Featured Sulla in Cappadocia: First Meeting with Parthia

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Sulla80, Nov 24, 2019.

  1. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    This story of the first diplomatic contact between Rome and Parthia, is illustrated with three coins. The story begins around 101 BC when the first coin, a Roman republican denarius, was minted in Rome by L Sentius. The obverse is one of several that declare that the coin is made from the state treasury: "argentum publicum" is abbreviated on the obverse as ARG PVB. Why some issues declare this is not known. Sentius was brother to C Sentius Cf, praetor urbanus in 94, the senior city magistrate and held the same position himself somewhere between 93 and 89 BC.
    L Sentius.jpg
    L. Sentius C.f., Denarius, Rome, 101 BC; AR
    Obv: Helmeted head of Roma right; behind, ARG PVB
    Rev: Jupiter in quadriga right, holding reins and thunderbolt in left hand, and scepter in left; above, control letter A; in ex. L SENTI C F
    Ref: Crawford 325/1a; Sentia 1; Sydenham 600

    While this coin was minted in Rome and circulating, 101-100 BC, Mithridates VI "Eupator" of Pontus had the Cappadocian king, Ariarathes VII, killed by Gordius, a Cappadocian quisling (i.e. traitor), and overran Cappadocia. He then installed one of his sons as King of Cappadocia under a fictitious name Ariarathes IX, whom Gordius tutored. There was another challenger put forward by Nicomedes III of Bythnia. The Roman Senate encouraged the Cappadocian nobility to choose their own government, and they chose Ariobarzanes I, who recognized as King of Cappadocia by Rome in 97 or 96 BC. There are varying accounts of the role Rome may have played in settling the claims to the throne.
    Ariobarzanes Drachm.jpg
    Cappadocia, Ariobarzanes I, 96-63 BC, AR Drachm
    Obv: Diademed head right
    Rev: BAΣIΛEΩΣ ΦIΛOPΩMAIOY APIOBAPZANOY Athena standing left, holding Nike in right hand, supporting shield and spear with left; monogram left, M right, EI below

    It is worth noting how Ariobarzanes is described on the coin: ΦIΛOPΩMAIOY, Philoromaios, Friend of Rome.

    Mithridates then looked for support from Tigranes, king of Armenia, to advance his interests in Cappadocia, and gave Tigranes his daughter Cleopatra in marriage. Tigranes chased Ariobarzanes out of Cappadocia and Ariobarzanes fled to Rome. Sulla was sent to restore him to power circa 94 BC.
    After his praetorship, he [Sulla] was sent out to Cappadocia, ostensibly to reinstate Ariobarzanes, but really to check the restless activities of Mithridates, who was adding to his dominion and power fully as much as he had inherited. Accordingly, he took out with him no large force of his own, but made use of the allies, whom he found eager to serve him, and after slaying many of the Cappadocians themselves, and yet more of the Armenians who came to their aid, he drove out Gordius, and made Ariobarzanes king again.

    - Plutarch, Lives, Sulla, English Translation by Bernadotte Perrin, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, London

    While Sulla was in Cappadocia he held a meeting with an ambassador from Parthia, Orobazus. This was the first diplomatic connection between the Parthians and the Romans. Sulla didn't get the relationship off to a good start:
    As he lingered on the banks of the Euphrates, he received a visit from Orobazus, a Parthian, who came as an ambassador from king Arsaces, although up to this time the two nations had held no intercourse with one another. This also is thought to have been part of Sulla's great good fortune, that he should be the first Roman with whom the Parthians held conference when they wanted alliance and friendship. On this occasion, too, it is said that he ordered three chairs to be set, one for Ariobarzanes, one for Orobazus, and one for himself, and that he sat between them both and gave them audience. For this the king of Parthia afterwards put Orobazus to death; and while some people commended Sulla for the airs which he assumed with the Barbarians, others accused him of vulgarity and ill-timed arrogance.
    - Plutarch, Lives, Sulla, English Translation by Bernadotte Perrin, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, London

    By sitting between the two men Sulla asserted himself as the most important person, and further offended by putting on equal footing Ariobarzanes, already a subservient "Friend of Rome", and Orobazus the representative of a powerful and independent kingdom. A more probable reason for Orobazus being put to death is that he even allowed Ariobarzanes to take part in the meeting - a usurper in the eyes of Parthia.

    Mithradates II was the King of Parthia referred to by Plutarch and can be seen on this third coin. Perhaps an opportunity for alliance was missed, Orobazus paid with his life, and this would not be the last encounter between Parthia and Rome. For more on this relationship, this article has some interesting observations and references.
    Mitridates II drachm.jpg
    Kings of Parthia, Mithradates II, 121-91 BC, AR Drachm, Ekbatana mint
    Obv: Diademed bust left
    Rev: Archer (Arsakes I) seated right on omphalos, holding bow; A behind throne.
    Ref: Sellwood 26.3; Sunrise –; Shore 79.

    As always, comments, corrections, and additions to any of the above are appreciated. Post your coins from this time period or anything that you find interesting or entertaining.


    Last edited: Nov 24, 2019
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  3. Limes

    Limes Supporter! Supporter

    Interesting write up and nice coins!
    Sulla80 likes this.
  4. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Educational write-up and high-quality coins with LOVELY toning!
    Sulla80 likes this.
  5. Alegandron

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

    FANTASTIC coin and nice write-up, @Sulla80 ! Thanks for the History. Way cool.

