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Pacorus I (c. 39 B.C.)

ΠΑΚΟΡΟΣ

It is possible that Pacorus I reigned simultaneously for at least part of the reign of his father Orodes II. Pacorus I was the brother-in-law of Artavasdes, king of Armenia. See the genealogy chart.

Following the stunning defeat of the Romans at Carrhae in 53 B.C., Orodes II assigned his son Pacorus I to deprive the Romans of Syria. But the young Pacorus I was inexperienced and the Parthian army, despite the improvements made, was still poor at organizing for long campaigns or besieging cities. After initial raids into Syria were frustrated by Gaius Cassius Longinus in 52 B.C., Pacorus I launched a major invasion in 51 B.C., this time capturing and holding all of Syria for several months, aided by local uprisings of a populace only too happy to see the arrival of the Parthians. His raids on the Roman positions finally ceased when Pacorus was accused of plotting against his father, and he was recalled, ending the invasion. He was falsely accused of treason, however, and Orodes II allowed his son to live and proved himself one of the most capable generals Parthia ever possessed. [Debevoise, Political History (1938), p. 104]

Pacorus I was again involved with the Romans in 46 B.C. when he came to the aid of Pompey supporter Q. Caecilius Bassus, relieving a siege at Apamea where C. Antistius Vetus had him shut up. Pacorus forced relief of the siege but due to the lateness of the season, the Parthians retired.

Under Pacorus I, the Parthians again invaded Syria in the spring of 40 B.C., this time allied with Quintus Labienus. Labienus, knowing of the proscriptions following the battle at Philippi, had joined with the Parthians to fight imperial Roman forces. Under the joint command of Pacorus and Labienus, the Parthian army crossed the Euphrates and attacked Apamea. Though the assault failed, Roman garrisons around Syria rallied to Labienus, with whom they had fought under Brutus and Cassius. The combined army then defeated Saxa in a pitched battle where the Parthian cavalry's skill and larger numbers caused many troops of Saxa's quaestor (his brother) to desert to Labienus. Saxa, making a forced retreat at night to Antioch, lost most of his men also. Labienus and the Parthians then took Apamea without resistance. After defeating the Romans at Apamea, Pacorus turned south with a portion of the army and conquered the Levant from the Phoenician coast through Palestine, while Labienus turned north to follow Saxa, then caught and killed him in Cilicia after taking Antioch. Labienus then proceeded to take all of Asia Minor, and the Parthian army added the legionary standards of Saxa to those of Crassus already housed in Parthian temples. With Labienus, the Parthians had in two years restored their territory to nearly the limits of the old Achaemenid empire and controlled all of Asia Minor except for a few cities.

Disagreements between Labienus and Pacorus weakened their combined effect. In 39 B.C., a Roman counterattack killed Labienus and recovered Asia Minor. One year later Pacorus was killed in Syria when he attacked a Roman camp that he had been led to believe was undefended.

Click here to view the inscriptions on this king's coins.

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Coins Attributed to Pacorus I

The coins of Pacorus I are rare. The date of minting is controversial, but with Pacorus and Labienus controlling Asia Minor and all the territory west of the Euphrates, it would be unusual for Pacorus not to mint coins. But did he issue coins in the name of his father, or in his own name as prince or co-regent? Shore (Ten Dragons, p. 129) argues that the beardless coins of Pacorus must have been issued earlier during Pacorus' invasions of Syria in 52-50 B.C..

A. B. Nikitin maintains it was common for a prince to issue coinage during the reign of his father and that there are such coins minted by Pacorus I with the inscription "king of kings" the same title used by his father Orodes II. (Nikitin, "Early Parthian Coins of Margiana," 1998, p. 17.) On the possible evidence for a joint rule of Pacorus I with Orodes II, see Wroth, BMC Parthia, p. 88, no. 173 and note 1, and p. 97, nos. 1 forward and note 1; also see Gardner, Parthian Coinage, pp. 41 ff. In "Tiridates II and the Young Phraates", Tarn assigned these coins to the young Phraates instead and dates them about 26 B.C.

