Featured Khusro II: My First Tentative Step into a new Collecting Area

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Curtisimo, Jul 20, 2018.

  1. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo Temporarily Away Supporter

    For a while now I have been interested in dipping my toes into the coinage of the Ancient Sasanian and Parthian Empires. Until now I had yet to buy my first example due to the (to me) intimidating nature of studying these issues and my general lack of knowledge of Iranian history compared to Greco-Roman history. However, when I saw this budget Sassanid come up at a recent JA auction at a fair price I figured, what the heck, I can study it as well as I can and see if I get bit by the eastern coinage bug (plus its provenanced to a fellow CTer ;)).

    Sasanian Empire
    Khusro II (AD 590 – 628)
    AR Drachm, BBA mint (court mint), Regnal year 30, struck ca. AD 619 / 620
    Obv.: Pahlavi script at left and right. Khusro bust facing, head right, wearing winged crown with star and crescent, inside double dotted border, crescent and stars at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock.
    Rev.: Date (left) and mint mark (right). Fire altar with two attendents, inside triple dotted border, crescent and stars at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock.
    Ref.: Göbl SN type II

    Ex Sallent Collection, Ex JAZ Numismatics, Ex Aegean Numismatics

    The Last Great Sasanian King of Kings

    The reign of Khusro II is fascinating because during his roughly 38 years on the throne (there are 39 RY in his coinage) he presided over a roller coaster of rising and falling fortunes for the Sasanian Empire. He was first declared “King of Kings” at around the age of 20 by his maternal uncles after they had blinded and killed his father Hormizd IV. The uncles had done this because Hormizd IV had foolishly insulted a popular general, Bahram Chobin, so severely that he was on his way to the capital to murder Hormizd himself. This first portion of Khusro II reign lasted about as long as it took Bahram Chobin to march his army to Ctesiphon. With his prospects in Persia looking bleak, Khusro II fled to the only person left who had a chance of helping him regain his throne: The Byzantine Emperor Maurice Tiberius. Maurice did help Khusro II recover his throne and for over a decade the Byzantines and Sasanians were at peace.

    When Maurice was murdered on the orders of Phocas after an army mutiny, Khusro II used the event as a pretext to invade Byzantine territory. This kicked off the last great war between the successors of Persia and Rome. This war would last for more than a generation (ca. AD 602 to 628) and would prove devastating to both empires. However, during the middle stages of the war Khusro II’s armies were astonishingly successful and for a time it looked like the Byzantine Empire would collapse and that Khusro would be able to push the boundaries of Persia further even than Darius the Great had done over a millennia previously. In 613 and 614 Syria and Judea fell to the Persian onslaught and in 618 even Egypt fell into Sasanian hands. My new coin (dated RY 30 = AD 619/20) was struck during the height of Sasanian territorial expansion.

    The Sasanian Empire ca. AD 620 (the year my new coin was minted)(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

    Khusro II’s military fortunes would start to turn in AD 624 when the new Byzantine Emperor Heraclius launched a desperate counterattack that proved surprisingly successful and even led to the sacking of the sacred fire temple at Adur Gushnasp. In AD 627 Heraclius defeated the Persians at the Battle of Nineveh and forced Khusro II to flee his residence at Dastagird. Shortly after Khusro II was deposed by his son Kavadh II, put on trial, and executed. A hasty peace was then concluded between the Byzantines and the Sasanians and both combatants limped home from the war, completely unprepared to face the Arab onslaught that would start just a few years later.

    Epic Fire Altar

    The reverse on this coin had me interested in looking up more about fire altars in Sasanian Persia. I will confess that there is a lot I don’t understand about Zoroastrianism during this period even after reading about it and trying to find more information. It seems from what I have read that during the Parthian period there were two types of structures used for Zoroastrian worship: one was a place for fire and the other held icons dedicated to yazatas (one “worthy of worship”). With the rise of the Sassanids the veneration of icons was suppressed and the fire altars gained a preeminent place in the religion.

    The Sassanids had three royal fires that were part of the ceremonies used for the ascendance of a new king. The reverses of Sassanid drachms (such as mine) show a fire temple and there is a sequence of iconography as the dynasty progresses that show various forms of worship / figures / attendants / kings / deities. The significance of this and what it means is something that I will have to look further into for future write ups.

