The coinage of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium:

Ancient fakes and imitations

II. A die-linked chain of hybrid imitations

18 April 2021

I detected a series of die-linked chain of hybrid imitations of Dyrrhachian cow/calf type drachms reflecting a prosperous and well equipped counterfeiting workshop of so far unknown location during the final period of the drachma minting. These coins surfaced in hoards, are catalogued in various collections, and turn up in trade from time to time. The number of pieces belonging to the series has grown substantially since its publication1 (that was, in fact, my very first numismatic work). These coins are easily recognizable by the awkward legend on the common reverse type.

Three consecutive Dyrrhachian emissions were the prototypes of the forgeries:

Obverse Reverse Class Year B.C. Ceka SNGTb Mean weight (g)
ΚΤΗΤΟΣ, ear of corn R, grapes in ex. ΔΥΡ ΔΑ-ΜΗ-ΝΟΣ D4 -13 60 276 1385 3.30
ΞΕΝΩΝ, eagle with flapping wings above ΔΥΡ ΠΥΡ-ΒΑ club D5 -12 59 360 1485 3.31
ΞΕΝΩΝ, eagle on sceptre above ΔΥΡ ΧΑΡΟ-ΠΙ-ΝΟΥ D5 -11 58 363 1479 3.28

The common reverse type of the series is the erroneous copy of the reverse of the Xenon-Pyrba-club drachma. The square looks usual, ethnic attribute ΔΥΡ and the club remained in place, but instead of the original eponymous name ΠYP-BA (Pyr-Ba), ΠYO-ΔTA (Pyo-Dta) nonsense script can be seen. The style and placing the letters also show some deviation from the original coins. So far, I identified two different reverse dies in the series, A and B.

Three obverse types. Despite all three obverses show some style degradation, like the forelegs of the calf break through the exergue line (never on original coins), the issue-specific symbols remain in place.

  1. (K)Tetos-Damenos (T): ΤΗΤΟΣ, ear of corn right in field, bunch of grapes in exergue. Well centered specimens prove that the name ΤΗΤΟΣ (Tetos) became copied instead of  ΚΤΗΤΟΣ (Ktetos), K is missing from the beginning of the name. Obviously, the source coin was off-centre. Two different obverse dies were identified, A and B.
  2. Xenon-Pyrba-club (XP): ΞΕΝΩΝ, eagle with flapping wings above. A single obverse die is known.
  3. Xenon-Haropinou (XH): ΞΕΝΩΝ, eagle on sceptre above. A single obverse die is known.
Note the different eagles on the two Xenon obverse types for correct identification.

The picture shows two original prototypes and below them two different obverse type imitations with the common reverse type. The third, Xenon-Haropinou obverse type is not represented in the picture.

Both sides of the Xenon-Pyrba-club original was imitated; the Ktetos-Damenos imitations are hybrids (obverse imitating the Ktetos-Damenos obverse, revers imitating the reverse came from the Xenon-Pyrba-club original, also for this imitation). The black arrows show the chronological sequence of the imitations. On the right, we can see the two die variations of the T obverse type, TA and TB (observe the style degradation of the bunch of grapes). All three imitations have a common reverse type struck with the same die A; the red arrows point at the reverse die equation of the three pieces.

The next table gives details of fourteen pieces of this imitation series known to me; some of them have not been available for closer examination. Coins marked with the asterisk (No. 1, 4, and 6) are illustrated in the picture above.

