• sulla80

Parthians: King Phraates IV and Son

Updated: Oct 24

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 who was given to Phraates IV as a gift by Marc Anthony. The rest of the story is worth looking up... 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 Phraates IV (No symbols on obverse)

- Sellwood 52 Phraates IV (Eagle)

- Sellwood 53 Phraates IV (Eagle & star)

- Sellwood 54 Phraates IV (Eagle, star and crescent)


There are coins of , however they are very rare, so I include a Nike with this coin, Phraataces Sellwood 56 (Nike, star, and crescent)


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 4 other Parthian coins of Phraataces' father Phraates IV:

When a Tetradrachm of Phraateces showed up from the same dealer - found that 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


I recently added this "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 independance 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 with a countermark that I think is engraved into the die.

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