The coinage of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium

Drachms: Chronological classes

Text substantially extended: 28 January 2018

Contents of this page

  1. Introduction
  2. Dyrrhachium
  3. Apollonia
  4. Explanation and discussion
  5. A unique reverse: fire and pedum
  6. Conclusions
  7. Literature references

1. Introduction

The classification of the Greeek-Illyrian silver drachms based on style development is a necessary tool to approach their relative chronology. Each coin class has its specific characteristics, the next class is a bit different from the previous one, the class description refers to these changes. The following two tables show this with the additional but still tentative absolute chronological frame for all classes.

The classification of the Dyrrhachian drachms is simple, containing five classes numbered from D1 to D5; as established by Conovici1 modifying Ceka's classification2 and adopted also by Meta3. At the beginning, it was used by me4 but then I divided Class D1 into further two subclasses, D1a and D1b5. Note, I disagree with Meta's opinion in the classification of several drachms into Classes D3 or D4 coins.

For its style complexity, the classification of the Apolloniate drachms required substantial revision and decline from all previous attempts. I created seven classes numbered from A1 to A7, with additional mnemonic letters to help quick class recognition5. These additional letters and numbers point at the specific feature in which a particular class differs from the previous one. These are, in the order of development: the direction of the cow's standing, the shape of the sides of the square, the style of letter alpha, and the shape of the rays. A most recent addition to this is the division of the very first class into three subclasses based on fine style differences.

My classifications have proved long-lasting, newer hoard descriptions have not forced me to reconsider.

(Back to the top of this page ↑)

2. Dyrrhachium

Class D1

210-176 BC
Obverse name abbreviated
1a Abstract style So-Agionos
1b Classic style Ag-Bionos
Class D2

175-145 BC
Full obverse name. No symbols Mnasen-Obrimou
Class D3

144-93 BC
Symbol in the exergue Alexandros-Lysionos
Class D4

92-60 BC
Multiple symbols. Perigenes-Damenos
Class D5

59-48 BC
As in Class 4 but only one or two obverse names with the same reverse Xenon-Fillia

(Back to the top of this page ↑)

3. Apollonia

Class A1R1

166-147 BC
Obverse name abbreviated
A1R1a No exergue Fi-Psyllou
A1R1b The animals stand on an invisible exergue line Da-Noumeniou
A1R1c The animals stand on the exergue line Kle-Lysonos
Class A2R2

146-95 BC
Full obverse name. No symbols Parmen-Lysonos
Class A3R3

94-86 BC
Symbols or monograms appear Sosilohos-Timoxenou
Class A4Ls

85-82 BC
Straight sides of square Lysanias-Nikoteleos
Lc Concave sides of square
Class A5Lc1

81-60 BC
Symbols on the obverse. V-type alpha Soteles-Xenofantou
Lc2 No symbols. A-type alpha
Class A6Lc2a

59-54 BC
Drumstick-shape rays Maarkos-Lysania
Class A7Lc2b

53-48 BC
Petal-shape rays Agias-Epikadou

(Back to the top of this page ↑)

3. Explanation and discussion

Dyrrhachium. The classification is simple: it is based on the features visible on the obverse; and the cow is always to right (with few exceptions). The reverse does not change much, the introduction of the line circle on the reverse becomes standard in the later classes (with very few exceptions).

Almost throughout, there are several obverse names coupled with a given reverse name, that is, different name combinations (emissions) appeared within the year issues. The last class, D5 differs from D4 only in this respect: the number of obverse names coupled with the same name on the reverse is diminished to one. Two different obverse names within the year occur only in two cases. Hoard evidence suggests that in both years a new person replaced the earlier one during the year, and then continued working with a new eponymous name on the reverse during the following year(s).

The earliest pieces in Dyrrhachium (D1a) have a bizarre (abstract) style of the cow-calf complex; and can be distinguished from those in D1b by the following features:

These differences between D1a and D1b subclasses are minimal; probably there was a continuous development from D1a towards D1b.

On the obverse of Class D1a-b coins, the name is abbreviated or monogramatic; there is no border of dots, and there is no exergue line. In D2, the name on the obverse is spelt out in full; a border of dots and the exergue line appear on the obverse. Class D3 is characterized by the appearance of a small symbol or monogram in the exergue. In Class D4, one symbol can be above the cow, or a combination of two or three symbols in different places. The symbols are always coupled with the name on the reverse. The appearance of Class D5 coins is the same as in D4; the difference is in the reduced number of obverse names as discussed above.

Class D3 is the most beautiful series of the Dyrrhachian drachms with carefully executed, well centred pieces reflecting a quiet minting period. The most frequent name on the obverse is Alkaios, serving under more than 20 eponymous persons. Interestingly, despite their nice look, many coins are of a bit lower weight, without the suspicion for being out-of-mint products. The reason is unknown; the lighter weight may come from a debased alloy or careful plating.

