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A Characene population explosion


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Well, it's not exactly an explosion, but a good increase.  Decades ago I owned an Attambelos I tetradrachm, an expensive coin as I recall, from CNG.  I sold it a long time ago, so there remained an empty spot in the type collection.  Very recently that spot was filled and more.

Coins from this obscure kingdom do show up with some regularity, and last year I was able to buy tetradrachm of Attambelos III, or IV.  I matched the obverse to an example online described as Attambelos III, but it seems that it is now considered to be Attambelos IV.  Recently additional tetradrachms have been acquired, including an Attambelos I replacement, spanning three centuries, all with a Herakles theme reverse.

Little is known about these kings of Characene, and it appears that what little information there is is based on their coinage.  All of that coinage is mostly crude and progressively debased over the life of this kingdom, one that was under the sway of the Seleucid Empire, Roman Empire and Elymais/Parthia, basically a vassal state. 

The kingdom occupied what is now southern Iraq.  The original capital, Alexandria, was founded by Alexander III, who had a habit of establishing cities and towns during his conquests.  The city was destroyed by floods in the middle of the 3rd century BC.  Subsequently the city was rebuilt by  Antiochus IV and renamed Antochia.  Hyspaosines was appointed as governor circa 127 BC.  The succession of governors and kings continued until 222 AD, when Characene became part of the Sassanian Empire.

Characene Kingdom, Apodakos, AR tetradrachm, Charax-Spasinu, dated SE 200 (113/2 BC).

Alram 496

15.95 grams

Although not mentioned in the lot description, this coin shows clear indications of overstrike, probably over a Seleucid tetradrachm.  Also, it is odd that the eye is clearly pointing downward, perhaps an attempt to portray Apodakos as a deity gazing up on the earth below?



Characene Kingdom, Attambelos I, 47/46 to  25/24 BC, BI tetradrachm, dated SE 280 33/2 BC.

Hill series C

11.85 grams



Characene Kingdom, Attambelos III (now IV), AE tetradrachm, 54/5-64/5 AD.

DCA 490 (Attambelos III)

11.4 grams


Characene Kingdom, Attambelos IV, Æ tetradrachm, 54/5-64/5 AD.

DCA 490 (Attambelos III)

13.31 grams



Characene Kingdom, Attambelos IV, Æ tetradrach, Charax-Spasinu, dated SE 371 -377  (AD 59/60 - 64/65).

DCA 490 (Attambelos III)

14.46 grams

A later issue with Attambelos IV with a beard.

D-Camera Characene Attambelos IV Æ Tet Charax-Spasinu, dated SE 371 -377  AD 59-60 - 65-66 DCA 490 (Attambelos III) 14.46g 8-25-23.jpg

Edited by robinjojo
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I've also noticed an influx of Characene coins. Luckily, I purchased mine just before the prices went down...


Kings of Characene. Hyspaosines
Charax-Spasinu mint
Dated SE 189 (124/3 BCE)
AR Tetradrachm 31mm, 16.20 g, 12h
Diademed head right /
Herakles seated left on rock, holding club on knee; monogram to outer left, ΘΠP (date) in exergue.
Assar fig. 13; Alram 491 var. (date); Sunrise 463; cf. DCA 479 (for type; date unlisted)

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seems like a hoard of these is being dispersed. I decided to get a couple, since prices were going down. looking to get an attambelos in the future too.


Kingdom of Characene. Hyspaosines, circa 127-124 BC. Tetradrachm (Silver, 32 mm, 16.43 g, 12 h), Charax-Spasinu. SE 186.

Obv: Diademed head of Hyspaosines to right.

Rev: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ - ΥΣΠΑΟΣΙΝΟΥ Herakles seated left, holding club set on his knee with his right hand and leaning left on rock draped with lion skin; to outer left, monogram; in exergue, ςΠΡ.

Reference: Alram 491


Greco-Baktrian Kingdom. Apodakos, 110-109 BC. Tetradrachm (Silver, 32.5 mm, 16.37 g, 12 h)

Obv: Diademed head of Apodakos to right.

Rev: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΠΟΔΑΚΟΥ / ΓΣ Herakles seated left on rock, holding club on knee; to outer left, monogram.

Reference: Alram 495.

