Featured Romans vs. Parthians

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Sulla80, Jun 27, 2020.

  1. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    upload_2020-6-27_14-41-8.png After a number of diversions in Anatolia, and a bit of an RR drought, this week I added another Roman Republican coin to my collection. My latest RR coin is connected to two of my primary collection themes, Sulla and the rivalry between Parthia and Rome.

    The Sulla Connections (or Romans v. Romans)
    Marcus Licinius Crassus escaped when his brother and father were killed as Marius returned to Rome after Sulla went off to fight Mithridates. He then played a key role in Sulla’s return and victory at the Colline Gate. [See Plutarch Crassus 6.6] At this time the seeds were also sown for his rivalry with Pompey, a younger man of less noble birth who served Sulla well as a ruthless warlord. [See Plutarch Crassus 6.4] Crassus was said to have profited much from the redistribution of wealth after the Sullan proscriptions. M. Licinius Crassus is described by Appian as “a man distinguished among the Romans for birth and wealth”.

    Last fall, I shared a coin of Cn. Cornelius Lentulus Clodianus who was defeated in the War of Spartacus ~72 BC. M. Licinius Crassus was the general who took charge of the war after Clodianus’ defeat and viciously crucified the 6000 surviving gladiators and slaves along the Via Appia. The opening image of this post is titled "Death of Sparticus". This same Crassus would become a member of the first triumvirate with Caesar and Pompey.

    The Roman coin for this post is from Publius Licinius Crassus, son of M. Licinius Crassus. Publius would also distinguish himself leading a cavalry charge for Caesar in Gaul in the decisive battle against Ariovistus.

    The Parthian Connections (or Romans v. Parthians)
    As described in this post, Sulla led the first diplomatic encounter with Parthia ~94 BC. The Parthians would become great rivals to Rome, and the Battle at Carrhae would play a key role in this positioning of Parthia as the Roman rival for power. Marcus Licinius Crassus as governor of Syria, in 53 BC, together with his son Publius, crossed the Euphrates River, in hopes of taking down the Parthian Empire. Orodes II was then the king of Parthia.
    Orodes II Parthia.jpg
    Parthia, Orodes II, circa 57-38 BC, AR Drachm, Ekbatana mint
    Obv: Diademed and draped bust left, wearing torque ending in sea-horse or griffin, wart on forehead; eight-rayed star to left, crescent above eight-rayed star to right; all within pelleted border
    Rev: BΛΣIΛEΩΣ/BΛΣIΛEΩN ΛPΣΛKOV EVEPΓETOV/ΔIKΛIOV EΠIΦΛNOVΣ/ΦIΛEΛΛHNOΣ, archer (Arsakes I) seated right on throne, holding bow; Ekbatana monogram below bow, anchor symbol behind throne
    Ref: Sellwood 48.7 (corrected: thanks to @Alwin - "anchor ii" not "anchor iv" of Sellwood); Shore 259
    Notes per CNG: Parthian kings were called brothers of the sun and moon. The royal wart was the sign of true membership in the Arsakid family and was used at least as early as the time of Orodes II to establish legitimacy to the king’s claim to the throne. The “wart” is in modern terms a tricoepithelioma, a hereditary lesion on the forehead, known to be passed on for as long as one hundred years.

    The results of the battle were humiliation for Rome and ended badly for Crassus, father and son, and most of the Roman army involved. From Plutarch, Life of Crassus:
    P.Crassus: "Then he himself, being unable to use his hand, which had been pierced through with an arrow, presented his side to his shield-bearer and ordered him to strike home with his sword. In like manner also Censorinus is said to have died; but Megabacchus took his own life, and so did the other most notable men. The survivors fought on until the Parthians mounted the hill and transfixed them with their long spears, and they say that not more than five hundred were taken alive. Then the Parthians cut off the head of Publius, and rode off at once to attack Crassus."
    M.Crassus: "Surena now took the head and hand of Crassus and sent them to Hyrodes [a.k.a. Orodes II] in Armenia, but he himself sent word by messengers to Seleucia that he was bringing Crassus there alive, and prepared a laughable sort of procession which he insultingly called a triumph."
    The rest of the Romans: In the whole campaign, twenty thousand are said to have been killed, and ten thousand to have been taken alive.

