Last update 1-Nov-2014
... the men of Larissa ... were renowned for their courage, and had indeed received their present habitation as a reward of valour (for they were colonists from Thessalian Larissa), and as loyal allies to the royal line descended from Seleucus Nicator had always fought in the front ranks of the cavalry.
Larisa on the Orontes (Larissa Ad Orontes) is said to have been founded by Seleukos I, at the site of a former settlement called Sizara (now Shaizar).1 This means that Larisa was probably founded in the period between 301 (the Battle of Ipsus and the incorporation of Syria into the Seleukid empire) and 281 BC (the death of Seleukos I). It was settled by colonists from the like-named city in Thessaly.2 This indicates a possibility that the city was founded earlier, perhaps by Antigonos Monophtalmos.3 On the other hand, it cannot be excluded that Larisa was founded by a descendant of Seleukos I, e.g. by Antiochos I.4
Modern Shaizar, site of Larisa, stands about 25 kilometers southeast of Apameia on the Axios. This was a strategic place. The Orontes River emerges here from a sheer canyon, the left bluff of which served as the acropolis of ancient Larisa, later a medieval fortress. The middle Orontes Valley (the Ghab Depression) has its natural southern limit here and the river is easily bridged here.5 The city had a military purpose and controlled the route along the Orontes.6
Larisa, along with Kasiana, Megara and Apollonia, belonged to the Apamene satrapy.7 However, there was a war between Larisa and Apameia, probably in the second half of 140s BC.8 Citizens of Larisa were famous as horsemen and as brave soldiers.9
History in the Hellenistic period
|end of the 4th cent.
/ 3rd cent. BC
|Foundation of the city, presumably by the Seleukid king Seleukos I (see above).|
|145-138 BC||Under control of Tryphon (as a regent on behalf of Antiochos VI in the period 145-2 BC and later, up to 138 BC, as King). Larisa voluntarily joined him at the beginning of his rebellion.10|
|2nd half of 140s BC||A war with Apameia on the Axios.11|
|93/2 BC||Larisa become “sacred” (ιερα ).12|
|64 BC||Larisa was included into the new Roman province of Syria created by Pompey the Great.|
There was no royal Seleukid mint at Larisa. Only some bronze municipal issues were minted there in the 1st century BC; see Hoover, HSC, p. 307, and BMC 20, pp. lxviii-lxix. The Seleukid era was used for dating of coins.13 Below is the list of known municipal types.
|Obverse:||Laureate head of Zeus r.; dotted border.|
|Reverse:||‘ΛΑΡΙΣΑΙΩΝ’ r., ‘ΤΗΣ ΙΕΡΑΣ’ l. (“of the Lariseans of the Sacred [city]”). Throne facing. ‘ΔΙ’ monogram under throne and ‘Μ’ below it; Seleukid era date ΚΣ in exergue.|
|Metrology:||18-21 mm, c. 7.6 g|
|Period:||Seleukid year ΚΣ (year 220, 93/2 BC)|
|References:||Hoover, HSC, 1437-1438; BMC 20, p. 264, No. 1 (Plate XXXI, 8); Leake, Numismata Hellenica, p. 75; Mionnet, Description de Médailles Antiques, Vol. 5, p. 264, No. 816|
|Notes:||i.||The date is given as ΖΚΣ (year 227, 86/5 BC) in BMC 20 but it is illegible on the plated specimen. According to Hoover, HSC, p. 307, these coins are only dated ΚΣ.|
Hoover, HSC, differentiates two denominations: smaller (18-19 mm, c. 5.9 g) and larger (20-21 mm, c. 7.6 g). However, their design seems to be the same, so that there is no other difference than the slightly different size and weight. Moreover, metrological data of specimens known to me do not convincingly show two distinctly separate groups (their average weight is 7.61 g):
For these reasons, I suppose that this type was struck in one denomination only.
