The Elephant Medallions book is entirely true to Frank Holt and a great credit to his immense knowledge of Bactria, or should we say Afghanistan. Based on his scrupulous research and in-depth study of all the facts and legends that have transpired, he tells a most captivating detective story following the trail of these medallions from the time they were discovered to today’s conclusions.
Basically, it handles about two coins.
The first is a large silver decadrachm that surfaced in the mid-19th century from somewhere around Khullum Bokkara, but that is not a certitude. The obverse shows an elephant with two riders turning their head around to look at the horseman behind them. It is not clear whether the elephant warriors are attacking the horseman or vice-versa since both hold spears ready to attack. On the reverse, we see a standing figure which may represent Alexander the Great crowning Niké with a laurel branch. A few more such medallions have surfaced over the years, but only five have been labeled as original, the others are probably fake.
The second type is a smaller silver tetradrachm with a sole elephant without riders on the obverse and a hunter on the reverse side. This hunter may simply be a fourth century BC Indian soldier because of the typical man-high bow he is carrying. Only six such tetradrachms have been considered as original.
In his study, Frank Holt includes all the assertions and speculations made over the decennia. Is one of the elephant riders Porus or Darius or Taxiles? Is the figure on the reverse Zeus or Alexander? Since none of the medallic coins carry any inscription, he concludes that they were struck in Persia according to their customs and probably even during Alexander’s reign. This is one of the reasons why he talks about medallions instead of coins. They never circulated in Greece and have been found mingled is different large hoards found all over Bactria, but the furthest west was Babylon.
All these elements lead Frank Holt to conclude that the large decadrachm was issued by Alexander just after his victory over Porus at the Hydaspes River – a battle that by far surpassed that of Gaugamela. The only time that Alexander celebrated his victory was after the Hydaspes battle, and it would be obvious to issue the magnificent medallion in a gesture to thank his soldiers for this success. As to the smaller coin, the elephant tetradrachm, it may have been issued to hail the power of Porus after he was appointed to rule over India, i.e. after Alexander gave him back his kingdom and, even more, territory.
As I said, a true detective story with lots and lots of information. This book definitely should be read together with the Lost World of the Golden King!