    The Denarius
    P Licinius Crassus 55.jpg
    P. Licinius Crassus M.f., 55 BC, AR Denarius, 3.75g
    Obv: Draped, laureate and diademed head of Venus right, S.C behind, border of dots
    Rev: P CRASSUS M F, female figure standing facing, holding horse by the bridle; shield and cuirass at her feet, border of dots
    Ref: Crawford 430/1 (Crawford reports 63 obv and 70 rev dies), Babelon Licinia 18

    The obverse shows Venus, who was popular with Sullans as the battle of the Colline gate took place close to the Temple of Venus. The reverse is unclear, variously described as a soldier, a horseman or a female figure, with long hair or wearing a Parthian bashlyk (Greek: kyrbasia). The reverse could refer to the victories in Gaul that P Carassus Participated in, the Battle at the Colline Gate that M. Crassus participated in, or perhaps the ambitions of the M. Crassus as Syrian governor to take on Parthia. It seems likely that this coin was minted for the Parthian campaign.
    The figure looks female to me, and she towers over her horse (goddess?). Perhaps Roma looking victorious against Parthia? [Aside: I do expect that CT will surface some alien conspiracy theories as well]. Although this is not a perfect coin with light wear and flatness in the middle of the reverse. However, very nice for the type with good style and critical elements very clear and well centered.

    As always, corrections, additions, and comments are appreciated. Share your coins of P. Licinius Crassus, Orodes II, or anything else that you find interesting or entertaining.
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2020
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  3. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Great looking coins, especially the Republic.

    Orodes II (57 - 38 B.C.)
    AR Drachm
    O: Diademed and draped bust left, wearing medium beard.
    R: Archer (Arsakes I) seated right on throne, holding bow; monogram below bow.
    Susa Mint
    Sellwood 45.20
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  4. furryfrog02

    furryfrog02 Well-Known Member

    I only have one coin that fits with your post. I purchased this from a FSR fixed price sale without knowing anything about it. I love the green and gold coloring.

    Orodes II
    AE Drachm
    Obverse: Facing bust with anchor and crescent
    Reverse: Pattern of dashes
    Orodes II Drachm.png
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  5. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    I think the reverse figure is rather obviously female -- she even appears to have one bare breast, in the way that Amazons, as well as the personification of Virtus, were usually portrayed.
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  6. svessien

    svessien Senior Member


    From what I am able to google, Plutarch wrote that during this triumph of Orodes II, the head of Crassus was held up by an actor as Euripedes' Bacchae was being performed before the king. One can vividly imagine this scene:

    «Led by Agave, his mother, they forced the trapped Pentheus down from the tree top, ripped off his limbs and his head, and tore his body into pieces.

    After the messenger has relayed this news, Agave arrives, carrying her son's bloodied head. In her god-maddened state, she believes it is the head of a mountain lion. She proudly displays it to her father, Cadmus, and is confused when he does not delight in her trophy, but is horrified by it. Agave then calls out for Pentheus to come marvel at her feat, and nail the head above her door so she can show it to all of Thebes. But now the madness begins to wane, and Cadmus forces her to recognize that she has destroyed her own son. As the play ends, the corpse of Pentheus is reassembled as well as is possible, the royal family devastated and destroyed. Agave and her sisters are sent into exile, and Dionysus decrees that Cadmus and his wife Harmonia will be turned into snakes and leads a barbarian horde to plunder the cities of Hellas.
    » (Wikipedia).

    Dio relates a different end, but not a much better one: "And the Parthians, as some say, poured molten gold into his mouth in mockery; for though a man of vast wealth, he had set so great store by money as to pity those who could not support an enrolled legion from their own means, regarding them as poor men" (XL.27).
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  7. Clavdivs

    Clavdivs Well-Known Member

    Important to note that horses were generally much smaller then... and Roman cavalry horses were more like the size of ponies at only around 14 hands high (4 foot, 8 inches to shoulder blade)...
  8. Alegandron

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

    Nice job snaring that Crassus, @Sulla80 ! Nice Denarius. And the Orodes II rounds it all out very nicely.


