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Research Coins: Feature Auction


An American Collection of the Kings of Persis

CNG 90, Lot: 787. Estimate $200.
Sold for $180. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

KINGS of PERSIS. Vahbarz (Oborzos). 3rd century BC. AR Obol (10mm, 0.50 g, 11h). Head right, with mustache and earring, wearing diadem and kyrbasia / Fire temple of Ahura-Mazda; standard to right. K&M 2/14; Alram 529; Sunrise -. Good VF, lightly toned, light porosity. Rare.


The kingdom of Persis, which existed from the third century BC until the early third century AD, when it became part of the Sasanian Empire, was centered in the modern Iranian Fars Province. This region had been the original homeland of the Achaemenids – the imperial capitals of Pasargadai (the first Achaemenid capital and site of the tomb of Cyrus the Great) and Persepolis (with its great palace complex), as well as the city of Istakhr, were located there. Following the defeat of Dareios III at Gaugamela in 331 BC, Alexander the Great took possession of Persepolis. Following the Babylonian War (311-309 BC), Persis became part of the new Seleukid Empire.

Seleukid control of Persis, however, appears to have been extremely limited, due to the shift of power north to Babylon. In Persis, no new cities there were founded (or existing cities refounded), and, to date, no Seleukid mints have been attributed to the area. As a result of apparent imperial disinterest, the region developed a self-sufficient culture based on established Achaemenid traditions. At some point in the early third century BC (probably around 295 BC), a revolt against Seleukid overlordship took place, and for a short time Persis was ruled by a series of local dynasts. Known colloquially as fratarakā from the title prtrk' zy alhaya, or "governor of the gods," on the coins they issued, these individuals gained independence from the Seleukids as rulers in their own right (see Triton VIII, 605 for a proclamation tetradrachm of Baydād). Only Vahrbaz is specifically mentioned in the sources (Polyaenus, Strat. 7.40), in connection with the murder of 3,000 katoikoi, or foreign inhabitants, under his charge – an incident which may suggest a connection to an extremely rare drachm of his showing a clearly Achaemenid-style ruler preparing to dispatch a captive Macedonian hoplite on the reverse (K&M 2.16a-b).

Following a possible transitional period (Vādfradād II and Uncertain King I), in which no titles of authority were included on the reverse their coins, the rulers of Persis down to the end of the kingdom adopted a new title in place of the earlier prtrk' zy alhaya. It was Dārēv I, who first adopted this new title mlk', or king; one issue of his coinage goes so far as to include the name prs, suggesting that the kings of Persis were now autonomous rulers of their territory. In keeping with this and beginning with Dārēv II, these kings also included the patronymic anagram BRH followed by the name of their predecessor/father, emphasizing a hereditary line of succession under a single royal family. There may have been limitations on this autonomy. During the second century BC, the Parthians under Mithradates II brought Persis under their control - although the extent of that control is not certain. Beginning with Šābuhr, the son of Pāpag, the kingdom of Persis now shifted toward what would become the Sasanian Empire. Šābuhr's brother and successor, Ardaxšir (Artaxerxes) V, completed the process in AD 224, when, having defeated the last legitimate Parthian king, Artabanos VI, he was crowned at Ctesiphon as Ardaxšir (Ardashir) I, šāhanšāh ī Ērān, the first king of the new Sasanian Empire.

A more detailed discussion of the coinage of Persis will appear in the forthcoming book, Anne van't Haaff and D. Scott VanHorn, Catalogue of the Coins of Persis, circa 280 BC – AD 224.