A scarce Parthian tetradrachm of Vonones I

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Parthicus, Sep 21, 2021.

  1. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    Vonones I tetradrachm.jpg
    Parthian Kingdom. Seleukeia on the Tigris mint. AR tetradrachm 29 mm, 12.69 g). Vonones I (8-12 AD), dated Gorpiaios, 322 Seleukid Era (= August, 11 AD). Obverse: Diademed bust of king left, Greek legend around "Basileus basilewn Onwnes" (King of Kings Vonones). Reverse: Nike standing left, holding palm-branch and diadem, Greek legend around "Basilews basilewn/ Arsakou euergetou/ Dikaiou/ Epiphanous [philellenos]" (Of the King of Kings Arsakes, benefactor, illustrious, lover of the Greeks) ("philellenos" not visible on this specimen), date BKT (322) to left of Nike under diadem (weak on this specimen), in exergue month Gorpiaios. Overstruck on another coin (Sellwood 58 tetradrachm of Phraatakes and Musa), part of undertype visible on reverse. Sellwood 60.2. This coin: Private purchase from @Bob L. , ex CNG Auction 377, lot 185 (June 29, 2016).

    Vonones I was the eldest son of the Parthian king Phraates IV (38-2 BC). Around 10 or 9 BC, he and three of his brothers were sent to live at Rome. The Romans depicted this as "submission" of Parthia to Rome, but it also served to clear the way for Parthian succession by their much younger brother Phraatakes. In 2 BC, Phraatakes and his mother Musa murdered Phraates and seized the throne. That exciting tale of intrigue, murder, and incest deserves its own write-up, which I've given before ( https://www.cointalk.com/threads/if...-dont-you-just-marry-her.350979/#post-3911792 ). After the overthrow of Phraatakes and Musa in 4 AD, the Parthian nobles installed a new king, Orodes III, in 6 AD. However, they soon afterwards got rid of him for "excessive cruelty" (and considering how cruel some of the other Parthian kings were, he must have been a monster if that was the reason for his downfall). The Parthian nobles now asked Rome for one of the sons of Phraates IV to be returned as their king, and Vonones was duly sent. Vonones, however, had become much too Westernized during his stay at Rome, and he no longer cared for the manly Parthian pastimes of hunting, feasting, and horsemanship. The nobles summoned another member of the royal Arsakid family, Artabanos (IV), who was serving as king of Media Atropatene (roughly modern Azerbaijan), who attempted to overthrow Vonones but initially failed. A couple of years later Artabanos tried again and this time successfully deposed Vonones, who fled to Armenia and served for a time as the Armenian king. Vonones was removed from the Armenian throne about 17 AD (the exact date varies by source) and remanded to the custody of the Roman governor of Syria. After he attempted to stir up trouble among tribal chiefs in the Mesopotamian frontier near Parthia, he was sent farther away, to Cilicia. In 19 AD he bribed his guards and attempted to flee back to Armenia, but he was killed before reaching the frontier. A son of Vonones, Meherdates, would later stage his own rebellion in Parthia in 49-51 AD.

    The coins of Vonones I stand out in the Parthian series for the king's unusual choice to list his full personal name in the legends, instead of just the dynastic name of Arsakes. This is a great boon to historians and numismatists, as it gives a solid anchor in the assignment of coin types to specific kings. His drachms break with the usual reverse depiction of a seated archer and standardized legends listing sonorous but meaningless titles, instead depicting Nike and the actually informative legend "Basileus Onones Neikesas Artabanou" (King Vonones, victorious over Artabanos):
    Vonones I.jpg
    One other noteworthy fact is that the tetradrachms of Vonones I are usually found overstruck on coins of Phraatakes and Musa. On this specimen, the bust of Phraatakes is clearly visible on the reverse, adding to the appeal of this coin. Definitely an interesting and historical coin, and currently in first place as my favorite coin purchased in 2021. Please post your coins of Vonones I, or whatever else is related.
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  3. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Fantastic coin, love the overstrike. Nice & clear indeed.

    Vonones I (8 - 12 A.D.)
    AR Drachm
    O:ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣ ΟΝΩΝΗΣ, bust of king left, tapering beard, short hair; border of dots; semi-circular Greek legend.
    R: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣ / ΟΝΩΝΗΣ / ΝΕΙΚΗΣΑΣ / ΑΡΤΑΒΑΝΟΝ, Nike walking right; in right hand, palm; in front below palm monogram 26.
    Ecbatana Mint
    Sellwood 60.5
  4. furryfrog02

    furryfrog02 Well-Known Member

    I don't have any Parthian coins. Now I see 3 that are really interesting AND have Nike on them!
    Now I REALLY want one :)
  5. Lueds

    Lueds Well-Known Member

    Thanks for sharing!

