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All collections » Coins » Greek-Illyrian cities » Apollonia and Dyrrhachium

Coins of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium

By Gyula Petrányi

 

Historical background

These towns, founded by Corcyra on the Illyrian coast of the Adriatic, produced similar coins throughout that justifies common handling. Their earliest coins, the silver staters copied the Corcyrean prototype both in design and weight standard. Later, for a short period Pegasus type staters were minted under Corinthian influence. The best-known, long series of cow/calf type silver drachms were produced from the end of the third century till the first half of the first century BC, the picture shows one of these from Apollonia. They played an important role in the N-E Balkan area during the Roman escalation. After the Roman take-over Apollonia minted silver pieces in the weight of the Roman denarii with Apollo and three dancing nymphs and later some Roman provincial bronze issues but the mint of Dyrrhachium was closed.

Dyrrhachium (Dyrrachion) was founded by Corcyra in 627 BC as Epidamnos. This name, however, is irrelevant in numismatic context since it was never used on coins. The town survived the ages, was known as Durazzo under Venetian rule and now as Durrës is the main sea port of Albania. Apollonia, founded in 588 BC was a smaller place further up in land. Pilgrims from all regions of Hellas came here to worship Apollo in the Nymphaeum, the famous sanctuary. The town didn't survive the downfall of polytheism. Apollonia and Dyrrhachium came under Roman protectorate in 229 BC and were incorporated in the Roman Empire as part of Illyria provincia during the first c BC. The detailed history of the region, especially the exact dates of the events are still debated by historians.

 

Symbolism on the coins

The majority of the silver coins of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium have a cow and suckling calf on the obverse and a double stellate pattern on the reverse taken from Corcyrean prototypes. The cow/calf fertility symbol is of Euboean origin. The symmetrical geometrical pattern is most probably a schematic representation of the two stars of the Dioscuri (see my article in The Celator). Other explanations include backgammon (for the resemblance of the pattern to the board of the popular game "tavli"); doors, etc. will probably be discussed here some time. On some Apolloniate issues we can see the fire of the Nymphaeum, a shepherd's crook, or dancing nymphs, and/or Apollo himself as local attributes. The club of Hercules is characteristic for (some) Dyrrhachian issues pointing at the patron of the town.

 

The earliest coins: staters

stater

The earliest coins of both cities were the staters, similar to their Corcyrean prototypes, in classical style and high relief on the obverse. This stater is from Dyrrhachium. Obv. Cow to R, monogram above. Rev. D-Y-R retrograde; club. BMC 28. 10.93 g, vertical diameter of the obverse 20.4 mm. Apolloniate staters have a similar design but the legend is different, A-P, and there is no club on their reverse.

 

The drachm series

There are some 600 different emissions in this series. Despite their similarity they are not the same. To discover some of the differences the reverse must be placed with the ethnic attribute APOL or DYR up so the name starts in the segment on the right. If you have such coins or pictures, place them before you the same way (many catalogues or online illustrations don't view the reverse in this manner). The most important variants of features can be seen on the following picture:

drachm

 

Obverse

 

Reverse

Both sides


Try to discover characteristic details on the following pieces:

Apol-R3Dyr-4Apol-Lc1

The coins on the left and right are from Apollonia, the middle one is from Dyrrhachium; from chronological classes Apol-R3, Dyr-4, and Apol-Lc1 (see below). We can see cow to right and left; 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 different possible positions of the central device; and border of dots instead of the usual line border on the reverse.

 

Chronological classes

The following two tables contain my most recent relative chronological classification of the drachms. This is based on others' earlier attempts (see Ceka, Conovici, and M. Torbágyi in Further reading ) refined by my original observations: the chronological significance of the style of the rays in the stellate pattern and the two types of alpha in the late Apolloniate drachms. The comparison of hoard contents, follow-up of repeat name occurrences, style patterns, and weight statistics enabled me to establish the most probable sequence of a few dozens of the latest emissions from both towns.
Sample pictures are included in the tables for easier perception of the differences, some of these can only be studied on enlarged coin photos [forthcoming]. In Dyrrhachium, the classification is simple, is based on the features visible on the obverse. The last two classes, Dyr-4 and Dyr-5 do not differ much in style, the difference is that the abundance of parallel emissions (many obverse names) of the same eponymous magistrate in Dyr-4 is diminished to a maximum of two in Dyr-5. All emissions of the last classes will be listed here soon. The classification is more complicated in Apollonia, based on discriminative features found both on the obverse and the reverse.

