The First Facing Portrait of a King

25 Jun 2020  Thu

Lycia, the ancient maritime district of southwestern Anatolia was among the firsts to depict their rulers on coinage.

Athens and Sparta fought the Peloponnesian War many small states left the Delian League. In 429 BCE, Athens sent an expedition to Lycia to attempt to force it into rejoining. Lycia defeated the Athenian general, leaving them under Persian control allowing the local dynasts to continue working somewhat autonomously.

They reached the pinnacle of classical portraiture with the coinage of Perikles, for the first time moving the portrait of a living person to the obverse of the coin and depicting it in a challenging front-facing style, rather than the conventional profile.

The coin depicts King Perikles in a superb style, looking out from the coin. While the engraver stayed true to his facial features, Perikles’ hair is engraved in such a way that it appears to be blowing freely in the wind. He is also depicted without any headdress as was included in earlier portraits from Lycia, perhaps indicating their independence from Persian rule.

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