    I love the overstamp, extra cool factor for sure!
  6. lordmarcovan

    lordmarcovan Eclectic & Eccentric Moderator

    I need a Parthian.

    It's pareidolia, of course, but I saw another face on the reverse side of that.

    furryfrog02 likes this.
  7. lordmarcovan

    lordmarcovan Eclectic & Eccentric Moderator

    Wait, so I wasn't suffering from pareidolia after all? Neat!

    An overstrike? Makes sense now. I thought I was seeing things.
    furryfrog02 likes this.
  8. Bob L.

    Bob L. Well-Known Member

  9. lordmarcovan

    lordmarcovan Eclectic & Eccentric Moderator

    Thanks. Perhaps if I had been more familiar with the undertype (wow, neat design!), I would have recognized it straight off as an overstrike instead of questioning what I saw and thinking I was seeing phantoms.
  10. Bob L.

    Bob L. Well-Known Member

    I have always appreciated the fact that Vonones, the fellow who issued the overstrike, was having his coins struck over top of the coins of his dad’s murderers. Might have been for expediency, but nevertheless must have felt satisfying.
    Spaniard, Parthicus and furryfrog02 like this.
  11. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    This is a fine coin with that face of Phraatakes but the coin I really wanted was handled by CNG a few years ago. It seems a shame to have an overstrike on Musa that erased her from the coin. Those of us who like overstrikes prefer really messy ones that show as much detail from the undertype as possible.

    Why didn't Vonones overstrike Musa drachms?
    Numismatic avenge is an interesting concept but love and loyalty was unusual in Parthian families. A brother that murdered dad may have been saving you the trouble of having to do it yourself. IMO there is no story in ancient history more deserving of being made into a movie but the rating on this one would have been hard to keep down to just R.
  12. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    @Parthicus-- fantastic coin, made even more desirable by the interesting writeup! I love that it is a clear overstrike of a Phraatakes and Musa tet :). Definitely deserves a #1 spot!!
    Roman Collector likes this.
  13. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.
    @lordmarcovan : I was going to include a photo of the reverse on which I'd outline the undertype, but I decided not to since the undertype was so obvious. Maybe I should have included it anyway, as "obvious" varies from person to person, obviously ;)
    @dougsmit : Why did Vonones overstrike Phraatakes and Musa tetradrachms but not drachms? There's no real proof, but I have at least two plausible ideas:
    1. The mints had plenty of blank drachm-sized planchets but not many tetradrachm-sized. When the order came in for more tets featuring the new king, they used the most convenient raw material, i.e. tetradrachms of the disgraced former king and queen.
    2. Note that the tets and drachms come from different mints: tetradrachms from Seleukia on the Tigris, while Vonones' drachms were struck at Ekbatana and Rhagae. Maybe the mint masters in the different cities had different thoughts about whether it was a good idea to overstrike older coins. (Or, only Ekbatana and Rhagae had access to blank planchets at this time, which would make this a subset of idea 1.)
    And I agree, the story of Phraatakes and Musa would make quite a movie, but it would definitely get an NC-17 rating.
  14. Nvb

    Nvb Well-Known Member

    Nice coin and write up @Parthicus.
    An interesting chapter in Parthian history for sure.

    On a related note, several nice Parthian Tetradrachms came up for sale at CNG this morning. Among the was a very sharp specimen from Vonones’ father, Phraates IV which hammered at a reasonable price. Silly me I did not bid…

    From the Robert L collection. @Bob L. is that you?
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2021
  15. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I suspect the desire to erase Musa from history was greater in some political factions than others. If they just needed flans, we might have more overstrikes on other coins. I suspect someone knew Vonones was not a fan of Musa or her kid. Vonones wanted to be king. He was not all that interested in being Parthian. It is a great story.
    It might be hard to keep it that low. Who would be cast as Musa? Jennifer Jason Leigh would have been perfect a few decades ago.
    Voldemort likes this.
  16. Alwin

    Alwin Supporter! Supporter

    These tetradrachms had been indeed mostly over-struck on the tetradradrachms of Phraataces. The one presented above is remarkably interesting because the earlier portrait appears clearly.
    I have not yet had the opportunity to acquire such an interesting one. On the other hand, I found a Vonones I tetradrachm which shows no trace of a previous strike, and was therefore possibly struck on a new blank.
    Curtisimo, Nvb, Cucumbor and 4 others like this.
  17. Bob L.

    Bob L. Well-Known Member


    Verbatim excerpt from my instructions to my contact at CNG on July 11th: “All material should be listed as coming from the ‘Bob L. Collection’.”

    So, naturally, they were listed as from the “Robert L” collection. LOL. I guess he got tripped up by my email address (which has “Robert”) or by my Forum handle (“Robert L3”).
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2021
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