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Rome v. Parthia (AD 161-166)

I wrote an earlier post on Rome v. Parthia - in May 53 BC, when at Carrhae, Mesopotamia a member of the Sūrēn (Surena) family won a decisive victory over Roman triumvir M. Licinius Crassus. The Roman wars and skirmishes with Parthia continued for centuries. Today's post will look at coins from ~200 years later, as Parthian Vologases IV (called Balāš IV in the Encylopedia Iranica) and Roman Marcus Aurelius were at War. Lucius Verus, brother and co-emperor was in charge of the war.


This dupondius from Lucius Verus is dated AD 163-164, when the Romans had taken the Armenian capital of Artaxas and Lucius Verus took the title Armeniacus (on the obverse of this coin). Lucius Verus throughout the war gained titles and took credit for victories, but his level of participation is questionable with stories of him living a life of luxury, gambling, taking a mistress, and near the end of the war getting married to the 16 year old Lucilla daughter of Marcus Aurelius. The war was waged by his generals. Historia Augusta is characteristically colorful in its description:


"Verus, however, after he had come to Syria, lingered amid the debaucheries of Antioch and Daphne and busied himself with gladiatorial bouts and hunting. And yet, for waging the Parthian war through his legates, he was acclaimed Imperator, while meantime Marcus was at all hours keeping watch over the workings of the state, and, though reluctantly and sorely against his will, but nevertheless with patience, was enduring the debauchery of his brother."

- Historia Augusta, The Life of Marcus Aurelius, 8.1

Lucius Verus, AD 161-169, AE Dupondius, Rome mint, Struck AD 163-164

Obv: L AVREL VERVS AVG ARMENIACVS, bare head right

Rev: TR P IIII IMP II COS II, S C across field, Mars advancing right, holding spear forward in right hand and trophy over shoulder in left

Ref: RIC III 1382


This tetradrachm from Vologases not long after the coin above was minted - this Parthian Tetradrachm was issued in November 164 - as the Romans were penetrating Mesopotamia, and then took Dura Europos in 164/5. Seleucia was captured and then Ctesiphon the royal capital and royal palace destroyed. A plague saved the Parthians from further defeat and they negotiated peace with Rome.


Kings of Parthia, Vologases IV, AD 147-191), BI Tetradrachm, Seleukeia on the Tigris, Seleukid year ςoy (476) month AΠEΛAIoY (November). The new year begins in October AD 164.

Obv: Diademed and draped bust left, wearing tiara; B behind

Rev: Vologases seated left on throne, Tyche standing right before him, presenting a diadem and holding sceptre

Ref: Shore 427

Rev Legend: from top, on four sides, only partially visible , (ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ)/ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΝ | (AΡΣΑΚΟΥ)/OΛΑΓΑΣΟΥ | AΠEΛAIoY | ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟYΣ/(ΦΙΛΕΛΛΗΝΟΣ)

Translated: King of Kings | Arsakos/Vologases | November | Illustrious and Greek-loving


My second tetradrachm from Vologases IV has a nice provenance. This coin is one a 57 purchased by Bono Simonetta a few years before 1971 in Beirut, Lebanon. Part of a small treasure that was found in Aradus (Arwad, Syria). He published a short note in Rivista Italiana Numismatica (RIN) 1971, vol. 73, p. 57-62, "Un interessante tesoretto di tetradrammi di Vologeses III". Vologases III was a pre-Sellwood name for this king. Sellwood's Coinage of Parthia became the standard reference numbers for Parthian coins and emperor, although lately there have been quite a few changes that are associated with publications by G.R.F. Assar and the Sunrise Collection.


In his RIN article, Simonetta starts with: "A few years ago, I happened to purchase in Beirut, Lebanon, a small treasure of 57 tetradrachms, which would be otherwise unremarkable if it were not that many carry months of minting that were before now unknown."


My coin is one of 4 listed from 492 - the one with Panem. (July) as month.

Kings of Parthia, Vologases IV, AD 147-191, BI Tetradrachm, 26mm, 12.95g, 12h, Seleukeia on the Tigris, year ΠANHM BΦV 492 of the Seleucid Era (June AD 180)

Obv: Diademed and draped bust left., wearing tiara; B behind

Rev: Vologases seated left on throne, Tyche standing right before him, presenting a diadem and holding sceptre, month below. Sellwood 84.83. VF Ref: Sellwood 84.83 ΠANHM BΦV

Note: ex London Ancient Coins, ex Bertolami, from The Simonetta Collection of Parthian coins, ex Beirut Lebanon, ex Aradus, Syria.


References

  • Encyclopedia Iranica Carrhae

  • B. Simonetta, Rivista Italiana Numismatica (RIN) 1971, vol. 73, p. 57-62, "Un interessante tesoretto di tetradrammi di Vologeses III

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