Portrait Coin of Demetrius Poliorcetes
Gallery 37, The Heberden Coin Room
Greek Art in Miniature case, Coin No.10


Focus on the Object


The portrait of Demetrius Poliorcetes (‘the Besieger’) is one of the most striking images to appear on Greek coinage. Demetrius is depicted as a vibrant and youthful man. He wears the royal diadem, a symbol of his newly assumed title of king - also expressed in the inscription which reads ‘King Demetrius’. Perhaps most striking are the bulls’ horns which sprout from his temples. These horns echo the rams’ horns which are sometimes found on portraits of Alexander the Great, symbolising his divinity and his association with the god Zeus-Ammon. For Demetrius, the bulls’ horns are meant to symbolise his own divinity and his association with the god Poseidon (see below).

On the reverse of the coin we see the god Poseidon leaning on a rock. In 306BC Demetrius defeated Ptolemy I in a major naval battle off Salamis on Cyprus. This naval victory allowed Demetrius to assert Poseidon (god of the sea) as his divine patron.