|iii.||The range of diameters is taken from Hoover, HSC, 1437-1438.|
|Obverse:||Veiled and turreted bust of Tyche r.; dotted border.|
|Reverse:||‘ΛΑΡΙΣΑΙΩΝ’ above, ‘ΤΗΣ ΙΕΡΑΣ’ below (“of the Lariseans of the Sacred [city]”). Horse walking l. ‘ΔΙ’ monogram above horse and ‘Μ’ r. of the monogram; Seleukid era date ΖΚΣ below horse (‘Ζ’ between front legs, ‘Κ’ under horse’s belly, ‘Σ’ behind horse).|
|Metrology:||c. 17 mm, c. 3.6 g|
|Period:||Seleukid year ΖΚΣ (year 227, 86/5 BC)|
|References:||Mionnet, Description de Médailles Antiques, Vol. 5, p. 264, No. 817; Jean ELSEN & ses Fils s.a., Auction 94 (December 15, 2007), Lot 860|
|Notes:||i.||This type is not listed in Hoover, HSC, but it is listed in BMC 20 on pp. lxviii-lxix with the reference to Mionnet. Its size is stated as 3½ of Mionnet’s scale (c. 17 mm). The weight of the specimen sold by Jean ELSEN & ses Fils s.a. is stated as 3.59 g, its diameter is not stated.|
|ii.||Mionnet’s coin No. 818 (ibid, p. 264) is described as having the same obverse but with a grazing horse on the reverse. However, this is an erroneous description and it is probably the same type as his coin No. 817.14|
|Obverse:||Turreted bust of Tyche r.|
|Reverse:||‘ΛΑΡΙΣΑΙΩΝ ΤΗΣ ΙΕΡΑΣ ΚΑΙ ΑΥΤΟΝΟΜΟΥ’ (“of the Lariseans of the Sacred and Autonomous [city]”). Horse’s head with bridle l. ‘ΠΑΡ’ monogram in r. field.|
|Metrology:||c. 20 mm|
|Period:||1st century BC|
|References:||Leake, Supplement, p. 65|
|Notes:||i.||This type is not in listed Hoover, HSC, but it is listed in BMC 20 on pp. lxviii-lxix with the reference to Leake. Leake’s coin is an electrotype of an unknown original and Leake states its size as 4½ of his scale (c. 20 mm). The first part of the ethnic is missing, the legibility of the inscription is described as [ΛΑΡΙ]ΣΑΙΩΝ [ΤΗ]Σ ΙΕΡΑΣ ΚΑΙ ΑΥΤΟΝΟΜΟΥ. The attribution to Larisa is thus likely but not certain.|
|ii.||It is unclear if this type was struck before 64 BC. Rigsby, Asylia, p. 500, suggests that the autonomy might be granted by Tigranes the Great.|
1 Cohen, The Hellenistic Settlements in Syria, the Red Sea Basin, and North Africa, p. 117; Grainger, A Seleukid Prosopography and Gazetteer, p. 745; Rigsby, Asylia, p. 499.
Appian, Syriake 57: He (Seleukos I) built cities throughout the entire length of his dominions and named sixteen of them Antioch after his father, five Laodicea after his mother, nine after himself, and four after his wives, that is, three Apamea and one Stratonicea. Of these the two most renowned at the present time are the two Seleucias, one on the sea and the other on the river Tigris, Laodicea in Phoenicia, Antioch under Mount Lebanon, and Apamea in Syria. To others he gave names from Greece or Macedonia, or from his own exploits, or in honor of Alexander; whence it comes to pass that in Syria and among the barbarous regions of upper Asia many of the towns bear Greek and Macedonian names, such as Berroea, Edessa, Perinthus, Maronea, Callipolis, Achaea, Pella, Orophus, Amphipolis, Arethusa, Astacus, Tegea, Chalcis, Larissa, Heraea, and Apollonia; in Parthia also Sotera, Calliope, Charis, Hecatompylos, Achaea; in India Alexandropolis; among the Scythians an Alexandria Eschate. From the victories of Seleucus come the names of Nicephorium in Mesopotamia and of Nicopolis in Armenia very near Cappadocia.
2 Cohen, The Hellenistic Settlements in Syria, the Red Sea Basin, and North Africa, p. 117; Grainger in The Cities of Seleukid Syria, p. 153; Grainger, A Seleukid Prosopography and Gazetteer, p. 745; Rigsby, Asylia, p. 500.
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, 33.4a: A certain Diodotus, also called Tryphon, who stood high in esteem among the king’s “Friends,” perceiving the excitement of the masses and their hatred for the prince, revolted from Demetrius (Demetrios II), and soon finding large numbers ready to join him (enlisted first ?) the men of Larissa, who were renowned for their courage, and had indeed received their present habitation as a reward of valour (for they were colonists from Thessalian Larissa), and as loyal allies to the royal line descended from Seleucus Nicator (Seleukos I) (had always fought ?) in the front ranks of the cavalry.
3 This was suggested by Grainger in The Cities of Seleukid Syria, pp. 39-40. He argues that, according to Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, 33.4a (see footnote 2), the citizens of Larisa remembered that they were descended from a regiment of Thessalian cavalry. However, neither Seleukos I nor Antigonos Monophtalmos could have recruited troops in Thessaly which was under the control of one or other of their enemies. For this reason, the regiment can only have been one of Alexander the Great’s regiments. Alexander’s Thessalians were a tough, élite corps and they had been away from their homeland for twenty years (since 335 BC) when peace returned to Syria. So, they received homes and land, and the ruler (probably Antigonos) acquired a stable settlement on a major communication route. However, according to Cohen, The Hellenistic Settlements in Syria, the Red Sea Basin, and North Africa, p. 118 (note 5) and p. 405, this conjecture is just a speculation.
4 Cohen, The Hellenistic Settlements in Syria, the Red Sea Basin, and North Africa, p. 117.
5 Rigsby, Asylia, p. 499.
6 Grainger, The Cities of Seleukid Syria, p. 106.
7 Cohen, The Hellenistic Settlements in Syria, the Red Sea Basin, and North Africa, p. 117; Grainger, The Cities of Seleukid Syria, p. 130.
Strabo, Geography, 16.2.10: The power Trypho (Tryphon), surnamed Diodotus, acquired is a proof of the influence of this place (district of Apamea); for when he aimed at the empire of Syria, he made Apameia the centre of his operations. He was born at Casiana, a strong fortress in the Apameian district, and educated in Apameia; he was a favourite of the king (Alexander I) and the persons about the court. When he attempted to effect a revolution in the state, he obtained his supplies from Apameia and from the neighbouring cities, Larisa, Casiana, Megara, Apollonia, and others like them, all of which were reckoned to belong to the district of Apameia. He was proclaimed king of this country, and maintained his sovereignty for a long time.
8 Cohen, The Hellenistic Settlements in Syria, the Red Sea Basin, and North Africa, p. 117; Grainger, The Cities of Seleukid Syria, pp. 130 and 160 (see also note 108); Rigsby, Asylia, p. 500.
Kidd, Posidonius, p. 126, F54 = Jacoby FGrH 87 F2 (at Athenaios of Naukratis, Deipnosophistai, 4.176B-C): Posidonius (Poseidonios of Apamea), the Stoic philosopher, recounting in Bk III of the History the war of the Apameans with the people of Larissa, writes this: ‘Clutching belt dirklets and javelettes covered in rust and filth, with wee stetsons clapped on their heads and sun-shields that provided shade yet did not prevent their necks from being ventilated, dragging along donkeys loaded with wine and food of all kinds, festooned with flutelets and solo recorders, instruments of revelry rather than of war.’
10 Cohen, The Hellenistic Settlements in Syria, the Red Sea Basin, and North Africa, p. 117; Grainger, The Cities of Seleukid Syria, pp. 159-160; Grainger, A Seleukid Prosopography and Gazetteer, p. 745; Rigsby, Asylia, p. 500; Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, 33.4a (see footnote 2).
12 See Type 1 in the overview of municipal coins which is dated Seleukid Era year ΚΣ (year 220, 93/2 BC). Rigsby, Asylia, p. 500, suggests that the word ιερα (“sacred”) on these coins abbreviates the full title ιερα και ασυλοσ (“sacred and inviolable”).
13 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 on coins up to the 3rd century AD (some coins of the Roman usurper Uranius Antoninus dated to the Seleukid year 565, i.e. 253/4 AD, and some coins of the Parthian king Vologases VI dated to the Seleukid year 539, i.e. 227/8 AD). Even after that, this era was further used outside of coinage for a long time, especially by the Church of the East (it was still used, for example, by a Christian community in a Chinese port city known as Zayton, present-day Quanzhou, in the 14th century AD).
