KINGS OF SOPHENE. Artabanos, late 3rd century BC. Chalkous (Bronze, 13 mm, 1.48 g, 1 h). Bearded and draped bust of Artabanos to right, wearing bashlyk with fanion and lappets folded up and tied with a diadem. Rev. [ΒAΣIΛEΩΣ] - APTABA[NOY] Apollo standing left, holding arrow in his right hand and leaning left on tripod. Alram -. Kovacs -. Unpublished and unique, the second known coin of Artabanos, the only one in private hands, and the first with this reverse type. A tremendously important discovery and of the greatest historical interest. Patina flaking in some areas, otherwise, about very fine.
The Armenian ruler Artabanos was hitherto known from a single bronze coin in Paris with Athena Nikephoros on the reverse (Alram 183 and Kovacs 21). Alram's reading of the incomplete name as ...AΣANOY was corrected by Kovacs upon personal inspection of the coin to ...ABANO[Y], who thus put forward the idea that the king bore the old Persian name Artabanos. The emergence of our coin now confirms this suggestion as it offers a clear reading of the beginning of the name.
Kovacs was unsure where of to place the otherwise unattested king Artabanos in the poorly recorded early Armenian royal lineages, but he rightfully pointed out the striking similarity of the only known coin to the issues of Abdissares and, in particular, of Xerxes, who wears a virtually identical bashlyk on his coins and also uses Athena Nikephoros as a reverse type. This 'king of the city of Armosata' (= Arsamosata) was, as Polybios records, a son of Arsames and besieged by Antiochos III 'the Great' (223-187 BC) in his capital in 212 BC (Polyb. VIII, 23.1-5). Xerxes was subjugated by Antiochos after a short siege and married his sister Antiochis after paying a tribute of 300 talents, 1,000 horses and 1,000 mules. He was, however, subsequently murdered by Antiochis some time before 202 BC on the command of her brother, who appointed his own general Zariadres as strategos of Xerxes' realm (and Strab. 11.14.15). This officer, who was also of Armenian descent, rebelled against his master in the wake of Antiochos’ defeat against the Romans in the Battle of Magnesia in 190/89 BC and subsequently ruled Sophene as an independent king. No coins of Zariadres have hitherto come to light, but his existence is attested through Aramaic inscriptions from the vicinity of Lake Sevan in Armenia. He was succeeded by his son Mithrobouzanes sometime after 188 and before 163 BC (for a very useful recent chronology of the Kings of Sophene, see M. Marciak: Sophene, Gordyene and Adiabene. Boston 2017, pp. 113-160. Marciak, however, was not aware of Artabanos). Abdissares, on the other hand, whom Kovacs included to the list of Kings of Sophene, ruled in Adiabene and likely dates to the 160s BC as well (see Leu 5 (2019), 171).
All this leaves little room for another king like Artabanos. The sole historical evidence of his existence – two bronze coins – make any assertions regarding his reign extremely difficult. Kovacs tentatively dated his kingship to 'ca. 202 BC (?)', implying that he might have been Xerxes' heir and/or successor. In view of his close iconographical ties to Xerxes, a dating to the late 3rd century BC is certainly plausible, but a direct succession contradicts Strabo’s report that Antiochos gave Xerxes’ realm to one of his generals.
Therefore, what do Artabanos’ coins tell us? As Kovacs noted, his portrait is closely reminiscent of that of Xerxes: they are both bearded and wear an identical bashlyk. Artabanos’ two hitherto attested reverse types, on the other hand, are decidedly Greek in nature. The seated Athena Nikephoros was introduced by Lysimachos on his abundant gold and silver coinage in the early 3rd century and continued by several other Greek kings, whereas Apollo standing to the left, holding an arrow in his right hand, and leaning left on a tripod, first appears on tetradrachms of Seleukos II Kallinikos (246-225 BC). Both types were continued, mostly in bronze, by Seleukid kings in the 2nd century. Thus, while the coins of Artabanos do provide some insight into his relationship with Xerxes and the Seleukids, they do not help us dating his reign more precisely than ‘late 3rd century BC’. Perhaps he was a brother or a son of Xerxes, who led a rebellion against Zariadres after the murder of his relative by Antiochis. However, the copying of Seleukid reverse types argues against such a succession of events. Alternatively, he may have been a co-ruler of Xerxes, but this must remain purely speculative.