The coinage of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium
Cow/calf type drachms: General introduction
23 March 2021
Contents of this page
- Characteristics of the cow/calf type drachms
- Distinction between "issue" and "emission"
- Names on the drachma series
1. Characteristics of the drachma series
The cow/calf type Illyrian drachms display a cow with suckling calf on the obverse and the double stellate pattern on the reverse. The diameter is 17-18 mm; mean weight is 3.3-3.4 g. These drachms are identified by the ethnic attribute and the two names on them. The name above the cow on the obverse is in the nominative case, occasionally abbreviated, or is a monogram. The name on the reverse follows the ethnic attribute APOL or DYR clockwise and is in the genitive case. The real function of these people is still debated but I am convinced that the name on the reverse is the eponymous magistrate of the year of minting and all style features including the occasional symbols on the obverse belong to this person. The name on the obverse is of his subordinate.
With a closer look many other small differences can also be discovered; the following picture shows the possible variations.
Details of the individual characteristics:
- Cow: standing to right (R) or
The default is R: all Dyrrhachian drachms and the earlier Apolloniate drachms have the cow standing to right. Cow to left means an Apolloniate piece from the later half of their production.
- Calf legs: forelegs, hind legs
Forelegs: half kneeling (1) or kneeling on both legs (2)
Hind legs: parallel (p) or stepping (s)
The evaluation of the calf's features is still an ongoing task. Half kneeling is characteristic in Apolloniate drachms where the cow turns to left and is rather rare on Dyrrhachian coins.
Note that all modern photos or videos show the newborn calf standing up and start suckling in the upright position, not kneeling. Furthermore, many modern husbandry cows have no horns. Combining these observations I daresay that the cow suckling calf scenario on ancient coins, gems, and reliefs represents a subspecies of beef, not used in modern husbandry. Most probably, cows in ancient times were smaller and the calf could not fit upright under the cow for suckling. Any suggestions (vets, farmers, zookeepers, breeders of rare species)?
- Name above cow: full or abbreviated
This name is in the nominative case). On the early drachms of both towns the name is abbreviated or is in a monogramatic form, later the full name appears. Longer names may be broken into two lines. The same person could serve under several forthcoming eponymous magistrates (see "Reverse: name in three parts clockwise").
- Symbols or monograms can be: above the name,
left and right in field, in the exergue
The earliest drachms are without symbols. When present, they belong to the name on the reserve. The system of the symbols has not been discovered likewise the deciphering of the monograms. However, knowing the (combination of) symbols of a certain eponymous person, one can identify the piece from the obverse alone.
- Border of dots: yes = 1, no = 0
There is no border on the earliest drachms, it appears in a later phase in both towns but sometimes it is missing in some later emissions. Exceptionally, the border on the obverse can be a line circle.
- Exergue line: yes = 1, no = 0
This feature is not present on the early pieces but later it can be seen even if there is no symbol or monogram in the exergue. The animals virtually stand on this line.
- Cow: standing to right (R) or left (L)
- Correct viewing of the reverse
There is no universally accepted advice in the literature despite many features of the reverse listed below depend on the correct positioning of the reverse. My suggestion is: the ethnic attribute must be up.
- Ethnic attribute: ΑΠΟΛ (Apol) or ΔΥΡ (Dyr)
Actually, these abbreviated words come from the genitive plural of the emitting community as we can see it in full on some other Illyrian coin types: AΠOΛΩΝΙΑΤΑΝ (Apolloniatan) or ΔYPΡΑΧΙΝΩΝ (Dyrrhachinon), literally 'of the Apolloniates' or 'of the Dyrrhachians'; hence the term ethnic attribute.
- Line border: yes = 1, no = 0
This is a standard feature on the reverse from the beginning but it can be missing from certain later emissions. Sometimes a border of dots can be found instead of the line border.
- Name in three parts clockwise
The ethnic attribute is followed by a name in three parts in the other segments; in the genitive case. This must be the person responsible for the drachma emission for that particular year. He could be the ephoros eponymos (the yearly elected magistrate whose name denotes his term); but this is not necessarily important for us now; few of these names are known from other sources than these coins. The relative sequence of the drachms suggested in this web site uses this concept (still under debate by others).
