Hellenistic gems: Alexander

Alexander the Great himself selected the artists to create his official portraits, if we are to believe the literary sources. Thus, his court gem-engraver was Pyrgoteles, but it is clear that many others engraved his image, which became even more widely distributed after his death, when it was officially represented on coins for the first time.

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Oxford 280 (1892.1499) GGFR, pl. 998; Plantzos 164; Tourmaline (yellow, purple) 24x24mm.

One of the earliest gems with a likeness of Alexander is this stone in Oxford, showing him with the horns of Zeus Ammon, possibly cut shortly after his death in 323 BC. He had visited the sanctuary of Zeus Ammon in 332 BC and the assimilation of the horn attributes had gained political implications. The small inscription below the neck is apparently Indian, either the name of the owner - perhaps a native ruler in a part of India where Alexander was active, or the maker of the gem. The material is rare for gems and of Indian provenance.


St Petersburg. Plantzos, pl. 29, no. 164. Carnelian. 20mm.

A ruler, probably Alexander, portrayed as Zeus with his eagle, and holding a thunderbolt and aegis. Signed by the artist Neisos, probably still 1st century BC.

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