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A lead coin of Shahpur II


Parthicus

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Sasanian Kingdom. Lead unit (3.02 g, 14 mm). Shahpur II (309- 379). Obverse: Bust right, symbol before of double arrowhead(?). Reverse: Fire-altar with two attendants, bust of Ahura Mazda in flames. This coin: Pars Coins Bargain Auction 11, lot 57 (October 13, 2023).  

(note: historical section contains reused text)

Shahpur II's 70-year reign is the longest in Sasanian history, but the official dates include his entire childhood prior to his taking the throne from his regents at age 16. Indeed, one charming story has it that Shahpur II was declared king prior to his birth, with a miniature crown placed on his pregnant mother's belly. This seems unlikely, as at that time there was no way to know for sure that the unborn baby was male, but the story was too interesting for me to ignore. Regardless, Shahpur would prove an able king, especially on the military front, and his reign is considered a high point of Sasanian history.

During his childhood, Arab raiders attacked along the Persian Gulf coast, plundering and destroying a number of towns in southern Persia. At age 16 Shahpur led a punitive expedition deep into the Arabian Peninsula, and defeated many of the Arab tribes, killing many warriors and taking others as slaves. One bit of cruelty stands out: He had his prisoners' shoulders pierced, so that a rope or leather thong could be inserted to make it easier for their captors to drag them along. For this he was called "Dhu al-Aktaf", "The Shoulder-Piercer." In the West, Shahpur fought several times against the Eastern Romans, including Constantius II and Julian; he killed Julian in 363 and forced his successor Jovian to renounce Roman claims to lands east of the Tigris. In the East, Shahpur conquered almost all the remaining territory of the Kushan Empire (most of modern Afghanistan and Pakistan). Overall, Shahpur's reign saw a great expansion of Sasanian territory and was a high point of their military strength.

This coin is part of the poorly-understood Sasanian lead coinage. The great majority of Sasanian coinage is silver (mainly drachms, with rarer fractions and with tetradrachms struck only for the first three kings, probably as a holdover from the Parthians). Bronze coinage was struck pretty consistently but in small numbers, and gold coinage was issued in small numbers and irregular intervals. Lead coinage also occurs, and its relation to the other metals and role in the economy is unclear. I've heard it suggested that lead coins were struck for use by troops stationed at the borders, so that if the coins fell into enemy hands they wouldn't be useful, as would silver or gold (and, to a limited extent, bronze). This sounds logical, but I don't know of actual evidence for this such as ancient texts mentioning it. Regardless, it's a decent example of this scarce and mysterious coinage, and I was happy to win it. Please post your coins of Shahpur II, lead coins, or whatever else is related.

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Dear @Parthicus, thanks for the introduction to a little know area of ancient coins, and congrats on the rarity. Lead in general not a metal that exists in any quantity in my collection.  this 17g "byzantine lead seal" is about 60% of my lead collection (the other 40% being another item that was identified by the seller as a byzantine lead seal).  Having little else that is relevant, I share in appreciation of your interesting and informative post.  Best regards, S

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