A scarcer drachm of Phraatakes

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Parthicus, May 25, 2022.

  1. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    Phraatakes Nisa.jpg
    Parthian Kingdom. Nisa mint. Debased AR drachm. Phraatakes (2 BC- AD 4). Obverse: Diademed bust of Phraatakes left, crescent and star before, Nike behind. Reverse: Seated archer surrounded by completely blundered and unreadable "Greek" legend, below bow mintmark NI (Nisa). Sellwood 56.14. This coin: Purchased at Baltimore Whitman Coin Expo, November 2021.

    (Historical section below contains reused content.)
    In 20 BC, as a symbol of goodwill while they were negotiating a peace treaty, the Roman Emperor Augustus sent the Parthian king Phraates IV an Italian slave girl named Musa as a concubine. Musa seems to have been very beautiful and charming, and also proved to be ambitious and politically savvy. She soon bore Phraates a son who was nicknamed Phraatakes ("little Phraates") and she was promoted from concubine to wife. In 10 BC, she persuaded Phraates to send his older sons off to Rome to learn Roman ways, to serve as reassurance to Rome that Parthia was still friendly... and not so incidentally, to ensure that Phraatakes was the only heir to the throne still present in Parthian territory. In 2 BC, Phraatakes and Musa conspired to poison Phraates, and Phraatakes took the throne. Sadly, this was hardly unprecedented, as both Phraatakes' father and grandfather had taken power by murdering their own fathers. He then tried to assert Parthian influence in Armenia (again, hardly unusual for a Parthian king) by aiding a pro-Parthian faction against the Roman-supported king Artavasdes. This alarmed Augustus, who dispatched his grandson Gaius Caesar to Syria to handle the situation. Phraatakes wrote a rather rude letter to Augustus, who responded equally rudely to him, and war seemed inevitable. However, in 1 BC Gaius Caesar and Phraatakes met in person on an island in the middle of the Euphrates, and were able to defuse the situation. Phraatakes withdrew his support for the Armenian faction, in exchange for continued peace with Rome.

    Phraatakes was known to depend heavily on his mother, and (most likely in 1 AD) he took the further step of marrying her. While some previous Parthian kings and nobles had married their own sisters, marrying his own mother was definitely not accepted. While it is possible that the marriage was strictly a political convenience and never consummated, it was certainly not in line with how the Parthians expected their king to act. Whether it was due to disgust at Phraatakes' apparent incest, distrust of his reliance on a woman as co-ruler, or simple political jealousy, a group of nobles rose up and overthrew Phraatakes in 4 AD, and he was killed shortly afterwards. Musa simply disappears from history at this point- without her son/husband, she was just a woman and thus of no importance.

    I picked this coin, and one other, out of a pile of about 70 Parthian drachms that were offered as "your pick, $50 each" at the Baltimore coin show in November. Most of the coins were similarly debased drachms of Phraates IV (type 54, similar in design to this, but with an eagle instead of Nike) or Phraatakes, from the Mithradatkart mint. (The other coin I bought was a Phraates IV from Nisa mint.) Nisa was a city located in what is now Turkmenistan, near the Iranian border, and Mithradatkart was a fortified citadel just outside the city. Mithradatkart was a major mint for drachms during this period, while Nisa had a very modest output. It seems strange that two mints would be in simultaneous operation so close to each other; my own theory is that Nisa mint acted as a "spill-over" facility that was only used when Mithradatkart was having trouble meeting its quota. Also of note, the oval shape of this specimen preserves aspects of the design (the ends of the diadem ribbons and the bottom border of the bust) that are usually off the flan on most specimens. Definitely an interesting coin for the price, and I had fun picking it out of the pile. Please post whatever related coins you have.
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  3. Alwin

    Alwin Supporter! Supporter

    PHRAATACES, Drachm
    S.56. -
    3.78 g - 20 mm
    Ex NAC 88, 622.
    Obv. Diademed bust of Phraataces left, crescent and star before, Nike behind.
    Rv. Archer seated right; behind him K; incoherent legend in degraded Greek.
    Last edited: May 25, 2022
    Edessa, Johndakerftw and Parthicus like this.
  4. Bob L.

    Bob L. Well-Known Member

    Nice pickup, Parthicus.

    Your coin prompts a memory about an encounter with a coin - I've thought about it many times through the years and have often wondered if I should have handled it differently (by ignoring my morals). I remember going through a large lot of unidentified Parthians that a VCoins seller - a friend - was giving me first shot at some years ago. I came across an S.42.1 - an Orodes II drachm with the same type of Nike depiction on the obverse as the S.56's above . But, of course, S.42's with this iconography are much rarer and more valuable than the 56's. I could have gotten it for any offer since my buddy didn't know how special it was. I was loading up on common drachms for, like, $30-$40 each, from his lot. Instead of giving him a pittance and walking away with the coin, I gave him the proper ID and told him of its value. He subsequently sold it through his VCoins store for a decent amount.

    Every time I have thought about this since then, the little devil on one of my shoulders laughs at me and tells me I was a fool that day. He's glad you posted your coin so that he could laugh at me yet again.
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  5. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    I find it best, if not for anyone else, to pay what is fair so you can sleep at night. A local world dealer offers me what comes in. I usually buy most he offers me, and if I have to tell him what he is asking is too high I do. I am comfortable with him, most dealers if it's unreasonable I simply pass. However, more than once he has asked something like $150 and I tell him, "I can't do that John, but I can pay you $400."

    Some will call me a fool, but if I buy a coin I know would sell at any auction for $600 up, I cannot sleep giving him $150. Sure, he might have paid less. None of my business, I should pay a fair price since he is trusting me for guidance. I think you did well sir, your integrity is worth more than any coin, especially concerning a friend.

    My favorite quote I bastardized is "there is always another coin". It's the pursuit of coins and knowledge we are here for. Compromising your morals is not worth it.
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