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King Phraates IV and Son

This post was originally published in August 27, 2020 and has been updated with additional coins, references and images.

I had been looking for a coin of Phraataces for a while. He was king of Parthia 2 BC to AD 4, son of Phraates IV and Musa. Musa was a slave girl given to Phraates IV as a gift by Augustus after Phraates IV returned the Roman standards lost by Crassus (Carrhae in 53 B.C).

Augustus's strategy to ensure the return of the standards involved diplomacy backed by force: early in the summer of 20 B.C., his stepson Tiberius brought a large legion to Armenia, while Augustus himself traveled to Syria to effect the transfer of
both standards and hostages. Some of the Roman hostages could no longer be found, and a few committed suicide rather than return, but most traveled to Rome along with the standards in October of 19 B.C.10 The Senate voted Augustus a triumphal arch, and the standards were installed in a new circular temple of Mars Ultor on the Capitoline, thereby effectively redefining ultor (avenger) as a word that signified Roman victory over the Parthian."
-Rose, C. B. (2005). The Parthians in Augustan Rome. American Journal of Archaeology, 109(1), 21–75. 

This coin issued in 19/18 BS to celebrate the return of the standards to Rome and shows a kneeling Parthian presenting the standards, a major coup for Augustus.

Augustus, AR Denarius (2.81g, 21mm), P. Petronius Turpilianus, moneyer, Rome, 19/18 BC.

Obv: TVRPILIANVS III VIR FERON, draped bust of Feronia right, wearing stephane, above which is a row of berries, and pearl necklace

Rev: CAESAR AVGVSTVS SIGN RECE, bare-headed Parthian kneeling right, extending in right hand a standard, to which is attached a vexillum marked X, and holding out left hand.

Ref: RIC 288; RSC 484; BMC 14; BN 127-37.


Musa became very influential in Phraates IV's court. Here's the story that was told by Josephus of the impact of Musa's influence:

When Phraates had had legitimate sons of his own, he had also an Italian maid servant, whose name was Thermusa [Thea Musa]; who had been formerly sent to him by Julius Cesar, among other presents. He first made her his concubine: but he being a great admirer of her beauty, in process of time having a son by her, whose name was Phraataces, he made her his legitimate wife, and had a great respect for her. Now, she was able to persuade him to do any thing that she said; and was earnest in procuring the government of Parthia for her son. But still she saw that her endeavors would not succeed, unless she could contrive how to remove Phraates’s legitimate sons [out of the Kingdom.] So she persuaded him to send those his sons, as pledges of his fidelity to Rome. And they were sent to Rome accordingly: because it was not easy for him to contradict her commands. Now while Phraataces was alone brought up in order to succeed in the government, he thought it very tedious to expect that government by his father’s donation [as his successor.] He therefore formed a treacherous design against his father, by his mother’s assistance: with whom, as the report went, he had criminal conversation [illicit relations] also. So he was hated for both these vices: while his subjects deemed this [wicked] love of his mother, to be no way inferior to his parricide: and he was by them in a sedition expelled out of the country, before he grew too great, and died. [About AD 4]
-Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews - Book XVIII Chapter 2.4

Odalisque, 1882 by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845–1902) public domain image via Wikimedia Commons. An odalisque is a female slave or concubine in a harem.


Finding this coin misattributed as Phraates IV, his father, was the first surprise.

This coin completes a mini-collection of Parthian “Victory Drachms” inspired by a David Sellwood article

- Sellwood 51.44 Phraates IV (No symbols on obverse) Ecbatana mint

- Sellwood 52.12 Phraates IV (Eagle) Rhagae mint

- Sellwood 53.7 Phraates IV (Eagle & star) Mithradatkart mint

- Sellwood 54.14 Phraates IV (crescent & star) note: my coin a variant without eagle behind throne on reverse Mithradatkart mint

- Sellwood 54.11 Phraates IV (Eagle, star and crescent, legend iii on reverse) Mithradatkart mint


There are coins of Phraates IV with Nike (star on reverse), however they are very rare, so I include a Nike with the coin above, Phraataces Sellwood 56 (Nike, star, and crescent) to represent Nike. And a new addition illustrates two Nikes on the obverse minted for Phraataces.


