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Romans vs. Parthians

After a number of diversions in Anatolia, and a bit of a Roman Republican drought, this week I added another Roman Republican coin to my collection. My latest RR coin is connected to two of my primary collection themes, Sulla and the rivalry between Parthia and Rome.

The Sulla Connections (or Romans v. Romans)

Marcus Licinius Crassus escaped when his brother and father were killed as Marius returned to Rome after Sulla went off to fight Mithridates. He then played a key role in Sulla’s return and victory at the Colline Gate. [See Plutarch Crassus 6.6] At this time the seeds were also sown for his rivalry with Pompey, a younger man of less noble birth who served Sulla well as a ruthless warlord. [See Plutarch Crassus 6.4] Crassus was said to have profited much from the redistribution of wealth after the Sullan proscriptions. M. Licinius Crassus is described by Appian as “a man distinguished among the Romans for birth and wealth”.

Last fall, I shared a coin of Cn. Cornelius Lentulus Clodianus who was defeated in the War of Spartacus ~72 BC. M. Licinius Crassus was the general who took charge of the war after Clodianus’ defeat and viciously crucified the 6000 surviving gladiators and slaves along the Via Appia. The opening image of this post is titled "Death of Sparticus". This same Crassus would become a member of the first triumvirate with Caesar and Pompey.

The Roman coin for this post is from Publius Licinius Crassus, son of M. Licinius Crassus. Publius would also distinguish himself leading a cavalry charge for Caesar in Gaul in the decisive battle against Ariovistus.

The Parthian Connections (or Romans v. Parthians)

As described in this post, Sulla led the first diplomatic encounter with Parthia ~94 BC. The Parthians would become great rivals to Rome, and the Battle at Carrhae would play a key role in this positioning of Parthia as the Roman rival for power. Marcus Licinius Crassus as governor of Syria, in 53 BC, together with his son Publius, crossed the Euphrates River, in hopes of taking down the Parthian Empire. Orodes II was then the king of Parthia.

Parthia, Orodes II, circa 57-38 BC, AR Drachm, Ekbatana mint

Obv: Diademed and draped bust left, wearing torque ending in sea-horse or griffin, wart on forehead; eight-rayed star to left, crescent above eight-rayed star to right; all within pelleted border

Rev: BΛΣIΛEΩΣ/BΛΣIΛEΩN ΛPΣΛKOV EVEPΓETOV/ΔIKΛIOV EΠIΦΛNOVΣ/ΦIΛEΛΛHNOΣ, archer (Arsakes I) seated right on throne, holding bow; Ekbatana monogram below bow, anchor symbol behind throne

Ref: Sellwood 48.7 ("anchor ii" not "anchor iv" of Sellwood); Shore 259

Notes per CNG: Parthian kings were called brothers of the sun and moon. The royal wart was the sign of true membership in the Arsakid family and was used at least as early as the time of Orodes II to establish legitimacy to the king’s claim to the throne. The “wart” is in modern terms a tricoepithelioma, a hereditary lesion on the forehead, known to be passed on for as long as one hundred years.

The results of the battle were humiliation for Rome and ended badly for Crassus, father and son, and most of the Roman army involved. From Plutarch, Life of Crassus:

P.Crassus: "Then he himself, being unable to use his hand, which had been pierced through with an arrow, presented his side to his shield-bearer and ordered him to strike home with his sword. In like manner also Censorinus is said to have died; but Megabacchus took his own life, and so did the other most notable men. The survivors fought on until the Parthians mounted the hill and transfixed them with their long spears, and they say that not more than five hundred were taken alive. Then the Parthians cut off the head of Publius, and rode off at once to attack Crassus." M.Crassus: "Surena now took the head and hand of Crassus and sent them to Hyrodes [a.k.a. Orodes II] in Armenia, but he himself sent word by messengers to Seleucia that he was bringing Crassus there alive, and prepared a laughable sort of procession which he insultingly called a triumph." The rest of the Romans: In the whole campaign, twenty thousand are said to have been killed, and ten thousand to have been taken alive.

The Denarius

P. Licinius Crassus M.f., 55 BC, AR Denarius, 3.75g

Obv: Draped, laureate and diademed head of Venus right, S.C behind, border of dots

Rev: P CRASSUS M F, female figure standing facing, holding horse by the bridle; shield and cuirass at her feet, border of dots

Ref: Crawford 430/1 (Crawford reports 63 obv and 70 rev dies), Babelon Licinia 18

The obverse shows Venus, who was popular with Sullans as the battle of the Colline gate took place close to the Temple of Venus. The reverse is unclear, variously described as a soldier, a horseman or a female figure, with long hair or wearing a Parthian bashlyk (Greek: kyrbasia). The reverse could refer to the victories in Gaul that P Carassus Participated in, the Battle at the Colline Gate that M. Crassus participated in, or perhaps the ambitions of the M. Crassus as Syrian governor to take on Parthia. It seems likely that this coin was minted for the Parthian campaign.

The figure looks female to me, and she towers over her horse (goddess?). Perhaps Roma looking victorious against Parthia? Although this is not a perfect coin with light wear and flatness in the middle of the reverse. However, very nice for the type with good style and critical elements very clear and well centered.

Note: Initial illustration from Illustrierte Weltgeschichte für das Volk, Corvin, Otto von, 1812-1886; Held, Friedrich Wilhelm Alexander, 1813-1872, published in 1880

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