    Anyway… One of these royal fire temples (Adur Gushnasp) was sacked by Heraclius during his counterattack on Persia. When researching this write up I was blown away by the majesty and history of the place. It’s now on my list of places I intend to visit someday.

    Adur Gushnasp_1.jpg
    Figure 2 – Adur Gushnasp (modified from Wikipedia image)

    Figure 3 – Adur Gushnasp (Wikipedia)

    The lake is spring fed by calcium rich water that over time formed the flat hill you see in the above images. This extraordinary site was occupied during Achaemenid times and may have housed a temple with icons dedicate to yazatas during the Parthian period. The aftermath of the Arab conquests saw the temple all but abandoned and it would eventually be used by the Mongols as a palace / fortress. Since both fire and water are essential in the rituals of purification in Zoroastrianism it is not hard to see why this location would be ideal to house one of the three royal fires. The actual fire would have been housed in the square building north of the lake shown in Figure 2. These buildings were generally square with 4 pillars and a dome. A walkway would then extent around the structure. The actual altar at Adur Gushnasp isn’t well preserved but it probably looked something like Figure 4.

    Figure 4 – Niasar Fire Temple (Wikipedia)

    Figure 5 - Zoroastrian Fire Altar (Wikipedia)

    Some Notes on this Coin

    Drachms of Khusro II are extremely common which indicates that his reign saw an enormous output of coinage. During this time there may have been as many as 40 mints striking Sasanian coins throughout the empire. Thanks to the “Beast Coins” and FORVM pages I was able to take some baby steps toward understanding how to read and attribute these.

    Figure 6 – Reading Khurso II Drachm

    On the obverse at right is Khusro II’s name written in Pahlavi. The reverse right shows the mint mark. There are other marks and writing on the coin but it is not well preserved enough for me to effectively read it using the sources I have found. The coin is attributable to the BBA mint which is thought to be the mint that traveled with the royal court. This means that this coin was probably struck to serve the day-to-day needs of the court of Khusro II himself! Just imagine how many important Sasanian figures may have handled this coin during the heyday of the Sasanian expansion.

    Final thoughts on my First Sasanian Coin

    I like it…







    Please post your...
    • Coins that were your first in a new collecting area
    • Anything with a fire on it
    • Sasanian Coins
    • Surprise me
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2018
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  3. Ancient Aussie

    Ancient Aussie Supporter! Supporter

    Great write up Curtis, you have opened my eyes to how fascinating these coins and history are, and that coin is a great starter for your collection. Pontus.jpg Septimius Severus, AD 193-211. AE29 (29 mm, 15,1 g). Pontus, Neocaesarea. AY K Λ CEΠ CEOYHPOC, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right / KOI ΠON NЄO-KAI MHTPO, ЄT PMR, tetrastyle temple with wall visible in background, flaming altar within; date below. Rec Gen 13; SNG von Aulock 100.
  4. lordmarcovan

    lordmarcovan Eclectic & odd Moderator

    Nicely done, @Curtisimo. I also got my first Sasanian this year, which happens to be Khusrow II as well.

    I failed to take the "close" (or clipped) flan into account, but I liked the toning so much, I don't really regret this one for the price I paid.

  5. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    way kool Curtis! :)
    Curtisimo likes this.
  6. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    Really Nice write up and cool coin.
    Curtisimo likes this.
  7. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Interesting survey of the subject! It was mentioned that coins of Khusro II were common but we need to emphasise that. There are more coins of this one ruler than of the rest of the Sasanians combined. I have a few but I can not imagine anyone going for the 'set'.

    Poor striking is a serious problem with these thin coins. I am not terribly concerned about wear on coins but I discriminate against coins with flat places that make it hard/impossible to read the mint name and date. Mints can be read with a little practice on the common ones but many coins still will require some interpretation of the handwriting. Add to that, we see 'experts' differ on how they read/transliterate some letters. After all, we see the king's name spelled several ways (Khusro, Khosrow, Chosroes, Xusro or 'hwslwb' ---- Imagine what they can do with obscure town names. I am still working on the dates. The scripts vary. Sasanian dates spell out the numbers so we do not see a numeral like '23' but we must read 'three and twenty'.