    PARTHIA Orodes II 57-37BC AR Drachm 18mm 3.3g - Crassus gold - Ekbatana mint stars crsnt Arsakes on throne bow anchor Sellwd48.9
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  9. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    @Sulla80 : That's a great OP denarius of Publius Licinius Crassus. I've been low-key looking for one for a while, as part of my collection of Roman coins related to Parthia. Congrats!

    @furryfrog02 : Cool coin, but it is Orodes II of Elymais, who is not the same guy as Orodes II of Parthia.

    As for the figure on the OP denarius, I'd guess it is supposed to be female. But you're missing the most important point. Notice those two dots above her head:

    Now compare this to an ancient Indian coin of the Mauryan dynasty from my collection:
    Mauryan Samprati.jpg
    Notice the guy on the right, with the two mysterious spheres above his head? Yes, that's right: In ancient times, there was an alien race that visited Earth, and they had Mickey Mouse-style ears on top of their heads.:greyalien:

    Guess I should share a coin of Orodes II. Since everyone else has been showing AR drachms, I will do something a bit different and share a lovely bronze coin:
    Orodes II stag.jpg
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  10. Alwin

    Alwin Well-Known Member

    Happy to see nice Parthian coins from time to time!

    Sulla, your drachm is of type S.48.7
    Mat, yours is of type S.46.11


    ORODES II - Tetradrachm S.45.8
    Seleucia, Sept. 55 or 54 B.C.
    11.73g - 30mm
    Obv. Diademed and lightly bearded bust left, wearing griffin ended spiral torque.
    Rev. King enthroned right, before him Tyche kneeling left with sceptre in left hand, extending to king her right hand in submission, monogram above her head.
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2020
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  11. furryfrog02

    furryfrog02 Well-Known Member

    Thanks @Parthicus. I never even knew there were 2 different Orodes II's. I guess I don't have any Parthian coins. Oops :(
  12. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I have not rechecked my Parthian ID's with the latest changes and this drachm is clearly from a different mint. When I got it 25+ years ago, it was called Orodes II from Susa. Sell.47.21
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2020
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  13. svessien

    svessien Senior Member

    I know this sounds extremely boring for a Saturday night, but is it possible that the two dots are not signs of an alien master race, but the caps of the Discouri? (And if so, what’s the difference?)


    AE from Dioskourias, for good measure and illustration.
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2020
  14. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Thanks, I actually have the description on my Forvm gallery as Sellwood 46.9 (Ecbatana) or 46.11 (Rhagae), I just never updated it on here.
  15. Bob L.

    Bob L. Well-Known Member

    Neat thread. As I read it, I glance down at my 1903 Liebig's trading card, which depicts the Parthians using a tactic we know as the “Parthian Shot,” feigning retreat at full gallop, twisting their upper bodies, and shooting with deadly accuracy at their opponents. The tactic was used to great effect against Crassus’ legionaries at the Battle of Carrhae, which Sulla80 mentions. Seven Roman legions (estimated at about 42,000 men) were defeated by a Parthian force that was not quite a quarter that size.

    What is not so well known is that, rather than cuirass or other armor, the Parthians wore stylish, tight-fitting, spotted pajamas during their battles, as seen in the Liebig's illustration. Sellwood referred to the outfits as Proto-Lululemon and speculated that the odd choice in battle gear may have been based on a contingency. The theory is that if the arrows missed their mark, the opponents might be overwhelmed by the display of style. The dizzying effect the Parthians hoped to prompt was amplified by their careful selection of steeds, which had to be spotted similar to the PJ's. True story.

    liebig card in frame.jpg

    Liebig card.jpg

    Sorry. Totally prompted by the silliness of the illustration. I'll try to redeem myself by contributing something I hope is worthwhile. Here's an ex-David Sellwood Collection Orodes II tet. (A Sellwood 48.1)

  16. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    @dougsmit : @Mat 's coin is indeed Sellwood 46.11 (as pointed out by @Alwin above), which is given by Sellwood as Court at Rhagae. (There are several Court at ___ mintmarks, which were used for wherever the Parthian king was residing at the moment.) Your coin is indeed 47.21, from Susa. There are a whole lot of different mintmarks attributed to Susa, which unlike most of the Parthian mintmarks do not form obvious monograms of the city name.

