The coinage of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium:

The Apollo denar and its fractions

30 May 2022

Contents of this page

  1. Introduction
  2. The Apollo denar
  3. Creating the relative chronology
  4. Half denar
  5. Quarter denar
  6. Bronze denominations
  7. Literature references

1. Introduction

The war between Caesar and Pompey ended the cow/calf type Hellenistic coin production in Illyria; Dyrrhachium did not produce coins any more. The next coinage from Apollonia, the Apollo denar series, displayed head of Apollo on the obverse of the silver denar anf three nymphs dancing around th fire of the anymphaeum. The weight, and several style features (border of dots on both sides, anticlockwise inward legend on the obverse, exergue line with script below on the reverse) are similar to those on the imperatorial Roman denarii; signs of further convergence to the Roman, already the imperatorial monetary system. The exact chronology is still unclear: immediately or soon after the end of the drachma minting, or much later, at time of the monetary reform of Augustus in 23 BC? The average weight of the Apollo denars is close to 4 g, suggesting the latter possibility (the imperatorial denars were lighter before the standardization). The total number of the Apollo denar emissions I have registered is 24. Fractions in silver and base metal also belonf to this series.

The early Roman Republican monetary system was based on the bronze (aes) unit, the as; and the value of the other denominations were expressed in relation of this, regardless of the metal the coin was made of: denarius ('tenner') = 10, quinarius ('fiver') = 5, sestertius ('the third is half') = 2.5, dupondius ('double weight') = 2, semis = half, quadrans = quarter as. Tressis ('three asses') was also minted from time to time.

The Augustan reform of 23 B.C. ended the monetary chaos caused by the civil war, the weight of the silver denarius was fixed at 4 g; and was tariffed at 16 asses; quinar 8, sestertius 4, dupondius 2 asses. As, semis, and quadrans denominations were produced; thus, because of the retariffing, some of the actual coin names lost their original meaning. Coins made of brass (orichalcum) usually were valued double of coins of the same size made of bronze. Brass is more expensive than bronze but of coins recovered from aggressive soil, it is difficult to recognize the alloy to find out the denomination.

The discussion of the different coin types starts with the characteristic unit of this series, the denar.

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3. The Apollo denar

Bionos-ZoilosBionos-Zoilos Apollo denar. Obv. Laureate head of Apollo facing left. BIΩNOΣ (Bionos, 'of Bion') left in field anticlockwise. Border of dots. Rev. Three nymphs hand in hand dancing, outer ones holding torches. Fire between the left and middle nymph, frills to left - right - right. Α-Π-Ο-Λ in field between dancers, [Z]ΩIΛOΣ (Zoilos) in the exergue. Border of dots. 3.97 g, 18.8 mm. SNG Tubingen 1322.

The obverse displays the head of Apollo, dominantly facing left. There is one or two names in field in front of the face, anticlockwise; the majority of these names are in the genitive case. The reverse shows three women dancing hand in hand around a fire on the ground; the outer ones holding torches. The scenario must be in the Apolloniate Nymphaeum (the Latin counterpart of Greek ΝΥΜΦΑΙΟΝ), with the ever burning fire - burning bitumen springs. There is no doubt that the dancers represent nymphs and not Charites (in Latin, Graces); those can be seen on other coinages2. The nymphs on the Apollo denar series are not naked; the ribbons or frills of their long dress float behind them while dancing. The ethnic attribute Α-Π-Ο-Λ is divided between the dancers in field.

There can be one, two, or even three names in the exergue. The first is always in the nominative case; the third is usually in the genitive. The occasional presence of the masculine definite article between the second and third name (TOY) supports this. Thus, in this coin series, the eponymous person's name is on the obverse; the moneyer's name is on the reverse, where there can be two of them.

A systematic study of these coins with a full catalogue is still pending; there has been no publication listing all varieties. A chapter in a book on the archaeology and history of Apollonia deals also with this coinage2, in which I found useful information about the Apollo denar series; but I have been a little bit cautious to accept all statements, see my criticism in the Further reading chapter.

Despite all coin types are well known from different collections and museum catalogues, there are very few published hoards to work out their chronology. It seems that he Apollo denars and fractions were not circulating beyond the borders of the Apolloniate civic administration. The Dimalla hoard3 is the only one, which contains almost all coin types of this era: 27 denars, a half denar, a fire/pedum half drachma, and different Apolloniate bronze issues as the small change of the series; some of them can be survivors from earlier times.

The production of the Apollo denar series ended by the full territorial and political integration of the area in the Roman empire around the early 1st c. AD. Later, provincial bronze coins were produced in Apollonia under few Roman emperors (see in next chapter: "Roman provincial issues").

