Tetradrachm of Seleucus I

Period: Seleucid

Date: ca. 312–281 B.C.

Geography: Iran, Pasargadae

Culture: Seleucid

Medium: Silver

Dimensions: Diam. 2.7 cm
Weight: 17 gr.

Classification: Metalwork-Coins-Inscribed

Credit Line: Purchase, H. Dunscombe Colt Gift, 1974

Accession Number: 1974.105.9


Money—as a means of exchange, a mode of payment, and a standard of value—was in use in the ancient Near East long before the invention of coinage in Lydia during the seventh century B.C. Early Mesopotamian texts record payments of silver weighed in shekels (about 8.3 grams), minas (about 500 grams), and talents, or donkey-loads (about 30 kilograms), but the value of objects was also converted into equal-value weights of grain, copper, and tin. The connection between money and weight continued in coins; a drachm, for example, weighed about 4.3 grams, a tetradrachm (4 drachms) about 17 grams.

The obverse of this tetradrachm displays an idealized portrait of Seleucus I (r. 312–280 B.C.) wearing a helmet covered with a leopard skin and adorned with a bull's ear and horns. Around Seleucus' throat is another leopard skin, knotted in front by means of the beast's forepaws. The features of Seleucus resemble those on coins showing Alexander the Great and with whom the new Macedonian rulers wished to be compared.

The reverse of the coin has a winged, fully draped figure of Nike (Victory) standing on the right. She holds a wreath in her upraised hands, apparently about to place it upon a trophy of arms comprising a helmet, cuirass (a breast- and backplate) with leather straps and skirt, and a star-adorned shield. All the arms are hung upon a large tree trunk, from the lower part of which springs a leafy branch. It has been suggested that this symbolizes the Battle of Ipsus, fought in 301 B.C., in which Seleucus was victorious against his rival Antigonus. The inscription reads "Seleucus" and "Basileus" (king).

Under Seleucus I, coins were minted at a number of cities throughout his empire. This example was minted at Persepolis, the administrative center in Persia.