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The first coin of Alexander the Great

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In Afghanistan, at the end of the 19th century, the first specimen of a large silver coin (weighing the equivalent of 10 drachmas) was discovered that seemed to allude in its motives to Alexander’s campaign against the Indian king Poro. Although at first it was related to the sovereigns of the Greek-Bactrian Hellenistic kingdom, new finds of more specimens during the 20th century were reinforcing the connection with Alexander. Due to its size, many consider this piece as a medallion rather than a coin, so it is common for them to be designated as “Poro medallions”, after the name of the king with whom Alexander fought.

On the obverse, this coin depicts a knight, who can be identified as a Macedonian by his Phrygian-style helmet. He is represented charging an elephant with two warriors mounted on his back.

The reverse, meanwhile, shows a Macedonian soldier standing up and being crowned by a winged victory. This character would be none other than Alexander himself, since he carries a royal scepter in his left hand and in his right hand he holds the ray of Zeus. This last symbol alludes to the divine condition of Alexander, who had begun to present himself to his subjects as the son of Zeus.

The importance of these coins derives, then, above all, from their dating. It is almost impossible to say exactly when the coin was minted due to the lack of any kind of legend. However, the evidence provided by the discovery of a treasure with several copies of these pieces in Iraq in the decade of 1970 indicates that their minting took place in Babylon, during the last years of the life of Alexander. Of course there are other theories.

If we accept that dating and also that who appears on the reverse is Alexander himself, then this series of coins has exceptional historical importance. It would constitute not only the only representation of Alexander the Great produced during his lifetime (at least that has come down to us), but it would also be the first known image of a person portrayed in life on a coin. Until that moment, that honor had only been reserved for the gods.

There is also a gold coin that would belong to this series. It was allegedly found in Afghanistan in 1993, but its authenticity is disputed today.

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