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Artabanos IV billon drachm from Nisa


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Parthian Kingdom. Billon drachm (2.98 g, 18 mm). Nisa mint. Artabanos IV (c.10- 38 CE). Obverse: Bust left, crescent and star before. Reverse: Seated archer surrounded by degraded Greek legend, mintmark NI. Sellwood 63.15v. This coin: Pars Coins Bargain eSale 5, lot 52 (July 3, 2023).

Artabanos IV took the Parthian throne about 10 CE, during an unsettled time for the region. Vonones I had spent much of his life in Roman territory and proved too Hellenized for the Parthian nobles- he didn't like hunting, feasting, or (the real deal-breaker) horseback-riding. The nobles induced Artabanos to give up his job as king of the Parthian dependency Media Atropatene (Azerbaijan) and fight Vonones for the throne. Artabanos was initially unsuccessful, and Vonones even recorded his own victory on the coinage (unusual for the Parthians). However, a couple of years later Artabanos returned with more troops, and Vonones was forced to flee back to the Romans, leaving Artabanos to take up the Parthian crown. During a later dispute with the Romans over Armenia, Artabanos was forced from the throne, and spent some time living with the nomadic Dahae east of the Caspian, raising an army there which formed the nucleus of his forces when he reclaimed the throne. He died in 38 CE, after an eventful reign.

Artabanos issued vast quantities of silver drachms from the mint at Ekbatana, and these are one of the most commonly seen Parthian coin types today. His drachms from other mints are a lot scarcer. Nisa was a city located in what is now Turkmenistan, near the eastern border of Iran; its ruins have been excavated and are a local tourist attraction. The fortified citadel of Nisa, known as Mithradatkart, also had its own mint. While Mithradatkart was a prolific mint, Nisa issued only a relatively small amount of coins. It seems strange that two mints would be located so close together and active simultaneously. My own personal theory is that Nisa was used as an "overflow" facility when the Mithradatkart mint was unable to meet its quotas, however I don't know of a good way to test this theory. Coins from both Mithradatkart and Nisa were initially of good silver, however during the reign of Phraates IV (38-2 BCE) they started to decline in both silver content and artistic quality, with heavily-blundered legends while coins of mints farther west remained of good silver and readable Greek. This trend to billon and pseudo-Greek continued until both the Mithradatkart and Nisa mints stopped production in the mid/late first century CE. Please post your related coins.

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