Details of recorded pieces
No. Obv. die Rev. die Origin Disposition Weight Reference
1* XPA A ? Baldwin's Auct. 17 #19, 1998 GP collection 3.66 -
2 XHA A Zaklopača hoard 1928 National Museum Belgrade ? 4, Pl. VI #1
3 XH? B Bobaia hoard 1962 Museum of Transylvania Cluj 3.65 5, #181
4* TA A ? Spink 1988 GP collection 3.28 1
5 TB A ? HNM Coin Cabinet Budapest 3.18 2, #29
6* TB A ? CNG 2001 GP collection 3.38 -
7 TB A Dolj hoard, 19th c. Museum of History Bucharest 3.38 3, #161
8 TB A Zaklopača hoard 1928 National Museum Belgrade ? 4, Pl. VI #2
9 TB A ? eBay auction February, 2013 4 -
10 TB A ? eBay auction March, 2018 ? -
11 TB B Bobaia hoard 1962 Museum of Transylvania Cluj 3.72 5, #183
12 Tnon-A ? ? Archaeological Museum Istanbul 3.07 -
13 ? ? ? Private collection Budapest ? -
14 T? ? ? eBay auction March, 2002 ? -

  Mean weight of the imitations: 3.40 g

Further observations

Chronology. The prototype drachms minted in 60, 59, and 58 BC are often found together in hoards. The forgers should have possessed all these coins to start the imitation that could only be shortly after the launch of the most recent prototype, 58 BC (terminus post quem).

Provenance. Three pieces (No. 2, 3, 8) were found in hoards built up from Apolloniate-Dyrrhachian drachms. Zaklopača is the closest to Dyrrhachium, is in Serbia; Bobaia is in the Transylvanian, Dolj in the Wallachian region of Romania; these are rather far from each other. None of the piece in this series were found in Albanian hoards. The provenance of the other pieces are unknown like most n collections or in trade.

Metal composition of the imitations is not known but they cannot be distinguished by a simple 'look' from the authentic pieces.  The mean weight of the Pyo-Dta coins is even higher than that of the authentic prototypes. This is not an unusual phenomenon among imitations. Literacy was rare those days to discover the spelling errors, both in the workshop and in the general public.

Minting technique. Another interesting feature is the multiple appearance of the same reverse die in almost perfect (unworn) condition coupled with several different, often blunt obverses. Usually, the number of the reverse dies exceed the number of the obverse dies. The hand-held upper (punch) die wears off earlier therefore it was used to produce the reverse of the coin with a more simple device and shallow relief to be cut easier for frequent replacing. The more elaborate and precious obverse die was fixed in the anvil and lasted longer. Maybe this workshop used it the other way round: the reverse die was fixed and lasted longer but the obverse dies were the punch dies becoming blunt quicker and had to be replaced more frequently; and/or they were produced from a softer material to ease the more sophisticated carving of the cow/calf device. Does the narrow line at the ear of corn on coin No. 3 shows a die crack of obverse die TA that broke soon and was replaced by die TB? If my theory is correct, it may explain why the obverse types are not found coupled with other reverse types. However, I'll keep an eye on surfacing other obverse types, which may belong to this die-linked chain of hybrid imitations.


The growing number of recorded coins in this die-linked hybrid imitation series and the occurrence of such pieces in three different hoards far from each other suggest a well equipped and active mint, which produced deceiving imitations. They did not come from the Dyrrhachian mint but from close enough to be mixed with the originals en route towards their concealment in different North-East Balkan territories. I'd be grateful to calling my attention at other pieces, which may belong to this series.


  1. Petrányi G. Dyrrhachiumi borját szoptató tehén típusú drachma egykorú hibrid utánzatának több példánya. Numizmatikai Közlöny 92-93, 109-111, 1993-4.
  2. Gohl Ö. Adalékok Illyria érmészetéhez. Numizmatikai Közlöny 21, 23-6, 1922.
  3. Conovici N. Date noi despre un tezaur de monede antice descoperit in judetul Dolj. Thraco-Dacica 6, 59-74, 1985.
  4. Petrović J. Grcko blago iz sela Zaklopače kraj Beograda. Starinar 7, 40-65, 1932.
  5. Chirila E, Iaroslavschi E. Tezaurul monetar de la Bobaia, sec. II-I. i.e.n. Acta Musei Napocensis 24-5, 69-96, 1987-8.

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