KINGS OF ADIABENE. Monobazos I Bazaios, † circa 33/34-36 AD. Dichalkon (Copper, 17 mm, 5.16 g, 12 h), SE 338 = AD 26/7. [BAΣIΛΕΩΣ] MONOBAZO[Y] Draped half-length bust of Monobazos I to right, wearing long beard and four-pointed tiara tied with a diadem. Rev. H - ΛT Grain ear; all within laurel wreath. Aufhäuser 7 (1990), 289 (same obverse die) = D. Hendin: Monobaz I founded a great Jewish Family, in: The Celator, January 1991, 34 = A. Luther: Das Königreich Adiabene zwischen Parthern und Römern, in: E. Baltrusch and J. Winkler (Eds.): Amici - socii - clientes? Abhängige Herrschaft im Imperium Romanum. Berlin 2015, p. 281, Abb. 2. Of the highest rarity, the second known example and the only one in private hands. Well struck and clear, a fascinating issue of great historical interest. Minor corrosion on the reverse, otherwise, very fine.
Adiabene was a small kingdom situated between the Upper and Lower Zab (Lycus and Caprus), two tributiaries of the upper reaches of the Tigris. Little is known about its history before the reign of Monobazos I Bazaios († circa 33/4-36 AD) and until the appearance of a coin in his name in Aufhäuser 7, 9 October 1990, 289 (now in the Staatliche Münzsammlung in Munich), the Kings of Adiabene were not known to have issued their own coinage. In his pioneering comment in the Aufhäuser catalogue, A. Wenninger read the date on the reverse of his coin as E B - ΛT and thus dated it to the year 332 of the Seleukid Era = 20/1 AD, but there is some corrosion on the supposed 'E B' and the reading is not clear. Our coin shows that the reverse legend actually reads H - ΛT and the date therefore has to be corrected to SE 338 = 26/7 AD. Monobazos I ruled Adiabene in the early decades of the 1st century AD, he was a contemporary of Tiberius and the founder of a new dynasty that effectively became the successor of the Armenian kings as the leading regional power between the superpowers Rome and Parthia. In that regard, the striking adoption of the Armenian style tiara to the royal iconography of Adiabene was a clever propaganda move: it presented Adiabene as a new power to be reckoned with and aligned its dynasty with the Armenian traditions. What is most noteworthy about Monobazos I, however, is his close ties to Jewish history: he was the brother and first husband of the famous Queen Helena of Adiabene, whose life and deeds we know quite well from Josephus and the Talmud. It is unclear at what point Helena converted to Judaism, it could have been in the early 30s but Josephus indicates that she possibly converted as early as 18 AD. Monobazos I, on the other hand, never converted, but both his sons and successors Izates and Monobazos II became Jewish and in the mid 40s, a decade after her husband-brother had passed away, Helena set out to visit Jerusalem. The Talmud reports that she was so impressed by the Temple of Jerusalem that she donated a golden chandelier to the door of the inner temple so that 'when the sun rose, sparks of light would emanate from the chandelier, which was polished, and everyone knew that the time to recite the Shema had arrived' (Yoma 37b). According to Josephus, who was a younger contemporary of Helena, the queen also provided funds to purchase grain from Egypt and Cyprus to combat a famine that was afflicting Palestine at the time - a deed that the Talmud, by contrast, attributes to her husband Monobazos I. A few years after her visit to the temple, Helena died and her son Monobazos II had her buried in a tomb in Jerusalem: the famous Tombs of the Kings, where her sarcophagus was found some 1900 years later by the French archeologist Félicien de Saulcy (it is now on display in the Israel Museum). The royal family of Adiabene continued to maintain close relationships with the Jews in Palestine throughout the 1st century and Josephus reports that he corresponded with Monobazos II during the Jewish War of 66-70, while two of the king's relatives even fought on the Jewish side against the Romans.