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Seleucid Empire: Family Politics

These notes were originally written for the tetradrachm from Antioch, that is found at the end of this text, with a fabulous Tyche. The Seleucid empire was crumbling at the end of the second century and the beginning of the first. My most recent coin, a Tetradrachm of Antiochos VIII Epiphanes, prompts me to revisit and rewrite these notes. The portrait of Antiochus VIII is fairly recognizable, and not surprisingly he had the nickname Grypos (Greek: Γρυπός, "hook-nose"). Before we get to Grypos, I will start with a bit of background on the Seleucid empire, illustrated with additional coins.


Between Egypt & Parthia

Ptolemy VI Philometor ("Mother Loving"), of Egypt, put Alexander I Balas on the throne in Syria, and gave his daughter Cleopatra Thea to him in marriage.

The Ptolemies, Ptolemy VI Philometor, First sole reign, 180-170 Cyprus Obol Cyprus 180-170, Æ 23mm, 9.65g

Obv: Diademed head of Zeus-Ammon right

Rev: Eagle with closed wings standing left on thunderbolt; lotus flower in left field, EYΛ between legs

Ref: Svoronos 1401 (Ptolemy VI with Eulaios), SNG Copenhagen 295 (Alexandria).

Notes: Nice dark green patina, Very Fine. From and old Canadian collection.


Seleukid Kingdom, Alexander I Balas, 152-145 BC, AR Drachm, Antioch on the Orontes mint, Undated issue, struck 151–149 BC

Obv: Diademed head of Alexander I to right

Rev: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ / ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ - ΘΕΟΠΑΤΟΡΟΣ / ΕΥΕΡΓΕΤΟΥ Apollo seated left on omphalos, testing arrow and resting hand on grounded bow; Θ in exergue.

Ref: SC 1785.1c


Ptolemy VI then lost patience with Alexander I Balas and switched to support Demetrios II. Cleopatra Thea was now given by her father to Demetrios II. Diodorus tells the story this way:

"Ptolemy Philometor entered Syria intending to support Alexander on the grounds of kinship. But on discovering the man's downright poverty of spirit, he transferred his daughter Cleopatra to Demetrius, alleging that there was a conspiracy afoot, and after arranging an alliance pledged her to him in marriage. Hierax and Diodotus, despairing of Alexander and standing in fear of Demetrius because of their misdeeds against his father, aroused the people of Antioch to rebellion, and receiving Ptolemy within the city, bound a diadem about his head and offered him the kingship. He, however, had no appetite for the throne, but did desire to add Coelê Syria to his own realm, and privately arranged with Demetrius a joint plan, whereby Ptolemy was to rule Coelê Syria and Demetrius his ancestral domains."
-Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, XXXII.9c 

Ptolemy VI died from wounds in the final battle with Alexander Balas and his brother took the throne as Ptolemy VIII. Alexander Balas dies around August of 145. Diodotus was a powerful administrator under Alexander I Balas who organized a revolt against Demetrius II. He crown the young son of Alexander I as "Antiochus VI". From his base in Chalcis by Belus, in Syria near Beroea, he soon took control of Apamea (~fall of 144 BC). By this time he had already taken on a new name "Tryphon".


Sometime in 144/3 probably in the summer of 143 BC, he took control of Antioch and the Seleucid war elephants! This coin issued in Antioch, in the name of Antiochos VI features a war elephant on the reverse.

Seleucid Empire, Antiochos VI Dionysos, 144-142 BC, Serrate Æ (23mm, 8.23g, 12h), Antioch on the Orontes mint, struck mid 143(?)-circa 142 BC.

Obv: Radiate and diademed head of Antiochos VI right, wreathed with ivy

Rev: Elephant left, holding torch with raised trunk; to right, ΣΤΑ above palm branch

Ref: SC 2006


Demetrius II retained control of northern Syria, Sidon, Tyre, central Phoenicia, Mesopotamia and Babylonis, ruling in parallel with Antiochos VI (who was controlled by Tryphon/Diodotus). Circa 142 BC, Antiochus VI died, allegedly from surgery, and Tryphon crowned himself King. Here's how Flavius Josephus (AD 37/38- 100) tells the story. Josephus was a Jewish priest, scholar, and historian who completed "The Antiquities of the Jews" in AD 93 :

