The coinage of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium
Cow/calf type drachms: General introduction
Revised version: 2 March 2017
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. One is above the cow on the obverse, in the nominative case; occasionally, the name is abbreviated or is a monogram. The other name is on the reverse: place the ethnic attribute APOL or DYR up so the name starts in the segment on the right, clockwise. The ethnic attribute determines the mint (Apollonia or Dyrrhachium). The name on the reverse determines the year of issue and all style features including the occasional symbols on the obverse. The name on the obverse is probably of a moneyer.
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 left (L)
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.
- Name above cow: full or abbreviated
This name is in the nominative case and let's call him a moneyer (without being sure in his real function). On the early coins 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 moneyer could serve under several eponymous magistrates (see at "Reverse: name in three parts clockwise").
- Symbols or monograms: above the name, left and right in field, in the exergue
The earliest drachms display no 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 cow/calf central device seems to 'stand' on this line.
- Cow: standing to right (R) or left (L)
- Line border: yes = 1, no = 0
This is a standard feature on the reverse of the drachms from the earliest pieces, but it can be missing in certain later emissions. Sometimes a border of dots can be found instead of the usual line border.
- 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: Apol or Dyr
This feature tells which town the coin comes from. One of the segments contain either AΠOΛ (APOL, abbreviated from Apolloniatan) or ΔYP (DYR, abbreviated from Dyrrhachinon).
- Name in three parts clockwise
The ethnic attribute is followed by an 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: square with straight or concave sides
The original format is a square with double, straight sides but there are many coins with inward bending (concave) sides. Most but not all Dyrrhachian issues and the earlier half of the Apolloniate issues have the square with straight sides (the picture above shows one of the few Dyrrhachian issues with the exceptional concave sides of the square). The concave format is characteristic for the latter half of the Apolloniate issues.
- Position of the central device: rays vertical or horizontal
The central device of the drachms is a simplified version of the twin stars of the Dioscuri, first used on the Corcyrean staters and continued on the Apolloniate - Dyrrhachian staters (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 have the rays in the vertical position but there are coins with horizontal rays. On the earlier coins sometimes both positions can be seen on different pieces belonging to the same issue but later this feature becomes emission-characteristic, that is, all coins in the same issue have the rays in the same position. The frequency of the horizontal arrangement to the vertical one is close to 1:5; probably the horizontal form was struck at every sixth year.
- Shape of the rays can be various: tear drop, tadpole, drumstick, lollipop, petal, etc. Teardrop and lollipop (the latter is a big dot with a short stick) are usual on the very early issues. If the tail of the teardrop is slightly 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 of rays is a distinctive feature of the last six Apolloniate issues.
- The separation line between the two halves of the central device
Most often there is a single line separating the two halves of the double stellate pattern but there are issues with two, exceptionally with three parallel lines in this position. The line can also be spin-shaped. Sometimes, there is a central dot in the middle of the line. Rarely, there is no separation line between the double stellate pattern.
- Line border: yes = 1, no = 0
- 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.
The 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. 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; 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 18 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 eighteen 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 inofficial 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 (preferencial 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.