The symbols on the obverse belong to the name on the reverse: a different name on the reverse comes with a different combination of symbols. Different eponymous magistrates having the same name can be distinguished on this ground. For example, Kallenos reverse from Dyrrhachium with ear of corn (wheat) and grapes in the exergue is a different person from another Kallenos who has cornucopia in the field left and head of Helios in the exergue.
- Shape of the central device: sides of square
are straight (s) or inward bending = concave (c)
In Dyrrhachium, the default is the straight sides of square with rare exceptions like on the picture above. It is the same in Apollonia in the cows standing to right and the very first issues with cow to left, but thereafter all Apolloniate issues have concave sides.
- Position of the rays in square: vertical (V)
or horizontal (H)
The central device on the reverse is a simplified version of the twin stars of the Dioscuri, first used on the Corcyrean staters and continued on the Apolloniate - Dyrrhachian ones (my arguments for the twin star origin are published in Celator, see in the Further reading chapter). In standard viewing (ethnic attribute up), most coins in both towns have the rays in the vertical position but there are coins with horizontal rays. On the earlier coins sometimes both positions can be seen belonging to the same issue but later this feature becomes issue-characteristic. The frequency of the horizontal arrangement to the vertical one is close to 1:5; it may mean that the horizontal form was struck at every sixth year.
- Shape of rays: tear drop, tadpole, drumstick, lollipop (tympani mallet), petal. Teardrop and lollipop are usual on the very early issues. If the tail of the teardrop is curved, it is a tadpole. A small dot with a straight stick is the drumstick. All late Dyrrhachian drachms use the drumstick. The petal-shape rays is a distinctive feature of the last six Apolloniate issues.
- Separation line of the central device
Default is one: a single line separates the two halves of the double stellate pattern. Less rarely, issue-specific feature is where there are two, exceptionally three parallel separation lines; or even without one. The line can also be spin-shaped. Sometimes, there is a central dot in the middle of the line.
- Number of dots in the stellate pattern
is usually three in each half. There can be only one, or there can be a central dot in the middle of the separation line.
- Correct viewing of the reverse
- Both sides
- Letter forms
The earliest Dyrrhachian drachms show larger letters and unusual forms, not occurring on later issues, like Ω (omega) with humped bases, or letters with bent sides. Among the later issues, instead of the usual sigma (Σ), C may be found (curly sigma). N and Z can be found retrograde. E may be carved as C with a tongue (curly E).
Alpha can be found in two different versions: with a v-shape or a horizontal (-) connection between the legs of the letter. Most emissions have the V-alpha but the last Apolloniate issues all have the horizontally connected variant (A-alpha). Not all coins contain this letter in the legends; fortunately, all Apolloniate drachms have it at least once (in the ethnic attribute).
Crude divergence from the usual letter forms may indicate an imitative coin (see in chapter Fakes and Imitations).
- Any other divergence from the main type
It is advisable to notice and describe unusual features,
differences from the usual types.
Inverted letters must be noticed just like retrograde legends; the latter, however, is an indication that the coin is not an official issue. Sometimes contemporary fakes can only be detected by style degradation or unusual letter forms.
- Weight is recorded in grams with two decimal places.
- Diameter means the vertical diameter of the obverse in mm with one decimal place. Instead of using the minimal-maximal diameters, this single measurement serves our goal better: the easy comparison of coin photos. In a free hand striking, the diameter of the coin varies (depending on the flan size, the strength of the hammer blows etc); and usually has no real importance over the actual weight of the piece.
- Die axis is the angle between the position of the obverse and the reverse images when the coin is flipped around the vertical diameter of the obverse. In the free hand striking technique (the position of the hand-held upper die is not fixed whatsoever to the position of the lower die) the determination of the die axis has no scientific importance. I do not include this in my coin descriptions. In many publications, the standard viewing of the reverse is not stated therefore the die axis by definition cannot be determined.
