The coinage of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium:

General introduction

Map added: 3 February 2017

Contents of this page

  1. Historical background
  2. Coin types: Problems of chronology
  3. Research methods

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. Illyrian Tribes (English)

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.

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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.

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3. Research methods

There are no contemporary records or any other 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:

The most important numismatic tool to find the relative sequence of the consecutive issues is the meticulous comparison of hoard contents. From the statistical point of view, hoards are actual samples from the coins in circulation (the pool); reflecting the relative proportion of the different emissions present in circulation at the time of the closure of the hoard (this does not apply to the more seldom accumulation hoards, like a temple urn, which are the results of a relative long collection period). From a large number of similar hoards, the comparison of the presence or absence of the emissions and their actual numbers help establish the relative sequence of the emissions. Since earlier coins gradually disappear from circulation, more recent issues dominate the hoards. The comparison method also helps determine the closing emission of the hoard, after which (terminus post quem) the hoard was concealed. The closing emission is not necessarily represented by the highest number in the given hoard. Unusually voluminous issues can also be spotted by their better representation within the hoards, showing in all hoards containing these emissions.

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.

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