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Seleucid End


With the end of the Third Mithridatic War, Rome became the supreme power in control of all the Mediterranean. Pompey celebrated a victory for the vast territories that he added to Roman control with the defeat of Mithridates. This coin comes from the time of the Third Mithridatic War and is an artifact of the last embers of the great empire founded by Seleucus I (or perhaps the first coin of the new Roman overlords).

Extra ordinem : outside of the normal rules or events. I don't expect a tetradrachm of Philip I Philadelphos (illustrious and brother loving, Φίλιππος Ἐπιφανής Φιλάδελφος) to be anything other than uninteresting, and yet with this coin I am reconsidering my prejudice. The description in Seleucid Coins (SC, 2008, Houghton, Lorber and Hoover) fits this coin well: "bulging eyes, pouting lips, and an especially pronounced aquiline nose". There is even the intriguing question - could this be a coin of Philip II son of Philip I Philadephos?


This portrait is unusual, in my experience, for it's high relief and fresh die. These coins come with ambiguity and uncertainty and are described in SC as "Antioch or Other Eastern Mint" and "Lifetime of Philip I or Posthumous".


Who might have produced this coin?

  • They might have been produced for Philip's son "Philip II Barypous" (Βαρύπους, "Heavy-foot") OR

  • They could be an early Roman issue OR

  • Perhaps they are the product of an imitative mint outside of the Seleucid borders (this seems less likely than the other two options to me).

There are no known coins of Philip II Barypous although he did rule parts of Syria as a Roman client king. After the estimated death of Philip I, coins continued to be issued in his name by the Romans - up to the time of Augustus.

"Fragments of Diodorus Siculus indicate that a son of Philip I, Philip II Barypous, was promoted as the rightful Seleucid king by an Antiochene faction with the support of the Arab chieftain, Aziz, and managed to hold power in the city. The beginning of the brief reign of Philip II is dated to 67/6 BC, based on the account of Malalas, who says that he negotiated with the Roman official Q. Marcius Rex, almost certainly the proconsul of Cilicia for 67 BC. The end of Philip II is placed in 66/5, in order to give Antiochus XIII the one-year reign accorded to him by Appian before the arrival of Pompey in 64 BC."
- Hoover, Oliver D. “A Revised Chronology for the Late Seleucids at Antioch (121/0-64 BC).Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte, vol. 56, no. 3, 2007, pp. 280–301.

This particular coin also has excellent toning and a good weight of 15.22g.

Seleukid Kingdom, uncertain mint (possibly Antioch on the Orontes), Philip I Philadelphos 95-75 BC, AR Tetradrachm 24mm, 15.28g

Obv: Diademed head of Philip I right

Rev: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΦΙΛΙΠΠΟΥ ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟΥΣ ΦΙΛΑΔΕΛΦΟΥ, Zeus seated left, holding crowning Nike and scepter, beneath throne, monogram, in exergue, Π

Ref: SC 2464b


Philip I took on his epithets ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟΥΣ ΦΙΛΑΔΕΛΦΟΥ after the death of his brother Seleukos IV at his joint coronation with his brother, Antiochos XI. The epithet of Philip II Barypous (Heavy Foot) could have a link to bulging eyes. Graves disease would cause the bulging eyes and edema could leave him with swollen feet. We would need more than the bulging eyes in the portrait to make this a credible thought.


Pompey's unprecedented powers

At the end of the last of three Mithridatic Wars (Third Mithridatic War, 73–63 BC) pirates were a growing problem for Rome.