These coins are well known from several collections but rare in hoards. The richest collection of the Apollo denars and fractions (similarly to the drachms) is the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, closely followed by the so far unpublished collection of the Berlin Museum; several pieces are in the Bibliotheque National Paris (unpublished) and in the British Museum. Of the fully illustrated museum collections in the Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum series, the Cambridge Leake and General Collection has 14 denars, Tubingen five, and some other SNGs also have one or two. The silver fractions are even rarer.

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4. Creating the relative chronology

I am trying to establish the relative chronological order of the Apollo denars. Meticulous observation of details on the coins may help forming chronological groups like it was successful in the cow/calf drachma series. The following details seem to worth observing on the Apollo denars:

Still more than thirteen centuries to come until Brunelleschi and Masaccio showed us how to put perspective on canvas, we should imagine that the nymphs are dancing around the fire; turned to it, and the frills of their dress float naturally behind them. On some coins the attempt is clear: the fire is between two dancers who are turning to the fire and the frills float in the opposite direction; but the third nymph was simply put in line, behind another. This arrangement helps find the place of the fire where it should have been if it is not visible on some worn pieces; not to be confused by types where there is no fire. However, there are coins where this rule is not observed, and the overlapping parts become corrupted, creating the impression of "fire hazard" for the dancers' clothes. This can be the result of the inability of less skilled engravers to represent space but occasionally, this raises the possibility of unofficial minting (imitation), especially if the coin shows other irregularities. This particular observation has not been discussed in the numismatic literature.

The total number of name combinations recorded by me is around 44 produced during approximately 28 years of minting based on the number of different names on the obverse, regarding them as the yearly elected eponymous magistrates.

The sequence (relative chronology) of the issues is still unknown. I tend to accept the view expressed in the literature1,2 that the only published hoard (Dimalla) contains the earliest denars: Apollo facing left, fire between left and middle nymph, V-type alpha forms the majority of coins. Many more hoards are needed for establishing a more reliable relative chronology.

The table below will show my temporary classification of the different Apollo denar emissions based on recognizable style differences (still under construction).

Class 1. Laureate head of Apollo. Three nymphs dancing around fire, outer nymphs holding torches.

Class 1 Apollo denars
Year B.C. Obverse name Reverse name Head Fire Facing Frills A Reference
? ? ΒΙΩΝΟΣ ΑΓΟΝΙΠ/ΠΟΣ L L R-L-L 0-0-R V eBay 2012
? ? ΒΙΩΝΟΣ ΖΩΙΛΟΣ L L R-L-L 0-0-R V Tb 1322
? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?

Class 2. Radiate crowned bust of Apollo, quiver on back. Three nymphs dancing, no torches, no fire. Right nymph holds apple.

Class 2 Apollo denars
Year B.C. Obverse name Reverse name Head Fire Facing Frills A Reference

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5. Half denar (quinar)

The obverse of the half denar shows head of Pallas Athena in Corinthian helmet facing left, and a magistrate name in the genitive case on the obverse. Reverse: obelisk embraced by the two parts of a name in the nominative case, ΑΠΟΛΛΩ/NIATAN.

Two name combinations have been known: ΑΝΔΡΩΝΟΣ-ΤΙ/ΜΗΝ, and ΦΙΛΟΝΙΔΑ-ΑΡΙΣΤΟ/ΛΟΧΟΣ. The former is known also from the Dimalla hoard, which contains several Apollo denars.

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6. Quarter denar (sestertius)

The quarter denar (sestertius, now worth of four asses) displays lyre on the obverse and obelisk left in field; other features correspond with those on the half denar. One name combination is known, which is one of the two in the half denars:

Lira-obeliskΦΙΛΟΝΙΔΑ-ΑΡΙΣΤΟ/ΛΟΧΟΣ quarter denar. 0.91 g, 11.4 mm. SNG Tubingen 1375.

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7. Bronze denominations

In the Dimalla hoard, there are several, but much smaller bronze coins of Apollonia, known from several collections. Here I will discuss only those types, which have similar design to the Apollo denars: laureate head of Apollo with a name in field inward (anticlockwise), border of dots.

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9. Literature references

  1. Gjongecaj, S, Picard, O. Les Monnaies d'Apollonia. In: Apollonia d'Illyrie 1. Atlas archéologique et historique. Collection de l'École française de Rome 391, 2007, 81-106.
  2. Staal, M.A. The Three Graces and their numismatic mythology. 2004.
  3. Gjongecaj, S, Picard, O. Le trésor de Dimalla 1973 et le passage du monnayage hellénistique au monnayage impérial à Apollonia d'Illyrie. Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique 122 (1998) 511-527.

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