"Now a little while after Demetrius had been carried into captivity, Trypho his governour, destroyed Antiochus (VI), the son of Alexander, who was also called the God: and this when he had reigned four years. Though he gave it out that he died under the hands of the surgeons. He then sent his friends, and those that were most intimate with him to the soldiers; and promised that he would give them a great deal of money if they would make him King. He intimated to them that Demetrius was made a captive by the Parthians: and that Demetrius’s brother Antiochus (VII), if he came to be King, would do them a great deal of mischief, in way of revenge for their revolting from his brother. So the soldiers, in expectation of the wealth they should get by bestowing the Kingdom on Trypho, made him their ruler."
-Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, XIII.7.1

In the midst of all of this a fellow who named himself Diodorus Tryphon, a former general (strategos) for brother Demetrius I and Alexander Balas, saw an opportunity. He took Apamea and Antioch and held on while Demetrius had other more important priorities and eventually declared Alexander Balas' 5-year-old son as Seleucid King Antiochus VI. Then Antiochus VI died - he declared himself King. His coins read "Basileos Tryphonos Autokrator" loosely translating as King Tryphon "Independent Authority" or "Supreme Commander".

Seleukid Empire, Tryphon Æ 19mm, Antioch on the Orontes, circa 142-138 BC

Obv: Diademed head to right

Rev: Spiked Macedonian helmet with cheek guards, adorned with wild goat's horn above visor; BAΣIΛEΩΣ TPYΦΩNOΣ to right, AYTOKPATOPOΣ to left, flower symbol inner left


Demetrius was captured by the Parthians (Mithridates I), and his brother, Antiochus VII, took the throne and Cleopatra Thea. Antiochus VII eventually defeated Tryphon in 138 BC.

Seleucid Kingdom, Antiochus VII Euergetes (Sidetes) (138-129 BC), AR tetradrachm, Antioch on the Orontes

Obv: Diademed head of Antiochus VII right, diadem ends falling straight behind; bead-and-reel border / BAΣIΛEΩΣ / ANTIOXOY / EYEP-ΓETOY

Rev: Athena standing facing, head left, resting left hand on grounded shield decorated with gorgoneion, spear resting against arm, Nike in right hand extending wreath into border; ΔI monogram above A in outer left field, AM monogram in inner right field, all within laurel wreath.

Ref: SC 2061.4h


Antiochus VII, battled with Parthia to reclaim eastern lands for the Seleucid empire from Mithridates I, only to lose them to Phraates II.

Seleukid Kings, Antiochos VII Euergetes nicknamed "Sedetes" for his city of origin (138-129 BC), Æ19, 6.15g, Antioch on the Orontes, year 176 (137/6 BC)

Obv: Winged bust of Eros right

Rev: BAΣIΛEΩΣ ANTIOXOY EYEPΓETOY Isis headdress; crescent and star below, IOP in exergue (date)

Parthia, Phraates II, 132-126 BC, AR Drachm, Tambrax mint

Obv: Diademed bust left; TAM down right

Rev: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΜΕΓΑΛΟΥ / ΑΡΣΑΚΟΥ ΘΕΟΠΑΤΟΡΟΣ, Archer (Arsakes I) seated right on omphalos, holding bow

Ref: Sellwood 16.11; Sunrise 272; Shore 50


Phraates II released his captive, Demetrius II, to create confusion, and after Antiochus VII died in battle or killed himself, Demetrius became Seleucid king again. This coin from Demetrius II's second reign and year 127/6.

Seleucid Kingdom, Demetrius II Nicator (second reign, 129-125 BC), AR tetradrachm (13.96g), Tyre, dated SE 186 (127/6 BC)

Obv: Diademed, beardless, draped bust of Demetrius II right, seen from front, dotted border

Rev: BAΣIΛEΩΣ-ΔHMHTPIOY, eagle standing left on prow, palm under wing; A/PE above club surmounted by TYP monogram to left, AΣY monogram above ςΠP (date) to right, ΓHP monogram between legs.

Ref: SC 2195.4b


We can only imagine the life of Cleopatra Thea who was married first to pretender to the throne Alexander I Balas, then Demetrius II, then his brother Antiochus VII, and ended up back with Demetrius again ruling over a truncated kingdom. Demetrius II Nicator ruled 129-25 BC and died battling another usurper named Alexander who was this time sponsored by Ptolemy VIII.


This new usurper, Alexander II Zabinas, initially supported by Ptolemy VIII, defeated Demetrios II in 125 BC. However, Ptolemy VIII was as fickle a supporter as his brother, and in only a couple of years turned on Alexander II in favor of his neice, Cleopatra Thea, and her son by Demetrios II, Antiochus VIII.

