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date: 17 January 2020

Fratarakā, Sub-Seleucid Dynasty in Persis

Shortly after his reconquest of Babylonia in 312 bce, Seleucus, a former general of Alexander the Great, was able to conquer the Achaemenid heartland of Persis (Fars), and in the second half of the 2nd century bce, it was the Arsacids who put themselves in possession of this prestigious region. Shortly before, Fars had been allowed to enjoy a brief period of independence, when the Seleucid empire, at least after Antiochus III’s heavy defeat by Rome, had shown clear signs of an internal and external crisis. Scholars have openly discussed the date and duration of Persid independence, and even sometimes denied the existence of conflicts between Seleucids and Persid dynasts (Fratarakā; cf. Engels). In these debates, the dating and interpretation of the coins of sub-Seleucid dynasts and independent rulers of Fars are decisive, but this procedure should not be tackled without taking into due and independent consideration the existing archaeological, epigraphic, and literary evidence.

The main reason for that is an argument between numismatists over how to date and interpret the so-called fratarakā coins (Fig. 1) in whose inscriptions the names and titles of the sub-Seleucid dynasts and the independent rulers of Fars are mentioned. Historians and archaeologists contribute to that dispute by trying to harmonize the additional brief literary and epigraphic information and the archaeological findings with the numismatic material.1

Fratarakā, Sub-Seleucid Dynasty in Persis

Figure 1. Wahbarz, drachma (Klose and Müseler 2008, type 2/16a, reverse, plate 6). Courtesy D. Klose.

Many scholars are still convinced—on the basis of literary and archaeological evidence, inscriptions, and coins—that, from the end of the 3rd or the beginning of the 2nd century bce onwards, Persian dynasts ruled Persis as Seleucid representatives (title: prtrk’ ZY ’LHY’/frataraka ī Bayān/: “Frataraka (governor) of the Lords”2) and issued their own coinage of high quality and creativity.3 Shortly before the appearance of the Parthians, this Seleucid phase ended when an independent dynast seized the rule of Persis.4 The numismatic evidence5 documents that the Arsacid coinage finally began to dominate Persis’ local coinage after the second series of coins issued by Wādfradād III (early 1st century bce). But this phase should be separated from a preceding period, the beginning of which is marked by the coins of Wādfradād (II?), and which also includes the coins of the Unknown King I (second half of 2nd century bce) and Dārāyān I (end of the 2nd century bce), as well as the early coins of Wādfradād III (Figs. 2 and 3). These coins are iconographically still related to the Fratarakā coinage, but they show Parthian influence because tetradrachms were no longer issued and drachms became the leading denomination. Because of the disappearance of the legends with the dynast’s name and title during the time of Wādfradād (II?) and the Unknown King I, Michael Alram6 has suggested that these coins are linked to an effort of the Arsacid overlord to suppress the rebellious behaviour of the rulers of Persis. The historical background for such a countermeasure could be that in the years before 123 bce the Parthians, with difficulties though in the end successfully, attempted to maintain their position against the aspirations of both the Seleucid Antiochus VII and Hyspaosines of Characene.7 Therefore, Wahbarz (first half of 2nd century bce; cf. Polyaen. 7.40) and/or Wādfradād I (first half of 2nd century bce) initiated the separation of Persis from the Seleucids, and afterwards Wādfradād II (ca. 140 bce) was forced to acknowledge Arsacid lordship.8 Presumably, the Arsacids followed Seleucid custom when they granted the right to issue coins to vassals in southwestern Iran. The local dynasts (see Table 1) were probably allowed to assume the role of regional kings because the Arsacids did not perceive a threat in the Fratarakā’s limited ambitions after their secession from the Seleucids.9

Fratarakā, Sub-Seleucid Dynasty in Persis

Figure 2. Baydad, tetradrachm (Klose and Müseler 2008, type 2/2, plate 3). Courtesy D. Klose.

Fratarakā, Sub-Seleucid Dynasty in Persis

Figure 3. Baydad, tetradrachm (Klose and Müseler 2008, type 2/3, plate 3). Courtesy D. Klose.

Table 1. List of sub-Seleucid dynasts.

Date

Greek/Latin Name

Indigenous (MP) Name

Comment

Late 3rd/early 2nd century bce

Artaxares I

Ardašīr

Sub-Seleucid dynast (MP title frataraka)

First half of 2nd century bce

Oborzus

Wahbarz

Sub-Seleucid dynast—rebel against Seleucids (MP title kāren (strategos ?)?)

