A New Approach to Seleucid Serrated Coins: Questions of Reform and Dynastic Continuity

The 5-minute video above is a recorded version of my presentation in the Princeton Online Research Day 2020. During my sophomore Fall, I took Professor Mark Domingo Gygax’s course on “The Hellenistic Age”. The course required the completion of a final research paper, for which I decided to make use of the work that I had been doing on Seleucid bronzes from Antioch in the Princeton University Numismatic Collection. In particular, I decided to work on the so-called “serrated” bronzes, also called “serrates”. These were bronze coins, whose edge was saw-shaped. I was surprised at how many had been found during Princeton University’s excavations during the 1930s in modern Antakya, Turkey. In this research, I tried to create a new approach towards Seleucid serrated bronzes that builds on previous explanations of the phenomenon, including visual appeal, political considerations, and economic diversification. Given the patterns of the disappearance and reappearance of these coins corresponded to dynastic changes within the Seleucid royal family, this paper advocates for the idea that serrated coins became instruments of dynastic legitimation in the later Seleucid Empire. After the serrated bronzes were instituted by Seleucus IV at Ake and Antioch, the use of the serrated edge became paramount to claiming dynastic continuity from Seleucus IV. This was the reason why Demetrius I, Seleucus IV’s son and rightful successor, reinstituted the serrated fabric that had been largely abandoned by Antiochus IV. This tool of legitimation was taken over by the usurper Alexander I Balas and would later become a way for his descendants to link themselves to their predecessor. Accordingly, the serrated fabric disappears in the Seleucid Empire with the death of the last descendant of Alexander I, Alexander II Zabinas. This analysis can potentially change the way that we perceive the direction of monetary influence between states in the ancient world and shed new light on the dynamics in the Late Seleucid kingdom, a power that influenced the history of the Middle East for 3 centuries. If you should have any questions, concerns, or suggestions, please send me an email. I would be happy to hear from you.