Ancient Armenian Coins

Ancient Armenian Coins

It is known from history that during the reign of Seleucid King Antiochus the Great (223-187 BC), Artashes, a prominent Seleucid military leader, was appointed the governor of Armenia and was nominally subservient to the Seleucid king.

Because the war with Rome greatly weakened the Seleucid Empire (in particular, in the battle of Magnesia in 191 BC), Artashes, taking advantage of the situation, proclaimed himself an independent ruler and founded the Armenian Artashesid (Artaxiad) dynasty in (189 AD – 6 AD).

The coins of the first rulers of the Artashesid dynasty haven’t reached us: apparently, no coins have been minted in their times. It is believed that the earliest coins of the kings of the Artashesid dynasty that have come down to us are those attributed to King Tigran I (123-96 BC). Only copper coins of this king have been discovered.

Of the extant coins of the kings of this dynasty, most have been manufactured during the reign of Tigran II the Great (95-56 BC). It was under Tigran the Great that Armenia achieved its greatest power and prosperity.

Silver and copper coins of Tigran the Great have been discovered in recent decades. Silver coins are represented by drachmas and tetradrachms (four drachmas), while copper coins were chalkuses of various denominations.

In the Attic monetary system, 1 drachma was equal to 6 obols, and 1 obol was equal to 8 chalkuses. 1 silver drachma was equal to 48 chalkuses.

The coins of Tigran the Great were minted at the mints of Armenia in Artashat and Tigranakert, and also in Syria – in Antioch, Damascus, etc.

On the obverse side of the coins, there is the profile of the king wearing a dentate Armenian tiara (crown). Such an image of a tiara is typical only for the rulers of the Artashesid dynasty, and it is not found on the coins of the rulers of other states.

The tiara with high-pointed teeth depicts the main symbol of the Artashesid dynasty – the eight-pointed star (the sun), with an eagle to its right and left. On the back are mythological and individual religious images, as well as Greek inscriptions of the name and titles of the king.

There are two types of inscriptions: “King Tigran” and “King of Kings Tigran”. Examinations have established that coins with the first type of inscription, “King of Tigran”, have been minted on the mints of Syria, and coins of the second type with the inscription “King of Kings Tigran” have been made on the mints of Armenia.

Starting with Tigran I and until the end of the Artashesid dynasty, the manufacture of royal coins has been continuous. Among the remarkable coins from this period is the silver tetradrachm of Artavazd II (56-34 BC) with a quadriga (four-horse chariot) and goddess Nike depicted on it, as well as the copper coin of King Tigran IV and Queen Erato.

By the way, this is the only one among the coins of the kings of the Artashesid dynasty to feature an Armenian Queen. This was probably due to the fact that she has been co-ruling along with her brother.

The study of the coins of the Artashesid dynasty showed that the latter were issued according to the Attic standards based on the Greek drachma. In the ancient period in Armenia, the name for the silver coin was “dram”, which was derived from the name of the Greek “drachma.” And today, the monetary unit of the Republic of Armenia is also called “dram”.

During the rule of the Artashesid dynasty, money circulation in Armenia was ensured with coin issues of Armenian kings themselves, as well as the coins of the neighboring states, including Parthia, Rome (the Roman Republic and later the Roman Empire), Seleucia, Cappadocia, and others.

The damaged and worn-out coins were usually re-melted for new minting, so it is difficult to evaluate the circulation of Armenian coins during this period. Part of the coins spread outside the borders of Armenia to neighboring countries. It can be said that in the period of Tigran the Great, his coins played the role of an international coin – that is, they were recognizable and demanded throughout the vast territories of the neighboring states.

It should be noted that after the reign of Tigran the Great, his coins continued to circulate due to their recognizability.

After the end of the rule of the Artashesid dynasty, the minting of Armenian coins ceased for a long time.

The copper coins of Commagene kings, whose issue began with Mithridates I Callinicus (96-70 BC) and continued until the second half of the 1st century AD, are also somewhat related to the history of the Armenian coin issues of ancient Armenia.

The original material was prepared in cooperation with the numismatist of the Central Bank of Armenia Gevorg Mughalyan.

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