The E-Sylum:  Volume 8, Number 7, February 13, 2005, Article 6


I couldn't pass up a reference like "Alexander the Great and
the Mystery of the Elephant Medallions" without investigating
further. Professor Holt's book was published by the University
of California Press in November 2003 (217 pages, 6 x 9 inches,
14 b/w photographs, 6 line illustrations, 3 maps, $35.00, £22.95
ISBN 0-520-23881-8) The book is available from on the
publisher's web site. See: Purchase

The book's web page contains the following review:
"Frank Holt probably knows more than anyone alive about
the mysterious Greek kingdoms in Bactria and on the frontiers
of India that were one of the odder legacies of Alexander's
Eastern conquests. The literary evidence is sparse, the coins
remain ambiguous, the topography defeats all but the toughest.
Holt's forays into this world are those of a clever and persistent
detective: he loves cracking problems, and the tougher they
are, the better. This time--very properly beginning by invoking
the name of Sherlock Holmes--he has given us what Conan
Doyle would probably have called 'The Adventure of the
Elephant Medallions.' Debate has raged over the scene these
portray ever since the first was discovered. A cavalryman with
a lance confronts an opponent on an elephant. Who are they?
What is the occasion? Guesses have ranged from Alexander
to the Greco-Bactrian monarch Eucratides, from Porus at the
Jhelum to Darius at Gaugamela. Using his numismatic and
historical skills like a Holmesian magnifying-glass, Holt takes
us through the theories, deftly explodes the fallacies, and
comes up with a (for me) entirely cogent and satisfying
solution. He has also, somewhere along the way, acquired a
really marvelous prose style. Not only is the problem in itself
a page-turner; Holt also throws in, by way of introduction,
the best short impressionistic account of Alexander's career
I have ever read. This is high scholarship at its most exciting."
--Peter Green, author of Alexander of Macedon, 356-323
B. C.: A Historical Biography"

Also included is a link to the first chapter of the book.
Following the footnotes (another hobby of mine) led to these
two numismatic references:

Adrian de Longpérier, "Trésor de Tarse," Revue Numismatique
13 (1868): 309-36;

cf. Cornelius Vermeule, "Alexander the Great, the Emperor
Severus Alexander and the Aboukir Medallions," Revue suisse
de numismatique 61 (1982): 61-72, esp. p. 62.

Yet another hobby being web surfing, using "Aboukir Medallions"
as keywords, I located this page with illustrations of a couple of
the medallions (but not the elephant one): Illustrations

The web page notes: "The twenty gold niketeria reportedly
found at Aboukir in 1902 have been the subject of intense
debate. Circumstances surrounding their discovery, and
their artistic features caused many to doubt their authenticity:

"In the summer of 1902 there appeared in 'Paris a number
of Orientals, of doubtful aspect and mysterious actions,
who laid before the astonished eyes of the Paris experts a
series of gold medals, similar to the ones found many years
ago near Tarsus, but far surpassing them in beauty and
boldness of their design. But the possessors inspired little
confidence; the whole business looked too "fishy"... It was
the astounding quality, preservation, and the bold
workmanship of these medallions which prejudiced
numismatists against them in the early days of their

Now another footnote lead to this article:
E.T. Newell, The Gold Medallions of Aboukir, AJN XLIV
(1910), p. 128.

Aha! Rolling my chair back from my desk, I plucked the
1910 volume of the American Journal of Numismatics from
my shelf. Newell's article goes on to p130 and includes
two plates (but still no elephant). He writes:

"Though more than eight years have passed since the startling
discovery of the now famous "Medallions of Abukir," it is too
soon to give any but a qualified answer to the vexing question of
their authenticity. The foremost numismatists and archaeologists
of are still too hopelessly at variance, while every month sees
new opinions, new doubts and defences appearing in the learned
papers of Europe. The advantage in the discussion inclines first
to one side and then to the other; but to the student of antiquity
and the collector of ancient coins the story of these eight years
of controversy may not make unprofitable reading. Although the
question is far from settled, the weather-vane of opinion seems
at the present moment to be swinging round to the acceptance
of these truly remarkable medallions as genuine antique works
of art."

Other reading indicated that eight of the medallions made their
way into the collection of J.P. Morgan and were dispersed by
Wayte Raymond.

Further searching turned up a gorgeous image of another
medallion, this one found in 1912 (Still no elephant). See:

Can any of our readers shed further light on this subject?
Where are the medallions today, especially the elephant medallion?
Where does the controversy stand today?

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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