«Speaking Coins»

Conquering Delphi, claiming Apollo: How Philipp II constructed his Greekness, became rich and won Influence by assuming control over the Oracle Sanctuary and its treasures

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The Macedonians had a kind of an image problem. The Greeks were not sure, whether this Northern tribe was really a part of their people or not. Philipp II created a series of coins in order to prove this fact beyond doubt.

 

Come along with us on our journey through the world of money. Today we are stopping in Colophon, a city on the west coast of Turkey, north of Ephesus. We are in the years 323-317 BC.

 

Everyone in ancient Greece knew the god depicted on the obverse of this coin. This is Apollo, but not just any old Apollo. Philip II, the great King of Macedonians, chose Apollo of Delphi as the image for his first gold coins, and this for a very specific reason.

 

The Greeks of Athens, Corinth, Thebes, and of all these cities located in the south, were quite suspicious of these Macedonians. They talked so oddly. Could their dialect still be called Greek? Or were the Macedonians bárbaroi, men whose language sounded like bar-bar? Philip, however, wanted to win influence in the south. And for that he had to show the mistrustful Greeks that the Macedonians were also Greeks. Nothing served his purpose better than his victory at the Battle of Crocus Field in 352.

 

Philip had fought in the name of Apollo. The Phocians had been declared the common enemy, as they had conquered Delphi, the sanctuary of Apollo, and were now occupying it, so that no one but them and their allies could consult the oracle. In addition, the Phocians thus had access to the incredible riches which for centuries had been brought to Apollo by the faithful to express their gratitude. With these treasures, the Phocians paid their huge mercenary army, making them invincible until Philip declared holy war on them.

 

Before the decisive Battle of Crocus Field, the Macedonian king ordered his soldiers to wreathe themselves with laurels. The laurel was sacred to Apollo. This is how Philip expressed his wish to fight, and to be victorious, in the name of Apollo.

 

Today, we are cynical. We believe that weapon superiority or perhaps strategy decides a victory. The devout Greeks, however, attributed victory to the gods. This is how Zeus demonstrated who was in his good graces. The winged goddess Nike delivered the victory crown on his behalf.

 

And by depicting the figure of Apollo on his gold coins, Philip proved to his doubters that he was a favourite of the gods. Finally, Apollo and Zeus had granted him a great victory over the Phocians. It was self-evident that they would only grant such a victory to a real Greek.

 

The reverse of the coin reinforces this statement yet further. It shows a two-horse chariot, driven by a charioteer.

 

With this representation, Philip II celebrated the Olympic victory he had won in the year 356. This was further proof of his Hellenism, because only true Hellenes were allowed to participate in the Olympic Games of antiquity. The victory served not only as a sign that there were fast horses in Macedonia, but that Philip was regarded with affection by Zeus.

 

Philip had packed his message clearly and precisely into his gold coins:

 

“I, Philip, am a Greek and a favourite of the gods. To ally with me brings benefits to all who are under my protection.”

 

Countless gold coins carried this message throughout the whole known world, as Philip had enough gold mines to mint a huge amount of coins. Soon the gold staters of Philipp were so well known and popular that his son Alexander continued to mint this type of coin.

 

However, our coin dates from a little later, after Alexander’s death. Many fought over his vast empire. One of them was Philip Arrhideios, a slightly slow-witted son of Philip II. Some researchers now think that the small series of coins in the Philippian style - to which our coin belongs - was minted by this son to substantiate his claim to his father’s heritage. All the coins in this series are struck with a single obverse die that shows the head of Apollo in particularly elegant form. The fact that our coin was made in Colophon is shown by the typical mint mark, the tripod.

 

In addition to laurel, the tripod was also a symbol of the god Apollo. And Colophon ruled over a major shrine to this god. The Oracle of Claros was almost as famous as that of Delphi. But I 'll tell you more about that another time.