that it's not his portrait. Since modern research heavily implies that Alexander's famous coinage started in Tarsos, in formerly Persian territory, could the engravers have modeled it after him and the design was then later innocently copied over to the Macedonian mints? That could be, but I have a feeling even if we built a time machine and interviewed people back then, we'd receive conflicting answers.

For visual comparison, here are two known coins from Lysimachos and Ptolemy I with known (posthumous) Alexander portraits.

lysimachos.jpg.de204ce96d0abc80b59fb2b6c325ccb4.jpg

387009335_PtolemyI.jpg.cb8a2c183d840231fce7b604597c7bbb.jpg

 

Here's Herakles on an Alexander diobol that I understand to probably predate his famous tets.

alexander_diobol.jpg.90ba9cbaebcf5962e68f47b6b2a0d94e.jpg

Finally, here are my two suspected lifetime tets. The first is from Babylon around the time of Alexander's death and the second is from Susa from roughly the time of the weddings.

alexander3.jpg.b6f7d2fa3eb6e527f4af08bd188fe33e.jpg

Koinos.jpg.f8f417584750d8c178322cc4d32ddd6d.jpg

Here's a Hekte from Mytilene that was probably minted independently from Alexander. It either predates his Herakles/Zeus coinage, or coincides with the earliest mints.

mytilene.jpg.5cd3d88b45dbd4f24158c76bdf304f12.jpg

 

alexander3.jpg

Edited by kirispupis
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4 hours ago, Kaleun96 said:

4th century Cilician obol

9278391.jpg.65947d1b3c29431ebdaa9fabf329ec5e.jpg

  

3 hours ago, kirispupis said:

Here's a Hekte from Mytilene that was probably minted independently from Alexander. It either predates his Herakles/Zeus coinage, or coincides with the earliest mints.

mytilene.jpg.5cd3d88b45dbd4f24158c76bdf304f12.jpg

 

Similar imagery to @kirispupis's Hekte from Lesbos Mytilene. (Which may have also been struck around the same time as the one below.)

I'm having trouble finding my notes on these ones, but I've seen it attributed tentatively to Tarsos, temp. Alexander III (333-323). I don't remember the evidence or reasoning, but there's also an argument that this particular type was borrowing imagery from both the coinage of Philip II and Alexander III. (I'm not thoroughly enough versed in Cilician obols to argue the dating and mints myself, and I don't know that it would matter much for the question of Alexander's portrait.)

Here's my example (Cilicia, Uncertain, AR Obol [10mm, 0.78g]; SNG Levante 198-9; coin-in-hand video [16s]).

Incidentally, I've seen it both ways, Herakles obv. and Zeus rev., and vice versa. On this one it looks a bit like Alexander might've been on the hammer side:

image.jpeg.20e6068c0b8d71dbd19d48f940a9ecb6.jpeg

Edited by Curtis JJ
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Instead of focusing only on the coins and the possible depiction of Herakles-as-Alexander, below are two portraits of Alexander-as-Herakles -- both in marble, one dated to 335 BCE (lifetime) and one to 310 BCE (posthumous). (The latter is a particularly fascinating and revealing case.)

It's also worth noting that -- outside of coinage -- Alexander portrayed himself as Herakles in other ways and other art forms, and was received and portrayed as such by others, both during his lifetime and after. He specifically wanted to be seen as the legitimate heir to Philip, who had tried to associate himself with Zeus (and with Herakles, as we saw in the Philip II coins above). So the young Alexander, to portray himself as the most appropriate successor and legitimate heir to Philip, wanted to affiliate himself with and portray himself as Herakles, a son of Zeus.

Cornelius Vermeule (1925-2008; BMFA Curator, 1957-1996) argued that Alexander's coinage was influenced by a youthful bust (probably by Lysippos) of him as Herakles, wearing a lionskin, in the guise of Herakles (sculpted in 335 BCE). This is the image from his article in The Celator (July 2007, Vol 21, No. 7):

spacer.png

The one that's even more interesting to me is from the sarcophagus of Abadlonymous  in Sidon (according to Wikipedia some suspect it's Mazaios' tomb!), discussed and illustrated in Peter Thonemann's (2015) book, The Hellenistic World (from Cambridge U. Press' excellent series, "Using Coins as Sources"). Thonemann does not seem believe the Herakles tetradrachms were originally meant to portray Alexander (at least not the early/lifetime ones). But he presents some evidence that strongly indicates people took it that way. (Also Thonemann's interpretation.)

