The coinage of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium:

The Apollo denar and its fractions

Temporary version 28 March 2018

Contents of this page

  1. Introduction
  2. The Roman monetary reform by Augustus
  3. The Apollo denar
  4. Creating the relative chronology
  5. Half denar
  6. Quarter denar
  7. Dupondius
  8. Smaller bronze denominations
  9. Literature references

1. Introduction

The civil war ended the cow/calf type Hellenistic coin production in Illyria; Dyrrhachium did not produce coins any more. The next coinage from Apollonia, the Apollo denar series, took its name from the head of Apollo on the obverse of the silver denar. Its weight, and different style features (border of dots on both sides, anticlockwise legend on the obverse, exergue line with script below on the reverse) are similar to those of the post-reform denarius of Augustus; signs of convergence of the Apolloniate coinage to the Roman monetary system.

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2. The Roman monetary reform of Augustus

The early Roman Republican coin names expressed the value in relation to the bronze unit called "as" (aes = bronze); hence denarius (tenner) = 10, quinarius (fiver) = 5, sestertius (the third is half) = 2.5, dupondius (double weight) = 2, semis = half, quadrans = quarter as. During the struggle for power in the second half of the 1st c B.C, different debased silver coins were struck by the different parties. Bronze coins had not been produced for long, except some during the war between Caesar and Pompey. Gaining power, Augustus ended this monetary chaos by creating a long-lasting monetary system in 23 B.C. The weight of the silver denarius was stabilized at 4 g. It was tariffed at 16 asses, quinar 8, sestertius 4, dupondius 2 asses. As, semis, and quadrans also were produced; thus, because of the retariffing, some of the actual coin names lost their original meaning. The Apolloniate Apollo denar series followed this system.

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3. The Apollo denar

Bionos-ZoilosBionos-Zoilos Apollo denar. Obv. Laureate head of Apollo facing left. BIΩNOΣ (Bionos, 'of Bion') left in field anticlockwise. Rev. Three nymphs hand in hand dancing, outer ones holding torches. Fire between the left and middle nymph, frills to left - right - right. [Z]ΩIΛOΣ (Zoilos) in the exergue. 3.97 g, 18.8 mm. SNG Tubingen 1322.

The series got its name from the obverse: head of Apollo. There is one or two names in field in front of the face, anticlockwise; the majority of these names are in the genitive case. The reverse shows three ladies dancing hand in hand around the fire on the ground; the outer ones holding torches. The scenario must be in the Apolloniate Nymphaeum that is the Latin version of the Greek name ΝΥΜΦΑΙΟΝ, that had the ever burning fire. At such place, the young ladies must be nymphs, despite some call them Charites or Graces in other context including coins2. The nymphs on the Apollo denar series are not naked, and ribbons or frills of their closing float behind them.

The ethnic attribute Α-Π-Ο-Λ is divided between the dancers. There can be one, two, or even three names in the exergue. The first is always in the nominative case; the third is usually in the genitive. It appears that the second and third name is the two names of the same person; the occasional presence of the masculine definite article in the genitive case (TOY) between them supports this. Thus, in this coin series, the eponymous person's name is on the obverse; the moneyer' name is on the reverse, where there can be two of them.

A systematic study of these coins with a full catalogue is still pending and no publication lists all varieties. A chapter in a book on the archaeology and history of Apollonia deals with the coinage2, in which I found useful information about the Apollo denar series; but see my criticism on the chrnology and other features of the other Illyrian coinages in the Further reading chapter.

According to hoard evidence, the Apollo denars and fractions were not circulating beyond the borders of the Apolloniate civic administration. The Dimalla hoard3 is the only one, which contains almost all coin types of this era: 27 denars, a half denar, a fire/pedum half drachma, and different Apolloniate bronze issues as the small change of the series.

The production of the Apollo denar series ended by the full territorial and political integration of the area in the Roman empire around the early 1st c. AD. Later, provincial bronze coins were produced in Apollonia under few Roman emperors (see in next chapter: "Roman provincial issues").

The richest collection of the Apollo denars and fractions (similarly to the drachms) is the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, closely followed by the so far unpublished collection of the Berlin Museum; several pieces are in the Bibliotheque National Paris (unpublished) and in the British Museum. Of the fully illustrated museum collections in the Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum series, the Cambridge Leake and General Collection has 14 denars, Tubingen five, and some other SNGs also have one or two. The silver fractions are even rarer.

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4. Creating the relative chronology

I am trying to establish the relative chronological order of the Apollo denars. The following details seem to worth observing:

Still more than thirteen centuries to come until Brunelleschi and Masaccio showed us how to put perspective on canvas, we should perceive that the nymphs are dancing in a circle around the fire; glaring at it, and the garments of the skirts float naturally behind them. On some coins the attempt is clear: the fire is between two dancers turning at the fire and the frills float in the opposite direction; but the third nymph was simply put behind another. This may help find the place of the fire where it should have been if it is not visible on some coins by wear or other reasons; not to be confused by types wher there is no fire on the ground (above the exergue line). However, there are coins where this rule is not observed, and the overlapping parts become corrupted, creating the impression of "fire hazard" for the clothes. This can be the result of the inability of less skilled engravers to represent space but occasionally, this raises the possibility of inofficial minting (imitation), especially if the coin shows other irregularities. This particular observation has not been addressed in the numismatic literature.