    I'll show two coins of the same mint MY. Not all mints come in all dates so I really have no idea how many of these there are. This first has a flat area making the mintmark at right less than desirable and eliminating the right attendant.
    MY (Meshan) year 2

    My MY 38 is more clear on the mint but the date script at left is smaller. All of my Sasanian attributions have "I hope!" at the end.

    I'm currently calling this one AHM (Hamadan) 3. I'll feel better when I see another example matching that was IDed by someone who knows more about these.
  8. arashpour

    arashpour Well-Known Member

    Nice coin @Curtisimo and welcome to collecting Sasanians! They are one of my favorite area of collecting and I have collected almost all kings of it except some rare and expensive ones! Here are some of my sasanian kings:

    1. Ardashir I


    2. Shapur I

    ShapurI_goodCondition_obv.jpg ShapurI_goodCondition_rev.jpg

    3. Shapur II


    4. Shapur III


    5. Narseh


    6. Bahram V (Gur)


    7. Khosru II with nice eastern counter mark
  9. arashpour

    arashpour Well-Known Member

    7. Khosru II with nice eastern counter mark

  10. Nicholas Molinari

    Nicholas Molinari Well-Known Member

    I like it, and I’ve been meaning to get one of these. Yours is quite nice.
    Curtisimo likes this.
  11. Ryro

    Ryro Another victory like that will destroy us! Supporter

    This was an awesome write up and taught me much about an individual whoms coin I have! Though I am a bit confused as I have Khusro ii listed as son of Khusro i?
    Thanks for sharing your new beauty and this great write up @Curtisimo!!!

    CollageMaker Plus_2018461975146.png
    KhusroII:591-628(Son of
    Khusro I

    CollageMaker Plus_20184619810726.png

    KhusroI:531-579(Son of
  12. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Nice addition. They can be a bit addicting & expensive real quick.

    Khusro II (591-628 A.D.)
    AR Drachm
    O: Bust of King right, crowned and cuirassed, ribbon over right shoulder, crescent and ribbon over left, stars flanking crown, monogram to left.
    R: Two attendants and fire alter, star and crescent flanking flame.
    LYW for Rev-Ardashir, Year 33
  13. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    Nice coin, and welcome to the exciting world of Persian coins @Curtisimo ! I have a number of Sasanian coins, so how about this which is noteworthy for several reasons:
    1. It is from Ardashir I, the very first Sasanian king;
    2. It is an obol rather than a drachm (Sasanian fractional silver is fairly rare);
    3. It shows the king in a Parthian-style tiara instead of the distinctive Sasanian crown.
    Ardashir I obol.jpg
  14. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Redditor Lucis Aeternae

    Very nice @Curtisimo - I don't have any Sassanians but I do have a couple of Khosro II's counterpart Heraclius'. Here's a folle struck at Constantinople. It's pretty interesting that the long war left both sides unable to deal with the rising tide of Muhammad's movement. But Muhammad wrote letters to both of these rulers asking them to recognize the legitimacy of his religion, both of which were ignored. If they had responded to Muhammad the history of the middle east might have been somewhat different...


  15. Alegandron

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

    Very nice write-up and first Sasanian @Curtisimo ! Nicely done, and cool write-up


    My First Sasanian
    Sasanian Shapur I 240-272 CE AE Tetradrachm 10.78g 27mm Ctesiphon mint phase 1a mural crown korymbos - fire altar type 2 SNS IIa1-1a

    Persia Sasanian Ardashir III 628-629 CE AR Drachm 36mm 3.85g Zoroastrian Fire Alter Gobl II-1 yr 2 Delta RARE
  16. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo Temporarily Away Supporter

    Thanks @Ancient Aussie ! I never get tired of seeing your architecture coins. That's really neat that it shows the altar inside the temple. I always thought of the altar as being out in front of the temple and the cult statue being inside. I wonder if sometimes the sacrifices could be done on the portico? Either way, cool coin!