14 Mionnet refers to Museum Theupoli. Imhoof-Blumer, Die Münzstätte Babylon zur Zeit der makedonischen Satrapen und des Seleukos Nikator, Numismatisches Zeitschrift 27 (1895), p. 16, writes: “Forscht man nämlich diesem angeblichen Typus von Larisa nach, so findet man dessen Beschreibung bloss in Mionnet V 264, 818 mit dem Hinweis auf den Katalog des Mus. Tiepolo, und schlägt man ferner in diesem nach, so macht man S. 1276 die Entdeckung, dass Mionnet “gradiens” mit “paissant” übersetzt und die Buchstaben im Felde weggelassen hat. Würde übrigens der Typus als larisäischer existiren, so könnte er dennoch für die Bestimmung des Prägeortes der zahlreichen Silber- und Kupfermünzen mit dem Beizeichen des weidenden Pferdes kaum in Betracht kommen.” Thus, Mionnet translated the latin phrase “horse walking” as “horse grazing” (“cheval paissant”). See also BMC 20, p. lxviii (the footnote denoted by two asterisks).
- Appian:Roman History, Book XI - The Syrian Wars. Translated by Horace White. Macmillan and Co., New York, 1899. (The Perseus Digital Library, http://www.perseus.org/cgi-bin/ptext?lookup=App.+Syr.+1.1; Livius.org, http://www.livius.org/ap-ark/appian/appian_syriaca_00.html)
- Assar, Gholamreza F.:Recent Studies in Parthian History, Part I. The Celator, Vol. 14, No. 12 (December 2000), pp. 6-22.
- Cohen, Getzel M.:The Hellenistic Settlements in Syria, the Red Sea Basin, and North Africa. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles / California - London / England, 2006.
- Diodorus Siculus:Library of History. Books XXI–XXXII. Translated into English by Francis R. Walton. The Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, Cambridge / Massachusetts - London / England, 1999 (reprint of the 1957 edition).
- Grainger, John D.:The Cities of Seleukid Syria. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2004 (reprint of the 1990 original edition).
- Grainger, John D.:A Seleukid Prosopography and Gazetteer. Brill, Leiden - New York - Köln, 1997.
- Hoover, Oliver D.:The Handbook of Syrian Coins: Royal and Civic Issues, Fourth to First Centuries BC. The Handbook of Greek Coinage Series, Vol. 9. Classical Numismatic Group, Inc., Lancaster / Pennsylvania - London / England, 2009. (abbr. HSC)
- Imhoof-Blumer, Friedrich:Die Münzstätte Babylon zur Zeit der makedonischen Satrapen und des Seleukos Nikator. Numismatisches Zeitschrift 27 (1895), pp. 1-22. (Digital Library Numis, http://members.multimania.nl/Numis06/PDF/6998.pdf)
- Kidd, I. G. (Editor):Posidonius. Volume 3, The Translation of the Fragments. Cambridge University Press, 1999.
- Leake, William Martin:Numismata Hellenica: A Catalogue of Greek Coins. John Murray, London, 1856. (abbr. Numismata Hellenica)
- Leake, William Martin:A Supplement to Numismata Hellenica: A Catalogue of Greek Coins. John Murray, London, 1859. (abbr. Supplement)
- Mionnet, T. E.:Description de Médailles Antiques, Grecques et Romaines. Tome 5. Paris, 1811. (abbr. Description de Médailles Antiques, Vol. 5)
- Rigsby, Kent J.:Asylia. Territorial Inviolability in the Hellenistic World. University of California Press, Berkeley - Los Angeles - London, 1996.
- Strabo:Geography. Translated and ed. by H. C. Hamilton and W. Falconer. Henry G. Bohn, London, 1854 - 1857.
- Wroth, Warwick:British Museum Catalog of Greek Coins, Volume 20: Greek Coins of Galatia, Cappadocia and Syria. London, 1899 (reprint, Arnaldo Forni, Bologna, 1964). (abbr. BMC 20)