The coinage of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium:

Research methods

13 January 2022

Contents of this page

  1. Foreword
  2. Research methods

1. Foreword

Numismatics is an applied science of history relying on a wide range of art and science subjects like archaeology, art history, fine arts, economics, linguistics, metallurgy, statistics, and so on. One cannot master all these areas. No wonder that there are so many people of various educational background who have contributed to the science of numismatics some way or another.

During my medical studies in Budapest, Hungary, I collected Roman imperial bronzes of Pannonia as a pastime. Once in the coin club I noticed two small silver coins offered by an old dealer, with cow suckling calf on the obverse, and a strange geometrical pattern on the reverse, some Greek letters on the worn, off-centre, flat struck pieces. The gentle idyll of the animals touched me, the would-be endocrinologist, and the strange geometrical pattern on the reverse raised my curiosity. After a short bargaining I got the pieces and turned to the respected senior members of the club. "Hmm... Illyria..." was still the most sophisticated opinion. Well, I had known the name Illyria from Shakespeare's Twelfth night but what could that enigmatic geometrical pattern on the reverse be?

Well before the age of the internet, I asked the librarian of the Hungarian Numismatic Society for help. "Page up the Sylloges", she said. I didn't even know what she meant by that (the ever growing series of the Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum catalogues showing all pieces of museum collections; a must for any serious student of Greek numismatics). Soon I learned that similar pieces existed in hundreds of variations, typically found in a vast area of the North-East Balkan territory and also in South Hungary; but beyond that, there was very little knowledge about this coinage of the two Adriatic city states, Apollonia and Dyrrhachium. I started digging myself in the subject and met dozens of decent people who have helped me and encouraged to continue (see the Acknowledgements chapter). I sold my Roman coins - what could I find out by collecting them when hundreds of scholars had been working on that field? Finally, the tiny animals have become my life-long devotion to find something more about them beyond simple possessing.

Well, but I had to learn how to reach my goal. First, reading and reading. On obtaining a piece, carry out physical examinations (inspection and palpation), measure distances and weight, and compare the case to others to notice similarities and differences... just as the doctor does during the first meeting with the patient. After much looking, one can start seeing. My essential tools are detailed here below.

2. Research methods used for the Illyrian coins

There are no contemporary records and 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 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 badly the statistical power of the comparisons - a mistake occurring in some recent publications.

I rarely use die equation studies for the sequence and the size of the coin production. Not only because it is very time consuming but without sophisticated tools like comparing fingerprints it has many pitfalls. Hubbing, re-cut  dies, wear, day-time of production, etc are of some of many factors causing errors in die equation approaches. This can also be a matter of discussion.

Studying museum and private collections, sale catalogues, auction material, numismatic websites, and coin pictures showed me for identification have helped me create a database on the drachma series containing close to 600 different authentic emissions. My conclusions differ in many ways from those can be read in the numismatic literature; mainly in the absolute and relative chronology. My supporting arguments have been published (see "Further reading" page). Please support counter-arguments with sound scientific evidence.

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