Seleukid kings of Syria, Alexander II Zabinas, 128-122 BC, Æ, Antioch on the Orontes mint, Struck circa 125-122 BC

Obv: Radiate and diademed head of Alexander II right

Rev: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ, Athena standing left, holding Nike and spear, shield propped against base of spear; to inner left, monogram above grain ear

Seleukid Empire, Alexander II Zabinas, 128-122 BC, Æ (19mm, 5.57g), Antioch mint,dated ZΠP (187 = 126/5 BC)?, Obv: Diademed head right Rev: Dionysos standing left, holding thyrsos and kantharos; to outer left, IΣI above ivy leaf; ZΠP (7+80+100 = date) to inner left Ref: SC 2229.1e

Note: the ones digit of the date is cvhallenging to make out it could be one of several letters: EΠP (SE 185 = 128/7 BC), ΣΠP (186 = 127/6 BC), ZΠP (187 = 126/5 BC), HΠP (188 SE = 125/4 BC)


Civil Wars

For more on this time period, that reads like an episode of a Netflix or HBO drama series, see Appian XI.69 or Justin XXXIX.2-3. I'll wrap up with this:


Seleucus V, son of Demetrius, made a play to become king, however his mother, Cleopatra Thea, quickly shot him dead with an arrow. Cleopatra Thea reigned briefly as sole ruler, then became co-regent with her younger son, by Demetrius, Antiochus VIII a.k.a. "Grypus", named for his Γρυπός or "hook-nose". Grypus killed his mother, according to Appian with poison that she had prepared for him. Grypus fought in civil war with his half-brother, "Cyzicenus" and his uncle.

Seleucid Kingdom, Antiochus VIII, 121/0-97/6 BC, AR tetradrachm, 16.33g, Damascus, 119/8 BC

Obv: Diademed head of kingfacing to right. Fillet border

Rev: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΝΤΙΟΧΟΥ ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟΥΣ Zeus Uranius, nude, standing to left, holding vertical scepter in left hand and extending right hand through legend, holding eight-rayed star. In outer left field, ΑΡ above ΕΣ. In exergue, Δϙp (year 194 of the Seleucid era). All within laurel wreath.

Ref: SC 2322.3a.

The Seleucid Kings, Antiochus VIII Epiphanes, Grypus (Greek: Γρυπός, "hook-nose"), AD 121-96, Antiochia, Tetradrachm circa 109-96, AR 27.00 mm., 15.57 g. Obv: Diademed head r. within fillet border

Rev: Zeus Nikephoros seated left; monogram in left field, all within wreath

Ref: SC 2309

Notes: Old cabinet tone and Good Very fine, from the collection of a Mentor.

The Seleucid Kings, Antiochus VIII Epiphanes, 121-96 BC Antiochia Tetradrachm circa 121-113, AR 28.00 mm, 16.02g Obv: Diademed head right

Rev: Zeus Ouranios, draped, standing l., holding star and sceptre; to outer left, IE above A, Δ in exergue

Ref: SC 2298.2.

Notes: Old cabinet tone and Good Very fine, from the collection of a Mentor.


The Coin

All of this is long-winded context brings us to this coin. The date on my tetradrachm is a "Civic Year" or CY 13 (97/96 BC). This is 13 years that start from 109/8 BC when Grypus granted the city of Seleukia Pieria independence in gratitude for support during his civil war. Here is an excerpt of the letter from Antiochus Grypus (Greek: Γρυπός, "hook-nose") to Ptolemy X referencing this:

"Now, being anxious to reward them [The people of Seleukeia in Pieria] fittingly with the first [and greatest] benefaction, [we have decided that they be] for all time free, [and we have entered them in the treaties] which we have mutually concluded, [thinking] that thus [our piety and generosity] toward our ancestral city will be more apparent."
- Royal Correspondence: 71​ 

Seleukis and Pieria, Seleukeia Pieria, 105/4-83/2 BC, AR Tetradrachm, 30mm, 14.90g, dated CY 13 (97/96 BC)

Obv: Veiled and turreted bust of Tyche right

Rev: ΣEΛEYKEΩN / THΣ IEPAΣ / KAI / AYTONOMOY, Filleted thunderbolt on throne; ΓI (date = 13) below, monogram (ω/Δ) to lower right; all within wreath.

Ref: Callataÿ, Production, pp. 75–6


There is theoretically a Christine Thompson/C. Arnold-Biucchi study (~1998) referenced by Callataÿ with more information on these coins, but I have been unable to find it, so far, and any information would be appreciated - contact by email.


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