Numismatic Evidence For A New Seleucid King: Seleucus (VII) Philometor

Founded 25-Aug-2004
Last update 17-Jul-2005

Brian Kritt

Originally published in The Celator, Volume 16, No. 4 (April 2002), pp. 25-28 and 36.
© 2002 Brian Kritt; used by permission of the author and the publisher
The photographs of the Bellinger’s coin from the ANS collection (ANS Database, Accession No. 1948.100.2) are published with the kind permission of The American Numismatic Society.


A new coin has been discovered and deciphered bearing a Seleucid king’s name, which had previously been unknown to history.1 The new coin sheds light on the tangled and incomplete record of the fall of the Seleucid dynasty in the first century BC. The coin complements the information from another published long ago by Alfred Bellinger, to be discussed below. We begin with the historical background, which provides the context for this new discovery.

Cleopatra Selene. The Ptolemaic princess Cleopatra Selene was the daughter of Ptolemy VII Physcon and Cleopatra III of Egypt.2 She was married at least four times, to Ptolemy VIII Lathyrus, and to the Seleucid kings Antiochus VIII Grypus, Antiochus IX Cyzicenus, and Antiochus X Eusebes.3

After the death of Physcon in 116 BC, his widow Cleopatra III forced her eldest son Lathyrus to divorce his sister/wife Cleopatra IV and marry their younger sister Selene.4 Later, Cleopatra III broke with Lathyrus, expelled him to Cyprus, and removed Selene as his wife (107 BC).5

Grypus and Cyzicenus were half brothers, both sons of Cleopatra Thea, by Demetrius II and Antiochus VII Sidetes respectively. In 114/3 BC, a civil war broke out between the two, which was fought out by their descendants to the end of the Seleucid kingdom.6 The Ptolemies were instigators and partisans in these dynastic conflicts, intermarrying with the candidates and supporting them militarily.

The divorced Cleopatra IV had fled to Syria and become the wife of Cyzicenus, while Physcon had earlier allied himself with Grypus, sealing the alliance by the marriage of his daughter Tryphaena, Selene’s other sister, to Grypus.7 In the ensuing conflict Cleopatra IV was murdered at Antioch at the insistence of Tryphaena (112 BC), who was then herself executed by Cyzicenus upon his recapture of the city.8 In 103 BC, Cleopatra III was allied with the Jewish king Alexander Jannaeus against Lathyrus, and in order to oppose a possible alliance of Lathyrus with Cyzicenus, sent reinforcements to Grypus, and sent Selene, formerly married to Lathyrus, to be his wife.9

Grypus was murdered at Antioch in 96 BC by his minister Heracleon.10 His widow Selene then married Cyzicenus. The eldest son of Grypus, Seleucus VI declared himself king and defeated Cyzicenus, who perished (95 BC).11 Cyzicenus left an heir, Antiochus X Eusebes, who married his father’s widow Selene.12 Eusebes drove Seleucus VI out of Antioch. He fled to Mopsus, where he was killed by a mob.13 Grypus’ sons Philip I, Antiochus XI, and Demetrius III then opposed Eusebes, whose end is controversial. According to Josephus, he was killed in battle by the Parthians, after answering a summons for help from a certain Laodice, queen of an uncertain tribe (92 BC).14 But Appian has him defeated and expelled from his kingdom by Tigranes.15 That would lower his ending date to at least as late as 83 BC. This confusion will have important repercussions for dating the coins to be discussed below.

Selene’s Sons. Selene had two sons by Eusebes. We hear of them from Cicero, who reports on their presence in Rome (75-73 BC) to petition the Romans to be recognized as kings of Egypt.16 He identifies the princes as sons of Selene and King Antiochus. This episode finds its way into Cicero since one son, named as Antiochus, stopped in Sicily on his way home, and was robbed by Verres. Cicero makes it clear that the right of the princes to the Syrian throne was already acknowledged, inherited from their father and ancestors.17 The Roman Senate would not hear their petition for the Egyptian throne. The second son is not named by Cicero, and he is otherwise apparently absent from the ancient sources.18 Appian identifies Antiochus as the son of Selene and Antiochus Eusebes, and says he was called Asiaticus because he was brought up in Asia.19

