The WESTERN CANDIDATE
A drachma of Vonones I
By: Terrance Cheesman
The Kingdom of Parthia occupied what is today Iraq and Iran and for over two centuries was in conflict with the Roman Empire whose eastern provinces of Syria and Cappadocia were on the western frontier of that kingdom. Despite many bitter wars there was from time to time an interchange of ideas and religion beyond the usual interchange of goods. In fact the last known Olympic victor from the ancient games was a man named Arsaces, very likely a prince of the royal house of Parthia.
Initial Roman efforts to destroy this kingdom were met with disaster. In 53 B.C. a Roman army under the general ship of Licinius Crassius was destroyed near the city of Carrhae loosing all its standards. The Roman desire for revenge was entrusted to Marc Antony who while not being totally destroyed was less than victorious loosing even more standards. After Augustus had defeated Antony the job of restoring Roman pride fell to him. Augustus chooses not to invade but to regain the lost standards through diplomacy. Among the gift to the Parthian king Phraates IV was the slave girl Musa who became his favourite wife. This had the interesting result of some of the children of Phraates earlier wives fleeing to Rome.
One such was Vonones. In 2 B.C. Phraataces the son of Musa murdered his father Phraates and began to rule. They were not popular and were driven out in 4 A.D. In 8 A.D. the exiled prince Vonones was called back. However his life in Rome had made him an admirer of all things western and rather contemptuous of the habits and culture of the Parthian Kingdom. Again he was not very popular and a rebel Artabanus II, a man who absolutely rejected the culture of the west, eventually defeated him and took over the Parthian Kingdom. The coin we are looking at is a drachma minted by Vonones during his war with Artabanus. It is perhaps the least Parthian looking coin minted during this period. On the obverse we have a portrait of Vonones done in traditional Parthian style but with rather short hair and a legend, the only one found on a Parthian drachma, which reads BACIΛEYC ONWNHC. Translated this reads “King Vonones”. The reverse feature a victory advancing left holding a palm.
The legend reads BACIΛEYC ONWNHC NEIHCAC APTBANON, “King Vonones victorious over Artabanus”. This coin either refers to an initial victory over the rebellion or one that is anticipated. By 12 A.D. Artabanus had won and Vonones was back in exile.
Previously published in the ENS “The Planchet” Magazine Vol-57 Issue-01