Author Topic: Parthian Empire: Mithradates II (121-91 BCE) AR Drachm, Ekbatana (Sellwood 27.2)  (Read 688 times)

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Offline Quant.Geek

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Parthian Empire: Mithradates II (121-91 BCE) AR Drachm, Ekbatana (Sellwood 27.2; Sunrise 294; Shore 86)

Obv: Long-bearded bust left wearing diadem; circular border of pellets
Rev: Beardless archer wearing bashlyk and cloak seated right on throne, holding bow in right hand; empty cloak arm ending in a point; flan widespread and design much larger than usual; no border; five-line Greek inscription - ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ − ΒΑΣΙ − ΛΕΩΝ − ΜΕΓΑΛΟΥ / ΑΡΣΑΚΟΥ / ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟΥΣ

A high-resolution image of this coin is available at FORVM Ancient Coins

A gallery of my coins can been seen at FORVM Ancient Coins

Offline Bob L.

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Wow, another exceptional Parthian.  Well done!

Offline echizento

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Don't get any nicer than that.

Offline Figleaf

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Since the king has a beard and the archer is beardless, the archer is not the king. However, Alexander the great already used the bow and arrow as a royal symbol. In his symbology, the bow was either in a bow case or not.

Bows can be used for war or for hunting. Hunting was a royal sport by the Middle Ages, so maybe this bowman symbolises a hunter, rather than a warrior. This is all the more likely because a bowman was a footman, a skirmisher sent out to harass the enemy while he got into formation and stop enemy bowman. Think of the pawn in chess: the least important peace, easy to sacrifice or trade, in the way and out in front of the important pieces in the beginning of the game. It's not a role fit for a king...

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline Bob L.

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Since the king has a beard and the archer is beardless, the archer is not the king. However, Alexander the great already used the bow and arrow as a royal symbol. In his symbology, the bow was either in a bow case or not.

Peter, it's been generally accepted that the reverse archer on Parthian drachms is the empire's founder Arsakes I, who we know was beardless from his portraits on his own coins.  As Fred Shore states it in Parthian Coins and History:Ten Dragons Against Rome, "The reverse (of drachms) showed an archer...This seated figure is Arsakes I, the founder of the dynasty, and deified hero of the Parthian nation.  Ancestor worship was practiced among the Parthians, and was extended to their coinage."

In addition, it is likely that - as suggested by Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis of the British Museum and Sarah Stewart of the London Middle East Institute at SOAS - the archetype for the seated archer reverses predates Alexander.  It may well have been an issue of Datames (sometimes referred to as Tarkumuwa), a satrap of Cappadocia from 385 – 362 BC, under the Achaemenid/Persian Empire.  Around 375 BC he struck silver staters at the Tarsos, Cilicia mint that, on their reverses, depict him seated, wearing Persian dress (including the bashlyk and baggy trousers that the Parthians would later adopt), with empty sleeve (another motif borrowed by the Parthians), inspecting (or offering?) an arrow, with a bow to lower right and winged solar disk to upper right.  As Curtis and Stewart state in an article entitled The Iranian Revival in the Parthian Period: “This could indicate that the coins of the western satraps of the Achaemenid Empire (were) known to the early Arsacids once they took over power in Parthia.” Datames is shown in a 3/4 view whereas the Parthian archer is always in profile, and he (Datames) holds an arrow rather than the bow. But the similarities are clear enough.

Pics below courtesy of CNG and Parthia.com.  Top row shows reverses of coins of Datames; the lower row illustrates reverses of two drachms of Arsakes I from the beginning of the Parthian Empire, and an Artabanos IV (216 - 224 AD) reverse from the final years of the Empire, showing the degenerated image of the archer:


Offline Figleaf

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Superb post and pictures, Bob. It's clear you know what you are talking about.

I was after a meta question. How did the bow ever become a royal symbol? Kings are typically sitting on a horse in battle and the bow is a typical infantry weapon - except in a hunt.

Yet, I can think of an expert bowman king. Alp Arslan, who died after missing his killer.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline Pellinore

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    • Some numismatic books for sale on our website
Those three Datames coins show the heights of 4th century Greek portrait art, what a perfect portrait of a master of the bow.

-- Paul