- Letter forms
Observe different details on the following pieces:
The top and bottom coins are from Apollonia, the middle one is from Dyrrhachium; from chronological classes A3R3, D4, and A5Lc1. We can see cow to right and left; calf kneeling on both front legs or half-kneeling; monogram above the name on the obverse; monogram in the exergue; a combined symbol right in the field; the presence or absence of the borders; two different forms of alpha; the two possible positions of the central device; lollipop or tadpole rays; and border of dots instead of the usual line border on the reverse.
2. Distinction between "issue" and "emission"
These two numismatic terms are used synonymously in the numismatic literature, but here I use them with a distinction:
Issue: All coins produced with the same name on the reverse, which determines the set of symbols on the obverse, as well as all style characteristics of the coins in the same issue; independently of the name on the obverse. Example: The Damenos issue from Dyrrhachium has the name Damenos on the reverse, ear of corn right in field and bunch of grapes in the exergue on the obverse. One of 17 different names can be seen on the obverse; all these coins together form the Damenos issue.
Emission: All coins with the same name on the obverse with a given name on the reverse. All of them display the same style characteristics, which are determined by the name on the reverse. Continuing the example in the previous paragraph: the Damenos issue contains 17 emissions (Ariston-Damenos, Fereneikos-Damenos, Xenon-Damenos, etc.).
All emissions within the same issue present the same style characteristics both on the obverse and on the reverse. This knowledge helps identify the name on the reverse by looking at the obverse: if we see a Xenon obverse with ear of corn right in field and a bunch of grapes in the exergue, this coin must have Damenos on the reverse. If not, the coin can be a mule (hybrid: the reverse die came from a different issue). In most cases, mules are unofficial products, contemporary fakes; and by meticulous observation, one can detect fine or even crude divergences from the authentic coins - see more about this in the Fakes and imitations chapter.
Logically, all emissions within the same issue must have been produced during a short period (most probably, within one year, as in several other Hellenistic coinages, and the Roman republican denarii - we mustn't forget the role of the Romans in this territory!). In Apollonia, the year issue usually contained only one emission (= one name combination); but in Dyrrhachium, the much larger coin output required several, parallel emissions. The total number of the Illyrian cow/calf type drachma emissions (name combinations) is around 600 (some 125 in Apollonia and the rest in Dyrrhachium).
Names on the drachma series
Most of the names on the drachms are common Greek ones. The spelling shows that the Northwest Greek dialect was used in the region, which is related to Doric. Examples for the characteristic alphacism (preferential use of alpha instead of eta): ΑΣΚΛΑΠΙΑΔΑΣ vs. ΑΣΚΛΗΠΙΗΔΗΣ, ΔΑΜΟΦΩΝ vs. ΔΗΜΟΦΩΝ, ΔΑΜΑΤΡΙΟΣ vs. ΔΗΜΗΤΡΙΟΣ. Doric name forms drop the ultimate sigma in the genitive case (names on the reverse): ΜΕΝΕΚΚΑΣ- ΜΕΝΕΚΚΑ, ΠΥΡΒΑΣ - ΠΥΡΒΑ.
A Greek name does not necessarily indicate an ethnic Greek person. Foreign names are also adapted to the Greek pronunciation and spelling; Latin names: Marcus is shown as ΜΑΑΡΚΟΣ, Silanus as ΣΙΛΑΝΟΣ. Some names of unknown etymology can be Illyrian; like the name on the obverse of the ΒΑΤΩΝ-ΑΙΣΧΙΝΑ Apolloniate Class A2R2 drachma. Several Illyrian war lords had that name more than one hundred years later.
Hoard evidence shows that dialectic varieties of the same name (like Aristen - Ariston, Niken - Nikon) represent different persons - this is important for correct chronology.
Without any historical or archaeological evidence, the real function of theses people on the drachms is still under debate. For practical purposes, I call the name on the reverse the eponymous person (whose name denotes the period), responsible for the coin issue during his term; and the name on the obverse represents a subordinate who was in charge of the emission (or one of the emissions). Hoard evidence supports this view, in contrast with a re-emerging opposite suggestion.