The coinage of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium:
Revision: 2 March 2018
Contents of this page
1. Historical background
Illyria is a historical geographical term referring to a not well defined territory on the east coast of the Adriatic where different Illyrian tribes lived in ancient times. Many parts of this area were colonized by the Greeks who founded prospering city states with Greek cultural predominance.
Dyrrhachium was founded by Corcyra as Epidamnos in 627 B.C. The use of the latter name is irrelevant in numismatic context since it does not appear on coins. Instead of a direct transliteration from the Greek name of the town ΔΥΡΡΑΧΙΟΝ (Dyrrachion), the contemporary Latin spelling of the name is used in numismatics: Dyrrhachium. The town has remained habited until modern times; was called Durazzo under Venetian rule and now as Durrës is the main sea port of Albania.
Apollonia (ΑΠΟΛΛΩΝΙΑ), too, was founded by Corcyra, in 588 B.C. It was a smaller port further to the south. Pilgrims from all regions of Hellas travelled there to worship Apollo in the Nymphaeum, the famous sanctuary with an ever burning fire. This town didn't survive the downfall of the Roman Εmpire.
Apollonia and Dyrrhachium came under Roman protectorate in 229 B.C. and were officially incorporated in the Roman Empire at the end of the 1st c BC. The exact dates of events, which may have significance in the different coin series have still been debated by historians.
The coin legends (name forms, spelling, and grammar) reveal that the Northwest Greek (related to Doric) dialect was used in this region.
2. Coin types: Problems of chronology
The different coin types will be shown in detail in the following chapters; this is only an overview to help understand the ongoing chronological debate, which is nicely summarized by Katerini Liampi in SNG Munchen.
In short, let's accept that the first local coins of Dyrrhachium were the Corinthian types produced during Timoleon's campaign in 338 BC (when several other city states did the same); and the minting of the cow/calf type staters started around 340 BC (both in Dyrrhachium and in a lesser extent, in Apollonia); and the similar coins of king Monounios closed this series in 280-270 BC.
The Heracles/Pegasus type drachma production of Dyrrhachium seems to follow; without real explanation why and until when these Corinthian-type coins were produced (only in Dyrrhachium). There could be some time interval until the appearance of the cow/calf type drachma series; there have been no hoards discovered showing them intermixed. I strongly believe that the production of the cow/calf drachms was an initiative of Rome after Apollonia and Dyrrhachium came under Roman protectorate status in 229 BC. This series ended by the Civil war between Julius Caesar an Pompey in 49/48 BC; after it Apollonia produced the Apollo denars; and much later Roman provincial bronze coins under several emperors. The chronology of the earlier bronze issues of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium requires more studying to suggest a reliable chronology of them.
- Corinthian types
- Staters are similar to those produced in several other city states in the region, with helmeted head of Athena on the obverse and Pegasus on the reverse. The distinctive mark for Dyrrhachium is usually Δ (delta) somewhere in the field and/or the club of Hercules, patron of Dyrrhachium.
- Drachms were produced only in Dyrrhachium probably later in the third c B.C. Head of Zeus is on the obverse and Pegasus on the reverse. Again, Δ (delta) is the distinctive mint mark.
- Cow-calf types
The best known silver coins of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium show devices from their Corcyrean prototypes. There is a cow with suckling calf on the obverse, a fertility symbol of Euboean origin. The usual reverse is a double, symmetrical geometrical pattern. This is most probably a schematic representation of the two stars of the Dioscuri, see my article in The Celator in the "Further reading" page. Other explanations include backgammon (for the resemblance of the pattern to the board of the popular game "tavli"), or doors, flowers - including a romantic 19th century guesswork that the pattern would represent the gardens of Alkinoos from the Odyssey. Believers of the star origin call it "double stellate pattern"; in contrast to the flower origin, "floral pattern".
Staters form a relatively early series produced in the weight of the Corcyrean staters (around 11 g) in nice classic, high relief Greek coin style both in Apollonia and Dyrrhachium.
Apolloniate staters show AΠ (Ap) on the reverse; Dyrrhachian ones usually display club and ΔYP (Dyr) on the reverse.
Illyrian king Monounios minted similar coins in Dyrrhachium during his rule, displaying his name on the reverse.
Drachms with the cow/calf - double stellate pattern devices form the longest and richest series of the Greek-Illyrian coinage. The drachms were produced in a mean weight around 3.3 g; most probably between 210 and 48 B.C.; during the Roman protectorate status of the cities. After a one-hundred-year local circulation they spread over the North-East Balkan territories, still outside Roman occupation, in the first half of the first century B.C. The production was increased and the massive exportation made this coinage there the most common among all other Greek coinages. Occasionally, half drachms were also minted. They display the fore part of the cow on the obverse (with no calf) and the usual double stellate pattern on the reverse. The civil war of 49/48 B.C. ended their production.
The Apollo denar series were probably produced for local use, well after the civil war of 49/48 B.C. Their weight is around 4 g, similar to that of the denarius of the Augustan coinage reform in 23 B.C. This series was produced only in Apollonia, the Dyrrhachium mint had already been closed by this time.
The denars display the head of Apollo on the obverse and three nymphs dancing around the fire of the Nymphaeum on the reverse. I have recorded forty four different name combinations on them. Half and quarter silver units and several different bronze denominations are also known
Bronze coins with various, town-specific obverse and reverse devices were minted parallel to all silver coin types but their chronology and weight standards are uncertain. These pieces were small change for local use, therefore they are hardly found outside the state boundaries. The ethnic attribute is ΔΥΡ (Dyr) or ΑΠΟΛΛΩΝΙΑΤΑΝ, in this dialectical form. Coins with ΑΠΟΛΛΩΝΙΑΤΩΝ (Apolloniaton) were produced in another Apollonia.
3. Research methods
There are no contemporary records, historical or archaeological evidence for the exact chronology of the Illyrian coinages. The vast majority of the names on the Illyrian coins is known only from them. The chronological classification of these coins and their relative sequence has been based on the following numismatic methods:
- Comparison of hoard contents
- Follow-up of name repetitions
- Observation on details of the coin images and style patterns
- Metrology (statistical analysis of the coin weights)
Comparing the simple presence or absence of issues (without the actual numbers) between hoards reduces drastically the statistical power of the comparisons - a mistake occurring in some recent publications. Studying museum and private collections, sale catalogues, and auction material have helped me create a database on the drachma series. My conclusions differ in many ways from those can be read elsewhere in the numismatic literature. Supporting arguments have been published (see "Further reading" page). Counter-arguments cannot be accepted without sound scientific evidence.