First half of 2nd century bce

Bagadates (Bades)

Baydād

Sub-Seleucid dynast (MP title frataraka)

Mid-2nd century bce

Autophradates I

Wādfradād

Independent dynast of Persis

Shortly after 140 bce

Autophradates II

Wādfradād

Parthian “vassal king” (MLK’/šāh)

The seat of the fratarakā in the 2nd century bce was presumably Persepolis and not yet Stakhr. In any case, there was intense building activity on and below the terrace during their time. Artaxerxes III’s staircase façade was moved from palace G to Palace H. To the west a wall was erected, and the crenulated architectural elements, which appear on the fratarakā coins (Fig. 4), were rebuilt. Below the terrace there was building activity too, as is indicated by the find of reliefs of a fratarakā and his spouse.10

Fratarakā, Sub-Seleucid Dynasty in Persis

Figure 4. Wādfradād, drachma. (Klose and Müseler 2008, type 2/23, reverse, plate 6). Courtesy D. Klose.

Although the fratarakā—who were not magi themselves—stressed their close ties to the Achaemenids and recognised the close connection between Persid rule and divine choice and support, they did not consider themselves to be Achaemenids and “Great Kings.” They did not adopt this title, nor did they wear the headgear of the Great King or use other symbols of Persian royalty. With their choice of the satrap’s tiara, they expressed their claim to regional rule, first as subordinates of the Seleucids and later as independent rulers, but they did not take over the Achaemenid claim to power outside the borders of Persis. Thus, it is not surprising that their rule did not come to an end in Arsacid times. With their limited goals, the fratarakā were no serious danger and no obstacle to the legitimacy of the Parthians who called themselves “Great Kings” and acted as rulers of an empire which went beyond the borders of Iran. Presumably the Seleucids, for their part, had also not been afraid of their rule being threatened by these dynasts after long periods of Persid loyalty.

Bibliography

Alram, Michael. Nomina Propria Iranica in Nummis: Materialgrundlagen zu den iranischen Personennamen auf antiken Münzen. Iranisches Personennamenbuch 4. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1986.Find this resource:

Alram, Michael. “Die Vorbildwirkung der arsakidischen Münzprägung.” Litterae Numismaticae Vindobonenses 3 (1987): 117–146.Find this resource:

Callieri, Pierfrancesco. L’archéologie du Fārs à l’époque hellénistique. Persica 11. Paris: de Boccard, 2007.Find this resource:

Callieri, Pierfrancesco. “The Cultural Heritage of the Aristocracy of Persis during the Hellenistic Period.” In Excavating an Empire: Achaemenid Persia in Longue Durée. Edited by T. Daryaee, A. Mousavi, and K. Rezakhani, 88–121. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda, 2014.Find this resource:

Curtis, Vesta Sarkhosh. “The Frataraka Coins of Persis: Bridging the Gap between Achaemenid and Sasanian Persia.” In The World of Achaemenid Persia. Edited by John Curtis and S. J. Simpson, 379–394. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2010.Find this resource:

Engels, David. “A New Frataraka Chronology.” Latomus 72 (2013): 28–82.Find this resource:

Haerinck, Ernie, and Bruno Overlaet. “Altar Shrines and Fire Altars? Architectural Representations on Frataraka Coinage.” Iranica Antiqua 43 (2008): 207–233.Find this resource:

Hoover, Oliver D. “Overstruck Seleucid Coins.” In Seleucid Coins: A Comprehensive Catalogue. Edited by Arthur Houghton and Catherine Lorber, vol. 2.1, 209–230. New York: American Numismatic Society, 2002–2008.Find this resource:

Klose, Dietrich O. A., and Wilhelm Müseler. Statthalter, Rebellen, Könige: Die Münzen aus Persepolis von Alexander dem Großen zu den Sasaniden. Munich: Staatliche Münzsammlung, 2008.Find this resource:

Müseler, Wilhelm. “Die sogenannten dunken Jahrhunderte der Persis: Anmerkungen zu einem lange vernachlässigten Thema.” Jahrbuch für Numismatik und Geldgeschichte 55/56 (2005–2006): 75–103.Find this resource:

Panaino, Antonio. “The Baγ‎ān of the Fratarakas: Gods or ’Divine’ Kings?” In Religious Themes and Texts of Pre-Islamic Iran and Central Asia: Studies in Honor of Professor Gherardo Gnoli on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday on 6th December 2002. Edited by Carlo G. Cereti et al., 265–288, Beiträge zur Iranistik 24. Wiesbaden: Winter, 2003.Find this resource:

