Demetrios II, First Reign

Founded 24-Aug-2006
Last update 29-Nov-2009

Bronze coins References

Identification Number DE2-AE-01

Mint: perhaps Nisibis1
Period: 145 - 138 BC
Denomination: AE Double Unit
Weight: 11.14 g
Diameter: 21 - 21 mm (thickness up to 5 mm)
Obverse: Diademed, lightly bearded head of Demetrios II right; fillet border (laurel wreath border ?)
Reverse: ‘[ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ] ΔΗ[Μ]ΗΤΡΙ[ΟΥ]’ right, ‘ΝΙΚΑΤΟΡΟ[Σ]’ left (“of King Demetrios the Victor”); bearded male figure standing left, wearing polos2 and long chiton3 and carrying cornucopiae4 in left hand, holding upper right arm of female figure standing right, wearing polos, long chiton and probably peplos5, carrying cornucopiae in left hand and stretching her right hand to the male figure; ‘Η’ above ‘Ε’ in inner left field, ‘Υ’ between figures
Die axis: c. 10º
References: Houghton, Lorber and Hoover, SC II, 1980.3; Houghton, CSE, 1018 (this coin); Moore, ANSMN 31, p. 128, No. 24 (this coin); Hoover, CSE 2, 540-542; Hunterian Coll. III, p. 89, Nos. 23-24; SNG Spaer, 1750-1751
Notes: (1) The reverse type of this bronze issue portrays two deities with identical attributes of polos and cornucopiae. According to Moore, The divine couple of Demetrius II, Nicator, and his coinage at Nisibis, the male figure represents Agathos Daimon (“good spirit”) and the female figure represents his wife Agathe Tyche (“good fortune”).6
  (2) Moore attributes these coins to Nisibis and he hypothesizes that this issue and other coins with the lightly bearded types of Demetrios II were probably minted during the latter part of his first reign, while he was campaigning against the Parthian king Mithridates I (ibid, pp. 136 - 143). Houghton, Lorber and Hoover, SC II (Vol. 1, p. 307), discuss the pros and cons of Moore’s attribution and they present arguments which suggest a mint located farther to the west than Nisibis, perhaps in eastern Syria or western Mesopotamia.



Identification Number DE2-AE-03

Mint: uncertain mint in Phoenicia or Coele Syria
Period: 142/1 BC
Denomination: AE Double Unit
Weight: 6.67 g
Diameter: 18 - 19 mm
Obverse: Head of Hermes right, wearing winged diadem; fillet border
Reverse: ‘[Β]ΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΔΗΜΗΤΡΙΟΥ’ right, ‘ΘΕΟΥ [Φ]ΙΛΑΔΕΛΦ[ΟΥ] [Ν]ΙΚΑΤΟΡΟ[Σ]’ left (“of King Demetrios, God loving one’s brother, the Victor”); filleted caduceus;7 Seleukid date ΑΟΡ (year 171 of the Seleukid Era, i.e. 142/1 BC)8 in exergue; control mark in inner left field
Die axis: c. 25º
References: Houghton, Lorber and Hoover, SC II, 1973 var.; Hoover, CSE 2, 535-536 var.; Hunterian Coll. III, p. 70, No. 21 var. (Plate LXVII, 23)
Note: This variant seems to be unpublished. Four variants of this interesting coin type are known to me:
  • obverse: no border; reverse: control beneath caduceus, no date
    (Houghton, Lorber and Hoover, SC II, 1973.1; Hoover, CSE 2, 535)
  • obverse: no border; reverse: control beneath caduceus, star in inner right field, no date
    (Houghton, Lorber and Hoover, SC II, 1973.2; Hoover, CSE 2, 536)
  • obverse: dotted border; reverse: indistinct controls, no date
    (Hunterian Coll. III, p. 70, No. 21)
  • obverse: fillet border; reverse: control in inner left field, date in exergue
    (the coin above)