After the coin arrived, I was surprised to find that it was one of the coins included in Shore's book "Parthian Coins and History, Ten Dragons against Rome". The coin was identified on the flip that it came with as CNG 36 Lot 317 - which when I looked it up is: "CNG 36 December 5-6, 1995, Fred B. Shore Collection of Parthian Lot#317". The CNG 36 catalog reads "Shore 317 (this coin)" – and the weight cited is a match for the coin above at 3.43g. The CNG listing:

Here are my 5 Parthian coins of Phraates IV (Phraataces' father ):

and two coins of the son, Phraataces:

This coin of Phraataces, my most recent addition, is rare and the obverse is often paired up with Musa on the reverse. This coin has two Nike's on the obverse.

Sellwood 57 Phraataces (two Nikes)


I will add one more coin of Phraates IV - this one from the Laodicea mint, identified on the reverse by this symbol below the archer's bow on the reverse:

This is Sellwood 52.16; Shore 283 and Laodicea is a rare mint with only 19 found properly attributed in ACSearch.


When a Tetradrachm of Phraataces showed up from the same dealer - it too was a Shore "plate coin":


Phraatakes 2BC-4AD AR Tetradrachm 11.38g

Obv: Bare-headed bust left without royal wart, with medium pointed beard, wearing diadem, earring visible

Rev: King seated right on throne, Tyche standing before him, giving him diadem and holding cornucopia, standard legend, below Tyche's arm IT, above Tyche's arm, IT, ΓOPM(?)

Ref: Shore 312 (this coin) CNG Auction Catalog


The tetradrachm is from Phraates IV.

Kings of Parthia, Phraates IV, circa 38/7-2 BC, BI Tetradrachm (30mm, 9.96g, 12h). Seleukeia on the Tigris mint. Dated ΔΥΣΤΡΟΥ SE 287 (February 25 BC)

Obv: Diademed bust left

Rev:ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΝ ΑΡΣΑΚΟΥ ΕΥΕΡΓΕΤΟΥ ΔΙΚΑΙΟΥ ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟΥΣ ΦΙΛΕΛΛΗΝΟΣ Phraates seated right, receiving palm from Tyche standing left, holding cornucopia; pellet below Tyche's arm, year below throne; ΔΥΣ ΖΠΣ year and month in exergue.

Ref: Sellwood 51.27


Here is a "countermarked", contemporary imitation of a drachm of Phraates IV.

Indo-Parthian, Margiana or Sogdiana, Unknown king, circa late 1st century BC - early 1st century AD, imitation countermarked Parthian AR Drachm of Phraates IV

Obv: Diademed bust left; "countermark": helmeted bust right; to right, eagle left, holding wreath in beak

Rev: Archer seated right on throne, holding bow

Ref: Sellwood 91.13; Shore 473


This coin is described as coming from Sogdiana or Margiana, eastern Parthia. The people of this region appear to have countermarked Parthian coins AND minted imitative coins like the one above with the "countermark" engraved in the die. Perhaps also interesting to note that the countermarks, both real and false, all are careful to avoid defacing the portrait of the Parthian king (coincidence? or some sign of cautious respect?). This area also became a part of the Indo-Parthian kingdom that was founded in AD 19 by Gondophares declaring independence from Parthia. At its peak the territory included parts of what are today Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and northwestern India.


I have seen the countermark on this coin described as "Eukratides-style helmeted bust" which is perhaps understandable when you see this small Bactrian obol:

Greco-Baktrian Kingdom. Eukratides I, circa 170-145 BC, obol, later 160s BC

Obv: Diademed and draped bust of Eukratides to right, wearing Macedonian helmet adorned with bull's horn and ear

Rev: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ / ΕΥΚΡΑΤΙΔΟΥ, the two caps of the Diokouroi, each with a palm branch beside it; below, monogram of ΗΜΑ


A key question for me on the "pseudo-countermark", why go to the trouble? Is there some reason to not issue your own independent coinage and instead imitate a familiar currency with false countermark? This paper comments:

"Countermarked drachms of Phraates IV that circulated in northern Bactria (Sellwood, 91.12) were all of Margiana mintage. Series of imitations, struck from obverse dies with "false countermarks" engraved on them, demonstrate how familiar these coins became to the inhabitants of what is now northern Afghanistan and southern Tajikistan. They all have the mint mark of Margiana—Π—reproduced on them."
- Longinov, S., & Nikitin, A. (1996). Parthian Coins from Margiana: Numismatics and History. Bulletin of the Asia Institute, 10, new series, 39-51.​

What other groups have issued false-countermarks? I have a Cimmerian coin that is sometimes countermarked and sometimes has the countermark engraved into the die. I am not certain which type this is: obverse countermark over the face of the satyr.


For additional reading on Phraates and Praataces : see this 2017 dissertation from Cornell by Jacob Theodore Nabel.


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