    @furryfrog02 : Well, Elymais was a vassal state of Parthia, so your coin is _almost_ Parthian, in a way. Anyway, you can still look forward to purchasing your first main-series Parthian coin :)
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  17. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    Thanks - I needed to look closer at the anchor - easy to see once you pointed it out! @Alegandron has a real 48.9 (sideways E instead of crescent at the top). I corrected in OP too so that I don't mislead someone else. Also glad to see some Parthians turn out including your Orodes II tetradrachm.
    The trading card does inspire silliness, I'll now have to puzzle over what the Parthians role was in inventing meat extracts. Thanks for sharing :) and I certainly enjoy your Tetradrachm!
    Although I've demonstrated in the OP that I can't tell the difference between a sellwood "anchor ii" and "anchor iv", I'll hazard a confirmation that your Susa (with stick figure mint mark) is still an Orodes II even with recent revisions.
    I'm not sure whether to be reassured or concerned at the possibility of wide-ranging alien interference;) Always nice to see a Parthian AE - I find they don't show up much at all, let alone as nice as your example.
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2020
  18. Alegandron

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

    Looks like we are part of the Anchor Club!
    We meet every Wednesday, over massive quantities of drinks, to discuss the advantages of inverted E vs. crescents. This may determine the fate of Humanity.

    Here is a relative to the Monster Crassus. This guy was said to be the Greatest Roman Orator before Cicero. In fact, Cicero idolized him. I like the coin cuz it is serrated:

    Roman Republic
    L Licinius Crassus orator Cn Domitius Ahenobarbus
    118 BCE NARBO
    Attic Helmet
    Gallic Biga
    Sear 158 Craw 282-3
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2020
  19. octavius

    octavius Well-Known Member

    Sorry, no Parthians, but here is my denarius of P. Licinius Crassus...

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  20. robinjojo

    robinjojo Well-Known Member

    Here's the only Orodes II tetradrachm that I own, and it has been posted before.
    It's quite rare.

    This coin was over-struck on a tetradrachm of his brother Mithridates IV, who was executed by Orodes following Mithridates' defeat in the battle and fall of Surena in 54 BC.

    Orodes II Tetradrachm, Roma 68.jpg
  21. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Even more obviously a female figure on the reverse. Crawford recognizes that evident fact, but doesn't attempt to identify her. Michael Harlan, in Roman Republican Moneyers and their Coins 63 BCE - 49 BCE (2d ed. 2015), Ch. 19 at pp. 150-157, identifies her as Roma (pointing out other examples of coins on which she wears a Phrygian helmet with a top ornament with two projections):

    "The scene on Crassus' coin gives the impression of Roman victory. No cavalryman is present. The goddess Roma stands holding the horse by the reins with her right hand and holds a spear in her left; armor and a shield are on the ground at her feet. The horse, armor, and spear are spoils taken by Roma. The whole scene is actually a trophy commemorating a cavalry victory. Such a scene could be expected of a man who had distinguished himself as a cavalry officer under Caesar and would be leading cavalry in the Parthian campaign. The scene looks back to the victories in Gaul and looks forward to victory in Parthia."

    Of course, that's not what happened at Carrhae in 53 BCE, two years later. Certainly one of the worst Roman military defeats ever, along with defeats such as Cannae, the Teutoberg Forest, and, perhaps worst of all for its historical consequences, Adrianople. And Manzikert, if you want to adopt the view that the Byzantines were Roman -- the self-identified Romaioi.
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2020
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