Parthian coins count amongst the most important primary sources for Iranian history from the mid-3rdcent. B.C. until the end of the Arsacid rule in 224 A.D. They convey a variety of valuable information about the Parthian sequence of rulers, about political and economic conditions in Iran and its neighbouring countries in the period of the Arsacid kings, and about the Parthian mints. In addition, the Arsacid coins provide significant insights into the material culture of the period: thus, from the busts of kings depicted on the coins we are informed, for example, about Parthian courtly attire.
In light of the circumstance that non-numismatic sources for Parthian history and culture are few and far between and often problematic, it is no surprise that Parthian coins are very often consulted as illustrative material in historical and archaeological investigations into the Arsacid period. The scientific state of treatment of the Parthian coins, however, does not allow a well-founded evaluation of the numismatic material:
The foundation for the modern numismatic apprehension of Parthian coins was established by Warwick Wroth in his BMC Volume, “Catalogue of the Coins of Parthia”, published in 1903. He also laboured on a summary of the most important older literature on the subject, extending back to Jean Foy-Vaillant (1632–1706). Building on Wroth’s monograph, in Pope’s “Survey of Persian Art”, in 1938 Edward T. Newell provided an excellent summary of Parthian coinage, under the title “The Coinages of the Parthians”, in which he at times proposed new assignations.
The next significant step in the investigation of the Arsacid coinage was made with the presentation of the monograph “Suse sous les Séleucides et les Parthes” by Georges Le Rider (1965), in which the relevant coin finds from the excavations in Susa were processed. This work can be viewed as exemplary from a methodological and structural perspective; some of the important theses of the author regarding the classification of the Parthian coin material must, however, be re-examined in the framework of a complete structural analysis of the Arsacid coinage.
The publication which is cited as the standard work on Parthian coinage today is “An Introduction to the Coinage of Parthia” from the pen of David Sellwood (2nd ed., 1980). This book without doubt must be counted amongst the most important contributions that have ever been made to Arsacid numismatics, yet in its substance it is actually not more than an extremely concise catalogue of types. Although it also enables non-specialists to identify Arsacid coins, and is therefore a practical aid for coin collectors as well as coin dealers, it provides no insight at all into the structure of Parthian coin minting, that is, into its historical and economical dimensions.
The most recent significant treatment of Arsacid coinage is ultimately that of François de Callataÿ, who in 1994 intensively analysed “Les tétradrachmes d’Orodès II et de Phraate IV”. This remarkable study fulfils all of the requirements of contemporary scientific publications in numismatics. Furthermore, for a narrow chronological period it reveals in exemplary fashion what can be achieved in Arsacid numismatics via a systematic observance of methodological principles.
A comprehensive and systematic treatment of the entire Parthian coinage according to the most modern scientific criteria nevertheless constitutes a desideratum of the first order in the field of ancient numismatics. This lacuna should be filled by means of the project “Sylloge Nummorum Parthicorum” (SNP). In this work, the inventories of Arsacid coins in the Numismatic Collection of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, in the Department of Coins and Medals of the British Museum (London), in the American Numismatic Society (New York), in the Cabinet des Médailles of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris), in the National Museum of Iran (Tehran) and in the Coin Collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Vienna) will be published; altogether, the coins amount to approximately 15,000 objects. In order to obtain a rounded overall picture of the Arsacid coin production, supplementary material from publications from the coin trade will be consulted.
The “Sylloge Nummorum Parthicorum” (SNP) should, however, constitute not only a publication of the above-named coin material, but also the system and chronology of the Arsacid mints should be investigated for the first time in detail, and separated according to mintages. In this manner, the series will on the one hand serve as a new reference work, while on the other hand it will provide a scientifically-based complete picture of Parthian coinage. The series “Sylloge Nummorum Sasanidarum (SNS) Berlin–Paris–Vienna” serves as a model for the SNP.
Overview of volumes and their editors
[„S.“ = D. Sellwood, An Introduction to the Coinage of Parthia, London 21980; alle Angaben nach Sellwood.]
J. Gaslain (Paris): Arsaces I. (ca. 238-211 v. Chr.) – Artabanus I. (ca. 127-124 v. Chr.) [S. 1–22]
V. Curtis / E. Pendleton (London): Mithradates II. (ca. 123-88 v. Chr.) [S. 23–29]
K. Basseri (Teheran): Parthisches „Dark Age“: Gotarzes I. (ca. 95-90 v. Chr.) – Phraates III. (ca. 70-57 v. Chr.) [S. 30–39]
V. Curtis / E. Pendleton (London): Mithradates III. (ca. 57-54 v. Chr.) – Orodes II. (ca. 57-38 v. Chr.), Pacorus I. (ca. 39 v. Chr.) [S. 40–49]
F. Sinisi (Wien), T. Stingl (Berlin): Phraates IV. (ca. 38-2 v. Chr.), Tiridates (ca. 29-27 v. Chr.), Phraatakes (ca. 2 v. Chr.- 4 n. Chr.), Orodes III. (ca. 6 n. Chr.) [S. 50–59]
F. Sinisi (Wien): Vonones I. (ca. 8-12 n. Chr.), Artabanus II. (ca. 10-38 n. Chr.), Vardanes I. (ca. 40-45 n. Chr.), Gotarzes II. (ca. 40-51 n. Chr.), Vonones II. (ca. 51 n. Chr.) [S. 60–67]
F. Sinisi (Wien): Vologases I. (ca. 51-78 n. Chr.), Vardanes II. (ca. 55-58 n. Chr.), Vologases II. (ca. 77-80 n. Chr.), Pacorus II. (ca. 78-105 n. Chr.), Artabanus III. (ca. 80-90 n. Chr.) [S. 68–77]
B. Woytek (Wien): Vologases III. (ca. 105-147 n. Chr.), Osroes I. (ca. 109-129 n. Chr.), Parthamaspates (ca. 116 n. Chr.), Mithradates IV. (ca. 140 n. Chr.), „Unknown King“ (ca. 140 n. Chr.) [S. 78–83]
M. Alram / W. Szaivert (Wien): Vologases IV. (ca. 147-191 n. Chr.) – Vologases VI. (ca. 208-228 n. Chr.), Artabanus IV (ca. 216-224 n. Chr.) [S. 84–90]
FWF Projekt SNP 6