The coinage of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium

Drachms: Chronological classes

18 March 2021

Contents of this page

  1. Introduction
  2. Dyrrhachium
  3. Apollonia
  4. Conclusions
  5. Literature references

1. Introduction

The chronological classification of the Greeek-Illyrian silver drachms is based on specific features, which apply to all issues within the same class. Each consequent class develops from the previous one. The classification is different in the two city states but there are common features:

Occasionally, issue-specific characteristics occur but the class-specific features prevail to help class identification.

2. Dyrrhachium

Cow stands to right; line border on reverse. From the beginning, there can be several obverse names coupled with a given reverse name, that is, different name combinations (emissions) appear within the same issue. If symbols or monograms are there on the obverse, these, too, belong to the name on the reverse. A certain name on the reverse with a different set of symbols on the obverse means a different issue, which may be very distant from each other in time; most probably different people of the same name.

The Dyrrhachian classification is simple and is based on features visible on the obverse. There are five Dyrrhachian drachma classes, from D1 to D5.

  1. Class D1
    • Obverse name abbreviated or monogramatic
    • No border
    • No exergue
    • No symbol
      • Subclass D1a
        • Abstract (bizarre) cow-calf complex
        • Two parallel skin-folds behind cow's neck
        • Legs of calf go deep in field
        • Large letters of unusual form
      • Subclass D1b
        • Classic (usual) cow-calf complex
        • Smooth shoulder of cow
        • Usual size and form of letters
  2. Differences between subclasses D1a and D1b are minimal; there could be a slow transition from D1a into D1b.
  3. Class D2
    • Full obverse name
    • Border of dots
    • Animals stand on exergue line
    • No symbols
  4. Class D3
    • Symbol or monogram in exergue
  5. Class D3 drachms are the most beautiful in Dyrrhachium. Carefully carved dies, well centered and evenly struck coins reflect a quiet minting period. The most frequent name on the obverse is Alkaios, serving under more than 20 eponymous persons. Interestingly, despite the nice look, the mean weight of Class D3 coins is a bit lower than usual, without raising the suspicion for being out-of-mint products. The reason is unknown; the lighter weight may come from a debased alloy or careful silver plating of a base metal core.
  6. Class D4
    • Multiple symbols
  7. One symbol above cow, or a combination of two or three symbols in different places (above cow, left or right in field, in exergue).
  8. Class D5
    • Reduced number of obverse names per issue
  9. The default number is one obverse name per year. Two different obverse names with the same reverse name in the same year occur only in two instances.

    The specific class features can be seen on sample coins in the following table:

    Class D1

    210-176 BC
    Obverse name abbreviated. No exergue
    1a Abstract style So-Agionos
    1b Classic style Ag-Bionos
    Class D2

    175-145 BC
    Full obverse name. Exergue line. No symbols Mnasen-Obrimou
    Class D3

    144-93 BC
    Symbol in exergue Alexandros-Lysionos
    Class D4

    92-60 BC
    Multiple symbols Perigenes-Damenos
    Class D5

    59-48 BC
    As in Class 4 but only one or two obverse names with the same reverse Xenon-Fillia

    (Back to the top of this page ↑)

    3. Apollonia

    Despite the first three Apolloniate drachma classes show similarities with the Dyrrhachian classes D1-D3; thereafter the classification is fundamentally different. The class-specific changes affect both sides of the drachms. First, the cow turned to left, then the sides of square became inward-bending, later the V-connected alpha became strait connected (A); symbols disappeared, and finally, the usual drumstick-shape rays became petals. All these in a so far unexplained, but easily observable manner, which I discovered by meticulous comparison of hoard contents and the follow-up of these style matters (see in chapter Research methods. class identification requires the observation of both sides.

