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The Coinage of Pharnabazos

CNG 91, Lot: 336. Estimate $1500.
Sold for $1700. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

CILICIA, Tarsos. Pharnabazos. Persian military commander, 380-374/3 BC. AR Stater (20mm, 10.60 g, 3h). Struck circa 380-379 BC. Head of Arethusa facing slightly left; dolphin to lower left / Helmeted and bearded male head left. Casabonne series 3; Moysey Issue 3, 4a = McClean 5917 (same obv. die); SNG France –; SNG Levante 70 = SNG von Aulock 5917. Near EF, dark iridescent toning, die break on obverse.

Pharnabazos was a member of the Persian nobility with close connections to the Persian king, and satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia, which later became the satrapy of Daskylion. When he was appointed satrap in 413/2 BC, Pharnabazos and Tissaphernes, the satrap of Lydia and Caria, were involved in negotiations between Sparta and the Persian Empire against Athens. As a result, Sparta received financial assistance from Persia. Lysander, the Spartan admiral, defeated the Athenian navy and thus forced Athens' surrender, and Persia itself would acquire control of the Greek cities in Asia. Tensions arose, however, among all the parties involved: Tissaphernes, because of his machinations against Pharnabazos, lost Lydia; Pharnabazos became rightly distrustful of Lysander and the Spartans, who saw events as an opportunity to expand their power in the Aegean; and the young Cyrus II, who had been sent to settle the difficulties that had arisen, was soon embroiled with his brother in a war over the Persian throne.

In 399 BC, a new war between Sparta and Persia ensued. Agesilaus, one of the Spartan kings, attacked the satrapy of Hellespontine Phrygia. Though hard pressed by the Spartan invasion of his territory, Pharnabazos was able to organize the Persian fleet under the command of the mercenaries Konon of Athens and Evagoras of Salamis, and destroy the Spartan fleet at Knidos in 394 BC. At the same time, he assisted Athens with financial aid to further undermine the Spartans. The land campaign, however, was less successful and the war dragged on. The arrival of a Spartan delegation at the Persian capital resulted in a peace treaty and, contrary to the wishes of Pharnabazos, a renewed alliance. For all of his work, Pharnabazos was recalled from his satrapy and married to the king's daughter, Apame.

The weakness of Persian power during this period prompted Egypt to declare its independence. Two successive attempts by the Persians to recover Egypt were unsuccessful, largely due to the actions of the Greek mercenaries which the Pharaoh had hired. Pharnabazos was one of the Persian commanders in the second of these, in 380 BC. In 377, the Persians prepared to attack again; this time with Pharnabazos as sole commander. Gathering a large navy at Akko and reinforcing his army with Greek mercenaries, Pharnabazos tried to take the Egyptian capital at Memphis. A disagreement between himself and the Greek commander, Iphicrates, caused the Persians to bog down in the Delta and the recovery of Egypt once again failed. The ultimate fate of Pharnabazos is unknown, as he disappears from the historical record thereafter.