A Parthian Usurper 15-10 BC

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Sulla80, Jan 21, 2021.

  1. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    upload_2021-1-21_17-54-43.png It has been too long since the last thread with "Parthia" or "Parthian" in the title (> a month in my attempts to search). So I will post this tetradrachm from a few years after the end of the Roman republic and the beginning of the reign of Augustus as Emperor - betraying my Roman republican-centric view of the world.

    Evidence for the Usurper
    There isn't a lot to say about the Parthian responsible for minting this coin. Josephus mentions that during a time of trouble in the court of Herod the Great, Herod was busy torturing and killing his son Alexander's friends in hopes of proving a plot - and he writes of "Mithradates" as king of Parthia during the time in which we would expect Phraates IV (30 - 2 BC) would have been the ruler:

    "...while Herod was very busy about this matter, and the palace was full of terror and trouble, one of the younger sort, when he was in the utmost agony, confessed that Alexander had sent to his friends at Rome, and desired that he might be quickly invited thither by Caesar, and that he could discover a plot against him; that Mithridates, the king of Parthia, was joined in friendship with his father against the Romans, and that he had a poisonous potion ready prepared at Askelori."
    -Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 16.253

    This is at least one source supporting Sellwood, Simonetta and Assar in suggesting that this coin is from the short reign of Mithradates, usurper in Mesopotamia, from 15-10 BC. An earlier attribution of this coin was to Tiridates, another usurper during the reign of Phraates IV..

    I don't know if there is stronger evidence than this for Mithridates as usurper - I am looking for a copy of the paper by Simonetta and Sellwood from 2006 Quaderni Ticinesi ("Notes on the coinage and history of the Arsacids from the advent of Orodes II to the end of the reign of Phraates IV") which may have some more information.

    Mint Location
    This map of Parthia at 96BC shows nicely the Euphrates, the Tigris and Seleucia on the southwestern edge of the Parthian Empire.
    The Tetradrachm
    On some coins "O" in EYEPΓETOY seems to be reduced to a dot - on this coin it seems to have been left out altogether: EYEPΓETY. Although the month is readable on this coin (April) there is no year.
    Tiridates 55.11 APTEMI sm.jpg
    Kings of Parthia, Mithradates, Usurper in Mesopotamia, circa 15-10 BC, BI Tetradrachm, Seleukeia on the Tigris mint (center of modern day Iraq), dated Artemisios (April)
    Obv: Diademed bust left
    Rev: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ/ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΝ/ ΑΡΣΑΚΟY/ EYEPΓETY/ ΔΙΚΑΙΟY/ ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟYΣ/ ΦΙΛΕΛΛΗΝΟΣ/ ΑΡΤΕMI, Mithradates seated right, receiving palm frond from Tyche standing left, holding cornucopia; above, monogram above pellet; V/A below throne; A between Mithradates' feet
    Ref: Sellwood 55.11; Shore 311 (Tiridates)

    The Context
    In 20 BC Augustus negotiated a peace with Phraates IV which resulted in the return to Rome of standards that the Parthians had captured from Crassus in 53 BC and Marc Antony in 36 BC. The Romans agreed to recognize the Euphrates River as the Parthian border. Augustus also gave a gift of a Roman slave named Musa to Phraates IV whom he later married after she gave birth to their son Phraataces.

    Musa convinced Phraates to send away his sons to Rome so that she could secure succession for her son, and eventually she killed Phraates IV and married her son....through all of this plenty of reason for some Parthians to think they might be better off with a usurper.

    Additions, corrections and other references are always appreciated. For additional notes and more Parthian coins see: King Phraates IV and Son.

    Post any coins of Parthians, or usurpers, or anything else that you find interesting or entertaining.

    • Numismatic Art of Persia, The Sunrise Collection, Bradley Nelson Editor, CNG, 2011
    • Sellwood, The Coinage of Parthia, Second Edition, 1980
    • Rivalling Rome: Parthian Coins & Culture. Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis and Alexandra Magub. London: Spink and Son Ltd., 202
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2021
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  3. 7Calbrey

    7Calbrey Well-Known Member

    Nice and quick historical write-up. I've got 2 Greek usurpers. The first is Alexander Balas, with Apollo on reverse. The second is Alexander Zebinas, with Dionysus on reverse. They're both bronze.

    ABals O           Apollo.jpg ABals R  SC     1795.jpg Alx Z O.JPG Alxzbn R.JPG
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  4. John Conduitt

    John Conduitt Well-Known Member

    It's always good to see a Parthian write up! The nearest I can get to Mithradates is Phraates IV. It was minted in Mithradatkart, about as far away as you could get from Seleucia.

    Phraates IV Dichalkous, 37-2BC
    Mithradatkart. Bronze, 15mm, 2.78g. Arsacid symbol to left of monogram (Sellwood 51var)
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  5. Orielensis

    Orielensis Supporter! Supporter

    An informative write-up on a very special(ized) coin of an elusive ruler! I also wonder whether the palm branch on the reverse meant the same to the Parthians as to the Greeks and Romans and thus has to be read as a reference to a military victory of the usurper Mithradates?

