Coin of Demetrios, I (obverse)

Coin of Demetrios, I (obverse)

200-190 BC

Part of a set. See all set records


Diameter: 3.3 cm (1 5/16 in.)

John L. Severance Fund 1999.318.a



After Alexander of Macedon conquered Egypt and Persia in 331 BC, his ambition to rule the known world led him further east across Bactria in Afghanistan, through the Hindu Kush mountain pass, and into India. There he defeated all the local kings until his men, on the brink of mutiny, insisted that they return to Greece. Alexander left governors in charge of his territories, and after his death in 323 BC, they became independent kings, establishing Hellenistic cities and a Greek cultural base in the region, lasting for almost 200 years. The inscription on this coin's reverse identifies it as issued by King Demetrios (about 205–170 BC), who ruled the Bactria region in present-day Afghanistan. To commemorate his military victories that expanded his territories to the Kabul Valley and into present-day Pakistan, he depicted himself crowned with the scalp of an elephant, the symbol for India. This motif, along with the image of Hercules on the reverse, visually link him to Alexander of Macedon (356–323 BC), who identified himself with Hercules and depicted himself with the lion scalp after his conquest of the Indus River region in Pakistan in 326 BC. The quality of portraiture on the coins of the Hellenistic kings of Bactria is as naturalistic and refined as the coinage from any part of the Greek world. They followed the same weight standard as the Athenian Greeks, based on the drachma being 4.2 grams of silver. This coin is a tetradrachm, which is four times the weight of a drachma.

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