The coinage of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium

Drachms: The chronological approach

Version: 16 February 2017

Contents of this page

  1. Forming the relative chronological classification
  2. The Roman connection
  3. The development of the 'compact model' hypothesis to establish a tentative absolute chronology
  4. Role of the cow-calf type drachms: locally and abroad
  5. Literature references to this chapter

1. Forming the relative chronological classification

Ceka's chronological groups of the drachms1 in Conovici's revision2 and with Torbágyi's additional observations3 appeared to be suitable for further research.

Simple numismatic methods have helped me create a substantially advanced arrangement of the drachma issues. For distinction from Conovici's chronological groups, my ones are called 'classes'. The new features are these:

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, reflecting the relative proportion of the different issues which were 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). More recent issues dominate the hoards; earlier ones gradually disappear from circulation. More voluminous issues are also better represented in the hoards than the others. However, if there is a large number of similar hoards, the meticulous comparison of the presence or absence of the issues and the actual numbers of the different coins within and between the hoards help establish the relative sequence of the issues and also determine the closing one (which is not necessarily represented by the highest number in the given hoard).

The comparison of the simple presence or absence of the issues in the hoards (+ or -) without the actual numbers of the different pieces in comparative tables is not sufficient to draw valuable consequences from the material (this mistake can be seen in some recent publications).

The meticulous hoard comparison, metrology (weight statistics), the follow-up of repeat name occurrences and style characteristics helped me find the most probable relative chronological sequence of the latest emissions from both towns; backwards from the end of the drachma production: last issue = -1, penultimate = -2, pre penultimate = -3, etc. Unfortunately, the earlier coins were found in very few hoards, insufficient to establish the relative chronological order of the emissions within the earlier classes. See details and illustrations in a tabulated form in the next chapter (Chronological classes).

This relative chronological order of the classes does not tell us the actual date of the production. Without documented or archaeological evidence, the creation of the absolute chronology required a suitable working hypothesis.

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2. The Roman connection

Already Mommsen suggested that the drachms were minted 229 BC onwards, when Apollonia and Dyrrhachium came under Roman protectorate. The cities remained formally independent, but the real power went over to the Romans. The Roman republican denarius was introduced in 211 BC and (according to my most recent calculation) the cow/calf type drachma in Dyrrhachium in 210 BC; in the 3/4 weight of the denarius. Also, about the same time, the Roman victoriate was also introduced in a similar weight, but for another geographical region (Southern Italy and some other regions, far from Illyria)4. All these must have been parts of the same, well thought-through Roman monetary policy. The superior organization and technical skills of the Romans helped maintain the drachma minting in a rather steady weight standard for more than 150 years.

Note also some similarities between the Roman denarii and the cow/calf type drachms: both are relatively small silver denominations, and on a flatter flan than those of the contemporary Greek Hellenistic coinages; border of dots on the obverse and line border on the reverse (not immediately after introduction, but later throughout); name or names on the coins which change yearly.

The devices on the drachms are similar to those on the much earlier staters: the cow suckling calf on the obverse and the double stellate pattern on the reverse. This drachma denomination was introduced to fulfil local needs. Apollonia started minting some forty years later, maybe just after the Third Illyrian War in 167 BC; and as usual, in smaller amounts.

The early drachms are found in Albanian hoards, several pieces further to the North in some Dalmatian islands and in the Neretva valley in Croatia and Bosnia; and few in Epirus (North-West Greece); but not in further territories.

The minting of the uniform drachms of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium continued for a long time; with a steady weight standard around 3.3 g. Some time in the first half of the 1st c BC, these coins were exported to a wide area to the North-East Balkan lands. The end of the drachma minting in both towns seems to have coincided with the events of the Civil War: when Julius Caesar gained rule over Italy, Pompeius escaped and occupied Dyrrhachium in 49 B.C. Caesar crossed the Adriatic and settled in Apollonia in January 48 BC. After his temporary defeat in the battle of Dyrrhachium, soon he won at Pharsalus. Pompeius fled to Alexandria where he was murdered.

During his campaigns Caesar paid his soldiers with denarii produced by a moving military mint. His triumph changed the political status of the territory, making the drachma minting obsolete. The Dyrrhachian mint was closed down. Apollonia started minting silver coins and its fractions in the weight of the Roman Republican denarius plus bronze coins for a few decades. Later 'provincial' bronze coins were issued in Apollonia under several Roman emperors.