Chronological classes: Dyrrhachium

Abstract style
Abstract style

 

Classic style
Classic style

 

Full obverse name. No symbols
Full obverse name. No symbols

 

Symbol in the exergue
Symbol in the exergue

 

Multiple symbols. Many obverses with the same reverse
Multiple symbols. Many obverses with the same reverse

 

Only one or two obverses with the same reverse
Only one or two obverses with the same reverse

 

Chronological classes: Apollonia

Full obverse name. No symbols
Full obverse name. No symbols

 

Symbols or monograms appear
Symbols or monograms appear

 

Straight sides of square
Straight sides of square

 

Symbols on the obverse. V-type alpha
Symbols on the obverse. V-type alpha

 

Drumstick-shape rays
Drumstick-shape rays

 

Petal-shape rays

 

The early classes of drachms of the towns (Dyr-1, 2, 3 and Apol-R1, 2, 3) can only be differentiated by the ethnic on the reverse for they are very similar in style and are with the cow standing to right (R). On the earliest coins the name on the obverse is abbreviated or monogrammatic, there are no borders (Dyr-1, Apol-R1). Later the name is spelt out in full (Dyr-2, Apol-R2); and soon small symbols or monograms appear on the obverse (Dyr-3, Apol-R3). Borders may also appear. At a certain point Apollonia changed this common type by turning the cow to left (L).
There are four emissions among these on which the sides of the square on the reverse are straight (s). These are not represented in the usual late Apolloniate hoards therefore it is very likely that they were produced in a close sequence at the beginning of this new era therefore their grouping as Apol-Ls seem to be justified.
All the other Apolloniate drachms with cow to left have concave sides of the stellate pattern on the reverse (Apol-Lc). Concave sided squares can also be observed on few Dyrrhachian emissions but this is the exception. The majority of coins found in the N-E Balkan area belong to the later phase of drachm production (Dyr-4 and 5, Apol-Lc) when the coins can be differentiated by a glimpse: cow to left = Apollonia, cow to right = Dyrrhachium.
Interesting features of the late Apolloniate drachms are the use of two different forms of alpha and of the rays in the stellate pattern which form clearly separable chronological subclasses. Many coins from the last periods are flatstruck or grossly off-centre for the increased and hasty production, only parts of the legends are readable. Such coins could only be identified from a proper catalogue but so far no one has been published. If time allows, more and more information will be added to this page on the different coin emissions and their characteristics.

 

A unique reverse: fire and pedum

A unique reverse: fire and pedum

The reverse of the Aibatios/Chairenos issue from Apollonia (Ceka 8, W 61, BMC 41, SNG Tb 1318, SNG Cop 398) is different from all the other drachms: instead of the double stellate pattern it shows the fire of the Nymphaeum with a shepherd's crook below. The significance of this decline from the main type is unknown. This is not the last issue in the drachm series as it was hypothesised earlier, it belongs to Class Apol-Lc1: cow to left, symbols, V-type alpha. The piece shown is 3.22 g, vertical diameter of the obverse 16.7 mm.

 

Half drachms

Half drachms were also issued from time to time. They are smaller than the drachms. Half drachm - half cow: the obverse device is the forepart of a cow. The name above the cow is abbreviated in many cases even in the later periods when the drachms display the name in full. The reverse is similar to the drachms.

 

Bronze issues

Bronze issues

Both Apollonia and Dyrrhachium produced bronze coins in various sizes and designs. Bronze coins were not used outside the original economic radius of the city states, they are found only in Albanian hoards. This is a hemiobol from Apollonia, probably second half 2nd c. B.C. Obv.: Head of Apollo facing to r. Monogram TF behind nape. Rev.: Obelisk in laurel wreath. APOLLONIATAN divided in four syllables. 3.90 g, vertical diameter of the obverse 17.8 mm. BMC 49. Most bronze coins are corroded; the face is not very clear on this piece. The interesting bit here is the monogram that appears to be in Latin characters (TF).

 

The Apollo denars from Apollonia

The Apollo denars from Apollonia

After the end of the drachm production and now clearly under Roman influence, Apollonia produced silver coins in the weight of the Roman republican denarius (around 4 g) with head of Apollo on the obverse and three nymphs dancing around the fire of the Nymphaeum on the reverse. There are magistrates' names on both sides, one in the genitive case on the obverse and one or two on the reverse, in the nominative case (unlike on the drachms). Some forty different denars have been registered representing nearly thirty years of production. Half and quarter units are also known. A systematic study of these coins is still pending. This Apollo denar is Bionos / Zoilos, 3.97 g, 18.8 mm. SNG Tb 1322.

 

Research methods

There are no contemporary records or any other historical or archaeological evidence for the exact chronology of the Illyrian coinages. Vast majority of the magistrates' names on the drachms is known only from the coins. The chronological classification of these coins and their relative sequence have been based on the following approaches: