Seleukid Kings of Syria, Alexander I Balas - Zeus Casios

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This rare and remarkable tetradrachm represents a very interesting episode in the history of the Seleukid empire. Of humble origins, Alexander Balas pretended that he was the son of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and Laodice IV, and thus heir to the imperial throne. He was ‘discovered’ by Heracleides, a former minister of Antiochus IV and brother of Timarchus, an usurper in Media who had been executed by the reigning king Demetrius I Soter. Alexander’s claims were recognized by the Roman Senate and Ptolemy Philometor of Egypt; he was even granted the hand in marriage of Cleopatra Thea, a daughter of the Ptolemaic dynasty. Though his revolt was initially unsuccessful, in 150 BC Alexander was able to defeat Demetrios, and claim overlordship of the empire. Despite his victory however, Alexander remained heavily dependent on Ptolemaic support. Antioch refused to acknowledge him, and struck its own series of posthumous coinage in the name of Antiochos IV. Alexander was therefore forced to strike his own coinage at Seleukeia, previously only a peripheral mint, but which at the beginning of his reign was the only city in northern Syria completely under his control.

Thus we see here a tetradrachm which unlike the usual royal issues, employs types that are directly related to the city in which it was struck. The Pheidian-influenced portrait of Zeus on the obverse clearly represents Zeus Casios, whose cult in the city of Seleukeia was well noted. The reverse type of the thunderbolt was also an important cult symbol, which Appian (Syr. 58) tells us was held in great reverence by the inhabitants of Seleukeia.

Zeus Casios was himself a Hellenization of Ba’al Zaphon, the latter term being derived from the mountain named Hazzi (or Casios to the Greeks), which remained in use from the 2nd millennium BC onwards. Zeus Casios was locally venerated as a storm god renowned for his battle against the sea monster now known as Typhon, whose name and various features are derived from Zaphon.

Seleukid Kings of Syria, Alexander I Balas AR Tetradrachm. Seleucia Pieria, year 166 = 147/6 BC. Laureate head of Zeus to right, with full beard and with his hair arranged in long curls of archaizing form / ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ, thunderbolt, ?ΞΡ (= 166) and monogram above, two monograms below; all within elaborate laurel wreath with ties to right. CSE 409; Gulbenkian 1044; A. Houghton, ‘A Tetradrachm of Seleucia Pieria at the Getty Museum,’ J. Getty Museum Journal 10 (1982), A2/P4 and fig. F = SC 1798 = Wealth of the Ancient World 112. 16.70g, 23mm, 3h.

Extremely Fine. Extremely Rare, one of as few as fifteen known specimens, of which at least seven are in museum collections.

From a European collection; 
Ex Gemini VII, 9 January 2011, lot 575.