The sculpture of Alexander-as-Herakles (again, wearing the lionskin) below is posthumous. Thonemann argues that it was based on the deceased's and/or the sculptor's "misunderstanding" of the Tetradrachms. They believed the Herakles tetradrachm was a portrait of Alexander.

So, when they wanted to make their own portrait of Alexander, they used the Tetradrachms as inspiration! It certainly seems likely that at least some of those producing tetradrachms in later generations would've made that same "mistake" when designing their own coins.

spacer.png

Edited by Curtis JJ
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7 hours ago, Curtis JJ said:

 Similar imagery to @kirispupis's Hekte from Lesbos Mytilene. (Which may have also been struck around the same time as the one below.)

I'm having trouble finding my notes on these ones, but I've seen it attributed tentatively to Tarsos, temp. Alexander III (333-323). I don't remember the evidence or reasoning, but there's also an argument that this particular type was borrowing imagery from both the coinage of Philip II and Alexander III. (I'm not thoroughly enough versed in Cilician obols to argue the dating and mints myself, and I don't know that it would matter much for the question of Alexander's portrait.)

Here's my example (Cilicia, Uncertain, AR Obol [10mm, 0.78g]; SNG Levante 198-9; coin-in-hand video [16s]).

Incidentally, I've seen it both ways, Herakles obv. and Zeus rev., and vice versa. On this one it looks a bit like Alexander might've been on the hammer side:

image.jpeg.20e6068c0b8d71dbd19d48f940a9ecb6.jpeg

Nice, didn't know you had one! I agree they could definitely fall closer to Alexander's time, that is my suspicion as well due to the difference in how Herakles is portrayed versus other Cilician Herakles of the 4th century and also the presence of Zeus, which as you say may be emulating Philip's coinage.

I just became aware of this Arkadian type (HGC 1028) below that has a somewhat similar portrayal of Herakles compared to some other examples in this thread. Supposedly it dates to ~350 BC.6896248.jpeg.0e43c7728ce52efe7a26d31e49ae407b.jpeg

 

Quote

It's also worth noting that -- outside of coinage -- Alexander portrayed himself as Herakles in other ways and other art forms, and was received and portrayed as such by others, both during his lifetime and after. He specifically wanted to be seen as the legitimate heir to Philip, who had tried to associate himself with Zeus (and with Herakles, as we saw in the Philip II coins above). So the young Alexander, to portray himself as the most appropriate successor and legitimate heir to Philip, wanted to affiliate himself with and portray himself as Herakles, a son of Zeus.

I definitely agree with this being a plausible theory as to why Alexander chose the Herakles portrait for the obverse of his coins and that he wanted people to associate the Herakles on his coins with himself. Not that you have suggested this, but I would then draw the line at saying therefore he wanted his likeness incorporated into the portrait or that die engravers did it anyway for whichever reason.

Just running through some hypotheticals here:

1. How many people would have been aware of Alexander's appearance in ~333/2 BC to be able to identify differences between a portrait of Herakles and a portrait of Herakles with some of Alexander's likeness? Not to say that later issues of his tetradrachms may not have started incorporating his likeness once it became more well-known and illustrated.

2. The die engravers likely didn't need any inspiration for how to depict Herakles' face as the Kamarinian and earlier Macedonian die engravers didn't have this trouble.

3. Would the die engravers even have had a likeness of Alexander from which to copy in 333/2 BC? Possible they were provided with one but based on the extent of the early variation you see in the style of Herakles, this must've been quickly lost/forgotten/confused. We know die engravers were travelling between the early mints (e.g. the Sidon engraver going to Tyre) so it's possible they were transferring the likeness at this point but, again, you soon see the style vary significantly even among the earliest issues at each mint.

4. I don't think it would've been necessary for Alexander to require that his likeness be incorporated into the portrait given most people wouldn't be aware of it and that it may be too on the nose. People probably made the association on their own, particularly if they were referring to the coins as "Alexanders".

Quote

Cornelius Vermeule (1925-2008; BMFA Curator, 1957-1996) argued that Alexander's coinage was influenced by a youthful bust (probably by Lysippos) of him as Herakles, wearing a lionskin, in the guise of Herakles (sculpted in 335 BCE). This is the image from his article in The Celator (July 2007, Vol 21, No. 7):

Managed to find a side-on photo of this bust. I wonder if Vermeule is arguing that the likeness of Herakles on the coins was influenced by this bust or that the iconography in general (i.e. to have a youthful Herakles wearing the lionskin) was influenced by this bust? The former seems that it could be in the realm of possibility, while the latter would be a stretch given the exceedingly similar portraits of a youthful Herakles wearing a lionskin from Philip's coinage.