Bellinger (pg. 79) has Selene as “still somewhere in Syria with her young sons by Eusebes” during the rule of Philip I in Antioch (89-84/3 BC), and “still a power to be reckoned with and she laid claim to the throne in the name of her son Antiochus” after Philip’s death (84/3 BC). These statements seem to derive from the evidence of the coin he later published in Museum Notes V, discussed below.20 Josephus places Selene in Ptolemais, under siege by Tigranes, at the time of an embassy from the Hasmonean queen Alexandra-Salome (76-67 BC) to Tigranes, and speaks of Selene the queen, also called Cleopatra, as then ruling in Syria.21 Selene had persuaded the inhabitants to shut the gates against Tigranes, who took the city (69 BC) and sent Selene to captivity at Seleucia opposite Samosata on the Euphrates, where she was later killed.22

After an interview in Antioch with the Roman envoy Pulcher, Tigranes departed Antioch and went north to join his father-in-law Mithradates in his war against the Romans.23 At this time Asiaticus entered Antioch and assumed the government with the consent of the people as Antiochus XIII (69 BC).24 The Roman general Lucullus did not object to Antiochus assuming his ancestral right to rule. He issued tetradrachms from Antioch, identified by Newell, which bear the epithet Philadelphos.25 Here we have numismatic evidence for the existence of the unnamed brother mentioned in Cicero, and his likely survival to this time.

Appian says Asiaticus ruled only one year, while Pompey was otherwise occupied, and that Pompey deprived him of the government of Syria.26 Apparently Antiochus suffered a defeat leading to a rebellion at Antioch. He survived, but the instigators fled to Cilicia, where they enlisted Philip son of Philip I as a rival candidate. In the ensuing intrigues, Antiochus was captured and imprisoned by his supposed ally Sampsiceramus of Emesa.27 We next hear of him petitioning Pompey to be restored as Seleucid king in Antioch (64 BC).28 Pompey refused, saying that it was unnatural for the Seleucidae, who had been defeated by Tigranes, to govern Syria rather than the Romans who had conquered him.29 He also chided Antiochus for hiding in a corner of Cilicia all during the reign of Tigranes.30 Thus in 64 BC Syria became a Roman province, and the Seleucid dynasty came to its end.

Seleucus-Cybiosactes. Another Seleucus appears briefly in the record (Dio Cassius), after the events described above. When Ptolemy XIII Auletes was driven from the throne of Egypt, his daughter Berenice IV, ruling as Egyptian queen, sent for one Seleucus who claimed to belong to the Seleucid line, and formally recognized him as her husband and co-ruler (ca. 58 BC).31 When he failed to gain respect, she had him killed.

In addition, an anonymous Seleucid candidate invited to marry Berenice, mentioned in Porphyry in Eusebius, is said to have died of a sudden illness.32 According to Bellinger (pg. 85), this “may have been the brother of Antiochus Asiaticus” but “he died before the plan was carried out.” Then the Seleucid Philip (II) presented himself as a candidate, but the Roman proconsul and governor of Syria Gabinius would not allow it (ca. 56 BC).

According to Strabo, when Berenice had been established on the Egyptian throne, a husband was sent for from Syria, a certain Cybiosactes [“salt-fish dealer”], who pretended to be of Seleucid descent.33 Unable to endure his coarse manners, she had him strangled within a few days. Bellinger (pg. 86) treats Cybiosactes, who he identifies as “Seleucus, nicknamed Cybiosactes,” as separate from the candidate in Porphyry. Regarding the latter, Bevan (pg. 268) asks, “if he is identical with the person nicknamed Cybiosactes by the Alexandrians [Strabo].”

Thus there has developed in the literature a tendency to make the associations: second son of Selene = Seleucus (Dio) = anonymous Seleucid (Porphyry) = Cybiosactes (Strabo). In his genealogical table of the Seleucids, Babelon listed the sons of Antiochus X Eusebes and Cleopatra Selene as Antiochus XIII Asiaticus and Seleucus Cybiosactes.34

The close parallels in the versions of Dio Cassius and Strabo, and similarities in Porphyry, do certainly suggest that they are all describing the same character, but until now there has been no historical or numismatic evidence for the true name of the second son of Cleopatra Selene.

