The Roman Empire
Antiochus IV of Commagene

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Coin Details

Origin/Country: ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) KINGS OF COMMAGENE Antiochus IV, AD 38-72
Design Description: Antiochus IV AE25
Item Description: AE25 rv scorpion in wreath
Full Grade: NGC Ch XF Strike: 4/5 Surface: 3/5
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:

The richest of all subject-kings.

Thusly was considered Antiochus IV (before 17 AD – after 72 AD), whose veins carried the blood of the Seleucid sovereigns. His parents ruled Commagene, an ancient realm located in southwestern Asia Minor. When Antiochus’s father died in 17 AD, Commagene fell into turmoil, its citizens divided on whether to remain independent or bow to Rome’s rule. Both pro-Roman and pro-independence factions sent representatives to plead with Emperor Tiberius directly. After considering both delegations, Tiberius absorbed Commagene into the Roman province of Syria.

Consequently, young Antiochus grew up in Rome, raised within the remarkable court of Antonia Minor. He grew up amid an eclectic mix of Roman aristocracy and princes and princesses of the surrounding lands. Among his companions was sister Iotapa, who became his wife in the tradition of the royal parents. From ancient accounts it would seem young Antiochus had a penchant for profligacy. His close comrades included Herod Agrippa I, with whom - according to ancient historian Cassius Dio – he taught tyranny to none other than future Emperor Caligula. After the latter ascended Rome’s throne, he restored Antiochus’ kingdom. Commagene celebrated not only the return of their king, but also payment of 100 million sesterces for two decades of income lost to the Empire! Perhaps Caligula’s largesse can be chalked up to eccentricity; in any case, Antiochus’ crown was inexplicably revoked sometime before the Emperor’s murder. No matter for Antiochus, who apparently was even friendlier with Caligula’s successor, Claudius. Not only was Antiochus soon back in business as Commagene’s king, he also substantially lengthened his name to Gaius Julius Antiochus IV Epiphanes (the latter cognomen signifying “glorious”). Importantly, Commagene’s king appears to have been adopted into Claudius’ clan.

Antiochus’ status was also proclaimed on ancient Commagenian coinage. On this particular bronze struck in 1st century AD Samosata, Antiochus’s compelling obverse portrait is accompanied by the epithet ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣ ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΝΤΙΟΧΟΣ, denoting Great King Antiochus. In Greco-Roman fashion, Antiochus’ bust bears a diadem, rather than the Armenian tiara featured on his forebear’s coins. On the coin’s verso, a scorpion appears within a wreath, along with an inscription denoting Antiochus’ realm.

Feared in ancient times as they are today, scorpions deliver powerful and painful stings. Some species wield deadly poison. The scorpion as a symbol to instill fear dates back to at least ancient Greece; Hoplites bore scorpions on the shields, inspiring fear among their enemies. Early coinage across Asia Minor also employed the motif of the predatory arachnid, including a fanciful creature comprising features of both lion and scorpion. Ancient Rome’s Praetorian guard adopted the scorpion as their main emblem. Interestingly, the Praetorians rose to prominence under the infamous prefect Sejanus, who served Emperor Tiberius, whose birth sign was Scorpio. With regards to ancient Commagene and its demesne, both Scorpio and Leo (including its brightest star, Regulus) were important constellations.

Beyond numismatic symbolism, scorpions were used in ancient times for military purposes. In late 2nd century AD, ancient Parthians used scorpions to successfully defend the city of Hatra against Emperor Septimus Severus’ siege. The crafty Parthians wielded a new, biological weapon: enormous projectile clay clots that disintegrated upon impact to release thousands of live scorpions. One can only imagine the horror among those receiving the rather angry creatures. Even more mindboggling is imagining the resources and project management required to develop such a weapon in ancient times.

Although there is no evidence Antiochus ever used scorpions offensively, Commagene’s king certainly had a potent military force. He used it to aid Rome on numerous occasions, including suppressing an uprising in Cilicia toward the end of Emperor Claudius’ reign, and supporting his successor Nero’s fight against those promoting Armenian succession. For his efforts, Antiochus’ wealth was expanded even further; he was awarded part of Armenia in 61 AD. After Rome plunged into civil war around 70 AD, Antiochus supported the rise of Emperor Vespasian. Commagene’s king deployed a force led by his son Epiphanes to aid Vespasian’s son, the future Emperor Titus, crush a Judaean uprising.

Despite faithful service for over three decades, Antiochus’ imperial career unraveled in 72 AD over suspected sympathies with Parthia. Consequently, Vespasian annexed Commagene into the Roman province of Syria. Commagene’s last king lived the rest of his years in accustomed luxury, finally retiring to the Eternal City of his childhood.

Coin Details: KINGS OF COMMAGENE, Antiochos IV Epiphanes (38-72), AE (26 mm, 14.55g), Samosata mint, NGC Grade: Ch XF, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Diademed and draped bust right, BAΣIΛΕΥΣ MΕΓΑΣ ANTIOXOΣ, Reverse: Scorpion within wreath; diadem above, KOMMAΓHNON, References: RPC I 3857; BMC 8-10.

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