C244.jpeg.84ef944939c367255300eea27f0e8a72.jpeg

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Posted (edited)
11 minutes ago, Kaleun96 said:

Nice, didn't know you had one! I agree they could definitely fall closer to Alexander's time, that is my suspicion as well due to the difference in how Herakles is portrayed versus other Cilician Herakles of the 4th century and also the presence of Zeus, which as you say may be emulating Philip's coinage.

I just became aware of this Arkadian type (HGC 1028) below that has a somewhat similar portrayal of Herakles compared to some other examples in this thread. Supposedly it dates to ~350 BC.6896248.jpeg.0e43c7728ce52efe7a26d31e49ae407b.jpeg

 

I definitely agree with this being a plausible theory as to why Alexander chose the Herakles portrait for the obverse of his coins and that he wanted people to associate the Herakles on his coins with himself. Not that you have suggested this, but I would then draw the line at saying therefore he wanted his likeness incorporated into the portrait or that die engravers did it anyway for whichever reason.

Just running through some hypotheticals here:

1. How many people would have been aware of Alexander's appearance in ~333/2 BC to be able to identify differences between a portrait of Herakles and a portrait of Herakles with some of Alexander's likeness? Not to say that later issues of his tetradrachms may not have started incorporating his likeness once it became more well-known and illustrated.

2. The die engravers likely didn't need any inspiration for how to depict Herakles' face as the Kamarinian and earlier Macedonian die engravers didn't have this trouble.

3. Would the die engravers even have had a likeness of Alexander from which to copy in 333/2 BC? Possible they were provided with one but based on the extent of the early variation you see in the style of Herakles, this must've been quickly lost/forgotten/confused. We know die engravers were travelling between the early mints (e.g. the Sidon engraver going to Tyre) so it's possible they were transferring the likeness at this point but, again, you soon see the style vary significantly even among the earliest issues at each mint.

4. I don't think it would've been necessary for Alexander to require that his likeness be incorporated into the portrait given most people wouldn't be aware of it and that it may be too on the nose. People probably made the association on their own, particularly if they were referring to the coins as "Alexanders".

Managed to find a side-on photo of this bust. I wonder if Vermeule is arguing that the likeness of Herakles on the coins was influenced by this bust or that the iconography in general (i.e. to have a youthful Herakles wearing the lionskin) was influenced by this bust? The former seems that it could be in the realm of possibility, while the latter would be a stretch given the exceedingly similar portraits of a youthful Herakles wearing a lionskin from Philip's coinage.

C244.jpeg.84ef944939c367255300eea27f0e8a72.jpeg

I have this drachm . Maybe from Tyre about 332-328 ? The portrait of Hercules is very strange and interesting . This face is possibly unique .

3050146_1657010265.l.jpg

Edited by Kosmas
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Again, this is a hotly contested topic.  I'll just throw this image out there.  These two ivory carvings were found in Philip's tomb and are considered by many/most to depict Philip and Alexander.  One can make connections to coins representations on their own.  I will say that the insanely enormous egos of monarchs of the time (and since) make me think that Philip depicted himself as Zeus and Alexander as Herakles.  

1.jpg

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5 minutes ago, KenDorney said:

Again, this is a hotly contested topic.  I'll just throw this image out there.  These two ivory carvings were found in Philip's tomb and are considered by many/most to depict Philip and Alexander.  One can make connections to coins representations on their own.  I will say that the insanely enormous egos of monarchs of the time (and since) make me think that Philip depicted himself as Zeus and Alexander as Herakles.  

Of course, whether that tomb is of Philip II, or is instead Philip III, is also hotly contested. 

I would categorize the questions of Philip II's Zeus coinage and Alexander's Herakles coinage as separate. That being said, I don't see conclusive evidence for either being personally modeled. In Alexander's case, I believe the smoking gun is the fact that very similar images of Herakles predate Alexander's coinage. In the case of Philip, AFAIK this was a novel representation of Zeus to us (please correct me if there are earlier similar depictions), but I would argue that Zeus was perhaps the most familiar deity to the Greeks. They would have been absolutely familiar with his image, and therefore I strongly suspect it was modeled after existing well-known sculptures at the time. A completely new representation of Zeus would have been shocking to the Greeks and may have ruined Philip's goal of a panhellenic hegemony dominated by Macedon.

As has already been noted, the question of whether others at the time interpreted these coins as being Alexander, whether or not that was the intention, is clearly separate. No doubt some people did. One could therefore argue whether it was Alexander's intention to be interpreted so, but I may argue that it is just as likely that Alexander intended the exact opposite: that the image of Herakles wasn't modeled to look like Alexander, but that Alexander was Herakles reborn.