    I have no Parthian usurpers and tend to show my Postumus collection much too often on this board. Thus, here are my only two Parthian coins, both struck for regular rulers:
    Orient, Antike – Parther, Mithradates II, AR Drachme.png
    Parthian Empire, under Mithradates II, AR drachm, 123–88 BC, Rhagae mint. Obv: long-bearded bust l. wearing tiara with eight-point star; griffin-ended torque. Rev: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΝ ΜΕΓΑΛΟΥ ΑΡΣΑΚΟΥ ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟΥΣ; beardless archer wearing bashlyk and cloak seated r. on throne, holding bow in r. hand. 19mm, 3.91g. Ref: Sellwood 28.7.

    Orient, Antike – Parther, Vologases IV Tetradrachme.png
    Parthian Empire, under Vologases IV, AR tetradrachm, SE 464, month Apellaios (November 152 AD), Seleukeia on the Tigris mint. Obv: Diademed and draped bust l., wearing tiara; B behind. Rev: [SEΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ / Β]ΑΣΙΛΕΩ[Ν - ΑΡΣΑΚΟY / O]ΛΑΓΑΣΟ[Υ - ΔΙΚΑΙΟY - Ε]ΠΙΦΑΝΟY[Σ / ΦΙΛΕΛΛΗΝΟΣ], date: ΔΞY – ΑΠΕΛΑΙΟΥ; Vologases seated l. on throne, Tyche standing r. before him, presenting a diadem and holding sceptre. 27mm, 13.81g. Ref: Sellwood 84.13.
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  6. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    Nice write-up! And also a reminder that I need to take the time to post some of my recent coins soon. This drachm (Sellwood 67.1) was attributed by both Sellwood and Shore to Vonones II (51 AD), but more recently Assar has assigned it to a short-lived rebel from that period named Meherdates:
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  7. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Great coin & writeup.

    My sad Meherdates.

    Meherdates (50 - 49 A.D.)
    AR Drachm
    O: Bust facing with moustache and very short beard, royal wart on brow, tiara with ear flaps and ornamented with a horn on each side, diadem loop and end extending on each side, flanked by two six-pointed stars.
    R: Blundered Greek legend forming square around, archer (Arsakes I) seated right on throne, bow in extended right hand, cross below seat, Ekbatana mint monogram below bow.
    Ekbatana mint.
    Sunrise 417/418 (Meherdates); Sellwood 67.1 (Vonones II); Shore 368 (Vonones II)
  8. Spaniard

    Spaniard Well-Known Member

    Interesting write up taught me something new today Thanks!....
    Here's a liitle Bronze..
    Vardanes I (40-47 AD)
    AE Chalkous 11mm/1.8gr..
    Obverse- Bust left with short beard, wearing diadem and spiral torque; hair in three distinct waves with earring visible; diadem pendants shown as three lines; circular border of pellets.
    Reverse- Monogram ΜΤΘ; legend as dashes
    Mint- Mithradatkart-Near modern Askabad in Turkmenistan.
    Ref- Sellwood 64 type variant (ΜΤΘ monogram) This is quite a rare type
    vard black.jpg
  9. Pavlos

    Pavlos You pick out the big men. I'll make them brave!

    Very interesting piece of history I know very little about, thanks for sharing!

    Some usurpers:
    Diodotus Tryphon (142 - 138 B.C.). Æ Denomination B/C, Antioch mint.
    Diademed head of Tryphon right.
    Reverse: BAΣΙΛΕΩΣ TPYΦΩNOΣ AYTOKPATOPOΣ (“of King Tryphon, the Self-Empowered”); Spiked Macedonian helmet with cheek guards facing left, adorned with wild goat's horn above visor.
    Reference: SC 2034

    Achaios (220-214 BC). Æ Denomination B. Sardes mint.
    Laureate head of Apollo right.
    Reverse: BAΣΙΛΕΩΣ AXAIOY. Eagle standing right, palm frond over shoulder.
    Reference: SC 955.2; HGC 9, 435.
    4.20g; 18mm

    Timarchos (164-161 B.C.), Usurper. AE Denomination B (Double). Ekbatana mint.
    Diademed head of Timarchos right
    Reverse: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΜΕΓΑΛΟΥ ΤΙΜΑΡΧΟΥ (“of Great King Timarchos”), Nike advancing left, holding wreath and palm branch.
    Reference: SC 1596.
    9.42g; 18mm
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  10. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    Great mix of Parthian and usurper coins from Alexander Balas & Alexander Zebinas (@7Calbrey) to the three usurpers, Diodotus, Tryphon & Timarchos from @Pavlos. The small bronze from @Spaniard is an interesting one. I have an inexplicable weakness for the tetradrachms of Vologases IV (a nice example @Orielensis) - my examples posted here. I will add my Meherdates to those of @Parthicus and @Mat :
    Meherdates usurper drachm.jpg
    Kings of Parthia, Meherdates
    (usurper), Circa AD 49-50, drachm, Ekbatana mint (3.5g; 20.1 mm)
    Obv: Helmeted bust facing with short beard wearing diadem with loops at both sides; helmet with ornamentation horns and ear flaps. Royal wart on forehead; at each side six-pointed stars; border of dots.
    Rev: Beardless archer, seated right on throne; in right hand bow, monogram below bow; somewhat blundered Greek legend.
    Ref: Sellwood 67.1, Shore 368
  11. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter


    Parthia 177-138 BCE AR Drachm Diademed draped Mithradates I left bashlik - archer seated on omphalos Sellwood 10.1

    Son of Priapatius. First Arsacid ruler to assume the ancient Achaemenid title of King of Kings.
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