About this artwork
The purpose of the first portrait coins was to identify the ruler. The front side became a mirror of the sovereign’s self-image. The back was often used to communicate the ruler’s accomplishments or intentions. The profile portrait was used because it suited the very shallow depth and limited surface of the coin. The tiny images were carved by engravers into bronze dies, one for the front and another for the back. The coins were then struck, one by one, in a process similar to how modern coins are created today.
Portraits as Publicity
Coins were an efficient form of publicity, particularly when new rulers needed to legitimize their succession or strengthen their reputation. As king of Parthia (modern Iran), Mithridates II (r. 123–88 BC) followed the Greek and Roman convention of celebrating one’s royal heritage on coinage. All Parthian coinage included the name “Arsakes,” the founder of the dynasty.
- Currently Off View
- Arts of the Ancient Mediterranean and Byzantium
- Drachm (Coin) Portraying King Mithridates II the Great of Parthia
- Khorasan (Minted in)
- 123 BCE–88 BCE
- Reverse: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΝ ΜΕΓΑΛ[ΟΥ] ΑΡΣΑΚΟΥ ΕΠΙΦΙΝΟΥΣ
- Diam.: 2.1 cm (7/8 in.)
- Gift of Martin A. Ryerson