Review: Catalogue of Elymaean Coinage

P.A. van’t Haaff. Catalogue of Elymaean Coinage, ca. 147 BC–AD 228. Lancaster, Penn. / London, 2007. Hb., 167 pp., b/w illus throughout. $75.00. ISBN 978-0-9709268-8-3.

Despite the fame of its capital Susa (biblical “Shushan the Palace”) in the Achaemenid period and the importance of its mint under the Seleucid dynasty, the history and numismatics of Elymaïs in the post-Seleucid period is obscure and poorly studied. The last time that any attempt was made to compose a full type corpus for the coins of the native Kamnaskirid and Arsacid rulers of Elymaïs was J. de Morgan’s Numismatique de la perse antique, published in 1930. In the seventy-seven years that have intervened, many new discoveries—including coins of new kings in both dynasties—and new attempts to make sense of the numismatic evidence have been made. Thankfully, P. A. van’t Haaff has now provided us with a new Catalogue of Elymaean Coinage, which brings together the new and old material in one place.

There is very little surviving evidence for the history of the Elymaean kings except for fragments from a few Greek and Roman authors, brief mentions in cuneiform documents of the Parthian period, and the coins themselves. Thus it is not surprising that the bulk of the text is taken up with the discussion of chronological issues, which plague the issues of the early Kamnaskirid and the entire Arsacid dynasties of Elymaïs. Van’t Haaff is very much aware of the recent chronologies of G. R. F. Assar (“History and Coinage of Elymaïs During 150/149122/121 BC,” Name-ye Iran-e Bastan 4, no. 2 [2004–2005]: 27–91) and Daniel T. Potts (The Archaeology of Elam [Cambridge, 1999]) and generally follows them in the catalogue. However, he prefers to date Okkonapses’ silver and bronze coinage to 139 BC, after the reign of Kamnaskires Nikephoros, rather than to c. 144/3 BC, before his reign. This seems odd for the stylistic and political reasons that Assar has already pointed out. We would also add that the placement of Okkonapses’ coinage before that of Kamnaskires Nikephoros (regardless of whether one accepts him as Kamnaskires II, as does van’t Haaff, or as the same person as Kamnaskires I Soter, as does Assar) has the advantage of allowing for unbroken continuity between related bronze types of Kamnaskires Nikephoros (types 2.7, 2.9–2.10) and Tigraios (types 5.5–5.6). The author also dates the usurper Dareios to before 129 BC, despite Assar’s strong historical case against his rise to power while the Seleucid forces of Antiochus VII still held Elymaïs.

Somewhat more peculiar than these chronological divergences is the inclusion of tetradrachms and bronzes of the Parthian ruler Phraates II. These were once thought to have been issued while Phraates served as viceroy of Mithradates I at Susa (c. 139–138 BC), but this view has long been abandoned by Parthian specialists. Contemporary cuneiform records from Babylonia have shown that Phraates II ascended the throne in 132 BC as a minor in association with his mother (G. Del Monte, Testi dalla Babilonia Ellenistica I: Testi Cronografici [Pisa, 1997], 245). He would, therefore, have been about seven years old in 139 BC and could not have served as Arsacid viceroy in Susa. Nevertheless, van’t Haaff seems to accept the viceroy thesis in his historical introduction. He says that the Phraates II issues have been included in the catalogue “for reasons of continuity, and as an illustration of the fluid political situation in the region” (4). In this case, we wonder why the other Parthian coins of Susa are not also listed. It is also unclear why a unique bronze coin from the French excavations at Susa depicting a ruler portrait and an elephant has been excluded from the main bronze series of Kamnaskires Nikephoros. What remains of the lower inscription clearly reads [ΚΑ]ΜΝΙΣ[ΚΙΡΟΥ].

The chronology of the later Kamnaskirid rulers is less controversial, since these kings normally dated their coins. The author is probably right to argue against Robert Senior’s reading of the offstruck Seleucid era date ΘΛΣ (74/3 BC) on a tetradrachm attributed to Kamnaskires V (type 9.1–1) and the associated claim that Kamnaskires III, IV, and V are in fact the same person (R. Senior, “Notes on a Few Ancient Coins,” Oriental Numismatic Society Newsletter 155 [1998]: 18). The portrait style and the use of monogram 18 below the chin seems to closely link the coin to the other Kamnaskires V issues, none of which dates earlier than 48/7 BC. However, it is very difficult to read the ΘΝΣ (53/2 BC) date that van’t Haaf proposes. It may actually be ΖΟΣ (36/5 BC).

