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A Parthian Usurper's Tetradrachm

Updated: Jan 30

My coin for today is an unusual tetradrachm of Parthia, from a few years after the end of the Roman republic and the beginning of the reign of Augustus as Emperor - betraying my Roman republican-centric view of the world.

There isn't a lot to say about the Parthian responsible for minting this coin. Josephus mentions that during a time of trouble in the court of Herod the Great, Herod was busy torturing and killing his son Alexander's friends in hopes of proving a plot - and he writes of "Mithradates" as king of Parthia during the time in which we would expect Phraates IV (30 - 2 BC) would have been the ruler: "...while Herod was very busy about this matter, and the palace was full of terror and trouble, one of the younger sort, when he was in the utmost agony, confessed that Alexander had sent to his friends at Rome, and desired that he might be quickly invited thither by Caesar, and that he could discover a plot against him; that Mithridates, the king of Parthia, was joined in friendship with his father against the Romans, and that he had a poisonous potion ready prepared at Askelori." -Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 16.253 This is at least one source supporting Sellwood, Simonetta and Assar in suggesting that this coin is from the short reign of Mithradates, usurper in Mesopotamia, from 15-10 BC. An earlier attribution of this coin was to Tiridates, another usurper during the reign of Phraates IV. I don't know if there is stronger evidence than this for Mithridates as usurper - I am looking for a copy of the paper by Simonetta and Sellwood from 2006, Quaderni Ticinesi,"Notes on the coinage and history of the Arsacids from the advent of Orodes II to the end of the reign of Phraates IV", XXXV, p.283, which may have some more information.

Mint Location This map of Parthia at 96BC shows nicely the Euphrates, the Tigris and Seleucia on the south-western edge of the Parthian Empire.

The Tetradrachm On some coins "O" in EYEPΓETOY seems to be reduced to a dot - on this coin it seems to have been left out altogether: EYEPΓETY. Although the month is readable on this coin (April) there is no year.

Kings of Parthia, Mithradates, Usurper in Mesopotamia, circa 15-10 BC, BI Tetradrachm, Seleukeia on the Tigris mint (center of modern day Iraq), dated Artemisios (April) Obv: Diademed bust left Rev: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ/ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΝ/ ΑΡΣΑΚΟY/ EYEPΓETY/ ΔΙΚΑΙΟY/ ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟYΣ/ ΦΙΛΕΛΛΗΝΟΣ/ ΑΡΤΕMI, Mithradates seated right, receiving palm frond from Tyche standing left, holding cornucopia; above, monogram above pellet; V/A below throne; A between Mithradates' feet Ref: Sellwood 55.11; Shore 311 (Tiridates) The Context In 20 BC Augustus negotiated a peace with Phraates IV which resulted in the return to Rome of standards that the Parthians had captured from Crassus in 53 BC and Marc Antony in 36 BC. The Romans agreed to recognize the Euphrates River as the Parthian border. Augustus also gave a gift of a Roman slave named Musa to Phraates IV whom he later married after she gave birth to their son Phraataces. Musa convinced Phraates to send away his sons to Rome so that she could secure succession for her son, and eventually she killed Phraates IV and married her son....through all of this plenty of reason for some Parthians to think they might be better off with a usurper. For additional notes and more coins see King Phraates IV and Son. References:

  • Numismatic Art of Persia, The Sunrise Collection, Bradley Nelson Editor, CNG, 2011

  • Sellwood, The Coinage of Parthia, Second Edition, 1980

  • Rivalling Rome: Parthian Coins & Culture. Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis and Alexandra Magub. London: Spink and Son Ltd., 202

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