Weight: 15.400 g
Diameter: 29.000 mm
Room 52: Ancient Iran
Silver tetradrachm of Mithradates I
Parthian, 171-138 BC
From ancient Mesopotamia
A Parthian coin of thoroughly Greek conception
The Parthians were an Iranian nomadic tribe who lived south-east of the Caspian Sea in the third century BC. They gradually conquered Iran and Mesopotamia. By the first century BC the Parthian Empire stretched from the River Euphrates in modern Iraq to eastern Iran. The Parthians were Rome's strongest opponents in the East, until the collapse of their empire in AD 224.
It is not clear exactly when Parthian coinage started, but by the end of the second century BC coins were produced throughout the Parthian empire. In the early period a strong Hellenistic (Greek) influence is noticeable, but from the start of the first century BC the Iranian style begins to emerge.
Like their Hellenistic prototypes they showed the profiled head of the king, in this case Mithradates I (171-138 BC) wearing a diadem on the obverse (front). The standing nude figure on the reverse (back) resembles Heracles. Most Parthian kings adopted the name Arsaces, after the founder of their dynasty. The Greek legend on this coin reads 'Of the Great King Arsaces, friend of the Greeks'.
G.K. Jenkins, Ancient Greek coins (London, Seaby, 1990)
O. Mørkholm, Early Hellenistic coinage (Cambridge University Press, 1991)
D.G. Sellwood, The coinage of Parthia (London, Spink, 1980)