KINGS OF ARMENIA MINOR. Mithradates, circa 180s-170s BC. Honorary Medal or Brooch (Gold, 30 mm, 3.81 g, 12 h), a uniface repoussée with four loops attached to the back. 𐡌𐡕𐡓𐡃𐡕 ('mtrdt' in Aramaic) Draped bearded bust of Mithradates to right, wearing upright bashlyk tied with a diadem. Rev. Incuse of obverse. Unpublished and unique. A wonderful piece of art, the first gold image of an Armenian ruler and hence of the greatest historical importance. Very minor marks, otherwise, good very fine.
From an important collection of Armenian coins.
The unexpected emergence of this wonderful gold appliqué showing the portrait of a bearded Armenian Satrap or King to right wearing an upright bashlyk is a very exciting discovery. The Aramaic legend on the repoussé work identifies the ruler as 'Mithradates', a common name among Armenian Satraps and Kings in the 3rd century BC-1st century AD. Stylistic comparison of the portraits leaves little doubt that the ruler is in fact the Mithradates from Kovacs 295-296, whose extremely rare coins show him both bearded and unbearded and wearing an identical upright bashlyk (for particularly similar portraits with well recognizable beards, see lot 360 below and the example in the 'Kariatin' Collection, Obolos 12 (2019), 130). The then unique Kovacs 295 example was sold in Peus 340, 2 November 1994, 334 and there tentatively attributed to Mithradates I Ktistes (302-266 BC), the founder of the Kingdom of Pontos, based on the use of Aramaic legends, which reminded the cataloguer of the somewhat earlier drachms of Ariarathes I of Cappadocia (repeated in the description of lot 241 in the current Nomos 18 catalogue). This is highly unlikely indeed: we now know that the use of Aramaic legends on coins was common practice among Armenian rulers in the early 2nd century BC and there is hence no need to postulate an otherwise unknown coinage of Mithradates I Ktistes of Pontos, all the more since Kovacs 295-296 and lot 359 below fit much better into the early Armenian series, both stylistically and iconographically. Kovacs attributes these coins to a nephew of Antiochos III 'the Great' (223-187 BC) named Mithradates, who was put forward in 212 BC by the King's advisors as a suited satrap for the recently conquered province of Armenia (Polyb. 8.23) and he hence dates the coins to 212-? BC. Kovacs also connects this Mithradates, nephew of Antiochos III, with a Mithradates mentioned by Livy (Livy 33.19.9) in the entourage of the Seleukid King during his campaign in western Asia Minor in 197 (not 179) BC, and with the Mithradates, Satrap of Armenia, attested by Polybios (Polyb. 25.2.11) as the co-signer of the 179 BC peace treaty between Pharnakes I of Pontos (circa 180s-160s BC) and Eumenes II of Pergamon (197-159 BC). However, Polybios reports that Antiochos III refused the appointment of his nephew Mithradates to satrap of Armenia in 212, whereas the Mithradates referred to by Livy in 197 is said to be the King's own son and thus probably identical to the Mithradates mentioned in the King's letter to Herakleia ad Latmon as one of his three sons (SEG 37 (1987), 859, dated to 198/7 but redated to circa 197-193 by John Ma: Antiochos and the Cities of Western Asia Minor. Oxford 1999, p. 345. For a refusal of the proposed identification of Antiochos' son Mithradates with his nephew Mithradates, see P. F. Mittag: Antiochos IV. Epiphanes: Eine politische Biographie. Berlin 2006, pp. 35-36). This leaves Mithradates, Armenian satrap and co-signer of the peace treaty of 179 BC, as the only viable option for the assignment of the present gold repoussée and Kovacs 295-296 (a possibility also suggested by Kovacs in his note on p. 49: Mithradates, Satrap in Anatolia, 179 BC). Unfortunately, we know nothing about Mithradates' relationship with the first Orontid King, Artaxias I (circa 190-160 BC), but it is worth noting that the latter also struck bronze coins with Aramaic legends (Kovacs 37-44) early in his reign before changing them to Greek in his second series. The concurrent use of Aramaic supports the dating of Mithradates the Satrap, who bears no royal title (although he does wear a diadem!) and may have been Artaxias' subordinate, in the 180s-170s BC. His tenure as an Armenian satrap cannot be more closely dated, but the fact that he appears both bearded and unbearded on his coins indicates that he must have been in office over a considerable period of time. From Polybios we learn that Mithradates had to pay war reparations of 300 talents as a punishment for breaking his treaty with Eumenes II of Pergamon when attacking Cappadocia, which indicates that he was enjoying considerable political autonomy and actively participating in the wars of the more powerful Hellenistic states at the time. It is remarkable that the present gold repoussée of Mithradates - unlike his rather crude coins - bears a highly individualized and naturalistic portrait. The loops attached to the back show that it was likely supposed to be worn as a brooch: it was perhaps made by a Greek artist at the Satrap's court and handed out as an honorary medal or brooch to high-ranking Armenian officers or used as a diplomatic present.