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Research Coins: Feature Auction

Sale: Triton VII, Lot: 507. Estimate $150. 
Closing Date: Monday, 12 January 2004. 
Sold For $260. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

KINGS of PARTHIA. Vologases VI. 208-228 AD. AR Drachm (3.85 gm). Ekbatana mint. Diademed bust left, long pointed beard, wearing tiara with earflap; abbreviated name in Aramaic Parthian script / Degraded legend [but first line: 'King Vologases' in Parthian script], Arsakes I seated right on throne, holding bow; monogram below bow. Sellwood 88.19; Shore 458; BMC Parthia pg. 243, 20 (Vologases V); MACW 697 var. (monogram). EF. [See color enlargement on plate 7] ($150)

The End of the Parthian Empire

Vologases VI, the son of Vologases V, was made king upon the latter’s death. His brother, Artabanos V, who had been a sub-king in Media, almost instantly challenged Vologases claim. This rift split the Parthian empire; it was a situation which the Roman emperor Caracalla tried to take advantage of. Caracalla, a megalomaniac, desired to emulate his hero, Alexander the Great, by conquering the Parthian empire. In 216 AD, he lead a large army into Asia Minor, but was murdered and replaced by his Praetorian Prefect Macrinus as the army made its way through Osrhoene. Nevertheless, the great threat posed by this invasion forced the brothers into a truce, and Artabanos led a large Parthian force in a counter-attack near Nisibis in 217 AD. The victory was so great that Macrinus was forced to make peace at very unfavorable terms. It was one of the greatest victories of the Parthians against Rome, and it was their last.

With this threat extinguished, the two brothers soon reverted to fighting each other. After nearly two hundred years of almost constant civil wars, the Arsakid hold on power was at its lowest ebb. In 220 AD, one of its most powerful vassal kingdoms, that of Persis, rose in open revolt, lead by its king, Artaxerxes (Artaxsir) V. Eventually, the Parthian vassal kings of Media, Adiabene, and Kirkuk joined the revolt, as did some of the nobility of Parthia who certainly were weary of the internecine wars. Vologases was the first to fall, in 222 AD. Artabanos proved a far better commander; it took Artaxerxes two major engagements before finally defeating him at the Battle of Hormuzdagan in 224 AD. In the aftermath, the victor, Artaxerxes, renamed himself Ardashir, and founded the Sasanian Empire. (For coinages related to these events from the Persis/Sasanian side, see lots 550-4 below.) Although a tetradrachm of Vologases VI is known with a date of 228 AD, it is uncertain whether he or some other Parthian partisan issued it while carrying-on the lost cause (for a possible issue by a partisan who did sign his coinage, see lot 510 below).