The coinage of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium:

Countermarked Illyrian coins

Last addiions: 8 May 2018

Contents of this page:

  1. Introduction
  2. Countermarked Corinthian staters
  3. Countermarked cow/calf type staters
  4. Countermark on a Heracles/Pegasus drachma?
  5. The first countermarked cow/calf type drachma
  6. Conclusions
  7. Literature references

1. Introduction

Countermarking (counterstamping) is the practice to alter the appearance of coins by punching small images into the coin surface and re-enter them into circulation. This practice is almost as old as coinage itself. The main reason was to make the countermarked pieces legal tender for certain territories. Sometimes it also meant the enforcement of a higher exchange rate of the countermarked pieces; or to mask unwanted details of the original devices (of overthrown rulers: damnatio memoriae) to use them until new coins replace the unwanted ones. Sometimes we don't know when the coutermarking took place, the only thing is sure that it was after the coin had been produced.

Usually one, sometimes two or even more different countermarks can be seen on the same piece. The ancient technique was simple: the coin was placed on a flat, hard surface, and the small diameter, usually cylindrical punch die is placed on the surface of the coin. With a hammer blow, the punch sank into the coin leaving a sharp edged mark, with the device visible at the bottom of the impression. Because this is usually well below the surface of the coin, the countermark is less affected by wear in circulation. However, if the punch die is not hard enough (relative to the hardness of the coin), the image may be blurred. The procedure flattens the image on the opposite side of the coin.

Countermarks are infrequent on Illyrian coins. There has been no systematic study on this topic, so I try to put here all information I can find. The most countermarked pieces are the Corinthian type staters of Dyrrhachium; but countermarks are rarely found on later types: I know about two on cow/calf type staters; one is suspected by Meta1 on a Hercules/Pegasus drachma; and finally, I just obtained the first countermarked Dyrrhachian cow/calf type drachma from trade. I have not seen any countermark on pieces in the Apollo denar series or the Illyrian Roman provincial issues.

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2. Countermarked Corinthian staters

There are about 336 Corinthian type (Athena/Pegasus) staters catalogued by Meta1 attributable to Dyrrhachium by small symbols and/or legends, minted after 350 BC (when similar coins were minted in several other colonies of Corinth). 17 of them (5%) are countermarked: 11 with griffin's head, 6 with trident. I should check other sources if there are couterstamps on the Corinthian type staters of other colonies; and if yes, how they look like.

Griffin ctmGriffin's head countermark on the club below head of Athena

Trident ctmTrident countermark on the club behind neck of Athena

Both types of countermarks obliterate the club behind or below the neck of Athena; in four style groups, which are scattered through Meta's 17 chronological groups .She doesn't discuss the coutermarks and I think that there is a problem with her suggested chronological order of the Dyrrhachian Corinthian type staters.

Many Italian hoards contain Corinthian type staters from Corinth and her associate city states (including Dyrrhachium), but the finding place of a countermarked Dyrrhachian stater is known only for one, it is from the East Sicily hoard.

For the time being, it seems that the Corinthian type staters of Dyrrhachium ended up in Italy during Timoleon's campaigns, and could remain there for a while. The counterstamping occurred either there or already en route towards Italy; probably in two phases. Was the aim of the effacing of the club on the Dyrrhacian staters to block their return to Dyrrhachium?

The countermarks on the Athena side of the coins seems to justify my view that it was the "natural" obverse of the Corinthian Pegasi: the execution of the counterstamping was technically more simple if the coin rested on the anvil with the flatter (in this case, Pegasus) side down.

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3. Countermarked cow/calf type staters

I know altogether two countermarked cow/calf type Dyrrhachian staters. On both, the countermark is under the cow; obliterating the calf.

One of these coins is in the unpublished Berlin Prokesch-Osten collection, its photo can be seen in Meta's book1, D68-R122, Plate XVI. The countermark resembles a flower like a tulip. Finding place is unknown.

The other one is just published2; the countermark appears to be a male head facing left. It was found in Faros island (ancient Pharos), in the Adriatic archipelago of Dalmatia (Croatia). This island is close to the Neretva river mouth. You remember from previous chapters that the coins of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium were taken here on ships and also further upstream. They can be found in the nearby islands and on the lands on both sides of the river (now in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina), from the very beginning of their production.

I cannot exclude the possibility that these two pieces were countermarked there by the same authority (in or around Pharos?); to make them legal tender.

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4. Countermark on a Heracles/Pegasus drachma?

On one piece among hundreds of Heracles/Pegasus type Dyrrhachian drachms, Meta suspects a coutermark1, D76-R88, Plate XXIV; under the head on the obverse. The coin is in the Osijek Museum and published3, No. 48. However, the suspected detail is partly off-flan. For technical reasons, the entire countermark should be visible within the coin surface, otherwise the coin would skip away during the procedure; and I can't see flattening on the corresponding area on the reverse. Therefore I have reservations to regard this piece as countermarked. I am not aware of any clearly countermarked Heracles/Pegasus type Dyrrhachian coin.

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5. The first countermarked cow/calf type drachma

When I discussed the countermarked cow/calf type Dyrrhachian stater with the author of the book on coins found in Pharos island2, I told her what was also here then: "I have never seen a countermarked cow/calf type drachma". Now, this statement is void, I found one in trade.

Countermarked Dyrrhachian drachmaBase coin: Meniskos-Dionysiou Class D5 Dyrrhachian drachma (Ceka 120, 51 B.C.). 5.6 x 5.3 mm rectangular punchmark obliterating the head of the cow on the obverse, with small o in centre. Corresponding flattened area on the reverse.

I have not seen this countermark before on any coin. The base coin is not worn, and the countermark appears to be mint fresh: very sharp edges of the puchmark. Where, when, and why was this piece countermarked is unknown. This piece was offered together with similarly preserved, the same, and other Class D5 drachms not countermarked; probably coming from the same hoard; therfore the coutermarked piece had taken part in circulation. Terminus post quem is 51 B.C, the production year of the Meniskos/Dionysiou drachma.

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6. Conclusions

These are my first impressions, which may change on seeing more pieces. Unfortunately, the most of the countermarked staters are in museum and private collections, without knowing the place where they were found.

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7. Literature references

  1. Meta, A. Le monnayage en argent de Dyrrachion 375-60/55 av. J.-C. Ècole française d'Athènes 2015.
  2. Jeličić Radonić, J, Göricke-Lukić, H, Mirnik, i. Faros. Grčki, grčko-ilirski i rimski novac. [Faros. Greek, Greek-Illyrian, and Roman coins]. Kniževni Krug Split. Filozofski Fakultet Sveučilista u Splitu. Split, 2017.
  3. Göricke-Lukić, H. Grčki, grčko-kolonijalni i keltski novac iz Muzeja Slavonije Osijek. [Greek, Greek imperial, and Celtic coins in the Slavonia Museum Osijek]. Osijek, 2004.

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