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Parthian Beginnings

After the death of Alexander the Great in June of 323 BC, his generals fought each other and divided up his empire. Seleukos I took the eastern portions that included the territory gained from the Achaemenids.

Seleucid Empire, Seleukos I Nikator, second satrapy and kingship, 312-281 BC, AR Drachm (18.5mm, 3.93 g, 12h), Seleukeia on the Tigris mint (Second Workshop), Struck circa 295-281 BC

Obv: Laureate head of Zeus right

Rev: Athena standing right in quadriga of elephants, brandishing spear and shield; anchor above, AT monogram to right and Θ to left of Athena

Ref: SC 131.6b

Seleukid Empire, Seleukos I Nikator, second satrapy and kingship, 312-281 BC, AR Tetradrachm (26.2mm, 16.91 g, 12h), in the name and types of Alexander III of Macedon, Babylon I mint, struck circa 311-300 BC.

Obv: Head of Herakles right, wearing lion skin

Rev: Zeus Aëtophoros seated left; monogram in wreath in left field, H below throne. Ref: SC 82.6; Price 3704

Note: This coin is sometimes cut over a reverse die with MI under the throne - I think mine shows signs of this and it appears to have the same obverse die as this MI coin.

Under the reign of of Antiochus II, grandson of Seleukos I, Parthia and Bactria rebelled against Seleucid rule. Arsakes I emerged as leader of the Aparni tribe and took advantage of the Seleucid king being distracted in Asia minor to establish an independent government: a military, fortresses, and a new city called Dara.

Seleukos II, under his father Antiochos II, in 247 BC led an eastern campaign to suppress the rebellion. He was defeated by Arsakes establishing 247 BC as the date of Parthians independence. The Parthian satrapy, by which name we call Arsakes' empire, was taken by Arsakes from Seleukos II in 238 BC. Arsakes rules from 247 – 217 BC. Seleukos II was distracted by his own battles with his brother Antiochus Hierax.

"Thus, Arsaces, having at once acquired and established a kingdom, and having become no less memorable among the Parthians than Cyrus among the Persians, Alexander among the Macedonians, or Romulus among the Romans, died at a mature old age; and the Parthians paid this honor to his memory, that they called all their kings thence forward by the name of Arsaces."
-Justinus, Epitome, 41.5.4-5 

monogram under throne

All of which brings us to my coin of interest for today - a scarce (rare?) silver tetradrachm from the time that the Parthian empire emerged from under Seleucid rule. Minted in Susa (a mint also used by Parthian kings) that is linked by control marks to portrait coins of a bearded Seleucus II. These coins reviving the type of Alexander III in the last years of Seleukos II's reign 227-225 BC.

Seleucid Kings, Seleukos II Kallinikos, 246-225 BC, AR Tetradrachm (Silver, 26 mm, 16.68g, 9 h), in the types of Alexander the Great and name of Seleukos I, minted in Susa, circa 228.

Obv: Head of Herakles to right, wearing lion skin headdress.

Rev: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ - ΣΕΛΕΥΚΟΥ Zeus seated left on low throne, holding long scepter in his left hand and eagle standing right with closed wings in his right; to left and below throne, monograms.

Ref: ESM 364, SC 787a, SNG Berry 1345, BNF example

Note: this coin was misattributed by the last two sellers - first as Antiochus II, then as Seleukos I.

This next coin is from the brother-in-law of Seleukos II. Achaios was the bother to Seleucus' wife Laodice II, and the son of Andromachus, a Seleucid nobleman. During the war with Ptolemy, Achaios rebelled against his brother-in-law and declared himself king.

Seleucid Empire, Achaios, Usurper, 220-214 BC, Sardes mint

Obv: Laureate head of Apollo right

Rev: Eagle standing right, palm frond over shoulder; no control marks(?)

Ref: Cf. SC 955.1a; HGC 9, 435

Kallinicus means "beautiful victor". Seleukos II claimed this name after establishing a truce with Ptolemy which left the tomb of Seleukos I in the hands of Ptolemy. At the end of his reign in 225, Seleukos II died after a fall from his horse and was succeeded by his son, Seleucus III Soter.

From hence however he [Antiochus] escaped, eluding his keepers by the aid of a courtesan, with whom he had been familiar, and was slain in his flight by some robbers. Seleucus too, about the same time, lost his kingdom, and was killed by a fall from his horse. Thus these two brothers, as if brothers also in fate, both became exiles; and both, after losing their dominions, died a death merited by their crimes.
-Justinian, Epitome, 27.3.11-12

I have been accumulating coins in the name and type of Alexander - I am especially interested in types which do not have the name of Alexander on the reverse (vertical, right side) as with these two:

A coin of Philip III, ΦIΛIΠΠOY to right,

A coin of Lysimachos, ΛΥΣΙΜΑΧΟΥ to right.

Here is the more usual : name of Alexander on the reverse, but a far from "usual" portrait on the obverse and Zeus on the reverse. This coin is a civic issue from 190/1 BC, from Aradus.

Alexander, on reverse AΛEΞANΔPOY More on this coin in the Gallery.

This Map shows the division of Alexander's empire by about 200 BC. Public Domain Image from the 1911 Shepherd Atlas.


  • on Seleukos II

  • Seleucid Coins: A Comprehensive Catalogue by Arthur Houghton, Catharine Lorber, and Oliver Hoover, published in two parts in 2002 and 2008 by the American Numismatic Society and Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.

  • Seleucid Coins Online

  • Rivalling Rome, Parthian coins and culture, Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis & Alexandra Magrub, The British Museum & Spink, 202

  • Numismatic Art of Persia, The Sunrise Collection, Bradley R. Nelson, CNG Coin 2011, Assar's Chapter on Parthian Coins & History

  • Encyclopedia Iranica: Seleukos II

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Alfred Kowsky
Alfred Kowsky
Apr 29, 2022

Sulla, Another excellent article 😊. You've got a wonderful group of Alexander tets 😎. The civic issue from Aradus is especially interesting; the date palm on the reverse is very unusual. Pictured below is a Parthian tet I sold about 5 years ago from the reign of Mithradates II, when Parthia was a super-power. The coin fetched $2,160.00 at auction 🤑.

PARTHIA, Mithradates II, 121-91 BC, AR Tetradrachm: 30 mm, 15.77 gm, 12 h.

Apr 30, 2022
Replying to

Thanks, Al - A fabulous Parthian Tetradrachm!

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