    Nice coin @lordmarcovan . Don't feel bad mine is clipped too. It doesn't bother me at all though. I like how the toning on your example brings out the devices as you say. The great thing about the coins of Khusro II is that they are common enough that they make for a cheap education in what is important to you on this type of coin. I think mine was a great value despite a few flaws... yours is even better.

    Thanks @ominus1 !

    I appreciate the kind word @BenSi :)
    Marsyas Mike, Jwt708 and BenSi like this.
  17. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo Temporarily Away Supporter

    Thank you Doug and nice additions. Your comments on readability of the coin certainly ring true even after researching just 1 coin so far. I think in the future as I look for more examples for my collection I will make readability my overall priority.

    Even though the thin flan leads to problems with flat devices I found the coin to be rather nice in hand because of the large diameter. If I were to give one of my nephews a Sasanian drachm and a similarly weighted denarius I imagine they would prefer the drachm. I wonder how an ancient merchant would have felt lugging these around trying not to bend them though.
    Marsyas Mike likes this.
  18. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Great writeup as usual, Curtis!! Cool coin, too... here's my Khusro II, WYHC mint (uncertain location, possibly Arrajan or a mint near Ctesiphon), dated year 33 i.e. 622-623:
    Screen Shot 2018-07-21 at 10.40.16 AM.jpg

    Also relevant is this early Islamic coin dated year 50 (AH), corresponding to 670-671, issued under Ziyad b. Abi Sufyan. Did the Arabs just adapt Sasanian dies, or did they make new ones using Sasanid mint workers? The date and mint (Bishapur) are in Pahlavi, with bism Allah rabbi in Arabic in the margin:
    Screen Shot 2018-07-21 at 10.57.11 AM.jpg

    Here's a scarce early Heraclius while he was wondering what to do about the Persian threat now that he was emperor (year 1, 610-11):
    Screen Shot 2018-07-21 at 11.06.13 AM.jpg

    And finally, with respect to your fire altar comments, a speculative connection with an Achaemenid coin, issued just before Alexander's conquest :
    Screen Shot 2018-07-21 at 11.10.00 AM.jpg
    The mysterious reverse may depict an important Achaemenid architectural design. The pattern of concentric squares with a line jutting out corresponds well to an aerial view of a stepped structure with a main stairway. Such a structure clearly had a religious and/or funerary significance to the Achaemenids: the design is shared by a form of Achaemenid Zoroastrian(?) fire altar, found e.g. in Pasargadae near Cyrus's tomb, a similar Achaemenid structure, now called "Ka'ba-ye Zartosht" in Fars,which may be a fire temple or a tomb, and also the tomb of Cyrus the Great (missing the stairs) in Pasargadae. It bears some resemblance to the fire temple you've posted as well. I do wonder if there's a connection! (I posted some more details here.)
  19. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo Temporarily Away Supporter

    Thanks @Parthicus ! I believe I recall a very similar coin of yours of Adashir I from your fantastic featured article... really cool! I must admit that your great coins and write ups (especially the Musa you wrote up for the tournament last year) have been a big spark to my interest in the history / coins of the Persian Empires.

    Wow @Severus Alexander ! Seriously that is fascinating. This coin deserves a thread of its own so that more people see it! I don't know how I missed your previous post on it as I did read that thread.
    Severus Alexander likes this.
  20. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I agree, these are good to see in person. We have a problem online since not everyone realizes the size of photographed coins. By the time of Khusro II the things were pretty thin. Some earlier kings were chunkier and not as impressive but weighed the same. IMO, the good compromise came around the time of Peroz. His coins rather remind you of a US half dollar. They are less bendable but still large. You might recognize the BBA mint on the one below but the left letter is weak due to the metal lost to those broad shoulders on the portrait. The coin axis is 3 o'clock so shoulders tend to weaken mint city marks.
  21. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    Great writeup, and thanks for that useful map! I liked Sasanians since I was young. These coins spawned many centuries of followers and imitations in India and Central Asia and influenced islamic numismatics for a long time.
    Here's a Xusro II coin, the best I could find. It shows the big head of this extremely proud man. Mint AT (Adharbayjan or Azerbaijan), year 22 = AD 611. 33 mm, 4.15 gr.

    5372 SA ct.jpg
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