Numismatic and History Discussions > Parthian and Other Eastern Coins

Silver content of Parthian drachms

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Robert_Brenchley:
These are the silver contents of 37 Parthian drachms; the figures ignore the odd one or two percent of gold in some coins, which was probably introduced as an impurity in the silver. Dates according to Caley (1955):

1) Arsaces I? 250-248BCE 94.6% silver
(There is no certainty that Arsaces ever minted coins; his successors Tiridates I (248/7-210) and Arsaces II (210-191) both used his name on their coinage, and this may well be a mistaken attribution)

2) Mithridates I 171-138BCE 94.2%
3) Mithridates I                     92.9%
4) Mithridates I                     92.3%
5) Mithridates I                     89.9%
6) Mithridates I                     89.2%
Mean                                 91.7%

7) Phraates II 138-128/127BCE 70.9%

8|) Artabanus II 88-77BCE 85.4%
9) Artabanus II                  72.8%
Mean                              79.1%

10) Sinatruces 77-70BCE 67.9%

11) Phraates III? 70-57BCE 70.9%

12) Orodes I 57-38/37BCE 75.6%
13) Orodes I                       74.8%
14) Orodes I                       74.4%
15) Orodes I                       74.2%
16) Orodes I                       69.8%
17) Orodes I                       66.8%
18) Orodes I                       65.2%
19) Orodes I                       58.2%
20) Orodes I                       51.0%
21) Orodes I                       47.3%
22) Orodes I                       46.4%
23) Orodes I                       43.1%
24) Orodes I                       41.8%
Mean                               60.7%

25) Tiridates II? 26BCE 61.1%

26) Orodes II 4.6CE 79.8%
27) Orodes II           62.2%
Mean                     71.0%

28) Vardanes I 41/42-45CE 74.3%

29) Gotarzes II 40/41-51CE 80.5%
30) Gotarzes II                     76.9%
31) Gotarzes II                     75.5%
Mean                                 77.6%

32) Vologases II 77/78-147CE 73.3%

33) Mithridates IV 130-147CE 77.0%
34) Mithridates IV                    74.9%
Mean                                        76.0%

35) Vologases IV 191-207/208CE 77.9%

36) Vologases V 207/208-222CE 52.1%

37 Artabanus V 213-227CE 74.6%

Clearly, the finest coins are the very early ones, with some debasement taking place at some point after the reign of Mithridates I. The coins of Orodes I are debased, with the very wide variation possibly pointing to successive debasement, apparently with bronze, through his reign. The coinage subsequently recovers, so this probably points to economic problems during a single reign. As Orodes' reign overlaps with that of Mithridates II (123-88BCE), whose coins are unfortunately not included in the analysis, it is likely that, during at least part of his reign, he only controlled part of Parthia. His reign ushered in the confused 'Dark Age' of Parthian history, where the exact succession is still unclear.

The subsequent recovery of the coinage indicates that reminting of coin was not taking place to any great extent. The Roman practice of successive debasements was clearly not followed.

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