Apollo Archer on Seleukid coins

Founded 28-Oct-2008
Last update 28-Oct-2008

Panagiotis Iossif, Testing ‘historical’ theses against numerical data: the Seleucid case


Different types of Apollo occupied the reverse of Seleucid coins. [...] The diachronic evolution of the types demonstrates the predominance of Apollo seated on the omphalos type in the period comprised between Antiochus I and the first reign of Demetrius II. The figure of Apollo seated on the omphalos, holding an arrow in his right hand and resting his left hand on a bow, is an iconographic type that occurs mainly in the Seleucid kingdom. It depicts, as many of the other Apollonian types, the king in his aspect as archer, as Apollo Toxotes. [...] The choice of Apollo Toxotes served to legitimize the Seleucids as the rightful successors of the Achaemenid kings. Achaemenid inscriptions invariably praise the prowess of the Great King as a bowman. Achaemenid coins depict him shooting or holding a bow, imagery that inspired the popular Greek name for these coins, toxotai. The bow was, in fact, a symbol of divine kingship for the Iranians, and its association with sovereignty can be traced back in ancient Mesopotamia to Akkadian and Assyrian origins. The survival of this tradition beyond the Seleucid period is attested by the reverse type of Arsacid drachms, which also show a seated archer. As the son of an Iranian princess, Antiochus I was perhaps especially sympathetic to eastern cultural traditions. His fourteen-year reign in the east as his father’s coregent will have deepened his exposure and brought home the practicalities of placating the subject populations. Seleucus’ early use of solar imagery in the east suggests that he too was attuned to the multiethnic character of his territories. Indeed, this may explain why he was the only one of Alexander’s successors to remain married to his Iranian wife and to make her the matriarch of a Hellenistic dynasty. Still, it was Antiochus, not Seleucus, who found a way to inscribe the Seleucids in the eastern tradition of divine kingship by claiming descent from Apollo and portraying him as the divine archer. At the same time, as the patron of Greek colonization Apollo spoke to the Macedonian and Greek immigrants who peopled the new foundations of the Seleucid kingdom.

Panagiotis Iossif, Testing ‘historical’ theses against numerical data: the Seleucid case
(Proceedings of the conference “Quantifying Monetary Supplies in Greco-Roman times”,
Rome, Academia Belgica, September 29-30, 2008.)



The text is shortened. For a detailed analysis of this topic, see Panagiotis Iossif, Antiochos, le Grand Roi, le roi légitime, roi du monde, roi de Babylone…et Roi-Soleil? Aspects célestes du culte royal dans l’Orient séleucide. Proceedings of the conference “Royal Cult and Emperor Worship: From Classical to Late Antiquity” organized by the Belgian School of Archaeology at Athens, November 1-2, 2007, Leuven 2009 (forthcoming).