The coinage of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium

Cow/calf type drachms: General introduction

23 March 2021

Contents of this page

  1. Characteristics of the cow/calf type drachms
  2. Distinction between "issue" and "emission"
  3. Names on the drachma series

1. Characteristics of the drachma series

The cow/calf type Illyrian drachms display a cow with suckling calf on the obverse and the double stellate pattern on the reverse. The diameter is 17-18 mm; mean weight is 3.3-3.4 g. These drachms are identified by the ethnic attribute and the two names on them. The name above the cow on the obverse is in the nominative case, occasionally abbreviated, or is a monogram. The name on the reverse follows the ethnic attribute APOL or DYR clockwise and is in the genitive case. The real function of these people is still debated but I am convinced that the name on the reverse is the eponymous magistrate of the year of minting and all style features including the occasional symbols on the obverse belong to this person. The name on the obverse is of his subordinate.

With a closer look many other small differences can also be discovered; the following picture shows the possible variations.


Details of the individual characteristics:

Observe different details on the following pieces:

Sosikrates-Timoxenou Ktetos-Faniskou Asklapiadas-Filistionos

The top and bottom coins are from Apollonia, the middle one is from Dyrrhachium; from chronological classes A3R3, D4, and A5Lc1. We can see cow to right and left; calf kneeling on both front legs or half-kneeling; monogram above the name on the obverse; monogram in the exergue; a combined symbol right in the field; the presence or absence of the borders; two different forms of alpha; the two possible positions of the central device; lollipop or tadpole rays; and border of dots instead of the usual line border on the reverse.

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2. Distinction between "issue" and "emission"

These two numismatic terms are used synonymously in the numismatic literature, but here I use them with a distinction:

Issue: All coins produced with the same name on the reverse, which determines the set of symbols on the obverse, as well as all style characteristics of the coins in the same issue; independently of the name on the obverse. Example: The Damenos issue from Dyrrhachium has the name Damenos on the reverse, ear of corn right in field and bunch of grapes in the exergue on the obverse. One of 17 different names can be seen on the obverse; all these coins together form the Damenos issue.

Emission: All coins with the same name on the obverse with a given name on the reverse. All of them display the same style characteristics, which are determined by the name on the reverse. Continuing the example in the previous paragraph: the Damenos issue contains 17 emissions (Ariston-Damenos, Fereneikos-Damenos, Xenon-Damenos, etc.).

All emissions within the same issue present the same style characteristics both on the obverse and on the reverse. This knowledge helps identify the name on the reverse by looking at the obverse: if we see a Xenon obverse with ear of corn right in field and a bunch of grapes in the exergue, this coin must have Damenos on the reverse. If not, the coin can be a mule (hybrid: the reverse die came from a different issue). In most cases, mules are unofficial products, contemporary fakes; and by meticulous observation, one can detect fine or even crude divergences from the authentic coins - see more about this in the Fakes and imitations chapter.

Logically, all emissions within the same issue must have been produced during a short period (most probably, within one year, as in several other Hellenistic coinages, and the Roman republican denarii - we mustn't forget the role of the Romans in this territory!). In Apollonia, the year issue usually contained only one emission (= one name combination); but in Dyrrhachium, the much larger coin output required several, parallel emissions. The total number of the Illyrian cow/calf type drachma emissions (name combinations) is around 600 (some 125 in Apollonia and the rest in Dyrrhachium).

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Names on the drachma series

Most of the names on the drachms are common Greek ones. The spelling shows that the Northwest Greek dialect was used in the region, which is related to Doric. Examples for the characteristic alphacism (preferential use of alpha instead of eta): ΑΣΚΛΑΠΙΑΔΑΣ vs. ΑΣΚΛΗΠΙΗΔΗΣ, ΔΑΜΟΦΩΝ vs. ΔΗΜΟΦΩΝ, ΔΑΜΑΤΡΙΟΣ vs. ΔΗΜΗΤΡΙΟΣ. Doric name forms drop the ultimate sigma in the genitive case (names on the reverse): ΜΕΝΕΚΚΑΣ- ΜΕΝΕΚΚΑ, ΠΥΡΒΑΣ - ΠΥΡΒΑ.

A Greek name does not necessarily indicate an ethnic Greek person. Foreign names are also adapted to the Greek pronunciation and spelling; Latin names: Marcus is shown as ΜΑΑΡΚΟΣ, Silanus as ΣΙΛΑΝΟΣ. Some names of unknown etymology can be Illyrian; like the name on the obverse of the ΒΑΤΩΝ-ΑΙΣΧΙΝΑ Apolloniate Class A2R2 drachma. Several Illyrian war lords had that name more than one hundred years later.

Hoard evidence shows that dialectic varieties of the same name (like Aristen - Ariston, Niken - Nikon) represent different persons - this is important for correct chronology.

Without any historical or archaeological evidence, the real function of theses people on the drachms is still under debate. For practical purposes, I call the name on the reverse the eponymous person (whose name denotes the period), responsible for the coin issue during his term; and the name on the obverse represents a subordinate who was in charge of the emission (or one of the emissions). Hoard evidence supports this view, in contrast with a re-emerging opposite suggestion.

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