Tetradrachm of Ptolemy I Soter in the name of Alexander III (the Great), Alexandria mint, Egypt c. 310-305 BC

Alexander right wearing elephant skin headdress with the horns of Zeus Ammon and the aegis. On the reverse, AΛEΞANΔPOY, Athena Alkidemos advances carrying a shield, monograms on either side, an eagle on a thunderbolt in the outer right field. The obverse has a  countermark and there is graffiti in the form of an X on the reverse.

Ptolemy I Soter was a Macedonian general under Alexander the Great, who became ruler of Egypt (323–283 BC) and founder of both the Ptolemaic Kingdom and the Ptolemaic Dynasty. In 305/4 BC he demanded the title of pharaoh. The eagle on a thunderbolt was the personal emblem of Ptolemy.

The significance of Alexander in the Elephant Headdress:

Successors of Alexander the Great were rivals, and the history of the decades after Alexander’s death is one of warfare and constantly shifting alliances as they attempted to enlarge and consolidate their holdings. In these struggles coinage and coin portraits in particular played an important role. The first tentative steps in this direction were taken by the Successors who replaced the Herakles/Alexander type with portraits of the deified Alexander as a way of showing reverence for their predecessor and demonstrating their close association with him.

The first to do so was Ptolemy I of Egypt (c. 367-282 BC), a childhood friend of Alexander who immediately laid claim to Alexander’s cult and image in order to legitimize and consolidate his rule and enhance his prestige among the Successors.

In 321 BC Ptolemy hijacked Alexander’s body on its way to burial in Macedonia and had it enshrined in a magnificent tomb in his capital, Alexandria. About the same time he issued tetradrachms with an obverse portrait of Alexander wearing a headdress consisting of an elephant’s scalp, complete with trunk and tusks. The headdress, undoubtedly inspired by Herakles’ lionskin cap on Alexander’s own coins, refers to Alexander’s eastern conquests, in which his troops overcame an Indian army reinforced by some 200 elephants. Beneath the elephant scalp Alexander’s head sprouted ram’s horns, the distinctive attributes of Zeus Ammon, the Egyptian god whose priests had recognized Alexander as his son when he visited Egypt in 331 BC.