Apollonia. On the drachms of the first three classes (about the first half of the entire Apolloniate drachma production), the cow stands to right (R) as in Dyrrhachium; and the main features on the obverse are also similar to those in Dyrrhachium (1, abbreviated name; 2, full name; 3, one symbol). However, Class A1R1 can be divided into three subclasses. In A1R1a (like in Dyrrhachium, Subclass D1a), the hooves of the animals are not in a straight line. However, the whole device is classic as on all later ones (difference from D1a). In A1R1b, the hooves of the animals, like in D1b, "stand" on an invisible horizontal line; and on A1R1c coins, the exergue line appears that comes in Dyrrhachium in Class D3 only.

This slight style difference between the Apolloniate and Dyrrhachian drachms in the earliest coins combined with hoard evidence point at a much later start of the drachma minting in Apollonia. A probable date is 167 BC, after the Third Macedonian War.

After the first three chronological classes, Apollonia changed the common type by turning the cow to left (L). This is where my classification is completely different from those of my predecessors; and is based on discriminative features easily observable on both sides of the coins.

Class A4Ls. Four issues with cow to left retained the shape of the central device on the reverse as before: the sides of the square are straight (s). These are not represented in the usual late Apolloniate hoards therefore they must precede them, forming Class A4Ls.

All the later drachms have concave sides of the stellate pattern (c). Concave sided squares are exceptional in Dyrrhachium. The first part of the concave sided drachms has a symbol in the exergue and the letter alpha has a v-like connection between the legs of this letter (V-alpha); these form Class 5ALc1. All following issues have alpha with a horizontal connection (A-alpha); and there is no symbol in the exergue but sometimes a monogram. These 12 issues are again subdivided in two separable classes, based on the shape of the rays in the stellate pattern. A6Lc2a drachms display drumstick-form rays (as all late Dyrrhachian drachms); and in the last Apolloniate coin class, A7Lc2b, the rays are similar to petals.

(Back to the top of this page ↑)

A unique reverse: fire and pedum


The reverse of the Aibatios/Hairenos issue from Apollonia (Ceka 8, W 61, BMC 41, SNG Tb 1318, SNG Cop 398) is different from all the other drachms: instead of the usual double stellate pattern it shows the fire of the Nymphaeum with a shepherd's crook below.

Maier thought that this issue was a transition to the Apollo denarius series (Übergangsviktoriat)7. However, it belongs to Class A5Lc1 drachms by style characteristics: cow to left, symbol on the obverse, V-type alpha; also supported by hoard evidence and weight6. This drachma may represent some important festivity related to the Nymphaeum: a challenge to be verified by historians. The emissions in the following years continued with the usual reverse.

The piece shown is 3.22 g, vertical diameter of the obverse 16.7 mm.

(Back to the top of this page ↑)


This chronology is still tentative; the beginning depends on the number of known issues, and may change by the discovery of so far unknown issues, or, in the opposite direction, by the exclusion of erroneously identified issues.

I am going to check how the subdivisions of Class D1 and Class A1R1 influence the relative sequence of the issues within the earliest hoards. However, in general, those several coincidences in the suggested chronology with historical facts during the later classes point at the validity of the proposed chronology based on the compact model hypothesis and the style classification; and help date other coins and archaeological objects found together with the drachms.

The majority of coins found in the N-E Balkan area belong to the later phase of the drachma production (D4-D5 and A6-A7); these coins can be differentiated by a glimpse: cow to left = Apollonia, cow to right = Dyrrhachium. Many drachms in the last periods show signs of a blown up, hasty coin production: irregular flans, flat struck or grossly off-centre pieces; only parts of the legends are visible. Such coins could only be identified from a proper catalogue but for Apollonia, so far none has been published. If time allows, more and more information will be added to this page on the different coin emissions and their characteristics.

Most probable points of the proposed chronology:

(Back to the top of this page ↑)

Literature references

  1. Conovici, N. Cultura şi civilizaţie la Dunarea de Jos. Calarasi 1 (1985) 35-43.
  2. Ceka, H. Questions de numismatique illyrienne. State University, Tirana, 1972.
  3. Meta, Albana. Le monnayage en argent de Dyrrachion 375-60/55 av. J.-C. Ècole française d'Athènes 2015.
  4. Petrányi, G. Relative chronology of the drachms of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium in the final period of minting. Numizmatikai Közlöny 94-95 (1995-1996) 3-18 + 2 Pl.
  5. Petrányi, G.: Cow/calf type Greek-Illyrian drachms: Problems and facts. In: Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Numismatic History and Economy in Epirus during antiquity. Kerma 3 (2013) 77-86 + Pl. 9.
  6. Maier, A. Die Silberprägung von Apollonia und Dyrrhachion. Numismatische Zeitschrift 41 (Neue Folge 1), 1908, 1-33.
  7. Petrányi, G. On the position of the Aibatios/Chairenos issue in the sequence of Apollonian drachms. Studii şi cercetari de numismatica 11 (1995) 59-63.