The total of name combinations recorded by me is around 44 (recalculation is under way); these were produced during approximately 28 years based on the number of names on the obverse, regarding them as the yearly elected eponymous magistrates. The sequence (relative chronology) of the issues is still unknown. I tend to accept the view expressed in the literature1,2 that the only published hoard (Dimalla) contains the earliest denars: Apollo facing left, fire between left and middle nymph, V-type alpha forms the majority of coins. Many more hoards are needed for establishing a more reliable relative chronology.

The table below will show my temporary classification of the different Apollo denar emissions based on recognizable style differences. (under construction)

Class 1. Apollo facing left. Three nymphs dancing, outer nymphs holding torches; fire between left and middle nymph
Year B.C. Obverse name Reverse name Head Fire Facing Frills A Reference
? ? ΑΓΟΝΙΠΠΟΥ ΔΙΝΟΚΡΑΤΗΣ / ΕΡΙΜΝΑΣ/ΤΟΥ L L R-L-L L-R-R V Tb 1321
? ? ΒΙΩΝΟΣ ΑΓΟΝΙΠΠΟΣ L R R-L-L L-R-R V eBay 2016
? ? ΒΙΩΝΟΣ ΖΩΙΛΟΣ Tb 1322
? ? ΒΙΩΝΟΣ ΜΝΑΣΗΝ BMC 64
? ? ΛΥΣΩΝ ΔΙΟΝΥΣΟ/ΔΩΡΟΣ BMC 69
? ? ? ? ?

Class 2. Apollo facing left. Three nymphs dancing to left, outer nymphs holding torches; fire between middle and right nymph.

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5. Half denar (quinar)

The obverse of the half denar shows head of Pallas Athena in Corinthian helmet facing left, and a magistrate name in the genitive case on the obverse. Reverse: obelisk embraced by the two parts of a name in the nominative case, ΑΠΟΛΛΩ/NIATAN.

Two name combinations have been known: ΑΝΔΡΩΝΟΣ-ΤΙ/ΜΗΝ, and ΦΙΛΟΝΙΔΑ-ΑΡΙΣΤΟ/ΛΟΧΟΣ. The former is known also from the Dimalla hoard, which contains several Apollo denars.

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6. Quarter denar (sestertius)

The quarter denar (sestertius, now worth of four asses) displays lyre on the obverse and obelisk left in field; other features correspond with those on the half denar. One name combination is known, which is one of the two in the half denars:

Lira-obeliskΦΙΛΟΝΙΔΑ-ΑΡΙΣΤΟ/ΛΟΧΟΣ quarter denar. 0.91 g, 11.4 mm. SNG Tubingen 1375.

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7. Dupondius

Dupondius is a large bronze coin in the Roman coinage, worth of two asses; now, one eighth of the denar. I found this single type:

Lyson/D..dorosApolloniate bronze dupondius. Obv. Laureate head of Apollo facing left. ΛΥΣΩΝ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ (Lyson of Basileus) anticlockwise. Rev. Three nymphs hand in hand dancing, outer ones holding torches. [Fire between the left and middle nymph?]; Α-[Π-Ο-Λ] between nymphs, Δ[ΥΟΝΥΣΟ]/Δ[ΟΡΟΣ] in exergue. 25.4 g, 33.4 mm, die axis 12 h.

I deciphered the blurred legend from a coin description in the Naples 1870 catalogue, #6721. There is no coin picture in the catalogue, and the note says "ar 35"; probable a misprint instead of "br" (no 35 mm diameter silver coin is known of the era). The second name is not mentioned (is off-flan?) but the number of digits and the form of letters match those in the Naples catalogue. This dupondius must be the fraction of the ΛΥΣΩΝ - ΔΙΟΝΥΣΟ/ΔΩΡΟΣ Apollo denar (see in the table above). The contact has been established with the curator in the Naples museum to clarify details.

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8. Smaller bronze coins of the series

(there are many, so come back in few weeks' time)

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9. Literature references

  1. Gjongecaj, S, Picard, O. Les Monnaies d'Apollonia. In: Apollonia d'Illyrie 1. Atlas archéologique et historique. Collection de l'École française de Rome 391, 2007, 81-106.
  2. Staal, M.A. The Three Graces and their numismatic mythology. 2004
  3. Gjongecaj, S, Picard, O. Le trésor de Dimalla 1973 et le passage du monnayage hellénistique au monnayage impérial à Apollonia d'Illyrie. Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique 122 (1998) 511-527.

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