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Alexander the Great and the Mystery of the Elephant Medallions (Hellenistic Culture and Society) Hardcover – November 24, 2003
The Amazon Book Review
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"Details the discovery of a rare series of medallions."--The Bookseller -- Review
From the Inside Flap
"[This book] brings to a wider audience one of the few contemporary pieces of evidence for the image and ideology of Alexander the Great. While relatively well known to experts in the field, the 'elephant medallions' of the title are far less well understood, and have thus played a smaller part, in popular accounts of Alexander than they
probably should. Holt's book offers a well thought out introduction first to Alexander and the Alexander story, second to the entrance of the 'medallions' into modern scholarship, and third to the medallions themselves."Andrew Meadows, Curator of Greek Coins, British Museum
Top customer reviews
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This book is more about the essence of Alexander, and what was important to him and the men who followed him, than the nuts and bolts of his overall story.... I thought it was very entertaining.
The ploy used by the author to tell the story of these elephant medallions has been to present it as some kind of investigation, or even a detective story as the historian Peter Green has suggested in his own review of this book.
To some extent, and as some Amazon reviewers reviews have argued, portraying the elephant medallions as a “mystery” may be a bit excessive or even hyped up. However, this ploy, if it is one, does make the book more lively and interesting to read and if only because of that, it is therefore valuable. Nevertheless, the value of this little book goes well beyond an argument as to whether the origins and purposes of the medallions are “mysterious” or not. This is because the author has achieved very successfully four objectives when using what may be no more than a ploy.
The first and second objectives were to tell the story of how these medallions were discovered and how numismatic research related to them has evolved and progressed ever since. The third and fourth were to, respectively, identify the historical event that they seek to commemorate and the historical context that explains their minting. This book (and its author) largely succeeds in fulfilling all four of objectives, even if some of the discussion on numismatics can at times get a bit “overly technical” for the “general reader” that is supposed to be the “target audience”.
A similar technique blending together these four types of elements can also be found in a number of Frank Holt’s other books, in particular those relating to the conquest of Bactria by Alexander and its administration and history during the subsequent Hellenistic period. They all share some common features. In this book like in the others, they allow the author to deploy his scholarship and knowledge of numismatics and use these as building blocks to discuss the historical context in which specific types of coins were minted and what kind of “messages” these coins were expected to convey.
To a large extent, the blending of these four elements has largely become Frank Holt’s trademark. This does not imply that all of his analysis is flawless neither does it necessarily mean that all of his interpretations are correct. What it does, however, is to allow the author to present a convincing case that takes stock of all known elements and proposes a plausible interpretation and explanation of what purposes were fulfilled by these coins. They can also inform us, at least to some extent, on what happened at the time these coins or medallions were minted, therefore providing a valuable additional source of information that often completes other sources, including written ones and, at times, may even be our main source of information, especially when the so-called written primary sources and the epigraphic evidence are lacking or non-existent.
So yes, maybe the author has "hyped up" the so-called "mystery", but, in doing so, he has provided a very valuable account. He has addressed the four points mentioned above in a way that is very readable for the so-called "general reader" interested in history while still being both rigorous and scholarly, at least as far as I can tell. Because of this, I found that this book was well worth five stars.
Holt tells us that there have been 2000 books and papers published about Alexander in the last 40 years. What he kindly omits is that most of them have been rubbish; this one is not. It is a fine and valuable contribution to Alexander Studies admirably thought out and very well written. The University Of California Press has, as usual, well presented and marketed the work which is enjoying a popularity it should not have had otherwise. Basically a study of some unusual coin- like medallions depicting Alexander battling elephant mounted men. Holt gives us what might have been a tedious article in an obscure numismatic journal as a fascinating mystery and, along the way, manages to present an unsullied glimpse of Alexander without any of the contemporaneous tints which have been so blithely applied to him over the years. This is an excellent small book by a fine scholar with a keen analytical mind and an unusual facility for communicating with non scholars without pandering.