Coin of Phraates V showing Musa on the reverse, minted at Seleucia. Image Credit: Classical Numismatic Group.

By Gabby Storey

Of Musa’s childhood we know little, other than she was an Italian slave girl who was gifted to the Parthian monarch Phraates IV by Roman emperor Augustus in c. 20 BC.

Though Phraates already had four queens, Musa caught his attention and became a favourite. She became queen, and bore an heir, Phraataces, in 19 BC. It is likely that Musa orchestrated the removal of Phraates’ other sons to exile to ensure Phraataces could inherit the throne.

The death of Phraates IV in 2 BC is alleged to have been at the hand of Musa, by way of poison. Other sources hint that it was Phraataces who was responsible for his father’s death. Whoever was responsible, the outcome was that Musa and Phraataces, now Phraates V, became co-rulers of Parthia.

Musa’s title of basilissa, ‘queen’, was not unique and was often granted to other Parthian royal women, however her depiction on coinage was unique, being the only Parthian queen to be depicted and named on coins.

The additional title of Thea Ourania on the coinage linked Musa with deities and female rulers of the past, and hints at her authority as an influential figure at court. It is unlikely she was a regent, but nonetheless exerted some form of power during her son’s reign.

Musa and Phraates were deposed in 4 AD by the Parthian nobility, who installed Orodes III as king. Musa and Phraates fled to Rome and were welcomed by Augustus. We do not know her date of death or the remainder of her life in Rome.

Musa was one of only three women to rule in Iranian history.

Recommended Reading

Emma Strugnell, “Ventidius’ Parthian War: Rome’s Forgotten Eastern Triumph,” Acta Antiqua 46.3 (2006): 239–252

Emma Strugnell, “Thea Musa, Roman Queen of Parthia,” Iranica Antiqua 43 (2008): 275–298

Gene Ralph Garthwaite, The Persians (London: Blackwell, 2004)

J. M. Bigwood, “Queen Mousa, Mother and Wife(?) of King Phraatakes of Parthia: A Re-evaluation of the Evidence,” Mouseion: Journal of the Classical Association of Canada 4.1 (2004): XLVIII—Series III, 35-70

Khodadad Rezakhani, “Arsacid, Elymaean, and Persid Coinage,” in Daniel T. Potts, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Iran, 766-777 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

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