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Seleukid Instability

"If we set aside the language of Seleukid royal discourse, it is far from obvious how we should discriminate between legitimate kings and usupers. Both Demetrios I and Alexander had led troops in the Seleukid kingdom, and had persuaded the groups in the kingdom that they were worthy and acceptable kings; both were eventually challenged, defeated, and met violent deaths. Who should be called a usurper: both or neither?" - Boris Chrubasik (2016), Kings and Usurpers in the Seleukid Empire Chrubasik's book presents a very readable and engaging picture of the instability and power dynamics of the Seleukid empire, illustrated and supported by ancient coins. One related to my coin today, is a "wedding issue" of Alexander I Balas with jugate portrait where his wife's portrait is shown in the foreground. CNG has one to admire here. A strong advertisement of Ptolemy VI's support as Alexander married his daughter Cleopatra Thea in 156 BC. This support didn't last very long and soon Ptolemy would switch allegiance, and Cleopatra Thea would be married again to Demetrios II Nicator. Alexander I Balas had no shortage of foreign intervention associated with his rise to power. Those hostile to Demetrius I aligned, starting with Attalus II of Pergamon who supported a young man from Smyrna who claimed to be the son of Antiochus IV as heir to the Seleucid throne. A friend and supporter of Antiochus IV, Heracelides, also took up the cause by brokering Roman support for Alexander. Whether or not Alexander was actually a son of Antiochus IV seems unknowable (at least to me), as the realities are obscured by political propaganda from his reign and after his death in 145 BC.

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 In Antioch, it was only in 158 Seleucid Era (S.E.) 155/4 BC that Seleucid coins began to be dated by Demetrios I. The early coins of Alexander I from Antioch were undated, with some dated issues from SE 163 (150-149 BC). Antiochus IV the first king to add epithets to Selekid coinage - and here Alexander continues the tradition declaring himself the just son of divine father. Acid-washed, electrolysized, tooled, dyed, brushed, re-patinated, waxed, varnished, there are a lot of ways to torture an ancient coin, and I prefer a coin that at least gives the illusion that it hasn't spent a lot of time at the cosmetologist's office. This coin has a "natural" look that I like. I assume that this coin was cleaned at some point, but not over-cleaned and probably some time ago.

The obverse portrait hints at Herakles and Alexander the Great and the reverse with Apollo drawing continuity with his divine father Antiochus IV.

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