HomeAncient CoinsCoinWeek Ancient Coin Series – The Seleucids and Their Coins: Part III

CoinWeek Ancient Coin Series – The Seleucids and Their Coins: Part III

CoinWeek Ancient Coin Series by Mike Markowitz …..

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4


Antiochus V & Timarchus

When Seleucid king Antiochus IV died unexpectedly in 164 BCE, he left his nine-year-old son in the care of Lysias, a trusted official. As Antiochus V, the boy’s portrait appears on the coinage[1] with the epithet Eupatoros (“son of a good father”). With a child on the throne, the kingdom was up for grabs. While Lysias was preoccupied fighting Judaean rebels, Timarchus, the governor of the eastern province of Media (now part of Iran), rose in revolt.

The silver coinage of Timarchus is very rare, with no examples in recent sales[2]. From his capital at Ekbatana in Persia, he issued tetradrachms copying the handsome design of the contemporary Bactrian coinage of Eucratides I[3] (ruled c. 171 – 145 BCE). On the obverse, Timarchus wears a crested cavalry helmet. The reverse shows the Dioscuri (the mythic twins Castor and Pollux) on horseback, with the Greek inscription BAΣΙΛΕΩΣ MEΓAΛOY TIMAPXΟΥ (“of Great King Timarchus”). Adopting the old Persian title “Great King” might have been an attempt to appeal to his Iranian subjects.

Antiochus V Eupator
Antiochus V Eupator. 164-162 BCE. AR Tetradrachm (31mm, 16.71 g, 12h). Antioch on the Orontes mint. Diademed head right / Zeus Nikephoros seated left; monogram to outer left. SC 1575.1; Le Rider, Antioche 1–24; HGC 9, 752.

On his bronze coinage, Timarchus wears the diadem, a headband that was the Greek emblem of kingship; the reverse shows a standing figure of Nike, winged goddess of victory, with her symbolic wreath and palm branch[4].

Demetrius I

Under the terms of the treaty of Apamea (188 BCE), an older son of Antiochus IV, Demetrius (aged about 22 years,) was held hostage at Rome. With the help of the historian Polybius, he escaped, hired mercenaries and was welcomed home when he landed in Syria (Autumn 162.) He had the regent Lysias and the young king Antiochus V put to death and crushed the rebel Timarchus. In 160 BCE, the Roman Senate grudgingly recognized Demetrius as Seleucid king.

Demetrios I Soter. Gold Stater (8.55 g), 162-150 BCE. Ekbatana. Diademed head of Demetrios I right; behind, star above K. Rev. Apollo seated left on omphalos, testing arrow and resting hand on grounded compound bow behind; in outer left field, horse’s head left. (SC 1725.2; CSE 2; 429; HGC 9, 783). The cover coin. Extremely rare, being one of only two known specimens.

His boastful epithet Soter (“Savior”) appears on his coinage. A very rare gold stater of Demetrius with the seated Apollo reverse brought $26,000 (against an estimate of $20,000) in a recent New York City auction[5].

Demetrius married his half-sister, Laodice V[6]. They appear side by side on a series of rare silver tetradrachms[7]. In profile, the family resemblance is remarkable. The reverse shows a seated draped figure of Tyche, goddess of good luck, holding a cornucopia (“horn of plenty”). Demetrius adopted Tyche as his patroness, and she appears on many of his coins.

Bronze coins from an uncertain mint in northern Syria[8] show the head of a fierce dog on the obverse, and the forepart of a graceful lynx (sometimes described as a “griffin”) on the reverse:

…finely engraved animal types relating to the hunt, perhaps reflecting Demetrius’ preference for country life (Houghton, 176).”

Arrogant and contemptuous, Demetrius managed to make enemies of his neighbors, including the powerful Attalids of Pergamon and the Ptolemies of Egypt. A well-financed pretender appeared, claiming to be a son of Antiochus IV. His name was Alexander Balas, and, In 150 BCE, he defeated and killed Demetrius in battle. Demetrius had wisely sent his two young sons to safety on the island city-state of Knidos (now Yazıköy, Turkey).

Alexander I

As a ruler Alexander proved himself utterly worthless. He fell under the dominion of mistresses and favourites, while the government was abandoned to the prime minister, Ammonius, who made himself detested by his crimes (Bevan, 213).”

