ARABIA, Eastern. Gerrha/Thaj (?). Series in the name of Antiochos III, circa 205/4-187 BCE. Tetradrachm (Silver, 26 mm, 16.48 g, 1 h). Diademed head of Antiochos III to right. Rev. [B]AΣIΛEΩΣ - ANTIOXOY Apollo seated left on omphalos, holding arrow in his right hand and resting his left on grounded bow; to outer left, tripod; in exergue, 𐩻 ('ṯ' in South Arabian, turned horizontally). CCK 109 = Huth/Potts fig. 3 (this coin). SC 1146 (this coin cited). Of the highest rarity, one of just three known examples. An exceptionally interesting issue of the greatest historical importance. Lightly toned and well centered. Minor deposits on the reverse, otherwise, very fine.
From the collection of Ambassador Martin Huth, ex Peus 368, 25 April 2001, 279.
The style of the diadem and the use of the tripod symbol on this highly interesting issue allow us to identify its Seleukid prototype, an extensive series of tetradrachms from Antiochia (Le Rider, pl. 14, 7-12 and SC 1044.2 and 1045.6) issued just before 200 BCE. This unique series with an Arabian letter in the exergue can therefore be dated to circa 200-187 BCE. Clearly such a sudden shift from the previous Gerrhaean Alexanders to a very specific Seleukid prototype must be seen from a particular historical background. Huth/Potts have convincingly argued for placing them in the context of Antiochos’ Eastern campaign of 211-205 BCE, the famous Anabasis, at the end of which, or perhaps during a subsequent campaign in 204 BCE, the king visited the mercantile town of Gerrha (likely modern-day Thaj) in north-eastern Saudi Arabia.
According to Polybios, '[…]the Gerrhaeans begged the king not to abolish the gifts the gods had bestowed on them, perpetual peace and freedom. The king […] granted their request. When their freedom had been established, the Gerrhaeans passed a decree honoring Antiochos with a gift of 500 talents of silver, 1000 talents of frankincense and 200 talents of stacte spices… [Antiochos] then sailed to the island of Tylos [Bahrain], and thence to Seleukeia.' (Polyb. 13.9.2-5).
By re-establishing a permanent Seleukid grip on the trade routes while simultaneously allowing the Gerrhaeans to continue their mercantile role vis-à-vis routes from South Arabia and India, Antiochos III weakened the trade towards Nabataea and Egypt. In this context, the issuance of a local series of coins bearing the effigy and name of Antiochos underlines the political and economic impact of the king’s passage through the region on its inhabitants. It also seems plausible that the 500 talents given to the Seleukid king were provided in coin rather than bullion, in which case the requested 750,000 tetradrachms would likely have consisted of both locally produced Arabian Alexanders, some of which have been found along Antiochos' route back to Syria (see Huth/Potts p. 79), as well as of Greek coins acquired by the Gerrhaeans through trade. The imitations of Antiochos' own coinage, on the other hand, were most likely struck during the aftermath of his visit, when Seleukid control of the Gulf had been reestablished and secured by the presence of naval forces and fortresses such as the one on the island of Ikaros/Failaka (see p. 154 in the catalogue)
What emerges from the unique numismatic testimony to Antiochos' stay in the region is therefore a complex image of influence and interaction between a transregional military superpower, the Seleukids, and a native population such as the Gerrhaeans. Seleukid control of the vast eastern and southern territories was never firm and had to be constantly reestablished and renegotiated. The temporary secession of the eastern provinces in the mid 3rd century and their gradual, but permanent loss to new powers such as the Parthians since the 2nd quarter of the 2nd century BCE came about in no small part due to the inability of the Seleukid kings to project power in all of their vast territories at once. Add to this constant dynastic struggles and preoccupation in many wars in the West and it is easy to see why the Gulf region gradually slipped from Seleukid control once more in the mid 2nd century BCE. Into the power vacuum stepped native cities such as Gerrha, until new empires started to exert transregional control. Still, the continued striking of imitative Greek coins in Arabia - whether Athenian owls or Hellenistic types - for centuries to come bears testimony to the long-lasting influence of Graeco-Macedonian culture in the region.