1 Nisibis was the chief town of the district called Mygdonia in northern Mesopotamia (now Nusaybin, Mardin Province, southeastern Turkey near the Syrian border). Probably under Antiochus IV, the city temporarily received the dynastic name of Antioch in Mygdonia. Nisibis stood by the side of the river Mygdonius, astride important routes both from the east to west (from Arbela or Seleukeia on the Tigris to Edessa or Harran) and from the north to south (from Armenia to the Mesopotamian plain). Russell, Nisibis as the background to the Life of Ephrem the Syrian, paragraph 12, mentions Pigulevskaja’s hypothesis (N. Pigulevskaja, Les villes de l’état Iranien aux époques Parthe et Sassanide, Contribution à l’histoire sociale de la basse antiquité. Paris, Mouton & Co, 1963; Russell refers to p. 51) that the Greek name for the region or valley in which Nisibis lies, “Mygdonia”, comes from the Syriac word magda’ = “fruit”, which suggests very good fertility of the area. (Russell, Nisibis as the background to the Life of Ephrem the Syrian; Head, Historia Numorum, A Manual of Greek Numismatics, Nisibis)

2 A type of headdress recorded as either tall and crownlike and associated with Hera, or shorter and associated with priestesses or Demeter figures. In archaic art, all great goddesses may wear the polos, however.

3 A garment worn by Greek men and women. It was made from two rectangular pieces of fabric (linen or wool, later also from cotton) and draped by the wearer in various ways and kept in place at the shoulders (and often also at arms and sides) by brooches or pins and at the waist by a belt.

4 The horn of plenty signifying prosperity and unlimited abundance. Its origin is connected with the events surrounding the birth of Zeus. According to ancient authors, Zeus was cared for by nymphs who fed him milk and honey. A nymph named Amaltheia owned a bull’s horn that could magically produce food or drink in limitless supply. According to another version of the myth, her goat named Aix (whose milk she fed the infant Zeus) accidentally broke off one of its horns and this became the cornucopiae. According to yet another version, Amaltheia was the goat from whom Zeus suckled milk and one of Amaltheia’s horns flowed with nectar and the other with ambrosia. After Zeus had matured, he honored Amaltheia by placing her in the sky as a constellation. In gratitude to the nymphs who had nurtured him, he presented them with a horn from Amaltheia that had the power to provide food and drink in limitless supply. (Bitner, The Cornucopia - A Horn of Plenty)

The cornucopiae is usually depicted overflowing with fruits and other agricultural produces. The depicted horns belonged to an ancient breed of wild goats known for their large horns. The word cornucopiae (plural cornuacopiae) is a combination of two Latin words, cornu (horn) and copiae (plenty). (Bitner, The Cornucopia - A Horn of Plenty)

5 A long garment worn by Greek women over chiton. It consisted of a large, rectangular piece of material folded vertically and hung from the shoulders, with a broad overfold.

6 Moore, The divine couple of Demetrius II, Nicator, and his coinage at Nisibis, pp. 133 - 134: Agathos Daimon and Agathe Tyche are not deities with specific personalities, as were the Olympian gods of Homer, but are rather more generic in nature. They are manifestations of the demoi in a collective sense, where various appellatives have been attached to them from place to place over time. [...] Agathos Daimon, like Agathe Tyche as the “good fortune” of the demos, is a similar conceptual representation of the “good spirit” of departed ancestors. He is a protective spirit of the family, from that of the individual citizen to that of the king, and in a broader sense he may represent the heroic ancestral heritage of the state. He is the seed carrier, the genetic code or paterfamilias of the family, the demos, the polis and of the royal line. His function is that of progenitor, the male force – hence, his usual attribute of fruitfulness and fertility, the cornucopia. The function of his consort, Agathe Tyche, is that of generatrix or seed receiver; the two together symbolizing procreation and continued existence for the clan, the city and the people at large.

On Agathe Tyche and Agathos Daimon, see also Gasparro, Daimôn and Tuchê in Hellenistic Religious Experience.