Bellinger’s Coin: Cleopatra Selene and Antiochus Asiaticus. In Museum Notes V, Alfred Bellinger published a bronze coin given by H. Seyrig to the ANS, which he attributed to Cleopatra Selene and Antiochus XIII. His description:

“Female and male busts jugate; the female in front, i.e. nearer the beholder, veiled(?). Circle of dots.
Rev. To r. ΒΑCΙΛΙCΗCC / ΚΛΕΟΠΑΤΡΑC / [ . . . ]ΗΝΗC, to l. ΚΑΙ/[ . ]ΑCΙΛΕΩΣ/ - - - . Tripod. Circle of dots. 15mm. 3.27gr.”
Bellinger Coin – Cleopatra Selene and Antiochus (Asiaticus), obverse Bellinger Coin – Cleopatra Selene and Antiochus (Asiaticus), reverse
Bellinger’s Coin – Cleopatra Selene and Antiochus (Asiaticus)

This coin has ANS accession number 1948.100.2, has die axis 12 o’clock, and can be viewed at the ANS on-line database. Bellinger’s misspelling of the title for queen does not appear to be on the coin itself. One also questions the final sigma not being lunate like the others. Of course the coin is corroded and of “indifferent preservation,” so the reading is difficult if not impossible to establish from the photograph. Recent examination of the coin itself has indicated that the missing line after the title king indeed reads Antiochus, confirming Bellinger’s attribution to Asiaticus as quite likely.35 Based on fairly weak circumstantial evidence Bellinger placed the coin at the mint of Antioch. He dated it to 92 BC, after Antiochus X was killed by the Parthians, in the interval just before the occupation of the city by Demetrius III, and before the beginning of the long series of dated autonomous bronzes of the city which runs from 92/91 BC well into the period of Tigranes’ control.36 Thus he followed Josephus’ account of the end of Eusebes, while indicating the conflicting tradition.

On the other hand, he presented the alternate possibility that the mint may have been a town in Cilicia, “where Cleopatra had taken refuge with her children.” This recalls the statement of Pompey cited above concerning Asiaticus hiding in Cilicia, and Bellinger’s own earlier speculation (cf. n. 17) that Cleopatra ruled in the name of her son from some base in that area. This alternative would also free the dating of the coin from the unlikely stricture he suggested to anytime between the end of Antiochus X and Selene’s own death in 69 BC. The coin for the first time established that Selene claimed the Syrian throne jointly with at least one of her sons, Antiochus, and must have been struck after the death or removal of her husband. The statement in Cicero concerns the rights of the sons to the Syrian throne, not of Selene herself, based on their inheritance from their father and ancestors. On balance, the passage in Josephus cited above seems to imply her own sovereignty.

The mint remains uncertain, and may well be in Syria or Cilicia, but the dating of the coin can be placed in the interval 92-69 BC if Josephus was right, or 83-69 BC if we follow Appian.37

The New Coin: Cleopatra Selene and Seleucus Philometor. Description of the coin:

13-14mm, 1.46g, die axis 12 o’clock.
Obv. Female and male busts jugate, the female in front, veiled and wearing stephane. Circle of dots.
Rev. (Nude?) male figure (Apollo?) standing l. with right hand extended holding (branch?). Circle of dots.
Inscription placed around the figure as indicated in the graphic next to the rotated image of the reverse: ΒΑCΙΛΙCCΗ[C] / ΚΛΕΟΠΑΤΡΑ[C] / CΕΛΗΝ[ΗC] / ΚΑΙ ΒΑC / CΕΛΕΥ / Κ[ΟΥ] / [Φ]ΙΛΟΜΗΤΟΡ[ΟC].38
New Coin – Cleopatra Selene and Seleucus Philometor, obverse New Coin – Cleopatra Selene and Seleucus Philometor, reverse
New Coin – Cleopatra Selene and Seleucus Philometor
New Coin – Cleopatra Selene and Seleucus Philometor, reverse rotated 90º New Coin – Cleopatra Selene and Seleucus Philometor, reverse inscription
rotated 90º

The coin is a perfect parallel to the Bellinger coin, except that instead of Antiochus, a Seleucus is named. That he is presented as king is clear from the abbreviated title BAC for BACIΛEWC. That he is son of Selene is wonderfully obvious from this newly-revealed epithet “mother-lover” alongside the clear name of Selene. The long-lost name of Selene’s second son is established as Seleucus. That he was presented as a Seleucid king is also completely new. Cicero only acknowledged the sons’ right to the Seleucid throne by inheritance.39 There is no other literary, numismatic, or archeological evidence that the second son ever exercised that right.

