Monday, October 10, 2011
31. Coin with Head of Alexander (Turkey, 305-281 BC)
Alexander-bashing aside, MacGregor’s object, and story, in this podcast is really kind of cool. Here are the first coins we have with a person’s image on them. (The Croesus coin, above, has an icon.) The image, that of the horned Alexander (he’s got horns because those were associated with Zeus Ammon, a composite god of the Greeks and the Egyptians), was stamped on these coins by a successor of Alexander’s to the throne of Macedonia/Persia, one of the people who couldn’t hold it all together. (Of course they couldn’t, no one could, ‘cause it wasn’t really put together—it was like Napoleon’s empire, or Hitler’s, conquered very briefly and then, “Thank God that asshole is out of here, let’s get life back to normal.”) But the attempt, by this lesser son of greater sires, to use Alexander’s image to plume up his rule—it’s the same PR lesson we had with the image of Rameses, and it’s still on our money today: what could make an American more trusting than the image of the boy who never told a lie, George Washington, on our dollar bill? (MacGregor points out that Chairman Mao is still on the main currency unit of China today, which is a little weird.) Alexander has the horns of a god because he is no longer mortal—he’s a mortal who’s become a god, “God save the king,” the authority of the ruler drawing sanctity and power and legitimacy from some shared idea of the divine.
Anyway, in terms of connecting dots, Alexander is a nice link between the story of the Greeks (which everybody ought to know), ‘cause Aristotle was his tutor, and the story of the Romans (which everybody ought to know), ‘cause his sidekick Ptolomey became the first Greek/Egyptian ruler based in Alexandria, starting the family that climaxed in Cleopatra a few centuries later, when Roman Republic became Empire in that great and terrible story. More on all that later...or at least in Shakespeare, who knew better than to try to make a play out of the story of Alexander and Hephaistion and Roxane and little Bagoas.