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Research Coins: Feature Auction

Sale: Triton VII, Lot: 396. Estimate $500. 
Closing Date: Monday, 12 January 2004. 
Sold For $850. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

KINGS of PARTHIA. Mithradates I. Circa 171-132 BC. AR Drachm (4.20 gm). Hekatompylos mint. Head left wearing bashlik / ARSAKOU, Arsakes I seated right on omphalos, holding bow. Sellwood 7.1; Shore -; BMC Parthia -; MACW 462. Toned, good VF, obverse test cut. Very rare. ($500)

Ex Harlan J. Berk 20th CICF Auction (23 March 1995), lot 61.

An Uncertain Succession and Future Reattributions

According to Justin (41.5.8), the third Arsakid king was Phriapatius who is also attested in three ostraca from Nisa dated 91, 78 and 68 B.C. He is reported by Justin (41.5.9) to have ruled fifteen years and left two sons, Phraates I and Mithradates I. At the same time, both a recently published ostracon from Nisa and Justin (41.6.9) confirm that Mithradates I was a great-grandson of Arsakes I while the genealogy given in ostracon 1760 (2638) from Nisa refers to Phriapatius as the son of the brother’s son (nephew) of Arsakes I. To solve this complex situation one must assume that Justin confused some Parthian princes with similar names and conflated the reign of Phriapatius with that of another king named Artabanos in Trogus’ Prologue 41. It is possible that following the death of Arsakes II in about 200 B.C., his son Artabanos ruled until 190 B.C. and left behind two minor sons, Mithradates I and Bagases. This caused the kingship to pass to Phriapatius who ruled until about 175 B.C. He in turn was succeeded by his elder son Phraates I (ca. 175-170 B.C.) while his minor son (probably called Mithradates) lived until at least 157/6 B.C. to father Sinatrukes. On the death of Phraates I the kingship was restored to the line of Arsakes I when Mithradates I ascended the throne in about 170 B.C.

Dr. Assar will offer a detailed discussion of the genealogy of the early Parthian kings in a future publication and argue that Artabanos (grandson of Arsakes I) minted S7-S8 drachms while S9 and S10.15 with the epithet QEOS “the God” were issued by Phriapatius. This allows part of the S10 drachms (especially S10.17 with the title QEOPATWR (“Son of a Deified Father”) to be assigned to Phraates I with the remainder taken as the initial coinage of Mithradates I (particularly S10.10 and S10.14 from Ekbatana).


Mithradates I was renowned for prudence and military ability; with his accession, Parthia’s true expansion began, and eventually culminated in the formation of one of the most successful oriental monarchies. In a series of campaigns following the death of the Seleukid ruler, Antiochos IV, in November/December 164 B.C., Mithradates extended Parthian frontiers in the east and west. He first took advantage of Bactrian weaknesses, caused by prolonged and violent wars between Eukratides I and Demetrios II, and annexed the two strategically important eparchies of Tapuria and Traxiane sometime after 163 B.C. With the eastern frontiers secured, Mithradates turned west and conquered Media Magna and Atropatene. Then, in June/July 141 B.C., his forces overran Mesopotamia and captured Seleucia on the Tigris and Babylon. We next hear of Mithradates in Hyrcania, perhaps preparing for the defence of Parthia’s northern frontiers against steppe invaders. At the same time it appears that his generals extended his campaigns into Elam and ultimately established Parthian suzerainty over the greater part of that province. Mithradates’ last known triumph was against the Seleukid king, Demetrios II, whom he captured and sent off to Media (and later married to his daughter Rhodogune). It is generally believed that Mithradates’ latest dated coinage (S13.5 and S13.10) marks the end of his reign before October 138 B.C. However, the information in several cuneiform tablets reveals that he was alive until 132 BC.