For the chronology of the Arsacid dynasty, the author essentially accepts the arrangement proposed by R. E. Vardanian (“Elimaidiskie monety: k khronologischeskoaei sistematizaetisii bronzorykh emissiaei II v.n.e.,” Vestnik Drevnej Istorii 176, no. 1 [1986]: 99–117), with a few modifications. While we agree that this makes more sense than Benjamin Bell’s early arrangement (“A New Model for Elymaean Royal Chronology,” The Celator 16, no. 5 [May 2002]: 34–39, 50, 59), it is not at all clear that all of van’t Haaff’s bronze types 10.1–10.4 imitating the silver and billon issues of Kamnaskires V are necessarily related to the Arsacids of Elymaïs or as early as the late first century BC–early second century AD periodization given in the catalogue. For example, the bronze tetradrachms and drachms of type 10.1, all of which feature obverse and reverse busts of decent style, are barely distinguishable from the more corrupt late issues of Kamnaskires V (i.e., type 9.1.1–7g-i). This, combined with the fact that the corrupt legends of type 10.1 still clearly attempt to name a king Kamnaskires, raise the possibility that they might actually belong to the end of the Kamnaskirid rather than the beginning of the Arsacid coinage. The issues with schematic reverse bust (types 10.2–10.4.2-2B) are closely related to the type used for the bronze tetradrachms of Orodes I (Vardanian’s “Unknown King”). This could potentially make them the earliest Arsacid issues, but since they appear to be crude imitations of Kamnaskires V without features to distinguish them as Arsacid, there is no way to be certain about their proper dynastic categorization. Conversely, van’t Haaff’s type 10.4.2-4 bronze drachms, which feature a reverse composed entirely of dashes, look like they could be related to certain drachms of the Arsacid Kamnaskires-Orodes (type 12.3). These two series involve dash reverses and also a dot-in-crescent symbol next to the ubiquitous obverse anchor.

Van’t Haaff’s chronological sequence for the first three Arsacid rulers of Elymaïs (Orodes I, Kamnaskires-Orodes, and Orodes II) seems fairly secure on the basis of types shared between the reigns and the use of Aramaic legends. However, the relationship between these series and the issues of Phraates and Orodes III, which the author makes to follow, is unclear. Suddenly, the coins with Aramaic inscriptions (all with dash reverse) are augmented by coins naming the king in Greek (all with reverse types depicting the figure of Artemis huntress or a bust of Artemis-Nanaia) and several anepigraphic issues. The use of coherent Greek legends on some of these coins makes it tempting to place them earlier in the sequence.

The large tetradrachms of Phraates with schematic Kamnaskirid bust reverse (type 14.8) are very closely related to the issues of Orodes I and Kamnaskires-Orodes, while the anchor on type 14.8.1-1 exhibits a pellet—a feature associated with the “uncertain early Arsacid issues” imitating Kamnaskires V types. It would be tempting to make Phraates precede Orodes I, if not for the fact that he wears a tiara (a feature that first appears under Orodes II), and many of his Aramaic issues with dash reverses seem more developed than those of Kamnaskires-Orodes. However, some of Phraates’ dash reverses (type 14.7, subtypes 1-1A-2-1) do have parallels in Kamnaskires-Orodes’ (type 12.1, subtype 1-3B-1-3Db) and the type 13.3 drachms of Orodes II. All of this makes one wonder whether Phraates was not a successor of Orodes II but rather a contemporary (rival?) of that king and his predecessors elsewhere in Elymaïs. The use of Greek and Aramaic legends, as well as Aramaic issues with highly developed dash reverses, makes it fairly certain that Orodes III follows Phraates. It is probable that the Greek and Aramaic issues reflect the use of two different mint facilities. If so, the Greek-inscribed coins probably belong to Susa, since the Artemis-Nanaia with kalathos types of Orodes III seem to be related to the cult statue depicted on a unique Susian drachm of Kamnaskires Nikephoros (type 2.2). The Aramaic issues may then have been produced at Seleucia on the Hedyphon.

Van’t Haaff divides the coinages of Phraates and Orodes III by three small bronze emissions of Osroes (types 15.1–15.3). These almost certainly depict the Parthian king of that name rather than a local Elymaean ruler (compare the portrait with D. Sellwood, Introduction to the Coinage of Parthia [London, 1980], no. 80), as has sometimes been suggested. Their style and lack of the usual Elymaean anchor symbol shows that they are out of place between these two Elymaean monarchs. They are probably regular Parthian issues of this king. Despite their appearance in the French excavations of Susa, it is not impossible that the coins of Osroes were actually struck elsewhere. On the other hand, the portrait of Orodes IV on his type 17.1 drachms, which features flying diadem ends as well as large tufts of hair on top and at the side of the head, looks like it is modeled after the portrait of Osroes.

