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Seleucid Empire: Family Politics

Updated: May 1

My latest coin is a tetradrachm from Antioch with a fabulous Tyche. This coin comes from the beginning of the first century BC as the Seleucid empire was crumbling.

Between Egypt & Parthia

I will start with a bit of background on the Seleucid empire, illustrated with additional coins: Ptolemy VI Philometor, of Egypt, put Alexander I Balas on the throne in Syria, and gave his daughter Cleopatra Thea to him in marriage.

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 backed Demetrius II, as he took back his family's throne and he gave Demetrius his daughter, Cleopatra Thea, as part of the bargain. Demetrius was captured by the Parthians (Mithridates I), and his brother, Antiochus VII, took the throne and Cleopatra Thea.

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. 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 130-25 BC and died battling another usurper sponsored by Ptolemy VIII.

Alexander II Zabinas, initially supported by Ptolemy VIII, who defeated Demetrios II in 125 BC. Ptolemy VIII was a fickle supporter, and turned on Alexander II in favor of Cleopatra Thea and 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

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.

The Coin

All of this is long-winded context for 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 Gryphos 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 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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