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A misattributed drachm of Phraates IV


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Parthian Kingdom. Susa mint. AR drachm (3.51 g, 17 mm). Phraates IV (38-2 BCE). Obverse: Diademed bust left, eagle carrying wreath behind head, nothing in front. Reverse: Seated archer right, standard Greek text around, mint symbol underneath bow. Sellwood 52.20. This coin: Ken Dorney Auction 14, lot 68 (January 31, 2023).

(historical section below contains some reused text)

Phraates IV (reigned 38-2 BCE) was a son of the king Orodes II (57-38 BCE). Orodes' preferred heir was Pakoros, but unfortunately Pakoros was killed in battle in 38 BCE, forcing the distraught Orodes to choose another heir. Phraates, however, would prove a poor choice, promptly murdering his father and his surviving brothers (to prevent any other claimants to the throne) and exiling various of their supporters. In 36 BCE, the Roman triumvir Marc Antony led his troops through Armenia and into the Parthian client state of Media Atropatene, but Phraates attacked Antony's rear and forced him to retreat through Armenia and into Syria, suffering heavy losses along the way. Antony returned in 34 BCE, and captured the king of Armenia by treachery, but he was forced to withdraw in 33 BCE to deal with Octavian. Not long after this, a Parthian nobleman named Tiridates attempted to usurp the throne and had some success, but was ultimately forced to flee to the Romans (carrying as hostage a son of Phraates). In 20 BCE, a peace conference with the Romans resulted in the return of the son, as well as the gift of a Roman slave-girl called Musa who quickly became the favorite courtesan, and then wife, of Phraates. She bore a son who was known as Phraatakes (Little Phraates). In 2 BCE, Phraatakes and Musa conspired to kill Phraates and seize the throne, after which... well, I've already written about that story over on the other site, if you want to know more:

This coin comes from one of the scarcer Parthian mints. Susa, in southwestern Iran, is a very ancient city, with evidence of habitation prior to 4200 BC. It is mentioned in the Bible and plays a key role in the Biblical story of Esther. It was used as the winter capital for the Parthian kings, but despite this its output of coinage was quite modest. However, this coin was described in the original auction listing as being from Mithradatkart, which is a much more common mint city for Parthian coins. (Ken Dorney has graciously said that he doesn't mind me pointing out his cataloguing error.) I noticed during the auction that the mintmark was wrong for Mithradatkart, and once I had the coin in hand confirmed that it was indeed from Susa. This highlights the importance of researching coins for yourself, and not taking the dealer's attributions as gospel. Please post your coins of Phraates IV, or coins from the Susa mint, or coins that were misattributed by the seller.

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1 hour ago, Parthicus said:

Please post your coins of Phraates IV, or coins from the Susa mint

Here's a van't Haaff plate coin from one of the periods during which Elymais controlled Susa and its mint. Although hard to make out, there is a left-facing horse head mint mark, indicating Susa, to the right of the obverse bust.


Kamnaskires IV

AR hemidrachm, c. 63/2 – 54/3 BC
van’t Haaff 8.3.3-1.a (this coin)


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(AE) Drachm, Susa
S.52.22 (H behind archer)
3.66 g - 17 mm

Indeed, the Susa coins of Phraates IV are rare, and those of later reigns even rarer. However, on the website of the B.N.F. we can see a large number of Susa drachms issued for Phraates IV, apparently all from the same hoard.
The few specimens S.52.22 were struck on very debased metal. This mint was obviously short of precious metal.

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Here are my examples of Sellwood 52.20 (Le Rider 201) and Sellwood 52.23 (Le Rider 202). The S52.20 isn't in great shape but it was well worth the $20 it cost.

Most of the BNF examples are from the Susa excavations. The coin finds were divvied up between Paris and Tehran. Many of the BNF coins are from 4 hoards (Tresors 8, 9, 10, and 11) that were found during the excavations.  It is interesting to see that the hoard coins are in much better shape than the stray finds in keeping with hoarders typically keeping and stashing the best coins they come across. 

Sellwood 52.20; Le Rider 201. 3.4 g, 18 mm.


Sellwood 52.23; Le Rider 202. 3.47 g, 19 mm.


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