By John H. Kroll
Early Hellenistic Portraiture: Image, Style, Context, edited by Peter Schultz and Ralf von den Hoff
(Cambridge University Press, 2007)
Introduction: No aspect of numismatic iconography is more familiar than the role of coins as a field for ruler portraiture. From the Hellenistic kingdoms to the residual monarchies of westernmost Europe today, the obverses of coins were, and are, conventionally reserved for the image of the sovereign in whose name the coins were minted. It is one of those universal Western conventions that may be easily taken for granted: but it is worth reflecting, in this collection of essays on early Hellenistic portraiture, that it was not always so, and that the appearance of a ruler’s portrait on a Greek coinage was something new and even quite radical in the late fourth and early third centuries. Its novelty, of course, was tied to the emergence of a new king of governing power after the death of Alexander, namely, autocratic Hellenistic kingship. But it took at least a generation for the various forms and institutions of this new kingship to develop, and, in the case of an established royal type of coinage that featured a simple portrait of the living monarch, it generally took even longer.