Cotys III (Sapaean)

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Cotys III, also known in dynastic terms as Cotys VIII[1] (Ancient Greek: Κότυς, flourished second half of 1st century BC & first half of 1st century, died 19) was the Sapaean Roman client king of eastern Thrace from 12 to 19.[2]

Family and origins[edit]

Cotys was the son and heir of loyal Roman client rulers Rhoemetalces I[3] and Pythodoris I of Thrace. Cotys’ mother is only known through surviving numismatic evidence, which bears her image and her Royal title of Queen Pythodoris.

Cotys’ father Rhoemetalces I was a loyal ally to the first Roman Emperor Augustus. Rhoemetalces I was a direct descendant of the Thracian King Cotys I. Rhoemetalces I was the son of a previous Thracian King, whose name was Cotys and his mother is unknown. Rhoemetalces I was the middle son, who had an elder brother who was called Cotys and his younger brother was Rhescuporis II.

Rhoemetalces I’s eldest brother Cotys who was Thracian King and an ally to Roman General Pompey and sent Pompey a body of auxiliaries under his son Rhescuporis I in 48 BC, in the Roman civil war against Gaius Julius Caesar. When Rhoemetalces I’s brother died, his nephew Rhescuporis I, became Thracian King. Rhoemetalces I’s became the guardian to the child and son of his brother Cotys. Rhescuporis I died in 13 BC, when he was defeated and slain in battle by the Vologaeses Chief of the Thracian Bessi, who was a leader in the revolt against the Romans in that year.

During this revolt Rhoemetalces I and his family had fled Thrace and return when the revolt had ended. Augustus then returned Thrace to him and his family. When Rhescuporis I died, Rhescuporis I left no heir and Rhoemetalces I became King of Thrace in 12 BC. Rhoemetalces I ruled Thrace until his death in 12. The Roman Historian Tacitus, describes Rhoemetalces I as ‘attractive and civilized’.

King of Thrace[edit]

When Rhoemetalces I died Augustus had divided the kingdom into two separate kingdom: one part for his son Cotys to rule and other half for Rhoemetalces I’s remaining brother Rhescuporis II to rule. Tacitus states that Cotys received the cultivated parts, most towns and most Greek cities of Thrace, while Rhescuporis received the wild and savage portion with enemies on its frontier.[4]

Not much is known on the early life of Cotys. Cotys had married the Antonia Tryphaena, a Pontian Princess who was the daughter of Roman Client Rulers Polemon Pythodoros and Pythodorida of Pontus. She was of Anatolian Greek and Roman heritage. Tryphaena’s mother was the first grandchild of Roman Triumvir Mark Antony. However the relationship between Tryphaena and Cotys is unknown.

Tacitus describes Cotys as a man of ‘gentle disposition, good natured and manners’. The Roman poet Ovid, wrote an epistle addressed to him. Ovid alludes Cotys to his cultivated taste for literature, claimed his favor and protection as a brother-poet.

Rhescuporis II always wanted to annexed Cotys’ Kingdom for himself to rule, however was unable to do because out of fear of Augustus. However, when Augustus died in 14, Rhescuporis II decided to do so. Tacitus describes his character as ‘treacherous’. Rhescuporis II was first harmonious in wanting to annex his nephew’s kingdom, but when Cotys resisted, Rhescuporis II plotted to kill his nephew. Rhescuporis II invited his nephew to a banquet to falsely ratify a treaty between them. Cotys was off his guard and was arrested by his uncle. Cotys was imprisoned by uncle in seizing his kingdom. In 19 Cotys was murdered by order of Rhescuporis II who falsely represented his death as self-inflicted.[5] Cotys’ wife and children fled Thrace to Cyzicus from his uncle.

Roman Emperor Tiberius in 19 had opened a murder investigation into Cotys’ death. Tiberius put Rhescuporis II on trial in the Roman Senate and invited Tryphaena to attend the trial. During the trial Tryphaena accused Rhescuporis II of killing her husband and forcing him to exile himself from his own kingdom. Tiberius found Rhescuporis II guilty and sent him to live in exile in Alexandria, Egypt. On his way to Egypt Rhescuporis II tried to escape and was killed by Roman soldiers.

Tiberius returned the whole Thracian Kingdom to Tryphaena and Tiberius appointed Cotys and Tryphaena’s first child Rhoemetalces II to rule with his mother. The son of Rhescuporis II, Rhoemetalces III was spared by Tiberius and allowed him to return to Thrace.

Marriage and children[edit]

Cotys had four children by Tryphaena and they were:

  • A son, Rhoemetalces II, he was named after his paternal grandfather and ruled with Tryphaena from when his father died in 19 until his death in 38.
  • A daughter, Gepaepyris, she married the Roman Client King Tiberius Julius Aspurgus of the Bosporan Kingdom.
  • A son, Cotys IX, he was the namesake of his father. He became Roman Client King of Lesser Armenia from 38 to until at least 47.
  • A daughter, Pythodoris II or Pythodorida II. She was named after her maternal grandparents and her paternal grandmother. In 38, after the death of Rhoemetalces II, Tryphaena abdicated the throne at the request of Roman Emperor Caligula. Pythodoris II married her second paternal cousin Rhoemetalces III and they ruled Thrace as Roman Client Rulers from 38 until 46.

While Cotys and Tryphaena’s children were growing up they were part of the remarkable court of Antonia Minor in Rome. Antonia Minor was Tryphaena’s great maternal aunt. Antonia Minor was a very influential woman and supervised her circle of various princes and princesses. Her circle assisted in the political preservation of the Roman Empire’s borders and affairs of the client states.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ptolemaic Genealogy: Cleopatra VII, Footnote: 42
  2. ^ Bunson, Matthew (2002). Encyclopedia of the Roman empire. Infobase Publishing. p. 155. ISBN 978-0-8160-4562-4. 
  3. ^ Thracian Kings, University of Michigan
  4. ^ Tacitus, The Annals 2.64
  5. ^ Tacitus, The Annals 2.66


Cotys III (Sapaean)
Born: Unknown Died: 19
Preceded by
Rhoemetalces I
King of Thrace
Succeeded by
Rhescuporis II