Alexander I Balas
Alexander I Balas. 152-145 BCE. AR Tetradrachm (26mm, 14.22 g, 1h). Tyre mint. Dated SE 165 (148/7 BCE). Diademed and draped bust right / Eagle standing left on prow left; palm frond behind; to left, club surmounted by Tyre monogram; to right, EΞP (date) above HP monogram. SC 1835.4c; HGC 9, 883.

Alexander secured his alliance with Ptolemy VI by marrying Ptolemy’s daughter, Cleopatra Thea. She bore Alexander a son, the future Antiochus VI. A rare silver tetradrachm struck for Alexander at Seleucia Pieria (the seaport of Antioch) bears the bearded image of Zeus, with the god’s stylized thunderbolt surrounded by a wreath on the reverse[9].

For his Phoenician cities, Alexander issued handsome tetradrachms on the light Egyptian standard of about 14 grams, bearing the Ptolemaic eagle on the reverse[10]. These coins are dated according to the “Seleucid Era”, which started in 312 BCE.

Demetrius II (Part 1)

Demetrios II Nikator. Silver Tetradrachm
Demetrios II Nikator. Silver Tetradrachm (16.1 g), first reign, 146-138 BCE. Antioch on the Orontes. SE 167 (146/45 BCE). Diademed head of Demetrios II right. Reverse BAΣIΛEΩΣ ΔHMHTPIOY ΘEOY ΦIΛAΔ-EΛΦOY NIKA-TOPOΣ, Apollo seated left on omphalos, testing arrow and resting hand on grounded bow; in outer left field, palm branch; in inner left field, monogram; in exergue, date (ZΞP) and monogram. SC 1906.5a.

With an army of Cretan mercenaries, a son of Demetrius landed in Cilicia in 147 BCE. Ptolemy VI abandoned his support for Alexander, who was defeated in battle and fled to the desert, where an Arab chieftain murdered him. Demetrius II occupied Antioch in 145, married Cleopatra Thea, and issued coins under the grandiose title of Baisileos Demetrios Theos Philadelphos Nikatoros (“King Demetrius the God, Brother-loving, Victorious”). His youthful portrait (aged about 17) appears on tetradrachms issued at Antioch for about two years[11].

Antiochus VI


Antiochos VI Dionysos AR Tetradrachm
Antiochos VI Dionysos AR Tetradrachm. Antioch on the Orontes, dated SE 169 = 144/3 BCE. Radiate and diademed head right / BAΣIΛEΩΣ ANTIOXOY EΠIΦANOYΣ ΔIONYΣOY, the Dioskouroi, holding reins in right hand and couched lances in left, on horses rearing left; to right, TPY above monogram above ΣTA; ΘΞP (date) below; all within wreath of laurel, ivy, and grain ears. SC 2000.2f; SMA 230. 17.29g, 32mm

In 144 BCE, Diodotus, guardian of the child Antiochus VI (son of the late Alexander Balas) rose in revolt against Demetrius II, who fled to Cilicia. Antioch now struck coins in the name of the boy king, depicted with a radiate crown atop his curly locks[12].

Antiochos VI Dionysos
Antiochos VI Dionysos. 144-142 BCE. AR Tetradrachm (27mm, 13.38 g, 12h). Ptolemaïs (Ake) mint. Dated SE 169 (144/3 BCE). Diademed and draped bust right / Eagle standing left on thunderbolt; grain stalk behind; L ΘΞP (date) to left, monogram to right and between legs. SC 2022.1a; HGC 9, 1033; DCA 179. VF, toned, porous, metal flaws on obverse. Very rare.

A more conventional portrait appeared on Ptolemaic-style lightweight tetradrachms issued at Ake in Palestine[13]. He adopted the epithet Dionysos (the Greek god of wine.) As the civil war dragged on, the Parthians overran more territory in the east, and whole provinces broke away from Seleucid rule.


In 142 young Antiochus VI died, supposedly during a medical procedure, but it was generally thought that Diodotus ordered the boy’s death. Diodotus took the throne for himself under the name Tryphon (“luxurious or extravagant”), adding the title Autokratoros (“sole ruler in his own right”). He broke with tradition by placing an ornate spiked helmet decorated with an ibex horn (a type of wild goat) on the reverse of on his coinage, rather than the image of a god. There are conflicting theories about the meaning of this symbol. Tryphon’s silver coinage is quite rare and often poorly struck; an exceptional pedigreed tetradrachm brought over $36,000 USD in a 2014 auction[14].

