Featured Phraatakes, who loved his mother

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Parthicus, Jul 29, 2018.

  1. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    Parthian Kingdom. AR drachm (3.68 g, 21 x 16 mm). Phraatakes (2 BC- 4 AD). Mithradatkart mint. Obverse: Diademed bust left, star and crescent before, Nike with wreath behind. Reverse: Seated archer, blundered pseudo-Greek legend around, Mithradatkart mintmark below. Sellwood 56.6, Shore 317. This coin: Frank S. Robinson Auction 105, lot 99.

    "There once was a man called Oedipus Rex
    You may have heard about his odd complex
    His name appears in Freud's index
    'Cause he loved his mother"

    -Tom Lehrer, "Oedipus Rex"

    Oedipus, of course, was fictional, but the king who issued this coin really did murder his own father and marry his own mother. To tell his story properly, we need to back up a generation.

    In 20 BC, the Parthian king Phraates IV and the Roman emperor Augustus made a peace deal. Phraates returned the Roman military standards and prisoners-of-war that had been captured in various previous battles, and as a personal gift Augustus sent Phraates an Italian slave-girl called Musa. Musa, who seems to have been a very beautiful, charming, and ambitious woman, soon bore the king a son called Phraatakes ("little Phraates") and was promoted from concubine to wife. In about 10 BC, she persuaded Phraates to send his older sons off to live in Rome, to learn Roman ways and serve as tokens of Parthian good faith- and not so incidentally to leave Phraatakes the only heir to the throne still in Parthian territory. Early in 2 BC, Phraatakes and Musa poisoned Phraates, and Phraatakes took the throne. This was, sadly, hardly unusual- both his father and grandfather had gained the throne by murdering their own fathers. In 2 AD, however, Phraatakes married his mother Musa. Although marriage between royal brothers and sisters was known among the Parthians, they apparently drew the line at mother/son relations. In 4 AD, a general rebellion broke out, and Phraatakes was forced to flee to Roman Syria, where he was probably murdered shortly afterwards. Musa simply disappears from history at this point- after all, without her husband/son she was only a woman.

    Coins of Phraatakes from Eastern mints, including Mithradatkart, usually have a low silver content, and this coin is no exception. The quality of the design also shows a decline from his father's issues, especially in the reverse legend which is completely unreadable. This is, however, a well-preserved example of its type. Coins of Phraatakes alone are fairly common; there are also rare issues that portray him with his mother, such as this one that I sold last year:
    Post your coins of Phraatakes, or whatever related coins you have.
    Pavlos, randygeki, TIF and 20 others like this.
  2. Avatar

    Guest User Guest

    to hide this ad.
  3. Kentucky

    Kentucky Supporter! Supporter

    "A tragic end for a loyal son who ............................loved his mother"
    DBDc80 and Parthicus like this.
  4. TheRed

    TheRed Well-Known Member

    Very cool coin @Parthicus
    Talk about a dysfunctional family. I've often wondered what you would have to do, or maybe not do, as father to raise a child that murders you for the throne. It remind me somewhat of the Angevin dynasty. Henry II and his children were constantly at each other's throats, though there was never any marriage of mothers.
    DBDc80 and Theodosius like this.
  5. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Phraates IV


    Of the decisions that I regret, high on my list was a short time back when I failed to bid more when CNG auctioned two of the Phraatakes/Musa coins that had been overstruck by a later king but still showed a lot of Musa detail.
    TIF, chrsmat71, Johndakerftw and 3 others like this.
  6. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    So far, I have not found the coin of Phraatakes that I wanted. You might think it futile, but some of the tetradrachms of Phraatakes were issued mentioning year and month, and these are approaching the start of our Christian Era as well as possible.

    December of the year 1 BC or January of the year 1 AD, wouldn't you want a coin like that? According to many scholars, due to various errors, Jesus may have been born as early as 6 BC, or maybe a little later, naturally! I don't want to tread in this.

    But what's for sure is the beginning of the Christian Era in January, 1 AD. Or BIT, 312 according to the Seleucian era. Still cherishing some hope I will finally find a coin of AIT (311 = 1 BC) or BIT (312 = 1 AD). (There's no Year Zero.)
  7. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    Interesting idea. Looking closely at Sellwood and Sunrise, the last tetradrachms of Phraatakes alone (i.e. without his mother) are dated October of 1 BC, and the earliest tetradrachms featuring Musa are dated April of 1 AD. (There is a tetradrachm dated December 312 SE, but remember that the Parthian calendar starts in October, because of course it does, so December 312 SE is actually December of 2 BC, not 1 BC.) All the Sellwood type 57 tetradrachms of Phraatakes alone are dated 311 SE (various months), so you can get within about a year of the transition without spending thousands of dollars on a Musa tet.
    Pellinore, dougsmit and Curtisimo like this.
  8. Jwt708

    Jwt708 Well-Known Member

    Interesting story!
  9. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo Temporarily Away Supporter

    Fantastic thread @Parthicus and congratulations on another well deserved featured article.
  10. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    Great article & research. I think Musa would have fit well into the political circus we are experiencing today....
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page