    Despite these visible differences in the look of drachmas, their weight remained standard, and were hoarded intermixed with the Dyrrhachian ones as before, testifying their equal acceptance and circulation for a very long time. Only in the very last phase of the drachma minting, when the coin weight was gradually diminished, and this was more expressed in Apollonia, the hoards tend to contain drachms overwhelmingly from one of the two towns. (measuring weight is those times was rather precise). The style difference made separation easy: cow left with inward bending sides = Apollonia. The earlier coins had already been out of circulation for decades.

    There are seven Apolloniate coin classes (A1-A7) with additional mnemonic letters and numbers pointing at the specific feature in which a particular class differs from the previous one. The class determining characteristics are these:

    The seven classes of the Apolloniate drachms are these:

    1. A1R1
      • Cow standing to right with calf kneeling on both front legs
      • Abbreviated or monogramatic name
      • No border
      • No symbols
      • Straight sides of square
        • A1R1a
          • No exergue
        • A1R1b
          • Animals standing on invisible line
        • A1R1c
          • Animals stand on exergue line
    2. A2R2
      • Full name
    3. A3R3
      • Symbol or monogram in exergue
    4. A4Ls
      • Cow to left
      • Calf half kneeling
      • Straight sides of square
      • Border of dots
    5. A5Lc1
      • Concave sides of square
      • Symbols
      • V-alpha
    6. A6Lc2a
      • No symbols but occasional monogram in exergue
      • A-alpha
      • Drumstick rays
    7. A7Lc2b
      • Petal rays

    The table helps understand the nested nature of the Apolloniate drachma classes:

    Class A1R1

    166-147 BC
    Obverse name abbreviated
    A1R1a No exergue Fi-Psyllou
    A1R1b Animals stand on invisible line Da-Noumeniou
    A1R1c Animals stand on exergue line Kle-Lysonos
    Class A2R2

    146-95 BC
    Full obverse name. No symbols Parmen-Lysonos
    Class A3R3

    94-86 BC
    Symbols or monograms on obverse Sosilohos-Timoxenou
    Class A4Ls

    85-82 BC
    Straight sides of square Lysanias-Nikoteleos
    Lc Concave sides of square
    Class A5Lc1

    81-60 BC
    Symbols on the obverse. V-type alpha Soteles-Xenofantou
    Lc2 No symbols. A-type alpha
    Class A6Lc2a

    59-54 BC
    Drumstick-shape rays Maarkos-Lysania
    Class A7Lc2b

    53-48 BC
    Petal-shape rays Agias-Epikadou

    (Back to the top of this page ↑)


    This chronology is still tentative; the beginning depends on the number of known issues, and may change by the discovery of so far unknown issues, or, in the opposite direction, by the exclusion of erroneously identified issues.

    I am going to check how the subdivisions of Class D1 and Class A1R1 influence the relative sequence of the issues within the earliest hoards. However, in general, those several coincidences in the suggested chronology with historical facts during the later classes point at the validity of the proposed chronology based on the compact model hypothesis and the style classification; and help date other coins and archaeological objects found together with the drachms.

    The majority of coins found in the N-E Balkan area belong to the later phase of the drachma production (D4-D5 and A6-A7); these coins can be differentiated by a glimpse: cow to left = Apollonia, cow to right = Dyrrhachium. Many drachms in the last periods show signs of a blown up, hasty coin production: irregular flans, flat struck or grossly off-centre pieces; only parts of the legends are visible. Such coins could only be identified from a proper catalogue but for Apollonia, so far none has been published. If time allows, more and more information will be added to this page on the different coin emissions and their characteristics.

    Most probable points of the proposed chronology:

    (Back to the top of this page ↑)

    Literature references

    1. Petrányi, G.: Cow/calf type Greek-Illyrian drachms: Problems and facts. In: Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Numismatic History and Economy in Epirus during antiquity. Kerma 3 (2013) 77-86 + Pl. 9.
    2. Petrányi, G. On the position of the Aibatios/Chairenos issue in the sequence of Apollonian drachms. Studii şi cercetari de numismatica 11 (1995) 59-63.