There are numerous references to Alexander referring to himself as a son of Zeus, especially after his visit to Egypt. While I somewhat doubt that this was Alexander's initial intention with his coinage, it certainly worked to his advantage later on. It's already fairly-well speculated that the reverse of his coinage had a double-entendre. To the Greeks, it was Zeus. To the Persians, it was Ba'al. Why wouldn't Alexander do the exact same thing with the obverse? 

The Greeks would see it as Herakles, which made sense since the Macedonian kings (including Philip II) traced their lineage through Herakles and had displayed it on their coins for ages. To the Persians, he was a son of Zeus/Ba'al/the Giant Spaghetti Monster and thus a deity himself. That would also explain the image on the Tomb of Abdalonymus (though AFAIK that attribution is highly contested too), since the sculpture may have viewed Alexander and Herakles as one and the same.

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Some really interesting discussion in this thread!  Here's my 2 obols' worth.

21 hours ago, kirispupis said:

For visual comparison, here are two known coins from Lysimachos and Ptolemy I with known (posthumous) Alexander portraits.

lysimachos.jpg.de204ce96d0abc80b59fb2b6c325ccb4.jpg

387009335_PtolemyI.jpg.cb8a2c183d840231fce7b604597c7bbb.jpg

Here's my possibly simplistic way of thinking here: I think these two coin types are especially valuable in assessing roughly what Alexander looked like.  The courts of Ptolemy and Lysimachos both would have had access to accurate portraits of Alexander, and of course both knew him personally as did many in their entourage.  Combining this with the sculptural depictions above that are most likely to have been done from life or accurate portraiture (e.g. the tomb finds posted by @KenDorney) and I think we can have a reasonable idea whether a particular coin depicts either Alexander or Herakles-with-Alex-features with some sort of accuracy. In doing so we need to compare these two depictions to the generic beardless Herakles motifs that predate Alex: our attention goes to unusual differences, e.g. the prominent brow ridges above both eye and nose, the shape of the nose and (less so due to similarities to some generic Herakles) chin, the broad cheek, and the rather wide eyes.

(This is of course different from the question whether a particular coin was intended to depict Alex. There may well be highly inaccurate intended depictions due to the lack of an accurate model. That's pretty hard to assess.)

Here's my Lysimachos tetradrachm:

image.jpeg.451f798503641332c1c55b7c90ff8832.jpeg

Note the brow ridges, nose, chin, cheek, and very wide open eyes.

Here's a Ptolemy-as-satrap coin (c. 320-315) that I think can be reasonably interpreted as having some features of Alexander:

spacer.png

Going a little earlier, here's an immediately posthumous Babylon tet attributed to Philip III (323-317) that is somewhat Alexander-ish by this method, although the nose is less similar to the Lysimachos and Ptolemy tets:

spacer.png

(I handled both of these last two coins, but they're not mine.)

I think of the above strategy as a somewhat justified but certainly far from conclusive rule of thumb.

 

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9 hours ago, KenDorney said:

Again, this is a hotly contested topic.  I'll just throw this image out there.  These two ivory carvings were found in Philip's tomb and are considered by many/most to depict Philip and Alexander.  One can make connections to coins representations on their own.  I will say that the insanely enormous egos of monarchs of the time (and since) make me think that Philip depicted himself as Zeus and Alexander as Herakles.  

1.jpg

Thank you much for sharing these images -- I've been looking but couldn't find them. These were a part of Harlan Berk's argument that Philip & Alexander were shown on at least some of their coins. I tend to find your comments persuasive (certainly plausible, that is), in light of these & other literary and archaeological evidence. 

Edited by Curtis JJ
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Interesting discussion! I think it's at least reasonable to suppose that the portraits are intended to portray Alexander as Herakles. Alexander certainly wasn't above celebrating himself as a god - in Egypt he had himself crowned Pharoah - who traditionally was the son of a deity, and a god in his own right - thereby claiming deity for himself.

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There is an interesting Relief in the Metropolitan Museum. It shows the well known scene of Alexander hunting a lion on foot, and is saved by his friend Krateros.

The interesting thing for this discussion is that Alexander is wearing a lion skin (you can see the paw). Of course other depictions show Alexander without lion skin, but it shows that there are depictions of Alexander with lion skin.

5033.webp.62de2289420e47796f6c317340103bd4.webp

 

https://www.worldhistory.org/image/5033/relief-of-alexander-the-great-hunting-a-lion/

Edited by shanxi
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