The coinage of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium:

Countermarked Illyrian coins

Created: 23 February 2017

Contents of this page:

  1. Introduction
  2. Countermarks on Corinthian staters
  3. Cow/calf type staters
  4. Countermark on a Heracles/Pegasus drachma?
  5. Conclusions

1. Introduction

Countermarking (counterstamping) is the practice to alter the appearance of coins already in circulation by punching small images into the coin surface and re-enter them into coin 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.

Usually one, sometimes two or even more different countermarks can be seen on the same coin. The ancient technique was simple: the coin is 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 sinks 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.

Without documentary evidence, we don't know the reasons for these actions. There has been no systematic study on this topic, so I try to put here all information I can find.

Countermarks are infrequent on Illyrian coins, the most are on the Corinthian type staters of Dyrrhachium; very few on cow/calf type staters; and I have never seen any countermarked cow/calf type drachma. There is a single Hercules/Pegasus coin with a questionable countermark.

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2. Countermarks on Corinthian staters

There are about 336 Corinthian type (Athena/Pegasus) staters catalogued by Meta (see in Further reading) attributable to Dyrrhachium by small symbols and/or legends, minted after 350 BC (when similar coins were minted in several other Balkan places). 17 of them (5%) are countermarked: 11 with griffin's head, 6 with trident. Meta's book doesn't discuss the countermarks.

Griffin ctmGriffin's head countermark on the club below head.

Trident ctmTrident countermark on the club behind neck

Both types of countermarks obliterate the club behind or below the neck of Athena; in four style groups, which are not in a close sequence within the flow of 17 chronological groups. (Maybe a problem of the chronological order of the groups?)

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 mentioned only from the East Sicily hoard.

For the time being, it seems that the Corinthian type staters 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?

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3. Cow/calf type staters

I know altogether two cow/calf type Dyrrhachian staters with countermark. On both, the countermark is under the cow; obliterating the calf. Both are different from those can be seen on the Corinthian staters.

One of these can be seen in Meta's book. The countermark resembles a flower like a tulip (D68-R122, Plate XVI, from the unpublished Berlin Prokesch-Osten collection). The other one has not been published yet; the countermark apperars to be a male head. I cannot exclude that these two pieces were countermarked by the same authority.

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4. Heracles/Pegasus drachms

According to Meta, there is one piece among hundreds of Heracles/Pegasus type Dyrrhachian drachms catalogued in her book, which may be countermarked (D76-R88, Plate XXIV = Osijek Museum 48), under the head on the obverse. However, the suspected device is partly off-flan. For technical reasons, the entire countermark must be within the coin surface, otherwise the coin would skip away during the procedure; and I can't see flattening of the other side of the coin. I am not aware of any other countermarked Heracles/Pegasus type Dyrrhachian coin.

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7. 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.

The countermarks on the Athena side of the coins seems to justify me that it was the "natural" obverse of the Corinthian staters of the Pegasi coins: the execution of the counterstamping was technically more simple if the coin rested on the anvil with the flatter side down.

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