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Overstrikes of Phraates IV

Obverse of a countermarked coin of Phraates IV. From the collection of
        Peter Linenthal.

As well as the coins minted in the name of Sapadbizes there are a number of coins of the Parthian king Phraates IV attributed to the same period. Phraates IV ruled Parthia at the end of the first century BC. In western Bactria (at Tillya-Tepe, Kampur-Tepe, Hairabad-Tepe, Dilberjin) we find many of his coins all overstruck in the same manner; with a bust of a Greek King resembling that on the coin of Sapadbizes. In all the cases pictured by Zeymal the overstrike is placed beneath the king's head and facing to the right (as shown).

The overstrikes are curious, in that they are almost exclusively restricted to the coins of Phraates IV. Though contemporary coins of Orodes (early 1st century BC) and Gotarzes II (mid-first century AD) were found at Kampir-Tepe, they have no counter-marks on them. It seems likely that the countermarks on coins of Phraates IV were part of a deliberate policy relating to the period at the end of the first century BC and start of the first century AD - the period of Phraates IV rule in Parthia.

There is a considerable debate over the countermarks. Wroth first proposed that the coins were based on the issues of Sapadbizes and were minted by the same king. Sarianidi & Koshelenko also agreed that the countermark should be attributed to Sapadbizes and they were followed by Rtveladze who has written the most comprehensive article to date on the subject. These opinions have been challenged by the Russian numismatist Zeymal who studied the overstruck coins from Takht-i-Sangin. This opinion is shared by a number of other prominent scholars who have not published on the subject.

Zeymal points out that the problem is that the Eucratides' countermark does not resemble the portrait on the coins of Sapadbizes. The helmet, shoulders and hair all differ markedly. For this reason Zeymal doubts, and I agree, that the countermark was made by Sapadbizes. However, there is a difference between saying that the countermark was not made by Sapadbizes and that the countermark is not related to Sapadbizes. It could have been made by another member of the same dynasty. Considering the paucity of coins from these other rulers (and the possibility still unknown rulers existed) the objection of Zeymal can hardly be an issue.

The locations of Sapadbizes' coins, which are assumed to indicate the bounds of his kingdom, belong to the same region, western Bactria, as the finds of Phraates IV coins with countermark. In chronological span both sets of coins also belong to the same period. So it would seem certain that the coins circulated together. This is not proof of a link but it is suggestive. The main evidence is the countermark on the coins. This is not a simple imitation but an overtly political act. As such it must have had a symbolic tie. The bust of Eucratides must have been meaningful to the person who made the mark. As the coinage overlaps with that of Sapadbizes it seems logical that it was an overt link to the Sapadbian dynasty. For whom Eucratides served the purpose which Hermaues served for Kajula Kadphises. In the West of Bactria the Yu-chi invasion is followed by the issue of imitations of the Greek king Heliocles. Imitations of the king Eucratides are not found in western Bactria. So it is a surprise that the coins of Phraates IV have an overstrike of Eucratides.

The overstrikes of Phraates IV say two things. Firstly that the kings of west Bactria were subordinate to those of Parthia. No better indication of this can be found than the placement of the overstrike beneath Phraates IV own bust. This is a potent symbol; the kings of west Bactria have placed themselves under the aegis of Parthia. Secondly the coins help us to date the reign of Sapadbizes. The kings of west Bactria must have been minting coins before and after the reign of Phraates IV. If it could be established in what order we should place the Nameless King, Agezilles and Sapadbizes, then approximate dates could be established (between the later first century BC and the early first century AD).


Evidence for Sapadbizes Sites of Coin Finds Chinese Sources
Overstrikes of Phraates IV Dating the Coins Bibliography
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© Robert Bracey, 2001