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Overstrikes & Countermarks

Countermarked Issues

The following were existing coins that were subsequently overstruck or countermarked. They are presented to help you understand and identify these particular variants of Parthian coinage. Included in this category are all Sellwood Type 91 "Countermarked Issues" coins. Here are definitions of these terms:

[N.B. A doublestrike occurs when a coin die is struck twice (or more times) when minting the coin. This is a minting error and not indicative of anything beyond poor workmanship.]

An overstrike occurs when an existing coin is used as the planchet for a new coin without completely removing the features of the older coin. Thus, it is sometimes possible to identify the older coin because its features can be detected beneath the design of the newer coin.

A countermark is a device impressed into the surface of an existing coin, usually in the form of a small portrait of the ruler. A countermark was applied by an official or ruler to confirm that the countermarked coin can pass in trade as legal tender. The countermark is usually positioned carefully to avoid obscuring the portrait on the original coin, apparently to ensure retaining the identification of the original issue, and possibly as a sign of deference by a sub-king or client state. Countermarks on Parthian drachms from the middle centuries of the Parthian age are usually small punch marks on the shoulder of the obverse bust. Sellwood maintains that these are the marks of petty princes claiming independence from central authority, and were sometimes even incorporated into the die use to strike the coin.1 Some countermarks are placed so as to deface and obscure the original portrait, perhaps a political statement.

Within the countermark definition fall the banker's mark and the test mark. These are cuts to test the metal for quality, proof that the coin is not Fourrée. The banker's mark has a distinguishable design to indicate a merchant or official is satisfied that the coin is good, while a test mark is a simple cut into the coin's surface.

A restrike is a coin minted using the design from an earlier issue, after the original design is obsolete.

1. Sellwood, David. An Introduction to the Coinage of Parthia. (1980), p. 293.


Overstrike #1

No image availableThe district of Herat may have been lost by Artabanus II (c. A.D. 10 - 38) to Gondophares of Herat, for Artabanus II coins predominate among the Parthian coins overstruck by Gondophares. (Frye, 238) See U. Kahrstedt, Artabanos III und seine Erben (Bern, 1950), 34-35.

Overstrike #2

No image availableOn overstrikes, see Dobbins, Coinage and Epigraphy of the Sakas and Pahlavas (Canberra, Ph.D. thesis, 1972, pp 52-54), and also other numismatic literature of Simonetta. (Frye, 199)

Overstrike #3

No image available"Orodes apparently seized the entire issue of coins struck at Seleucia by Mithradates [brother Mithradates III] and restruck them with a design which shows Seleucia kneeling in submission while Orodes stretches out his right hand to assist her to rise." (Debevoise, 78)

Overstrike #4

No image available"Coins of Attembelus II of Characene overstruck by Phraates [IV] about this time show that the former had suffered some defeat at the hands of his overlord." (Debevoise, 137)  See G. F. Hill, "Greek Coins Acquired by the British Museum in 1926," Num. Chon., 5th ser., VII (1927), 207.

Overstrike #5

No image available"He [Mithradates II] did, of course, defeat and secure the submission of Characene, and overstrikes of Mithradates on the coins of Hyspaosines exist." (Frye, 213)

"His [Mithradates II] first task was the reduction of Babylonia and the defeat of the Characene ruler; Bronze coins of Hyspaosines overstruck with the titles and portrait of Mithradates in 121/20 B.C. furnish proof that this was accomplished." (Debevoise, 40)

Overstrike #6

No image available"Phraates [IV] celebrated his victory [over Anthony] by restriking with his own types the tetradrachms of Anthony and Cleopatra captured as part of the spoils." (Debevoise, 131-132) See Allotte de la Fuÿe, "Monnaies arsacides surfrappés," Revue Numismatiqe, 1904, pp. 174-187; the example discussed is now in the collection of E. T. Newell [probably now in the ANS cabinet]. Also see Allotte de la Fuÿe in Mém. Miss. archéol. de Perse, XXV (1934), 34.

Overstrike #7

No image available"Vonones hastened to restrike the old tetradrachms of Musa and Phraataces with a design symbolic of his success, a winged victory bearing a palm branch, and then to strike drachms in a similar style with the legend ΒΑCΙΛΕΥC ΟΝΟΩΝΗC ΝΕΙΚΗCΑC ΑΡΤΑΒΑΝΟΝ." (Debevoise, 152) See Wroth, BMC Parthia, pp. xliii and 143ff.