The attributions and cataloging of Parthian coins used throughout this web site follow David Sellwood's An Introduction to the Coinage of Parthia (1980, 2nd edition) for consistency. The few exceptions to this policy are explained here.

Click on coin images to enlarge:

Sellwood Type 49

PDC 21580 Pacorus I (39 B.C.)
AR Drachm 3.87g (PDC 21580)
Mint: Ecbatana
Obv: beardless bust left wearing diadem and pellet-ended torque; Nike flying left behind holding wreath; no wart visible on forehead; circular border of pellets
Rev: beardless archer wearing bashlyk and cloak seated right on throne, holding bow in right hand; behind archer, crescent; below bow, monogram [~]; no border; seven-line Greek inscription = ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΝ ΑΡΣΑΚΟΥ ΕΥΕΡΓΕΤΟΥ ΔΙΚΑΙΟΥ ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟΥΣ ΦΙΛΕΛΛΗΝΟΣ
Previous collection: Bellaria; Shore
Photo by Classical Numismatic Group
- Sellwood 49.1 [4 in db]
- Triton VII (12 Jan 2004), lot 455 (this coin)
- BMC Parthia p.97, 1
- CNG 36 (5-6 Dec 1995), lot 267 (this coin)
- Mitchiner ACW not listed
- Shore 267 (this coin)
PDC 6509 Pacorus I (39 B.C.)
AE Chalkous 1.44g 10mm (PDC 6509)
Mint: Ecbatana
Obv: beardless bust left wearing diadem and pellet-ended torque; Nike flying left behind holding wreath; no wart visible on forehead; circular border of pellets
Rev: youthful bust of Dioscuros right wearing pileus; in front, monogram [~]; no border; seven-line Greek inscription = ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΝ ΑΡΣΑΚΟΥ ΕΥΕΡΓΕΤΟΥ ΔΙΚΑΙΟΥ ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟΥΣ ΦΙΛΕΛΛΗΝΟΣ
Current collection: Bibliothèque nationale, Paris, nc 445
Photo by Chris Hopkins
- Sellwood 49.2 [9 in db]
- BMC Parthia, p.97, 3; plate 18, no. 13
PDC 6506 Pacorus I (39 B.C.)
AE Chalkous 1.07g 10mm (PDC 6506)
Mint: Ecbatana
Obv: beardless bust left wearing diadem and pellet-ended torque; Nike flying left behind holding wreath; no wart visible on forehead; circular border of pellets
Rev: fort with three tall and two short towers; no symbols; no border; seven-line Greek inscription = ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΝ ΑΡΣΑΚΟΥ ΕΥΕΡΓΕΤΟΥ ΔΙΚΑΙΟΥ ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟΥΣ ΦΙΛΕΛΛΗΝΟΣ
Previous collection: Petrowicz
Current collection: Bibliothèque nationale, Paris, nc 442
Photo by Chris Hopkins
- Sellwood 49.3 [15 in db]
- Petrowicz p.76, 2; pl.XI-29 (this coin)
PDC 21581 Pacorus I (39 B.C.)
AE Chalkous 1.41g (PDC 21581)
Mint: Ecbatana
Obv: beardless bust left wearing diadem and pellet-ended torque; Nike flying left behind holding wreath; no wart visible on forehead; circular border of pellets
Rev: fort with three tall and two short towers; to right, ΑΤ monogram; no border; seven-line Greek inscription = ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΝ ΑΡΣΑΚΟΥ ΕΥΕΡΓΕΤΟΥ ΔΙΚΑΙΟΥ ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟΥΣ ΦΙΛΕΛΛΗΝΟΣ
Previous collection: Bellaria; Dr. Mesrop Abgarians
Photo by Classical Numismatic Group
- Sellwood 49.3 variant (reverse ΑΤ monogram) [8 in db]
- Triton VII (12 Jan 2004), lot 456 (this coin)
- BMC Parthia p.98, 5 variant (monogram)
- Malter 51 (2 Jun 1993), 300 (this coin)
- Mitchiner ACW not listed
- Shore 534


This page last updated 17 Apr 2008

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