Is Philometor the same person as Seleucus Cybiosactes, i.e., as Seleucus (Dio) – anonymous Seleucid (Porphyry) – Cybiosactes (Strabo)? There is no direct proof of this. Although the literary candidates all had a more or less dubious claim to be of Seleucid descent, none is connected to Selene in the record. That Selene’s son was named Seleucus enhances the likelihood. As a Seleucid specialist, I will refer to this new Seleucid king by his numismatically-established name of Seleucus (VII) Philometor, son of Cleopatra Selene.

The general dating of the new coin and its attribution to mint are subject to the same considerations as for Bellinger’s coin: 92-69 BC or 83-69 BC, at an uncertain mint in Syria or Cilicia. But a significant question concerns its chronological relation to the Bellinger coin. Antiochus Asiaticus ruled in his own right after the death of Selene. In addition, the survival of Seleucus until the sole reign of Antiochus is likely from the Philadelphos epithet of the latter’s coins, as well as from Seleucus’ probable identification with the later Seleucus-Cybiosactes grouping. This suggests that Antiochus may have been the older brother, although Cicero does not tell us this, nor do the coins. Antiochus’ precedence as sole ruler would then have been due to his seniority. It might also suggest that his joint-reign coin with Selene could be earlier than Seleucus’. Would Selene have issued the coins at the same time, asserting her joint reign with each son separately? There is room for her temporary disaffection with one or the other son, leading to a somewhat different dating for the striking of these issues.40

A different interpretation can be based on the apparent dissimilarity in fabric and workmanship of the two coins. Although this could be due to a chronological difference at a single mint, it might well indicate a different mint for the Seleucus coin. If this is the case, Selene would have transferred her base between the two issues. After the death of Eusebes, the last and only historically recorded base for Selene was at Ptolemais. This city was an active Seleucid mint until the late second century BC, with its last previously-known Seleucid issue being for Cyzicenus.41 It is an attractive choice for the mint of the new joint issue bronze coin, whose dating could then be substantially narrowed to the period from the return of the princes from Rome (73 BC) to the fall of Ptolemais to Tigranes (69 BC).42

Finally, not to be taken lightly, the new coin is now the second known example attributable to this much-married and shadowy princess-queen whose demise paralleled that of the Seleucid dynasty itself.


1 The new coin is in the author’s collection, recently acquired. The reading and decipherment of the inscription on this coin was a joint effort by the author and Arthur Houghton, one day last fall in Burtonsville. The interpretations presented in this article, however, are entirely my own. Thanks also to Chris Bennett for important references and helpful suggestions.

2 Justin 39, 3, 2. In order to avoid confusion, the numbering used for the Ptolemies here follows Bellinger in his two publications which will be cited often in the following discussion: A. R. Bellinger, “The End of the Seleucids,” in Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences 38 (June, 1949), pp. 51-102, hereafter referred to as Bellinger; and A. R. Bellinger, “Notes on some Coins from Antioch in Syria,” American Numismatic Society Museum Notes V (1952), pp. 53-63, hereafter referred to as MN V.

3 Justin 39, 3, 2, and Appian, Syriaca 69.

4 Bellinger, p. 67, and Justin 39, 3, 2. For the date, cf. O. Mørkholm, “Ptolemaic Coins and Chronology: The Dated Silver Coinage of Alexandria,” American Numismatic Society Museum Notes 20 (1975), pp. 7-24, hereafter referred to as Mørkholm, p. 11.

5 Bellinger, pp. 69-70, and Justin 39, 4, 1-2. For the date, cf. Mørkholm, p. 12.

6 Bellinger, pp. 66ff.

7 Justin 39, 2, 3 and 3, 3.

8 Justin 39, 3, 5-12, and Bellinger, p. 68, who places Cyzicenus’ recapture of Antioch in the next year. But in a detailed study of the dated bronzes of Antioch in this period, Houghton has indicated that Cyzicenus does not seem to have held Antioch again until 110/109 BC: A. Houghton, “The Reigns of Antiochus VIII and Antiochus IX at Antioch and Tarsus,” SNR 72 (1993), pp. 87-106, hereafter referred to as Reigns, p. 92.

