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Seleucid usurper in Asia Minor

One of my sub-collections is a set of coins of the Seleucid kings. This collection is a mix of bronze and silver coins that is now up to 18 kings represented - as well as a few coins issued under Rome imitating the coins for Philip Philadelphos. This picture shows some of the nicer coins in this collection:

My coins of interest today are AEs from linked with two Seleucid usurpers, Antiochos Hierax and Achaios. There was no shortage of family squabbling amongst the Seleucids and as well with the other members of the families of Alexander the Great's generals (the Diadochi) who divided up his empire when he died.

Seleukos I was assassinated by Ptolemy Keraunas (see: my notes on Lysimachos, who was also killed by Ptolemy Keraunas, son of Ptolemy II). Antiochos I succeeded his father, Seleukos I.

Antiochos Hierax was the brother of Seleukos II, and the next Seleucid usurper in the 3rd century BC. A year after the death of their father, Antiochos II, the14-year old Antoichos Hierax, declared himself independent of his brother with Asia Minor as his realm and reigned from circa 242 to 227 BC when he was killed by Galatian mercenaries.

"But Antiochus, though he was but fourteen years old, yet, being greedy of dominion beyond his years, caught at the opportunity, not with the kindly feeling with which it was offered, but, like a robber, desiring to take the whole kingdom from his brother, assumed, boy as he was, a manly and unprincipled audacity.  Hence he was called Hierax [hawk], because, in taking away the possessions of others, he conducted himself, not like a man, but like a bird of prey.
In the battle that followed Antiochus was victor, indeed, through the prowess of the Gauls; but they, thinking that Seleucus had fallen on the field, began to turn their arms against Antiochus himself, in the hope of ravaging Asia with greater freedom, if they destroyed the whole royal family. Antiochus, seeing their design, purchased peace from them, as from robbers, with a sum of money, and formed an alliance with his own mercenaries."
-Justinus, Epitome of Pompeius Trogus' Philippic Histories, 27.2

Although this coin was once attributed to Hierax - it has since been re-attributed to Antiochus III by Houghton and Lorber, who describe in Seleucid Coins that there are no known bronze coins of Antiochus Hierax.

Seleukid Kings, Antiochos III, possibly a barbarous imitation, AE (15mm,4.17 g) , Denomination C, Sardes Mint

Obv: head of Apollo right

Rev: Apollo standing facing, head left, holding arrow and resting on tripod.

Ref: SC 983, SNG Spaer 488 (Hierax), Newell WSM 1428 (Hierax),

The next rebel was Molon who was appointed King of Media by Antiochus III when he took the throne in 223 BC and Molon's brother Alexander was also appointed King of Persis. The two brothers revolted and ruled until their dual suicide as they were under attack by Antiochus and their troops defected.

Achaios or Achaeus was the next usurper in 220, a cousin of Seleucus III and Antiochus III. Achaios like Antiochus Hierax, was in charge of Asia minor at a time when the King was distracted by other events and western Asia minor was being contexted. They wer both also members of the royal family. He initially accompanied Seleukos III, as his οἰκεῖος (relative) in his campaign to defend Asia Minor against Attalid aggression.

He didn't initially "revolt" - and Polybius (a pro-Seleucid author) reports that he was at first loyal to Seleukos III.

"Achaeus was a relative of that Antiochus who had just succeeded to the throne of Syria and had acquired the dominion I stated by the following means. When on the death of Seleucus, father of this Antiochus, his eldest son Seleucus succeeded him, Achaeus in his quality of a kinsman accompanied the king on his expedition across the Taurus about two years before the time I am speak of. "
-Polybius, 48.1-10

When Seleucos III was assassinated by the Gallatians Apaturius and Nicanor, Achaeus avenged his murder by putting the two assassins to death, and taking the command of the army and management of affairs which Polybius reports that he "conducted both with prudence and magnanimity". Further he did not initially declare himself king, but did so only after conquering much of Asia minor for the Seleucids.

"Although the opportunity was favourable and he was eagerly urged by the troops to assume the diadem, he decided not to do so, and holding the throne for the younger brother Antiochus, advanced energetically and recovered the whole of the country on this side of Taurus. But when he met with a success that surpassed his expectations, having shut up Attalus in Pergamus itself and made himself master of all the rest of the country he was so elated by his good fortune that in a very short space of time he swerved clean away from rectitude, and having assumed the diadem and styled himself king he was at this moment the most imposing and formidable of all the kings and potentates on this side of the Taurus."
-Polybius, 48.1-10

He issued coins from Sardes and campaigned in Pisidia and Pamphilia, reigning roughly 8 years from 220 to the autumn or winter of 214 when he was captured by Antiochus III at Sardes, the capital of Asia Minor for the Seleucid. Chrubasik's Oxford thesis is an excellent resource for discussion of Antiochos Hierax, Achaios and the nature of their usurpations.

Seleucid Kings, Achaios (Usurper, 220-214 BC), AE, Sardes, Denomination B (5.78g 20mm)

Obv: Laureate head of Apollo with corkscrew curls right.

Rev: BAΣIΛEΩΣ / AXAIOY, eagle standing right, with palm frond over shoulder.

Ref: SC 955; HGC 9, 435.

The make an example of the usurper, Antiochus III had him flayed, then beheaded and his body impaled. The flaying would have alluded to the story of Marsyas, who dared to challenge Apollo. [see Sulla & Apollo] This coin from Sardes, his only mint where he issued multiple bronze denominations differentiated by the reverses. He also issued precious metal coinage which is limited to a few examples as Antiochus would have melted them down after capturing Sardes. Chrubasik reports 5 precious metal issues known in 2011.

It is interesting to note that the word "usurper" seems to be gaining in popularity / usage after years of decline:

Graph for "usurper" and "Userper" from the Google Books Ngram Viewer .

There are still a few kings that I am hoping to add to this Seleucid collection. This coin representing Demetrios I, who was missing from the collection above, and is a recent addition.

Seleukid Empire, Demetrios I Soter, Serrate Æ 15mm, 3.63g, Antioch on the Orontes, 162-150 BC

Obv: Bridled head of horse to left Rev: [BAΣIΛEΩΣ] ΔHMHTPIOY, head of elephant to right

Ref: SC 1646

Additional Sources:

  • Houghton, A., Lorber, C. C., & Hoover, O. D. (2002-2008). Seleucid coins: A comprehensive catalogue. The American Numismatic Society; Classical Numismatic Group.

  • Chrubasik, B. (2011). The men who would be king: Kings and usurpers in the Seleukid Empire. (Doctoral dissertation). University of Oxford, Oxford, England.

  • Polybius. (1922). The Histories (William Roger Paton, Trans.). [Polybius, began to write his Histories when he was taken to Rome as a hostage at the end of the 3rd Macedonian War, 171-168 BCE]. Section 48.1-10.

  • Justinus. (1853). Epitome of Pompeius Trogus' Philippic Histories, (Rev. J.S.Watson, Trans.), [Justin wrote in the 2 or 3rd century CE and incorporated late first or early second century CEwritings of Pompeius Trogus in his Epitome]. Section 27.2

  • Dodd, Rebecca (2009), "Coinage and conflict: the manipulation of Seleucid political imagery.", PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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