Characene AE Tetradrachm of Attambelos IV with Countermark

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Marsyas Mike, Mar 23, 2021.

  1. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    I poked around CT and I didn't find much on the Characene Kingdom, and no threads with the word in the title. Since I never heard of the place until a couple days ago, I am probably not the person to start a thread on a whole big kingdom, but I got a coin from there. I bid on it because of the countermark, but I knew nothing about where it came from beyond the seller's (accurate) brief description. Here's what I know now...

    Wikipedia is a good introduction:

    Characene (Ancient Greek: Χαρακηνή), also known as Mesene (Μεσσήνη)[2] or Meshan, was a kingdom founded by the Iranian[3] Hyspaosines located at the head of the Persian Gulf. Its capital, Charax Spasinou (Χάραξ Σπασινού), was an important port for trade between Mesopotamia and India, and also provided port facilities for the city of Susa further up the Karun River. The kingdom was frequently a vassal of the Parthian Empire. Characene was mainly populated by Arabs, who spoke Aramaic as their cultural language.[1] All rulers of the principality had Iranian names.[4] Members of the Arsacid dynasty also ruled the state.[5]

    Characene Kingdom 1024px-Karte_Charakene.png

    By NordNordWest - self-made, usingGTOPO-30 Elevation Data by USGS, CC BY 3.0,

    The Wikipedia article on the capital city Charax Spasinu (what a cool name!) contains an interesting anecdote involving Trajan:

    "In AD 116, the Roman Emperor Trajan visited Charax Spasinu – his most recent, easternmost and shortest-lived possession. He saw the many ships setting sail for India, and wished he were younger, like Alexander had been, so that he could go there himself."

    As for the coin, I hit the jackpot on information - Ed Dobbins published a paper "Countermarked Characene Tetradrachms of Attambelos IV", in the American journal of Numismatics. no.7-8 1995-1996 and available here for free, thanks to the Hathi Trust:"american journal of numismatics"

    Dobbins' article is terrific - not only for the coins, but the historical background was informative and interesting. The Characene kingdom was in a constant squeeze with Elymais, Parthia, the Seleucids, Rome, and Petra. Little is known of Attambelos IV, but given the number of coins he issued, he seems to have reigned during a time of prosperity. (Note that a lot of IV's coins were attributed to Attambelos III - so there is some confusion - at least I was confused - in attributions for these)

    Here's mine - it is a bit crude, but after looking at a bunch of them on acsearch, this one isn't too bad - if nothing else, it is one of the few with (most of) the date on the flan. The Characenes used Seleucid dating, so things are very specific chronologically. Dobbins examines hoards of these and even comes up with a pretty specific dating system for the countermarks found on these as well.

    That's Herakles on the reverse, holding his club on his knee. Many of them are found countermarked, as this one is. The countermarks are carefully placed so as not to encroach on the king's face, making it likely they were official Characene issues (per Dobbins' article). It is possible mine has a second countermark by the king's brow - or it is a random pit.

    CM - Characene Tet.  Mar 2021 (0).jpg CM - Characene Tet.  Mar 2021 (0det).jpg
    Kingdom of Characene Æ Tet.
    Attambelos IV
    SE 371 (59-60 A.D.)
    Charax-Spasinu Mint

    Diademed, bearded head right /[BAC...] ATTA[M...], Herakles seated left on rock, holding club; monogram (5/6) above, B (sym. 7) above knee; TOA (date) in ex.
    cf. BMC 7; DCA 490.
    (15.34 grams / 23 x 21 mm)
    Countermark: Monogram in 4 mm x 4 mm square. Dobbins No. 1.

    "The three monogram countermarks 1, 2 and 3 were added sometime after 112 A.D." (Dobbins)

    Well, that's the extent of my cut 'n' paste knowledge via Wikipedia and Ed Dobbins' article via the Hathi Trust. I'd love to see more of these if they are out there. As always, corrections welcome - this is all brand new to me.
  2. Avatar

    Guest User Guest

    to hide this ad.
  3. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

  4. Collect89

    Collect89 Coin Collector

    Thanks for the info. I’ve got this one:
    Kingdom of Characene
    (Tigris Valley - Kuwait)
    Attambelos I
    AR Tetradrachm
    44 - 39 B.C.

    12.39 gms, 27.1 mm
    Obv: Diademed bearded head right
    Rev: Naked Hercules seated left on stone (possibly an Omphalos stone)
    club resting on knee held with right hand. Monogram above right arm. BAΣΙΛ[?] / ATTAMB[?] to right, [Σ]ΩTHP[?] to left.
    Grade: gVF with sharp strike on good silver fabric. Coin is nicely centered
    with attractive toning. Some letters off the flan as noted with only rough planchet surface in exergue.
    Other: BMC 3. Listed in the Catalogue of the Greek Coins of Arabia, Mesopotamia, and Persia page 291 & plate LV #11. Coin may be dated
    269-273 a.s. = 44-39 B.C. The existence of king Attambelos I was unsuspected until 5 silver tetradrachms were acquired by a soldier in Mesopotamia and submitted to the British Museum in 1920. Purportedly purchased from BC Universal, New Britain CT in 2011. From private sale March 2014.

    Attached Files:

  5. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  6. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    Nice Characene tet. Interesting comment on the British Mesopotamian Campaign in World War I. From what I can tell, Characene is a great example of a kingdom with kings who are known historically mostly through its coins.

    I should've mentioned in my OP that the earlier issues of tetradrachms - such as yours - were made of silver. By the time mine was minted they were AE - I don't think it is even billon.
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page