Ancient fakes and imitations
of the drachms of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium
I. General aspects
Updated: 14 January 2009
Counterfeiting is as old as coinage itself. There is an almost continuous series from the hardly detectable forgeries to the very crude "barbarous" imitations, from the full-weight and "good silver" pieces to the undersized and copper fakes. There are also many fourrees (silver plated pieces with a bronze core). One can hypothesize that some of these pieces came from the legal mints but the majority of the counterfeit coins must have been produced in various places, theoretically everywhere where these coins were respected. All kinds of unofficial issues of the Apolloniate and Dyrrhachian coins will be dealt with in this page.
The exact terminology and legal aspects of counterfeiting can be studied from other web sites but some terms are described here as I use them.
Fake Colloquial term of a counterfeit piece. Any unofficial issue belongs to this category. Does not necessarily mean lower weight or debased metal.
Contemporary fake Sometimes this term is misunderstood. A contemporary fake is contemporary with the original coin. An Illyrian contemporary fake is an ancient forgery. They were produced for use with or instead of the original coins and many of them took part in circulation. Almost all hoards of Illyrian coins contain some of them.
Modern fake Opposite of contemporary fake. A product of modern times to mislead collectors.
Imitation Can also be contemporary or modern. A slight distinction between a fake and an imitation is that contemporary imitations were produced in or for territories where there was no coin production. Imitations could enter the area of the original coin production where these were regarded as fakes if detected. In territories of no coin production imitations could play the role of legal currency. Sometimes the production and circulation of imitations continued in such regions even after the end of the production of their original prototypes. This is a very exciting issue in the research of the Illyrian drachms. Almost all Illyrian hoards contain some contemporary imitations. There are several hoards, mainly from the Dacian region, which consist of crude imitations only. These are probably local products after the termination of the drachm production in Apollonia and Dyrrhachium.
Barbarous Counterfeit coin with style degradation and/or faulty, corrupt legends. A misleading term. Greeks and Romans called any other people Barbarian. Imitations were not necessarily produced in foreign territories or by foreign people. The imitator often needed to take several pieces to see the full image of off-center coins and copied parts of the image or legend from different emissions. Inexperience and illiteracy resulted in style degradation and faulty legends. Mixing up the obverse and reverse from different issues created hybrids (see there). Copying of copies led to further dissolution of the original images and the emergence of bizarre, abstract devices.
Fourree (plated coin) A thin layer of precious metal covers the base metal core. Usually its weight is significantly lower than that of the original. Technical imperfections reveal the nature of the coin sooner of later, the surface layer peels off or wears off on the edges or on high relief points and the base metal core (bronze, copper) shows. Production of plated coins is an obvious sign of cheating (lower precious metal content = less intrinsic value) but sometimes these coins could come from the official mints, too.
Hybrid (mule) The images for the two sides of the coin are taken from different emissions. In theory, hybrid pieces could leave the official mints: pairing the dies of different emissions are found in many coinages. In the Illyrian drachms, however, this seems to be unlikely. The symbols on the obverse belong to the eponymous magistrate whose name is on the reverse therefore a new pair of dies had to be produced each year for the incoming eponymous magistrate. So far all Illyrian hybrid drachms have proved to be contemporary fake by closer examination. There are also hybrids where the obverse imitates an Apolloniate coin and the reverse a Dyrrhachian one or vice versa. All publications including Ceka's list of emissions contain hybrids taken as originals. A work on correcting these is still pending.
The upper coin is an original Dyr-4 drachm, Filotas-Kallenos, Ceka 452 (GP Dyr-4, -27). 3.36 g, 17.5 mm; known also from hoards. The lower coin is an obvious plated fake imitation of the other one, 2.65 g. This is easy to detect, the silver plating is peeling off, the bronze core shows, some letters in the legend are irregular, and the weight is very low for a silver drachm. Two more plated varieties of this fake have been published: BMC 79 and 80.
The most frequently copied Dyrrhachian emissions were those coming from the last phase of the drachm production: the increased demand for coins increased the counterfaiting activity.
(Examples will be shown here)