Diodotos Tryphon AR Tetradrachm
Diodotos Tryphon AR Tetradrachm. Antioch, circa 142/1-138 BCE. Diademed head of Tryphon to right, filleted border around / ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΤΡΥΦΩΝΟΣ ΑΥΤΟΚΡΑΤΟΡΟΣ, Macedonian helmet adorned with ibex horn, ΠΑ monogram in inner left field, all within oak wreath border. SC 2031.1; Newell, Antioch 264; Houghton 256. 16.99g, 33mm.

The civil war with Demetrius II continued during Tryphon’s troubled reign. In 138, the Parthians captured Demetrius in an ambush. He would spend 10 years as a royal prisoner, marrying Rhodogune, daughter of the Parthian king Mithridates I. Meanwhile, Tryphon, defeated by the army of Antiochus VII (brother of Demetrius II), was besieged at Apamea, where he was captured and executed in 138 or early 137.

Antiochus VII

Antiochus VII was the younger son (born about 159 BCE) of Demetrius I. To ensure his survival in the harsh world of Seleucid royal politics, he was brought up in exile in the seaside town of Side (now one of the best-preserved classical sites in Turkey.) As a result, he acquired the nickname Sidetes, although his official epithet (which appears on the coinage) was Euergetes (“benefactor”, or “good deed doer”).

Antiochos VII Euergetes (Sidetes)
Antiochos VII Euergetes (Sidetes). 138-129 BCE. AR Tetradrachm (25mm, 13.79 g, 12h). Tyre mint. Dated SE 176 (137/6 BCE). Diademed and draped bust right / Eagle standing left on prow left; palm frond over far shoulder; to left, monogram above club surmounted by Tyre monogram; to right, monogram above ςΟΡ (date); monogram between legs. SC 2109.4a; HGC 9, 1074; DCA 198.

When his brother Demetrius II was captured by the Parthians, Antiochus now married the queen, Cleopatra Thea, and took the throne. He launched an ambitious campaign in 130 to re-conquer territory lost to the Parthians. To promote conflict in the Seleucid kingdom, the Parthians released Demetrius II from captivity.

The coinage of Antiochus VII is very common and relatively affordable. It circulated so widely that the neighboring kingdom of Cappadocia imitated it for many years, even after Antiochus fell in battle against the Parthians in 129. The Parthians respectfully returned his body to Antioch in a silver casket.

Antiochus’ chubby portrait appears on silver tetradrachms[15] struck at Antioch. An elegant standing figure of Athena, goddess of war, adorns the reverse. A more idealized and artistic portrait appears on the Ptolemaic-style tetradrachms[16] issued by Tyre in Phoenicia.

Demetrius II (Part 2)

Demetrios II Nikator
Demetrios II Nikator. Second reign, 129-125 BCE. AR Tetradrachm (29.5mm, 12.56 g, 1h). Ptolemaïs (Ake) mint. Dated SE 186 (127/6 BCE). Diademed and horned head right / Eagle standing left on thunderbolt; two monograms to left, ςΠP (date) to right. SC 2204.2; HGC 9, 1124; DCA 231. VF. Very rare.

Freed from captivity in Parthia, Demetrius II regained his throne and ruled a troubled fraction of the kingdom for about four years, becoming entangled in the murderous intrigues of his Ptolemaic relatives in Egypt. His beardless portrait, now with short curly hair, appears on rare tetradrachms struck at Tarsus[17]. The reverse bears a seated figure of Zeus, a design that goes back to the coinage of Alexander the Great.

On Ptolemaic-style tetradrachms struck at Ake[18] the portrait of Demetrius is bearded, perhaps in deliberate imitation of the god.

Demetrios II Nikator
Demetrios II Nikator. Second reign, 129-125 BCE. AR Tetradrachm (31mm, 16.37 g, 12h). Tarsos mint, “Royal workshop”. Diademed and horned head right / Zeus Nikephoros seated left; two monograms to outer left. SC 2154.