Potts, Daniel T. The Archaeology of Elam: Formation and Transformation of an Ancient Iranian State. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Schuol, Monika. Die Charakene: Ein mesopotamisches Königreich in hellenistisch-parthischer Zeit. Oriens et Occidens 1. Stuttgart: Steiner, 2000.Find this resource:

Shayegan, M. Rahim. Arsacids and Sasanians: Political Ideology in Post-Hellenistic and Late Antique Persia. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Wiesehöfer, Josef. Die dunklen Jahrhunderte’ der Persis: Untersuchungen zu Geschichte und Kultur von Fārs in frühhellenistischer Zeit (330–140 v. Chr.). Zetemata 90. Munich: Beck, 1994.Find this resource:

Wiesehöfer, Josef. “Fratarakā and Seleucids.” In The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Iran Edited by Daniel T. Potts, 718–727. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Notes:

(1.) See the recent overviews and commentaries in M. Rahim Shayegan, Arsacids and Sasanians: Political Ideology in Post-Hellenistic and Late Antique Persia (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 168–187; Josef Wiesehöfer, “Fratarakā and Seleucids,” in The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Iran, ed. Daniel T. Potts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 718–727; David Engels, “A New Frataraka Chronology,” Latomus 72 (2013): 28–82; and Pierfrancesco Callieri, “The Cultural Heritage of the Aristocracy of Persis during the Hellenistic Period,” in Excavating an Empire: Achaemenid Persia in Longue Durée, eds. T. Daryaee, A. Mousavi, and K. Rezakhani (Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda, 2014), 88–121.

(2.) For the most recent discussion of the sources, see Wiesehöfer, “Fratarakā and Seleucids,”; Callieri, “Cultural Heritage.”

(3.) For the symbols (e.g., tower-like object, standard, etc.) and symbolic scenes on the coins and the interpretation of the word bayān (“lords”— Achaemenids, gods of the Achaemenids, cf. Callieri, “Cultural Heritage.” For a different starting date of the “first phase” coins in the early 3rd century and a thesis about breaks between the fratarakā series, see Dietrich O. A. Klose and Wilhelm Müseler, Statthalter, Rebellen, Könige: Die Münzen aus Persepolis von Alexander dem Großen zu den Sasaniden (Munich: Staatliche Münzsammlung, 2008); Oliver D. Hoover, “Overstruck Seleucid Coins,” in Seleucid Coins: A Comprehensive Catalogue, ed. Arthur Houghton and Catherine Lorber (New York: American Numismatic Society, 2002–2008), vol. 2.1, 209–230; Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis, “The Frataraka Coins of Persis: Bridging the Gap between Achaemenid and Sasanian Persia,” in The World of Achaemenid Persia, eds. John Curtis and S. J. Simpson (London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2010), 379–394. For a “pacifist” interpretation of the coins and a dating of the fratarakā coins into the 3rd century bce, cf. Engels, “A New Frataraka Chronology.”

(4.) Michael Alram, Nomina Propria Iranica in Nummis: Materialgrundlagen zu den iranischen Personennamen auf antiken Münzen (Iranisches Personennamenbuch 4; Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1986), 162–164; and Josef Wiesehöfer, Die dunklen Jahrhunderte der Persis: Untersuchungen zu Geschichte und Kultur von Fārs in frühhellenistischer Zeit (330–140 v. Chr.) (Zetemata 90; Munich: Beck, 1994).

(5.) Michael Alram, “Die Vorbildwirkung der arsakidischen Münzprägung,” Litterae Numismaticae Vindobonenses 3 (1987): 127–130.

(6.) Ibid., 128.

(7.) See Monika Schuol, Die Charakene: Ein mesopotamisches Königreich in hellenistisch-parthischer Zeit (Oriens et Occidens 1; Stuttgart: Steiner, 2000), 268–275, 291–300; and Daniel T. Potts, The Archaeology of Elam: Formation and Transformation of an Ancient Iranian State (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 384–401.

(8.) For different dates, see Klose and Müseler, Statthalter, 41–43.

(9.) Wiesehöfer, Die dunklen Jahrhunderte der Persis, 135–136.

(10.) For the archaeological evidence, see Pierfrancesco Callieri, L’archéologie du Fārs à l’époque hellénistique (Persica 11; Paris: de Boccard, 2007); and Callieri, “Cultural Heritage.”

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