Alexander the Great and George Washington

What do these gentlemen have in common? Besides the fact that they were both leaders of their nation, not very much. The one interesting thing that they do have in common is that they were opposed to having their portrait on money.

Since the time of Washington, no living President or statesman was pictured on coinage. There were thousands of coins struck at the time of Alexander but they carried the portrait of Hercules. It was not until his death did we get to know what he looked like from the standpoint of his likeness on coins.

alexander the great and george washington

Lysimachus as horned Alexander.

As he was dying, he was asked who would take over his vast kingdom. He is supposed to have voiced his lack of concern by saying, “to the strongest.” Some of his generals were indeed strong enough to carve out a portion of the empire for themselves. Ptolemy laid claim to Egypt, Seleucid to Persia and a very interesting general by the name of Lysimachus took Northern Greece and Thrace.

Lysimachus was an officer in the army of Philip, the father of Alexander. He was appointed to instruct Alexander and his young aristocratic friends in all things military. He instructed them in fighting, in battle plans and in all aspect of soldering.

As Alexander grew to maturity and began to assist his father in military conquests, he took Lysimachus with him. When Philip was killed, Lysimachus was not only made a general and close adviser to Alexander, but one of his body guards.

At Alexander’s death, he decided to take over Greece since Persia and Egypt were going to be under the control of Ptolemy and Seleucid. Attempting to fill the shoes of Alexander in Greece would have been difficult enough on its own, but another son of Philip believed that he should rule Greece.

Lysimachus decided to establish himself in Thrace and attempt to gain the confidence of the people in that area. He hit upon the idea of minting coins with the actual portrait of Alexander and not follow both Ptolemy and Seleucid who had no hesitation regarding putting their portrait on their respective coins once they assumed power. This was the first time that there were coins with Alexander’s portrait. Lysimachus did put his name on the reverse of the coins while reserving the obverse for Alexander. This was a major success in so far as the local population, who still held Alexander in great reverence, then gave support to Lysimachus.

Many American Presidents after Washington could be seen on both coins and paper money. No one seems to know how important men and indeed women were chosen for immorality in this manner, but it is believed that if Washington had not taken a strong position regarding portraits on the money, then many of the presidents would have insisted on being so remembered. Washington was very much opposed to the suggestion on the part of some that he become, in fact, King.

Was Washington influenced by the position taken by Alexander The Great? I think that both of these men felt secure in their own right without having to convince one and all that they were the unquestioned leaders.

The Romans used coinage as propaganda. Some sort of message was often seen on the reverse side of a coin. The various Roman Emperors had no compunction regarding showing themselves with their portrait on coins, but for the most part, Roman Emperors were a very insecure lot and many did not last very long and the only thing that they left behind was their picture on the money.

Alfred Jones has a Ph.D in psychology, advance studies in law and education. He is an Egyptian scholar having taught in the UK, USA and China. He is a former consultant to the San Jose California Egyptian Museum. Author of 7 books and over 20 articles for professional journals.