The Alexander Medallion
Holt, F. & Bopearachichi, O. The Alexander Medallion – Exploring the origins of a unique artefact. France, 2011. Quarto, pp. 103, fully illustrated throughout, maps and tables. Cloth backed boards.
Some of the worlds most interesting objects refuse to give up their secrets without a fight. If genuine, this gold medallion from the Mir Zakah deposit rewrites a crucial chapter of the evolution of Hellenistic civilization, gives fresh insight into the reign of Alexander the Great, and a clearer starting point for the emergence of the potent idea that kings, like pharaohs, might also be gods.
The Mir Zakah hoard(s) from west Gandhara emerged in the 1990’s. Later study has shown that they probably did not derive from a single source. Osmund Bopearachchi’s diligence has rescued much information about them. A major part was thousands of ancient coins, a large group of which was certainly from a single hoard in the vicinity of Mir Zakah.
Coinage is a major source of evidence for the history of the area, the aftermath of the Macedonian invasions and the role of the Indo-Greek. One coin/medallion in particular, the object of this book, seemed unusual, if not sensational, for its apparent date and style – but that is true of several issues of the early period of Macedonian-Greek presence in the East – notably the famous Porus coins. The Alexander medallion, however, remains unique, not so much for its subject matter as for its style and the implications of many details of its decoration. The result has been the raising of doubts about authenticity, and the criteria which might lead to a safe judgement on the matter are one subject for discussion here.
Some problems are simply historical – the plausibility of such a piece being minted; some stylistic, and these are important and go beyond even problems of style on coinage; some technical. It is not enough to adopt indifference, although the coin adds to our knowledge of the history of the period without very seriously altering it. Alexander the Great has proved as much of a problem for modern scholars as he was for the Greeks and Asians.