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3. The development of the 'compact model' hypothesis to establish a tentative absolute chronology

The compact model has been my working hypothesis for finding the absolute chronology of the cow-calf type drachma issues, based on certain postulates (not proven but logical statements):

  1. The long-standing and uniform coinage with a steady weight standard required a stable political-economic environment, which could not be realized without the Roman protectorate status.
  2. Drachms were issued yearly and every year without interruption during the production period in both towns.
  3. The products of the entire year are coupled with the name on the reverse of the drachms.

By time, all new facts, discoveries, hoards fitted well in the compact model. It seems that the postulates do have real ground; and the result may help explain further historical events.

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4. Role of the cow-calf type drachms: locally and abroad

This is one of the fields where the proposed new chronology is worth considering: For what purpose and when were the Greek-Illyrian drachms taken out of their usual area of circulation to end up in the North-East Balkan lands in a huge geographical area, in huge quantities? One may find different answers in the numismatic literature, mainly depending on the country of publication. In view of the proposed new chronology I put here my view.

In the first half of the first c. BC the Illyrian drachms started appearing in the North-East Balkan area. Numerous hoards and stray finds show the route: The drachms were shipped North to the valley of the Neretva river; then carried further to the North to the Sava and the Danube rivers; then downstream the Danube on both sides. The majority of hoards containing Illyrian drachms (and frequently other coinages like Roman Republican denarii, tetradrachms of Macedonia Prima and Thasos, and also silver lumps) ended up in ancient Dacia and also in Northern Thrace. The hoard descriptions can be found in the numismatic literature of Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and the former Yugoslav states. The cow/calf type drachms in these hoards outnumber those found in Albania. Note that the presence of these drachms is exceptional in Thessaly, Macedonia, and Southern Trace.

The earlier widespread influx of the Roman republican denarii into the same N/E Balkan region suffered a sharp decline between 70 and 50 BC when the production of denars in Rome was diminished 5,7. According to my hoard analysis and suggested chronology, this was the period when the Illyrian drachms arrived to the N-E Balkan area to replace the earlier role of the Roman denarii. Whether it was to buy slaves or other goods for Rome and/or pay the Roman soldiers, the discussion is beyond my capacity. What I can tell is, however, that the extensive hoarding of the drachms (just as the other coins an lumps of silver), without the presence of small change like half drachms and bronze issues points at a simple exportation of these drachms in a region where monetary economy accompanied with regular coin circulation did not exist. There was no way back of these coins into the minting place: the local imitations of the cow-calf drachms in this territory cannot be found within the economic borders of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium, where the imitations are different (see chapter "A die-linked chain of hybrid imitations").

The first two-year influx of the drachms in the late 70s of the first c BC (Phase 1) seemed to be halted for five years around 60 B.C.; thereafter they spread over the region even at a larger scale until the Civil war (Phase 2). The five-year standstill in hoarding may be explained by Burebista's supremacy in this territory.

This new chronology poses a challenge - both to the chronology of published hoards and to the theories explaining the presence of the Illyrian drachms in the North-East Balkan area.

I look forward to hearing comments or criticism on the proposed relative and absolute chronology. I am aware of different views re-emerging; both for the chronological frame, and that the obverse name would be the determinant for the year of production. An outright rejection of my present views without hard evidence is regarded as stipulation - that is, of no scientific value. For further details, see My publications.

5. Literature references to this chapter

  1. Ceka, H. Questions de numismatique illyrienne. State University, Tirana, 1972.
  2. Conovici, N. Cultură şi civilizaţie la Dunărea de Jos. Călăraşi 1 (1985) 35-43.
  3. Torbágyi, Melinda. Umlauf der Münzen von Apollonia und Dyrrhachium im Karpatenbecken. In: Proceedings of the 11th International Numismatic Congress. Vol. 1, Louvain-la-Neuve 1993, pp 119-122.
  4. Stoyas, Y. Roman victoriates from perspective from the other side of the Adriatic. In: Proceedings of the 4th International Congress in Croatia 2004. MMV Rijeka 2004, pp 225-242.
  5. Mihăilescu-Birlîba V. Dacia răsăriteană în secolele VI-I î.e.n. Editura Junimea, Iaşi 1990. p.98.
  6. Lockyear K. The supply of Roman Republican denarii to Romania. Studii şi Cercetări Numismatică (1995) 11: 85-102.

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