Overstrike #8

No image availableMcDowell Type 82 are 10 coins of Artabanus II (McDowell's attribution) overstruck on an earlier issue of Artabanus (McDowell's attribution). They are cross-referenced to Wroth B.M.C. 147-148 (Artabanus III), nos. 11-19; XXV, 3. See McDowell (1935), pp. 68-69, 115-116. One of these is Fourrée (silver plated).

Oversrtike #9

No image availableMcDowell Type 90 is a coin of Gotarzes II (McDowell's attribution) overstruck on an earlier issue of Vardanes (McDowell's attribution). They are cross-referenced to Wroth B.M.C. 163 (Gotarzes), nos. 12-20; XXVI, 12. See McDowell (1935), pp. 72, 118-119.

Overstrike #10

No image availableMcDowell Type 98 is a  coin of Pacorus II (McDowell's attribution) overstruck on earlier issues, probably the first coinage of Vologases I (McDowell's attribution). They are cross-referenced to Wroth B.M.C. 193-194 (Pacorus II), nos. 1-13; XXX, 1-2. See McDowell (1935), pp. 76, 122.

Overstrike #11

No image availableVonones I (c. A.D. 8 - 12)
This coin is an over-strike of Vonones I on a tetradrachm of Phraataces and Musa (Sellwood type 58) showing, quite clearly, an obliterated bust of Phraataces on the obverse. Click coin image at left to view information on this coin

Countermarked Issues

Countermarked issues are given the overall type number 91 by Sellwood. The marks are most often small heads of the prince, but also include the symbol mono43a.gif (926 bytes) which appears to be a modification of the symbol mono43.gif (926 bytes) used on true Parthian issues.

Countermark #1

No image availableSome punches have the names Otanes and Orthagnes, not otherwise used by the Arsacids. See Sellwood types 91.1 through 91.12.  [Sellwood (1980), 293-295]

Countermark #2

No image availableLater examples of countermarked coins included the countermarks in the original die. See Sellwood type 91.13 for a drachm example. There is also a chalkoi of Phraates IV with what appears to be the same countermark, Sellwood 91.15. [Sellwood (1980), 293, 295]

Countermark #3

No image availableDuring the reign of Vardanes I (c. A.D. 45), local counterfeits were made and countermarked, with the countermark evidently in the original die. See Sellwood type 91.14. [Sellwood (1980), 293, 295]

Countermark #4

No image available"On the basis of numismatic evidence, Rapson has suggested that Gondophares may have captured some territory from the Parthians. His coins, whether struck alone or with his nephew or commanders in chief, usually bear the symbol mono43a.gif (926 bytes); this mark is found counterstruck on coins of Orodes II (57-37/36 B.C.) and Artabanus III (A.D. 12 -38)[now Artabanus II (c. A.D. 10 - 38)]." (Debevoise, 67) See Rapson in The Cambridge History of India, I, 578; Rapson, "Note on Ancient Coins," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1904, p. 677; A. Cunningham, "Coins of the Sakas," Numismatic Chronicle, 1890, p. 119.

Countermark #5

No image available"For example, countermarks of a certain Otanes on coins of Sinatruces [Sellwood says coins of  Orodes I] and Phraates III have been assigned to a satrap of the Parthians in Persis, functioning as an intermediary between the Persis rulers Autophrades II and Darius II, by Koshelenko, while Simonetta makes Otanes a last Iranian independent ruler preceding Gondophares, the Indo-Parthian ruler" (Frye, 215)

Countermark #6

Link to Gold Coins pageGotarzes I (c. 95 - 90 B.C.)
The gold Parthian coin found at Tillya-tepe carries a countermark. Click coin image at left to view information on this coin

Countermark #7

72 dpiPhraates IV (38 - 32 B.C.)
Also found at Tillya-tepe is this debased AR drachm of Phraates IV (38 - 32 B.C.) with a countermark of Sapaleisis (or Sapadphises), a nomad Yüeh-chih tribal chieftain, one of the local rulers of western Bactria who was dependent on the Parthians. The coin is poorly preserved, but probably a Sellwood type 52 of the Margiane mint. Click coin image at left to view information on this coin

Countermark #8

ObverseOrodes I (c. 90 - 80 B.C.)
AR Drachm, 3.88 g with circular countermark of  crude male bust, legend in countermark ΟΤΑΝΝΗC (Otannes, ca. 80-40 B.C.). This is a Sellwood 91.2 on a type 31.5 variant

This page last updated 17 Apr 2008

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