Author Topic: Coins of Illyria and Greek colonies on the east Adriatic shore  (Read 3614 times)

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Offline natko

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Coins of Illyria and Greek colonies on the east Adriatic shore
« on: February 09, 2014, 10:48:46 AM »
I'll give a short overview on these issues with photos from recent auctions and elsewhere.

Adriatic Herakleia
This is one of the oldest colonies in the area, founded before the 4th century BC. Its exact location in middle Dalmatia is still unknown, but most probably on Hvar island. There were about 30 places named Herakleia in the ancient world but only three coin types are attributed to the Adriatic one.

This is the heaviest at 17 g – a liter copper coin (Photo from, offered by LHS Numismatik AG)

Today known as the town of Vis on the island of the same name, this Greek colony was founded by Dionysius the Elder in about 390 BC. There were several issues of coins. The most common – though still hard to find – have a goat or cantharus, similar to many Greek colonies, along with a distinguishing pair of letters, I - Σ.

(Photo from, offered by Münzen & Medaillen GmbH)

Pharos was founded by the people of Issa soon after they settled on Vis, but it is known that even before this, the Illyrian town of Far was located at the same place (today Stari Grad on the island of Hvar). Like Herakleia mentioned above, Pharos is a historically very interesting island, but its coinage is also very scarce. Pieces are generally similar to those of Issa (but with letters Φ - A), but with the interesting addition of two silver types. Only a handful of examples of each are known - one of them is shown here, reads ΦAPI.

(Photo from, offered by LHS Numismatik AG)

Korkyra Melania
Legend has it that Korkyra Melania was founded by Aeneas himself on Korčula island. In fact, it was founded by the people of Issa, along with other colonies in the area. It is almost certain that this colony minted its own money, but the large hoards found there belong to one of the biggest mints of the Greek world, Korkyra (today Corfu). The settlement's name obviously does not help with attribution and modern research tends only to cast doubt on coins previously attributed to this island. There is only one coin type now believed to have been struck in Korkyra Melania; one of the three or four examples known is exhibited at the Archaeological museum of Split.

Of course, we should not forget the Illyrian kingdom, whose issues were influenced by Greek coinage. From the middle of the 5th century BC onwards, several cities had the right to issue their own coinage in their capacity of Illyrian tribal capitals.

Apollonia (Illyrian)
Probably the oldest mint, as the town near today's Fier in Albania was founded in 588 BC by settlers from island of Corfu. Many of the coin designs are taken from their home island, but later, typical Illyrian silver staters were issued, like this one:

(Photo from, offered by The Bru Sale)

Dyrrhachium, modern Durrës, was the largest mint. Its later emissions are similar to those of Apollonia but with its own mint name; these silver coins are common today although copper issues are rare.

(Photo from, offered by Hess-Divo AG)

Although Damastion has a rich numismatic heritage, the location of the mint, which started working in the 4th century BC, is still unknown. It was probably located somewhere in Kosovo, southern Serbia or northern Macedonia, where bigger hoards have been found. The most common silver coins are tetradrachmes with a trident and mint name.

(Photo from, offered by A. Tkalec AG)

Today Lezhë, Lissos was an important town of the period and minted coins in three phases. The first was under Macedonian rule at the turn of the 3rd to 2nd century BC; the second shortly thereafter, under King Gentius; and the third at the end of the 2nd century BC under Roman rule. The coins are extremely rare, which is evidence that the town did not make great use of its coinage rights, perhaps using them only for "a show". Each period's coins had distinct obverse designs, but all have similar reverses, always with the inscription ΛIΣΣITAN.

Today Skhodër, the capital of Illyria under Gentius also used its right to mint its own money. Under the Macedonian King Philip V, the town pioneered the type with a head (bearded Zeus) on the obverse and an Illyrian galley on the reverse, along with name of the town. After Gentius conquered the town, another type was minted and later came a third type in the name of Labeates, an Illyrian tribe settled around the Lake of Shkodër. The first discovery of Skodra coinage occurred in 1971, when four unknown pieces were found near Kukes with the inscription ΛABIATAN.

(Photo borrowed from

Rhizon is an ancient town in Kotor Bay, near today's Risan in Montenegro, where autonomous coins were also minted during at least three periods. Philip V of Macedonia minted some coins there during his preparations for war against the Romans. This coin is pictured below, although it is stubbornly attributed to Ballaios in recent auctions, I guess because of letters B and A or Λ, but other letters occur, such as E and P. Similar coins were minted between 186 and 168 BC, attributed to king Gentius, about whom I will write later. After 168 BC there was a small issue of two types of bronze coins. It goes without saying that these coppers are extremely rare so I cannot find a picture.

(Photo borrowed from CNG Coins)

The Daorsi were another Illyrian tribe that settled in the big town of Daorson near today's Stolac in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Today there are five known examples of their coins, two of which are shown on these Bosnian stamps from 2012. The coins are of the same style as those of Labeates and Lissos, with inscription ΔΑΟΡΣΩΝ.

(Photo borrowed from

King Gentius
Ruling from 180-168 BC, he is known to history as a bad politician. Illyria was peaceful under Roman protection, but Gentius refused to bow down any more and instead chose an alliance with the Macedonians, destroying the big towns of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium, who opposed him. His rule ended after the Roman army captured him in Shkodër and practically abolished the Illyrian kingdom in any form. Even though he ruled for 12 years, and despite being an important ruler, his coins are rare. There are also autonomous issues I mentioned above, which probably portray his head (or are minted slightly later, copying the design). Since I have already showed some of these coins, and real pictures are not available of the type with head and galley, I will leave it at that.

King? Ballaios
I am going to end this overview with an interesting and beautiful story of how numismatics can reveal so much about history. After Gentius' huge defeat the kingdom of Illyria was split into three provinces, each of which had no or very little autonomy and was managed by an obedient Roman servant. It is thus hard to understand how an unknown ruler of Illyria could have minted the many coins we find today. Most of his coins were found in Kotor Bay (Rhizon) and on the island of Hvar, places already mentioned, but some pieces circulated much further away. The lack of other written evidence of Ballaios' existence could be put down to the fact that he really was an obedient Roman servant who needed to mint some small change for the needs of his towns in middle and southern Dalmatia. But if this is the case it is hard to explain why he calls himself king on some coins. A less popular theory is that he was an usurper of Gentius' throne, which would, I believe, have been noted somewhere in the historical record. Although still scarce, these coins are still relatively easily available, compared to coins of most of the other pieces mentioned in this article. Here's an example of head right, which is less common.

(Photo from, offered by Münzen & Medaillen GmbH)

A renowned Croatian numismatist and historian Bože Mimica has written several articles and an important research paper on this subject, available only in Croatian at the moment.

P.S. Thanks Alex (FosseWay) for the editorial.

Original thread here:,23067.0.html
« Last Edit: February 09, 2014, 12:10:57 PM by FosseWay »