The Roman Empire
Tigranes II The Great

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Coin Details

Origin/Country: ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) KINGS OF ARMENIA Tigranes II, 95-56 BC
Design Description: Tigranes II the Great Hemichalkon
Item Description: AE15 rv filleted cornucopia
Full Grade: NGC Ch VF Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5
Owner: Kohaku

Set Details

Custom Sets: The Roman Empire
Competitive Sets: This coin is not competing in any sets.
Research: NGC Coin Price Guide

Owner Comments:

Tigranes II (140 – 55 BC) ruled ancient Armenia from early to mid 1st century BC. He was the son-in-law and supporter of Mithradates VI Eupator, one of Rome’s all-time greatest enemies. Tigranes' accomplishments are somewhat difficult to evaluate, considering the negative bias of surviving, pro-Roman histories. Undisputedly, Tigranes grew Armenia into a powerful realm, even rivaling his mighty contemporaries to the north (Pontus), the east (the Parthians), and the west (the Romans).

Like Julius Caesar, Tigranes achieved greatness and fame relatively late in life, at least by ancient standards. In 95 BC, the 45 year-old descendent of Artaxias secured his release from Parthian imprisonment in exchange for a ransom of “seventy valleys.” He then ascended the Armenian throne, and soon consolidated power by reuniting his territory with the adjacent southwestern kingdom of Sophene, previously split off under rule of the rapidly waning Seleucid Kingdom.

Tigranes allied with Pontus against Bithynia and the great Roman general Sulla during the first Mithradatic War. Initially, Tigranes did little, if anything, to directly confront Rome, instead taking advantage of the regional power vacuum to expand his Kingdom from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Seas. Eventually, his campaigns resulted in dominion over portions of Commagene, Cilicia, and Cappadocia to the north and Mesopotamia and Syria to the south. Having regained his seventy valleys (and then some), Tigranes earned epithets such as “The Great” and “King of Kings.”

Tigranes needed a new, centrally located capital. To this end, the great city of Tigranakert was constructed, reportedly with outer walls several hundred feet high, and grand buildings including a royal palace replete with hunting grounds and fish ponds. It was arguably the apex of Hellenization, which Armenia shared with Pontus and the neighboring states of the Near East. However, the Armenian Kingdom had spread so rapidly that its diversification was now a liability. By the time of the third and final war between Mithradates and Rome, Armenia was fully embroiled in the conflict. This time, the Romans, now led by Pompey the Great, eliminated Mithradates and his Pontic Kingdom. The Romans also managed to sack Tigranakert, and Armenia's King had no other choice but to surrender as well.

The account of Tigranes' surrender provides an interesting insight into the ancient Romans and their quest for glory. The 75-year old Tigranes approached the Roman camp on horseback, dismounted, removed his crown, and prostrated himself before Pompey. Reportedly, the great Roman general was so moved he took his adversary by the hand, lifted him up, replaced his crown, and proceeded to discuss peace terms. In the end, Tigranes agreed to pay an enormous sum of 6,000 talents and indeed retained his crown, although his Kingdom was shrunk back to its previously modest borders. Importantly, Tigranes established himself as Rome’s ally, thus protecting Armenian lands against potential Parthian encroachment.

Tigranes continued his reign for another decade, during which this particular coin was struck in Tigranakert. On the observe portrait, Tigranes wears his Armenian tiara, replete with a star and two eagles. It is proposed that this star, often portrayed with a curved tail, may represent the passage of Halley’s comet, which was visible in 87 BC. It is reasonable that Tigranes would exploit such a dramatic occurrence as divine affirmation of his power. Indeed, Tigranes was renown for pomp and circumstance, from his famous tiara to his stately purple garments to the constant presence of his four vassal kings. The theme of glorifying Tigranes continues on the coin’s reverse - a filleted cornucopia and a Greek epithet confirming his status as King of Kings.

After Tigranes’ death in 55 BC, Armenia continued its allegiance as Rome’s protectorate, and once, if only briefly, held the status of a province. Owing its strategic location, the region was frequently contested between the Romans and the Parthians, and, after the latter waned, the Sassanids. Although internal autonomy often prevailed, Armenia would never again reach prominence such as that achieved by the great King of Kings.

Coin Details: KINGS of ARMENIA, Tigranes II ‘the Great’, 95-56 BC, Æ Hemichalkon (15.5mm, 2.72 g, 1h), Tigranakert mint, Struck circa 69-55 BC, NGC Grade: Ch VF, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Draped bust right, wearing tiara with star and eagles, Reverse: Filleted cornucopia, [B]AΣIΛEΩΣ BAΣIΛEΩN [T]IΓPANOY, References: M&D 47; CAA 105 corr. (no letter in field); AC 96; Sunrise –.

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