Persis

Unknown ruler, Silver Drachm, 190-164 BCE
weight: 3.9g; width: 1.69cm; die axis: 4h

Autophradates II OBVAutophradates II REV

OBV.: In dotted border, head of ruler right, with close-cropped beard, a circular earring, and a flat kyrbasia (Persian crown) bound with a ruler's diadem which is tied in the back. On top of the kyrbasia stands a royal falcon in frontal view with outstretched wings.
REV.: Fire altar (overstruck) with double-panelled doors, podium, pilaster, and architrave, surmounted by stepped gables. Between the gables, a Farnah (king's splendor) hovering right. The altar is framed by a falcon standard on the left and a barely visible ruler in adoring position with upraised arms on the right.

HFMA nr. 2006.010.017. Ref.: Cf. Alram 1986, p. 170, nr. 550 (but the king is also holding a bow); cf. also [but with mirror-inverted reverses] BMC Arabia pl. XXX, 2-7 (there as "Darius (?)"); tetradrachm SMBerlin Nr. 18208603. (more info).


Persis, a region north of the Persian Gulf in what would now be Southern Iran, was the original home of the ancient Persians. Since Alexander the Great's death in 323 BCE, the region had been part of the Seleucid empire. This coin, however, must have been minted during the short period when Persis was basically independent, between the battle of Magnesia (190 BCE), which decisively weakened Seleucid power in the region, and the occupation of Persis by the new Parthian empire in 140 BCE.(1)

The ruler depicted has been identified as Vadahfrad II (Autophradates II), but this is based on a barely legible Aramaic inscription on a coin of similar type that has been read both as wtprdt (Vadahfrad) and šykndt (an Iranian transcription of Alexandros?).(2)
 
The coin displays an interesting mixture of Hellenistic Greek and native Persian iconography. The obverse features a portrait of the ruler not unlike the coins of the area's former Greek overlords, the Seleucid kings. The ruler, however, wears not only a diadem, like the Greek Hellenistic kings, but also a flat Persian crown (a kyrbasia). His crown is adorned on top with the Zoroastrian royal bird, the falcon, facing the viewer with outstretched wings.(3)
 
The reverse design similarly emphasizes the indigenous, Persian nature of the monarchy. In the middle stands a Zoroastrian fire altar with stepped gables. Between the gables is a representation of a Zoroastrian Farnah, facing right.(4) The Farnah is a personification of a king's "lucky splendor", which represents the protection by his deified predecessors that a legitimate ruler enjoys. The left displays the royal standard with a falcon perching on top, to the right one can barely make out the arms of the ruler who looks at the altar and has raised his arms in prayer. The entire scene proclaims the divine legitimacy of the king's rule. The same scene reappears almost unchanged on all coins of Persis for ca. 200 years.

Our coin seems to be unusual in that the reverse is mirror-inverted in comparison with all other coins I have seen so far. Moreover, the reverse design is somewhat obscured by the fact that the coin was overstruck onto a coin with the same, but differently aligned reverse design.

O.K.

(1) Müseler 2005-2006, 100.
(2) Müseler 2005-2006, 98-99.
(3) Cf.  Curtis 2007; elsewhere, the bird is usually described as an eagle.
(4) Müseler 2005-2006, 96; Curtis 2007; Alram 1986, 170 interprets the being as Ahura Mazdah, the supreme god of the Zoroastrians.


Literature:
Alram, Michael, "Nomina Propria Iranica in Nummis. Materialgrundlagen zu den iranischen Personennamen auf antiken Münzen." In: Mayrhofer, Manfred (ed.), Iranisches Personennamenbuch, vol. 4 (Sonderpublikation der Iranischen Kommission). Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie, 1986.

Curtis, Vesta Sarkhosh, "Religious Iconography on Ancient Iranian Coins." In: Cribb, Joe and Herrmann, Georgina (edd.), After Alexander: Central Asia before Islam (Proceedings of the British Academy, 133), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, pp. 413-434.

Müseler, W. "Die sogenannten dunklen Jahrhunderte der Persis: Anmerkungen zu einem lange vernachlässigten Thema," Jahrbuch für Numismatik und Geldgeschichte 55/56 (2005/2006) 75-103.

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