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Great coins in this thread.  A while back, a bunch of Characene tets from the later AE issues started showing up on eBay - their origin seems to have been a bunch of CNG (I think?) auctions.  The prices were pretty low for some of these, but in the past year they seem to be going up in price again and are scarcer.  I was particularly interested in them because of the countermarks.  I highly recommend the Ed Dobbins article linked below.  

I posted one on CT a while back:

I poked around CT and I didn't find much on the Characene Kingdom, and no threads with the word in the title. Since I never heard of the place until a couple days ago, I am probably not the person to start a thread on a whole big kingdom, but I got a coin from there. I bid on it because of the countermark, but I knew nothing about where it came from beyond the seller's (accurate) brief description. Here's what I know now...

Wikipedia is a good introduction:
Characene (Ancient Greek: Χαρακηνή), also known as Mesene (Μεσσήνη)[2] or Meshan, was a kingdom founded by the Iranian[3] Hyspaosines located at the head of the Persian Gulf. Its capital, Charax Spasinou (Χάραξ Σπασινού), was an important port for trade between Mesopotamia and India, and also provided port facilities for the city of Susa further up the Karun River. The kingdom was frequently a vassal of the Parthian Empire. Characene was mainly populated by Arabs, who spoke Aramaic as their cultural language.[1] All rulers of the principality had Iranian names.[4] Members of the Arsacid dynasty also ruled the state.[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Characene

Characene Kingdom 1024px-Karte_Charakene.png
By NordNordWest - self-made, usingGTOPO-30 Elevation Data by USGS, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5829256

The Wikipedia article on the capital city Charax Spasinu (what a cool name!) contains an interesting anecdote involving Trajan:
"In AD 116, the Roman Emperor Trajan visited Charax Spasinu – his most recent, easternmost and shortest-lived possession. He saw the many ships setting sail for India, and wished he were younger, like Alexander had been, so that he could go there himself." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charax_Spasinu

As for the coin, I hit the jackpot on information - Ed Dobbins published a paper "Countermarked Characene Tetradrachms of Attambelos IV", in the American journal of Numismatics. no.7-8 1995-1996 and available here for free, thanks to the Hathi Trust:

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt...p&seq=91&q1="american journal of numismatics"

Dobbins' article is terrific - not only for the coins, but the historical background was informative and interesting. The Characene kingdom was in a constant squeeze with Elymais, Parthia, the Seleucids, Rome, and Petra. Little is known of Attambelos IV, but given the number of coins he issued, he seems to have reigned during a time of prosperity. (Note that a lot of IV's coins were attributed to Attambelos III - so there is some confusion - at least I was confused - in attributions for these)

Here's mine - it is a bit crude, but after looking at a bunch of them on acsearch, this one isn't too bad - if nothing else, it is one of the few with (most of) the date on the flan. The Characenes used Seleucid dating, so things are very specific chronologically. Dobbins examines hoards of these and even comes up with a pretty specific dating system for the countermarks found on these as well.

That's Herakles on the reverse, holding his club on his knee. Many of them are found countermarked, as this one is. The countermarks are carefully placed so as not to encroach on the king's face, making it likely they were official Characene issues (per Dobbins' article). It is possible mine has a second countermark by the king's brow - or it is a random pit.

CM - Characene Tet.  Mar 2021 (0).jpg CM - Characene Tet.  Mar 2021 (0det).jpg
Kingdom of Characene Æ Tet.
Attambelos IV
SE 371 (59-60 A.D.)
Charax-Spasinu Mint

Diademed, bearded head right /[BAC...] ATTA[M...], Herakles seated left on rock, holding club; monogram (5/6) above, B (sym. 7) above knee; TOA (date) in ex.
cf. BMC 7; DCA 490.
(15.34 grams / 23 x 21 mm)
Countermark: Monogram in 4 mm x 4 mm square. Dobbins No. 1.

"The three monogram countermarks 1, 2 and 3 were added sometime after 112 A.D." (Dobbins)

Well, that's the extent of my cut 'n' paste knowledge via Wikipedia and Ed Dobbins' article via the Hathi Trust. I'd love to see more of these if they are out there. As always, corrections welcome - this is all brand new to me.
Here are all three I have now - note the two on the left have an additional countermark of a "tied diadem" which is always found on the head, as if functioning as a laurel wreath of sorts:

Countermark Dobbins 6:  "Tied diadem" 3 x 5 mm (c. 64-103 A.D.)

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