The coinage of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium:
14 March 2021
Contents of this page
- Historical background
- Coin types: Problems of chronology
- Description of the coin types
- Literature references
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 nj 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 was called Durazzo under Venetian rule in the medieval times 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 town further to the south but still very close to the coast. 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.
During the expansion of the Roman Republic, Apollonia and Dyrrhachium became Roman protectorate states in 229 BC; and formally incorporated in the Roman Empire as part of Macedonia provincia by 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.
The coin legends (name forms, spelling, and grammar) reveal that the Doric-related Northwest Greek dialect was used in this region.
2. Coin types: Problems of chronology
This is just an overview of the different coin types, which are discussed in the following chapters in detail to help understand the ongoing chronological debate, which is nicely summarized by Katerina Liampi1.
In short, let's accept that the first coins of Dyrrhachium were the Corinthian type Athena/Pegasus silver staters (didrachms) minted for financing Timoleon's campaign in 338 BC, like by several other Greek city states. Cow/calf type staters appeared around 340 BC; both in Dyrrhachium and in a smaller volume, in Apollonia. This series was closed by similar staters with the name of king Monounios in Dyrrhachium in 280-270 BC.
Recently, contradictory estimates have been published on the chronology of these early coin types by three authors despite they had worked together in this field for a while; I am expecting a review of this topic from a friend and will put here the conclusion after it will have been published.
The next era seems to be the Heracles/Pegasus type drachma production in Dyrrhachium. We still don't know why, from, and until when these Corinthian-type coins were produced. After this, there could be some time gap till the appearance of the cow/calf type drachma series since there have been no hoards showing these coin types intermixed.
I strongly believe that the production of the cow/calf drachms was the 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 taking place in the region in 49/48 BC. Dyrrhachium never minted coins again. Apollonia produced the Apollo denars with fractions in silver and bronze during imperatorial times; and much later, Roman provincial bronze coins under select emperors.
3. Description of the coin types
- 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 BC; some time between the cow/calf type staters and the cow/calf type drachma periods. 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 explanation in
The Celator2. Other hints are backgammon (for the
resemblance of the pattern to the board of the popular game "tavli"),
doors, flowers; also 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. 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. After a one-hundred-year local circulation the drachms 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 in those territories the most common among all other Greek coinages. The civil war of 49/48 B.C. ended the production of the cow/calf type drachms.
The Apollo denar series was produced only in Apollonia; for local use, 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. 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 twenty four different issues suggesting the minimum number of years of production. Half and quarter silver units and several bronze denominations were the small change of this series.
Bronze coins with various, town-specific obverse and reverse devices were minted parallel to the silver coin types. Their chronology, weight standard, and denomination are uncertain. As low value pieces they were the small change for the local market; hardly found outside the state boundaries. The ethnic attribute on the reverse is ΔΥΡ (Dyr) or ΑΠΟΛΛΩΝΙΑΤΑΝ (Apolloniatan), in this dialectical form. Coins with ethnic attribute ΑΠΟΛΛΩΝΙΑΤΩΝ (Apolloniaton) are products of several other places called Apollonia elsewhere in the classical Greek world; ΑΠΟΛΛΩΝΙΔΕΩΝ is on coins of Apollonis in Lydia.
4. Literature references
- Liampi K. Sylloge Nummorum Grecorum Deutschland. Staatliche Münzsammlung München. Vol.12 Thessalien-Illyrien-Epirus-Korkyra. Hirmer Verlag, München, 2007. Opposite to Plate XV.
- Petrányi G. Gardens of Alkinoos: Fact or fiction? On the reverse pattern of the silver coins from Corcyra, Apollonia and Dyrrhachium. The Celator, November 1998, 22-24.