"When Mithridates first went to war with the Romans (BC 88) and subdued the province of Asia (Sulla being then in difficulties respecting Greece), he thought that he should not hold the province long, and accordingly plundered it in all sorts of ways, as I have mentioned above, and sent out pirates on the sea. In the beginning they prowled around with a few small boats worrying the inhabitants like robbers. As the war lengthened they became more numerous and navigated larger ships."
-Appian, Mithridatic Wars, 14.92

The pirates posed a threat to Roman food supply:

They dominated now not only the Eastern waters, but the whole Mediterranean to the Pillars of Hercules. They vanquished some of the Roman prætors in naval engagements, and among others the prætor of Sicily on the Sicilian coast itself. No sea could be navigated in safety, and land remained untilled for want of commercial intercourse. The city of Rome felt this evil most keenly, her subjects being distressed and herself suffering grievously from hunger by reason of her very greatness.
-Appian, Mithridatic Wars, 14.93

Gnaeus Pompey was given unprecedented authority to shut down the pirates:

When the Romans could no longer endure the damage (BC 67) and disgrace they made Gnæus Pompey, who was then their man of greatest reputation, commander by law for three years, with absolute power over the whole sea within the Pillars of Hercules, and of the land for a distance of 400 stades from the coast. They sent letters to all kings, rulers, peoples, and cities, that they should aid Pompey in all ways. They gave him power to raise troops and to collect money from the provinces, and they furnished a large army from their own enrollment, and all the ships they had, and money to the amount of 6000 Attic talents, -- so great and difficult did they consider the task of overcoming such great forces, dispersed over so wide a sea, hiding easily in so many nooks, retreating quickly and darting out again unexpectedly. Never did any man before Pompey set forth with so great authority conferred upon him by the Romans. Presently he had an army of 120,000 foot and 4000 horse, and 270 ships, including hemiolii.
-Appian, Mithridatic Wars, 14.94

Ironically, Pompey had Julius Caesar's support in this power proposed by Gabinus. They were on the path to the first triumvirate, but it would not be long before they took opposite sides in civil war.


This map shows the diminished scope of the Seleucid kings by 89BC - before the start of the First Mithridatic War (88–85 BC). [Source: Ilya Yakubovich, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

Pompey was next given control of the war against Mithridates, taking over for Lucullus. Once Pompey had defeated Mithridates he made Syria and Anatolia Roman provinces and ended the Seleucid Empire.

"Thus the Romans, having conquered King Mithridates at the end of forty-two years, reduced to subjection Bithynia, Cappadocia, and other neighboring peoples dwelling near the Euxine sea. In this same war that part of Cilicia which was not yet subject to them, together with the Syrian countries, Phœnicia, Cœle-Syria, Palestine, and the territory lying between them and the river Euphrates, although they did not belong to Mithridates, were gained by the impetus of the victory over him and were required to pay tribute, some immediately and others later. Paphlagonia, Galatia, Phrygia, and the part of Mysia adjoining Phrygia, and in addition Lydia, Caria, Ionia, and all the rest of Asia Minor formerly belonging to Pergamus, together with old Greece and Macedonia, that Mithridates had drawn away from them, were completely recovered. Many of these peoples, who did not pay them tribute before, were now subjected to it."
-Appian, Mithridatic Wars, 17.118 

Justinus provides more details on Pompey's handling of Syria:

After Tigranes was conquered by Lucullus, Antiochus, the son of Cyzicenus, was made king of Syria by his authority. But what Lucullus gave, Pompeius soon after took away; telling him, when he made application for the crown, that he would not give Syria, even if it was willing to accept him, and much less if unwilling, to a king, who for eighteen years, during which Tigranes had governed Syria, had lain hid in a corner of Cilicia, and now, when Tigranes was conquered by the Romans, asked for the reward of other men's labours. Accordingly, as he had not taken the throne from Tigranes while he held it, so he would not give Antiochus what he himself had yielded to Tigranes, and what he would not know how to defend, lest he should again expose Syria to the depredations of the Jews and Arabians. He in consequence reduced Syria to the condition of a province, and the whole east, through the dissensions of kings of the same blood, fell by degrees under the power of the Romans.
-Justinus: Epitome of Pompeius Trogus' Philippic Histories 40.2

Pompey's Triumph in Rome, Abrégé de l'histoire romaine, Millot, Abbé, 1726-1785, published in 1789


Opening image: The Triumph of Pompey, by Nicola Giolfino (1476-1555) today in the Museo di Castelvecchio in Verona, Italy. Giolfino was a Renaissance painter mainly active in Verona, Italy.

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