The god Apollo on a Hellenistic coin.

In the 4th century BCE, Philip II of Macedon invaded Greece. Two years later, he was assassinated, and his 20 year old son became Alexander the III. For the next decade, Alexander personally led his troops across much of the known Eastern world, taking Egypt, the Middle East, and Asia all the way to the Indus River.

Alexander greatly respected Greek culture. Aristotle was his tutor.He brought Greek culture everywhere he went: artistic styles, architecture, mythology and more. Thus, the time of his empire and the empires which came afterward is known as hellenistic culture, meaning culture based on the Greeks. This is one reason Greek culture has remained so relevant even into the present day: it was spread everywhere.

At the age of 32, Alexander died, either from illness or poison.His wife was pregnant with his only child, and his court was forced to choose  between an unborn child and Alexander’s half brother, who was mentally challenged. Neither brought stability. Philip and his wife were assassinated. Several years later, so were Alexander IV and his mother.

Alexander III, known to us as Alexander the Great, had the talent and force of personality to command one of the world’s largest empires. No one else could. His generals carved up the Empire into smaller territories. The largest were the Ptolemaic Empire in Egypt and the Seleucid Empire in Persia.

Greeks did not put living leaders on their coins. In fact, neither did Romans during the Republic. Putting the current leader on the currency started with Julius Ceasar. Greeks often put mythological figures on their coins instead. Alexander used an image of Hercules wearing a lionskin. The Ptolemys often used eagles and thunderbolts, both of which represented Zeus.

View available hellenistic coins.