9 Bellinger, p. 71, Josephus, Ant. 13, 13, 2, and Justin 39, 4, 4. Of course Grypus had been widowed by the execution of Tryphaena, Selene’s sister.

10 Bellinger, p. 72, and Josephus, Ant. 13, 13, 4. This date has been questioned by Houghton, Reigns, p. 93, who suggests the murder could have taken place a year or two earlier.

11 Bellinger, pp. 72-73 and n. 65, and Josephus, Ant. 13, 13, 4.

12 Appian, Syriaca 69.

13 Bellinger, pg. 74 and n. 70.

14 Josephus, Ant. 13, 13, 4 (“Gileadites”), and Bellinger, pg. 75, n. 73.

15 Appian, Syriaca 48 and 69.

16 Cicero, In Verrem 2, 4, 27, and Bellinger, p. 81.

17 Just where their base in Syria might have been is not clear, since this is within the period of Tigranes’ Syrian rule from Antioch. Bellinger (pg. 79 and n. 91) speculates on a stronghold in Cilicia, with Selene ruling in the name of her son Antiochus and maintaining relations with Ptolemais and Seleucia (Pieria).

18 “Antiochus and one whose name we do not know” (Bellinger, p. 81).

19 Appian, Syriaca 49 and 70.

20 The coin is mentioned in the earlier paper, p. 75, n. 73,

21 Josephus, Ant. 13, 16, 4.

22 Bellinger, pg. 82, and Strabo 16, 2, 3.

23 Bellinger, p. 82, and Josephus, Ant. 13, 16, 4.

24 Appian, Syriaca 49.

25 Cf. pp. 125-128 in E. T. Newell, “The Seleucid Mint of Antioch,” American Journal of Numismatics 51 (New York, 1917-1918), pp. 1-151.

26 Appian, Syriaca 49 and 70.

27 Bellinger, pg. 83, and Bevan (E. R. Bevan, The House of Seleucus, Vol. II (London, 1902)), pp. 266-7.

28 Justin 40, 2, 3. Bevan (pg. 267, n. 2) suggests that Antiochus may still have been a prisoner of Sampsiceramus at the time of the appeal.

29 Appian, Syriaca 49.

30 Justin 40, 2, 3. Of course Antiochus had been in Rome in 75-73 BC, during part of Tigranes’ reign.

31 Dio Cassius 39, 57.

32 Eusebius, Chronicorum 1 (ed. Schoene), pg. 261.

33 Strabo 17, 1, 11.

34 E. Babelon, Catalogue des Monnaies Grecques de la Bibliotheque Nationale. Les Rois de Syrie, d’Armenia et de Commagene (Paris 1890), page opposite CCXXII.

35 Thanks to Oliver Hoover for this information.

36 Cf. BMC 12-24.

37 Bellinger’s perception of the male portrait of his coin as representing a child rather than an infant might suggest a date later in the time period indicated (MN V, pp. 53-54).

38 Because of the irregular surfaces and patination of the coin, some letters visible on the coin simply do not show up in the photograph, particularly the CΕ of CΕΛΕΥΚΟΥ. For these two letters, the outline is clear on the coin, but the relief of the strokes has corroded away. Also the letter Φ of ΦΙΛΟΜΗΤΟΡΟC is discernible, but with enough uncertainly not to be included in the formal description.

39 Cf. Bellinger (pg. 81): “The claim to Syria was acknowledged de jure. . ”

40 The survival of her sons past the fall of Ptolemais signifies that they were probably not with her at that time. A break with one or the other could have occurred earlier.

41 Cf. E. T. Newell, Late Seleucid Mints in Ake-Ptolemais and Damascus, American Numismatic Society Numismatic Notes and Monographs 84 (New York, 1939), pp. 35-40.

42 There are uncertainties for this theory, including the question of the presence of Philometor in Ptolemais at the time of the coin issue, and his probable departure before the siege. Cf. n. 40.


Petr Veselý’s note. The following article offers a different attribution of the new coin described above:
Hoover, Oliver D.: Dethroning Seleucus VII Philometor (Cybiosactes): Epigraphical Arguments Against a Late Seleucid Monarch. Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, 151 (2005), pp. 95-99.