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Dates on Parthian Coins
       Months of the Macedonian calendar used by the Parthians
       Year dates written in Greek letters
Seleucid Era Dates
Parthian Era Dates

Dates on Parthian Coins

Dates on Parthian coins are found predominantly on tetradrachms from the Seleucia mint, appearing regularly from the reign of Phraates IV (c. 38 - 2 B.C.) onwards. Before this time, dated coins are rare. The dates, both year and month, appear to be based on the Seleucid Era calendar, which is generally believed to have used the Macedonian system (October start), not the Babylonian system (April start).

There is only one dated drachm issue known, but numerous bronze coins of autonomous city issue bearing dates. McDowell found a series of dated bronze coins in context where the sequence of monograms clearly indicates that a Babylonian calendar system was in use by the Seleucia-on-the-Tigris mint.1  Sellwood finds the sample too small to change the consensus that the Macedonian calendar predominated for Parthian coins.2

Months of the Macedonian calendar used by the Parthians

An Intercalary month was inserted periodically to keep the lunar calendar aligned with the solar calendar.

Macedonian Babylonian Greek Name Month
1 7 ΔΙΟΥ October
2 8 ΑΠΕΛΛΙΟΥ November
3 9 ΑΥΔΥΝΑΙΟΥ December
4 10 ΠΕΡΙΤΙΟΥ January
5 11 ΔΥΣΤΡΟΥ February
6 12 ΞΑΝΔΙΚΟΥ March
9 3 ΠΑΝΗΜΟΥ June
10 4 ΛΩΟΥ July
11 5 ΓΟΡΠΙΑΙΟΥ August
12 6 ΥΠΕΡΒΕΡΕΤΑΙΟΥ September
    ΕΜΒΟΛΙΜΟΥ Intercalary

Source: Wroth BMC, Sellwood (1980), Shore (1993)

Year dates written in Greek letters

1st Digit 2nd Digit 3rd Digit
Alpha 1   Iota 10   Rho 100
Beta 2   Kappa 20   Sigma 200
Gamma 3   Lambda 30   Tau 300
Delta 4   Mu 40   Upsilon 400
Epsilon 5   Nu 50   Phi 500
Stigma 6   Xi 60      
Zeta 7   Omicron 70      
Eta 8   Pi 80      
Theta 9   Koppa 90      

Source: Wroth BMC, Sellwood (1980), Shore (1993)

Example: ΔΞΥ (Delta Xi Upsilon) means Δ plus Ξ plus Υ = 4 + 60 + 400 which equals year 464.

There is a maximum of three digits, and their order is unimportant.

Use of the Greek letter stigma/digamma and the Greek letter sampi are discussed separately.

Seleucid Era Dates

The Seleucid Era (S.E.) is based on a lunar calendar, beginning with the autumn of 312 B.C.

Parthian Era Dates

Wroth [BMC, pp. lxv, 21] reports that Parthian drachms never bore dates, with the possible exception of several Artabanus I drachms where it is possible, but improbable, that the date ΕΚΡ (125) is in the Parthian Era (P.E.) rather than the Seleucid Era (S.E.).  Sellwood accepts these drachms as bearing dates in the Parthian Era.3  Examples of the dated Artabanus I drachm may be seen in BMC Artabanus I, 10 (pl. V, 7); Prokesch-Osten (pl. 1, 6); Sellwood 22.2; and Shore 63.

The Parthian Era begins with the reign of Arsaces I in 247 B.C., most likely in the month of ΔΙΟΥ. Since it was based on the Macedonian lunar calendar, an intercalary month was inserted periodically to keep the lunar calendar aligned with the solar calendar. However, Sellwood notes that there are a small group of bronzes from Seleucia that would better support a new year beginning in ΑΡΤΕΜΙΣΙΟΥ -- approximately April -- which is the start of the Babylonian new year.  Sellwood believes this exception does not yet provide enough evidence for assuming an April new year.4  But strongly supporting an April date is the traditional Iranian celebration of the Now Ruz (new year's) festival in Spring, a tradition which pre-dates the Islamic era. A new year beginning in Spring is the assumption for dates in the Parthian Era on this web site.

Wroth tells us on Parthian coins the ninth month is written ΠΑΝΗΜΟΥ, not ΠΑΝΕΜΟΥ as found in Suidas, Josephus, etc.5  The tenth month appears frequently as Oloius (ΟΛΩΙΟΥ) or Olous (ΟΛΩΟΥ) on coins of Phraates IV, Vardanes I, Gotarzes, Vologases I and III. It occurs also as Loius or, probably more commonly, as Lous. The sixth month occurs as Xandikos, but on coins of Pacorus II as ΞΑΝΘΙΚ(ΟΥ). On coins, Apellaeus is generally written with one Λ ; Peritius is often ΠΕΡΙΤΕΙ(ΟΥ). Audynaeus is found as ΑΥΔΝΑΙ(ΟΥ). Sellwood simply mentions that names for months are "in the genitive case, and often abbreviated or mis-spelt...."

It is also important to note here that the ostraca found at Nisa were dated to the Parthian era, but with Zoroastrian month names. The oldest date was circa 100 B.C. and the latest were circa 13 A.D.6

1. McDowell, Coins from Seleucia, p. 148.
2. Sellwood, An Introduction to the Coinage of Parthia (1980), p. 16.
3. Sellwood, op. cit., p. 15.
4. Sellwood, op. cit., p. 16.
5. Wroth, BMC Parthia, p. lxiii.
6. Frye (1963), p. 175.

This page last updated 13 Mar 2021

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