The attribution of the anepigraphic type 17.2 coins to Orodes IV seems doubtful, as the type 17.1 coins of this ruler feature a left-facing royal bust and a large tuft of hair on top of the head, while type 17.2 carries a facing bust with no tuft. The royal portrait of type 17.2 actually looks much closer to that found on the dash-reverse drachms of Kamnaskires-Orodes (type 12.3), while the form of the anchor behind the head of Artemis-Nanaia (?) on the reverse has affinities to the anchor used on drachms of Orodes III (type 16.3). It is very tempting to reattribute type 17.2 to Kamnaskires-Orodes. If type 17.2 really belongs to Kamnaskires-Orodes, then so must type 17.3, which employs the same facing portrait. This attribution might then allow for the anchor flanked by cornucopias reverse of type 17.3 to serve as the model for the simplified anchor and dash reverse bronzes of Orodes III (type 16.3).

The coins given to Orodes V (type 18.1) are obviously related to the “Orodes IV” type 17.2 drachms that may belong to Kamnaskires-Orodes. They share the same bust of Artemis-Nanaia (?) reverse type, but her depiction on the Orodes V coins are stylistically superior to that of her image on the “Orodes IV” drachms. This suggests that the Orodes V issues precede those of “Orodes IV.” On the other hand, the royal portrait of Orodes V type 18.1 is clearly indebted to the portrait on Orodes IV’s type 17.1. Both of these types employ a left-facing bearded bust with a pronounced tuft of hair on top and flying diadem ends. However, Orodes V lacks the side tuft of hair so prominent on Orodes IV type 17.1.

Our review of the material shows that the sequence of Arsacid rulers at Elymais may not be as simple as the progression given by van’t Haaff. There appear to be three distinct groups, whose precise interrelationship is somewhat unclear:

Orodes I
Orodes II

Orodes III

Orodes IV (type 17.1)
Orodes V
“Orodes IV” (type 17.2)

If the Osroes bronzes do indeed refer to the Parthian king of that name, as seems most likely, then the coins of Group 3 must begin during his reign in AD 109–129 and make it probable that the issues of Orodes IV, Orodes V, and “Orodes IV” fill out the remainder of the second and perhaps the early third century AD. If “Orodes IV” is identical with Kamnaskires-Orodes, as we have suggested, then Group 1 must date to the late second and early third centuries. Such a radical redating may be supported by the appearance of portrait types similar to those of Orodes I and Kamnaskires-Orodes on coins of the Parthian king Vologases V (AD 191–208) (Sellwood 86–87). Group 2, with its limited connections to Group 1, may also fall into the late second–early third century.

In addition to the known rulers of Arsacid Elymaïs, van’t Haaff also includes the bronze drachm series of the unnamed Princes A and B (types 19.1 and 20.1). Unfortunately, they and their respective dating are presented without any discussion. The portrait of Prince A shares characteristics with the portraits of the Group 1 kings identified above (i.e., no large tufts of hair at the top of the head and no tiara, but with a small tuft [or diadem ornament?] at the front). On the other hand, the Artemis huntress reverse type also suggests an association with the Group 2 kings. The Prince B portrait, however, involves prominent tufts of hair on top and at the side as well as flying diadem ends. These features all serve to associate the coinage with the Group 3 kings and suggest a date in the second rather than the third century.

The author follows Georges Le Rider’s Suse sous les Seleucides et les Parthes (Paris, 1965) in attributing the Kamnaskirid coinage to major mints located at Susa and Seleucia on the Hedyphon, respectively, but this is largely based on the interpretation of certain coin symbols as mintmarks, rather than on solid find evidence that could reasonably isolate the circulation patterns of the two cities. It is assumed that Kamnaskirid issues bearing an anchor symbol were produced at Seleucia, while issues with a horse head/protome were struck at Susa, since Seleucus I, the founder of Seleucia, employed the anchor as his personal symbol and horses were associated with Susa. However, this seems somewhat questionable. The anchor never served as a mintmark under the Seleucids, and the earliest appearance of the anchor type on Elymaean coinage is on type 2.4 bronzes of Kamnaskires Nikephoros, which were probably struck at Susa. Likewise, the horse head/protome is far more closely associated with Ecbatana in the Seleucid period than with Susa. In any case, the mintmark thesis seems to be weakened by the fact that dated emissions featuring anchors, horse head/protomes, or lacking symbols entirely never overlap chronologically and sometimes share monograms (cf. monograms 13 and 14 on Kamnaskires IV issues [types 8.1–8.2], attributed to Seleucia on the Hedyphon and to a traveling mint, and monogram 16 on issues [type 8.3], attributed to Susa and to a traveling mint).