    You have added a lot of fluff to mine!

    RR Sentius 100 BCE AR Den Roma Jupiter Quad S203 Cr 325-1.jpg
    RR L Sentius 101 BCE AR Den Roma Jupiter Quad Sear 203 Craw 325-1
    Orielensis, Parthicus, TIF and 7 others like this.
  6. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    Almost 300 years later, in AD 198, Septimius Severus took the Parthian capital of Ctesiphon, was proclaimed IMP for the 11th time and received the title of "Parthicus Maximus". Sept Severus Parthicae  Blue.jpg
    Septimius Severus, AD 193-211, AR denarius, eastern Antioch/Laodicea? Mint issued AD 198
    Obv: L SEPT SEV AVG IMP XI PART MAX, Laureate head of Septimius right
    Rev: VICT PA-RT-HICAE, Victory advancing left holding wreath and trophy, captive at feet to left
    Size: 16.4mm, 2.97g
    Ref: RC&TV 6373, RIC 514
    Orielensis, Parthicus, TIF and 6 others like this.
  7. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    Great thread and nice coins @Sulla80
    Sulla80 likes this.
  8. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Three beautiful examples! And an interesting narrative tying them together. I don't have a Sentius so will replace it with a Sulla.

    Screen Shot 2019-11-24 at 7.52.50 PM.jpg Screen Shot 2019-11-24 at 7.53.13 PM.jpg Screen Shot 2019-11-24 at 7.54.56 PM.jpg
    Orielensis, Parthicus, TIF and 3 others like this.
  9. Svarog

    Svarog Well-Known Member

    Orielensis, Parthicus, TIF and 4 others like this.
  10. Roerbakmix

    Roerbakmix Well-Known Member

    My one and only (but relevant) Parthian coin:
    Mithridates II.jpg
    KINGS OF PARTHIA, Mithridates II (124-88 BC)
    Denomination: AR Drachm, minted: Uncertain mint; ca. 96-93 bc
    Obv: long-bearded bust left wearing tiara (T28ii) with six-point star; torque end single or double pellet; circular border of pellets
    Rev: beardless archer wearing bashlyk and cloak seated right on throne, holding bow in right hand; no border; five-line Greek inscription = ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΝ ΜΕΓΑΛΟΥ ΑΡΣΑΚΟΥ ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟΥΣ ([Of the] Great King of Kings, Arsaces, the Noble)
    Weight: 3.98g; Ø:1.9mm
    Catalogue: Sellwood 28.2
    Provenance: Ex. private collection; acq.: 04-2019
    Orielensis, Parthicus, TIF and 2 others like this.
  11. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    A very informative write-up, Sulla80. I learnt a lot!

    Those Cappadocian drachms of Ariobarzanes I are among my favorite - great portraits and affordable: Cappadocia - Ariobarzanes I drachm Sep 2019x (0).jpg
    Orielensis, Parthicus, TIF and 3 others like this.
  12. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    Sulla80, Excellent well researched article ;). I like the denarius & the Parthian drachm. I've got one Parthian drachm of Mithradates II, also from the Ekbatana Mint, I'd like to post next to your coin just to point out differences :). My coin is probably slightly older than yours since your coin sports a longer beard. My coin shows the king siting on the omphalos & your coin shows him sitting on a throne. Your coin shows a dragon head on his torque that is missing on my coin.

    Mithradates 1 drachm.jpg
    Ekbatana Mint: AR drachm, 3.94 gm, 20 mm, 12 h.

  13. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    Thanks, Al, the portrait on your coin is fantastic - more human/realistic than mine. Great to see the side-by-side, I don't have a Sellwood 24.9 (which I think yours is). One has to enjoy these small differences to properly appreciate Parthian drachms. Thanks for posting! Also differences from the Sellwood 27.? from @Severus Alexander.
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2019
  14. Orielensis

    Orielensis Supporter! Supporter

    Thanks a lot for this well-researched and informative write-up!

    A quinarius minted in 98 BC, during the "Cappadocian crisis." The moneyer might be identical with the Marian legate Cloelius mentioned by Plutarch, Pompey 7.
    Römische Republik – Quinar, T. Cloelius, Juüiter, Victoria mit Trophäe, Gefangenem und carnyx.png
    Roman Republic, moneyer: T. Cloelius, AR quinarius, 98 BC, Rome mint. Obv: head of Jupiter, laureate, r., control mark .C. before. Rev: T.CLOVLI; Victory standing r. crowns trophy with seated captive and carnyx; in exergue, Q. 16mm, 1.9g. Ref: RRC 332/1c.

    My "friend of the Romans:"
    Cappadocia – Ariobarzanes drachm (neu).png
    Ariobarzanes I. Philorhomaios, Kingdom of Cappadocia, AR drachm, 66/65 BC, Eusebeia mint. Obv: Diademed head right. Rev. BAΣIΛEΩΣ APIOBAPZANOY ΦIΛOPΩMAIOY, Athena standing left, holding shield, spear and Nike; to left monogram, Λ in exergue (off flan). 17mm, 4.3g. Ref: Simonetta 1977, no. 43.
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