Demetrius had been deeply unpopular in his first reign and remained so in his second. In 125 he suffered a major defeat… He sought refuge at Ptolemais (Ake), only to find that his wife, Cleopatra Thea, had locked the city gates against him. He fled to Tyre where he was apprehended, abused and finally put to death (Houghton, 409).”

The kingdom now descended into chaos, as Cleopatra Thea held the throne as regent for her sons, the future kings Seleucus V Philometor and Antiochus VIII Grypus. But that is a tale for the next installment of this series.

* * *


[1] Photo and coin provided by The Medicus Collection, all rights reserved.

[2] There is a unique gold stater in Berlin: http://numismatics.org/sco/id/sc.1.1604

[3] British Museum: 1913,0512.1; this influential design still appears on the seal of the Afghan central bank.

[4] CNG Electronic Auction 316, 4 December 2013, Lot 162. Realized $625 USD.

[5] New York Sale XL, 11 January 2017, Lot 1123.

[6] Daughter of Seleucus IV and Laodice IV, she was the widow of the last Macedonian king Perseus, who died a Roman prisoner c. 162 BCE.

[7] Numismatica Ars Classica Auction 100, 29 May 2017, Lot 167. Realized $15,404 USD.

[8] CNG Triton V, 15 January 2002, Lot 556. Realized $3,500 USD.

[9] Roma Numismatics, Auction 13, 23 March 2017, Lot 442. Realized $30,064 USD.

[10] Photo and coin provided by The Medicus Collection, all rights reserved.

[11] Ira and Larry Goldberg, Auction 78, 28 January 2014, Lot 2344. Realized $900 USD.

[12] Roma Numismatics Auction XIII, 23 March 2017, Lot 453. Realized $3,507 USD.

[13] CNG Electronic Auction 439, 6 March 2019, Lot 131. Realized $900 USD.

[14] Roma Numismatics Auction VII, 22 March 2014,Lot 827. Realized $36,286 USD.

[15] Leu Numismatik Web Auction 6, 9 December 2018, Lot 363. Realized $222 USD.

[16] CNG Electronic Auction 437, 6 February 2019, Lot 171. Realized $425 USD.

[17] CNG Auction 109, 12 September 2018, Lot 323. Realized $7,500 USD.

[18] CNG Auction 108, 16 May 2018, Lot 350. Realized $1,400 USD.


Bevan, Edwyn. The House of Seleucus (2 vols). London (1902)

Carradice, Ian. Greek Coins. London (1995)

Chaniotis, Angelos. Age of Conquests: The Greek World From Alexander to Hadrian. Harvard (2018)

Dodd, Rebecca. Coinage and Conflict: The Manipulation of Seleucid Political Imagery. (Thesis.) Glasgow University, UK (2009)

Houghton, Arthur, Catharine Lorber, and Oliver Hoover. Seleucid Coins: A Comprehensive Catalogue II: Seleucus IV through Antiochus XIII. New York (2008)

Kosmin, Paul. The Land of the Elephant Kings: Space, Territory and Ideology in the Seleucid Empire. Cambridge, MA. (2014)

Newell, Edward T. The Coinage of the Western Seleucid Mints. New York (1941)

–. The Coinage of the Eastern Seleucid Mints. New York (1938)

–. Royal Greek Coin Portraits. New York (1937)

Sear, David. Greek Coins and Their Values, Vol. 2: Asia & Africa. London (1979)

Seltman, Charles. Greek Coins. London (1955)

Walbank, F.W. The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume VII, Part I: The Hellenistic World. Cambridge (1984)

Mike Markowitz
Mike Markowitz
Mike Markowitz is a member of the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington. He has been a serious collector of ancient coins since 1993. He is a wargame designer, historian, and defense analyst. He has degrees in History from the University of Rochester, New York, and Social Ecology from the University of California, Irvine. Born in New York City, he lives in Fairfax, Virginia.

Related Articles


  1. Hi
    I am a newbie at Biblical coin collection.
    I just acquired a Seleucid Kingdom Demetrius I Soter 162-150 BC.
    My intrigue is the Rev: cornucopia monograms.
    Could you enlighten me about the meaning of this monogram?
    What does it say?
    I would really appreciate your expertise answer.
    Julian Nodarse


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Heritage Auctions June

AU Capital Management US gold Coins

David Lawrence Rare Coins Auctions