The evidence of seal impressions from Seleucia on the Tigris and Uruk tends to suggest that both the anchor and the horse had been used as emblems of Seleucid royal authority regardless of location (cf. T. Doty, “An Official Seal of the Seleucid Period,” JNES 38 [1979]: 195–197). Since the anchor is used indiscriminately on the coinage of the later Arsacid dynasty of Elymaïs and on a Parthian drachm issue of Orodes I, apparently as the badge of the conquered Elymaean kingdom (p. 16), it seems reasonable to think that it might also have been employed as a royal symbol rather than a mintmark by the preceding Kamnaskirid dynasty. If this interpretation of the anchor is correct, then the horse head/protome that appears on issues of Kamnaskires IV in the same position as the anchor may also have been used as a royal symbol. Presumably, these two emblems reappear on Kamnaskirid and Arsacid issues of Elymaïs as a means of casting the local kings as the legitimate regional successors to the Seleucids.

The understanding of the anchor as a royal symbol qualifying the king’s portrait that it usually accompanies might also make better sense of its occasional obliteration with a Nike countermark on coins of Kamnaskires III and IV. The Nike countermark also serves to qualify the portraits, as she carries a wreath in her outstretched hand to crown the image of the king. It may be no accident that the countermarks, which appear to have been applied ca. 67/6–63/2 BC, are contemporary with bronze coins of the Parthian king Phraates III, which show him crowned by Nike from behind (Sellwood nos. 36.19–20).

In addition to questions of chronology and mint, van’t Haaff also touches on iconography, arguing for the use of native names for the various deities depicted on the coinage. This is very welcome, but he is somewhat overzealous in identifying the Apollo and Zeus types of the early Kamnaskirid coinage and the facing bust type of the Arsacid coinage as images of the local Bel. While Zeus almost certainly would have been considered Bel by native Elymaeans, Seleucid Apollo is more likely to have been treated as Shamash or Nabu. The Arsacid facing bust reverse used by Orodes II seems far more likely to be a representation of his father, Kamnaskires-Orodes, who was depicted in a similar manner on his coinage and who is referred to in the Aramaic inscription (“King Orodes, Son of Orodes”) on the coins of Orodes II. If this interpretation is correct, then perhaps the small bust reverse used on the coins of Kamnaskires V was intended to depict the grandfather named in the accompanying Greek legend.

It is suggested that the cult statue of Artemis-Nanaia depicted on a unique silver drachm of Kamnaskires II (type 2.2) imitates “certain Seleucid bronzes.” Presumably, this cryptic remark refers to the issues of Demetrius II from Nisibis and Seleucia on the Tigris featuring Agathe Tyche (A. Houghton, C. Lorber, and O. Hoover, Seleucid Coins, Part II: Seleucus IV Through Antiochus XIII [Lancaster, Penn., 2008], nos. 1978–1980), which might very well have influenced the typology of Kamnaskires’ coinage. His bronze coins bearing anchor, tripod, cornucopia, and enthroned Tyche types (types 2.4–6 and 2.10) all appear to be closely modeled on issues of Demetrius II. Indeed, the similarity of Kamnaskires’ anchor type to that of Demetrius is so great that specimens of the former have occasionally been mistaken for coins of the latter (i.e., A. Houghton, Coins of the Seleucid Empire in the Collection of Arthur Houghton [New York, 1983], no. 1322). This tendency of Kamnaskires II to appropriate the types of Demetrius II may perhaps allude to his support for Demetrius’s ill-fated campaign against the Parthians (Justin 36.1.4). Nevertheless, it seems just as possible that the image of Artemis-Nanaia reflects her cult statue at Susa. The bell-shaped skirt, large staring eye, and static pose may be drawn from ancient Mesopotamian and Elamite artistic traditions, although the phiale, kalathos headdress, and apparent cornucopia are Greek additions.

The catalogue illustrations are generally good, although for many of the rare coins known primarily from excavation the author has had to rely on scans taken from earlier publications. Thus the image quality varies from coin to coin.

While it is wonderful to finally have a comprehensive type corpus for the rulers of Elymaïs, readers should show due caution in accepting the chronology and iconographic interpretations presented in the Catalogue of Elymaean Coinage. P. A. van’t Haaff has done a tremendous service to students of the minor dynasties of the post-Seleucid Near East, but as can be seen from the preceding discussion, many thorny problems still remain to be settled before we can truly say that we understand the coinage of Elymaïs.

—Oliver D. Hoover