7 The staff carried by Hermes, the messenger of the gods, as a symbol of peace. It was carried by Greek ambassadors and heralds in time of war signifying their inviolability. It was originally depicted as a rod or olive branch ending in two shoots and decorated with garlands or ribbons; in later iconography the garlands became two snakes and a pair of wings was attached to the staff to represent Hermes’ speed. Caduceus is the Latin form of Greek κηρυκειον, which means a herald’s wand (κηρυξ = a herald). (Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities - Caduceus; Britannica Concise Encyclopedia from Encyclopedia Britannica - Caduceus)

8 The Seleukid Era is based on a lunar calendar, beginning with the autumn of 312 BC. It means that if x is a Seleukid year (and x<312) then the corresponding BC time interval is from 313–x to 312–x.

The beginning of the Seleukid Era was set as follows: In 311 BC, shortly after capturing Babylon, Seleukos I Nikator began the enumeration of his satrapal years there. However, after his decisive victory over Antigonos Monophthalmos in 307/6 BC, he backdated his “fictitious” first regnal year to coincide with Nisanu 1, 311 BC (New Year’s Day in the Babylonian calendar). This marked the antedated epoch of the Seleukid calendar according to the Babylonian reckoning. Later in 305/4 BC, when Seleukos I took the diadem and assumed the royal title “King”, he retained the numbering of his regnal years in Babylon but employed the Makedonian calendar and thus pushed his accession year back to Dios, 312 BC (Dios was the first month of the Makedonian calendar; it corresponds to October-November). This became the antedated epoch of the Seleukid era on the Macedonian calendar. (Assar, Recent Studies in Parthian History, Part I, p. 6)

The Seleukid Era was used at least until the first century AD in some Eastern countries.


Assar, Gholamreza F.:Recent Studies in Parthian History, Part I. The Celator, Vol. 14, No. 12 (December 2000), pp. 6-22.
Bitner, John W.:The Cornucopia - A Horn of Plenty. The Celator, Vol. 14, No. 11 (November 2000), pp. 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 and 16.
Encyclopedia Britannica:Britannica Concise Encyclopedia,
Gasparro, Giulia Sfameni:Daimôn and Tuchê in Hellenistic Religious Experience. In Studies in Hellenistic Civilization, Vol. VIII – Conventional Values of the Hellenistic Greeks, pp. 67-109. Aarhus University Press, 1997.
Head, Barclay V.:Historia Numorum. A Manual of Greek Numismatics. Oxford, 1911, 2nd ed. (Ed Snible and coworkers: Digital Historia Numorum,
Hoover, Oliver D.:Coins of the Seleucid Empire from the Collection of Arthur Houghton, Part II. The American Numismatic Society, New York, 2007. (abbr. CSE 2)
Houghton, Arthur:Coins of the Seleucid Empire from the Collection of Arthur Houghton. The American Numismatic Society, New York, 1983. (abbr. CSE)
Houghton, Arthur; Lorber, Catharine; Hoover, Oliver:Seleucid Coins, A Comprehensive Catalogue. Part II, Volumes 1 and 2. The American Numismatic Society, New York, in association with Classical Numismatic Group, Inc., Lancaster/London, 2008. (abbr. SC II)
Houghton, Arthur; Spaer, Arnold (with the assistance of Catharine Lorber):Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum. Israel I. The Arnold Spaer Collection of Seleucid Coins. Italo Vecchi Ltd., London, 1998. (abbr. SNG Spaer)
MacDonald, George:Catalogue of Greek Coins in the Hunterian Collection, University of Glasgow. Volume 3. Further Asia, Northern Africa, Western Europe. Elibron Classics, Adamant Media Corporation, 2003. Replica edition of the edition published by James Maclehose and Sons, Glasgow, 1905. (abbr. Hunterian Coll. III)
Moore, Wayne:The divine couple of Demetrius II, Nicator, and his coinage at Nisibis. ANS Museum Notes, Vol. 31 (1986), pp. 125-143.
Peck, Harry Thurston:Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. New York. Harper and Brothers. 1898. (The Perseus Digital Library,
Russell, Paul S.:Nisibis as the background to the Life of Ephrem the Syrian. Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies, Vol. 8, No. 2 (July 2005).