BMCR 2021.08.03

Trésors de monnaies antiques trouvés en Albanie (Ve-Ier siècle av. J.-C.)

, Trésors de monnaies antiques trouvés en Albanie (Ve-Ier siècle av. J.-C.). Recherches archéologiques franco-albanaises, 2. Athènes: Ecole française d'Athènes, 2019. Pp. 417; 131 p. of plates. ISBN 9782869583153. €120,00.

Scholarship on coin hoards from the pre-Roman world has developed impressively in the last few decades. Coin Hoards 9 (2002) with its strong focus on 4th-century Asia Minor and Coin Hoards 10 (2010) with its heavy Seleucid content marked the path towards a more regional approach to their study. With F. Duyrat’s Wealth and Warfare (2016) we now have a full-blown demonstration of what can be done with a longue-durée regional approach, focussed on ancient Syria; in the recent Egyptian Hoards I (2017) we have another regional compilation, this time with a focus on the coinage of an empire, and another Habilitation de Recherche on the Duyrat model forthcoming from T. Faucher; the next volume of Coin Hoards, edited by M. Abramzon and V. Kuznetsov will be an entirely regional corpus devoted to the Cimmerian Bosporus. And before us in the volume under review we have not just a collection of the hoards from the modern nation of Albania, but also a discussion of their significance by the foremost numismatist of the region, Shpresa Gjongecaj-Vangjeli.

The volume begins, in true Coin Hoards fashion, with an inventory of all known hoards from Albania deposited from the 5th–1st centuries BC. 43 are known in total, of which 28 are then republished in part one of the book. The inventory is for the most part keyed into the Inventory of Greek Coin Hoards (IGCH) and to Coin Hoards (CH),[1] while nine hoards are added that had been overlooked in those volumes or published since the last of them:

No. 2. Dürres, 2006
A chance discovery during construction work, containing 135 quarter-staters of Dyrrhachion and two 1/5 tetradrachms of Philip II of Macedon. The existence of this hoard and its significance had already in fact been taken into account by Albana Meta[2] in her recent study of the mint of Dyrrachion (p.174). Unfortunately, no use has been made of Meta’s work in the publication of the hoard. Gjongecaj-Vangjeli applies her own taxonomy of the issues based on disposition of the legend (regarded as a marker of ‘emission’), which simply obfuscates the structure established by Meta on the basis of die-study.[3] Indeed, no mention whatsoever is made of Meta’s study and its conclusions. Sadly, this failure to acknowledge the younger scholar’s work is not confined to this single hoard.

No. 5. Phoinike, 2008
26 silver coins found by chance 300m from the ancient theatre at Phoinike. 24 of these are 4th-century Pegasi of Corinth, Leucas, Anactorion, Thyrrheion, Argos Amphilochikon and Ambracia. A firm terminus post quem for the hoard is provided by the other two coins, tetradrachms in the name of Alexander the Great, struck, not as suggested by Gjongecaj-Vangjeli in 280–270 BC, but rather c. 323–317 BC and 315–300 BC on Price’s chronology.[4] Gjongecaj-Vangjeli’s suggestion that the hoard is connected with Pyrrhus’ rule in the 270s cannot be wholly ruled out, but a date of deposit a generation earlier is also possible (sadly the coins are not illustrated, but the weight of the Alexanders suggests that they are fresh).

No. 10. Koplik, 1967
The circumstances of discovery of this hoard are unknown, and the date at which it entered the Tirana coin cabinet suggests, as Gjongecaj-Vangjeli notes, that this may be part of the Jubica 1965 hoard (no. 9), which it certainly resembles. The ‘Koplik’ group contains 4 coins of Dyrrachion, to which seemingly arbitrary emission numbers are assigned,[5] and 12 of Apollonia.

No. 15. Antigonea 1975, and no. 16. Dermish, 1954
This fascinating hoard of 218 coins, found by accident near ancient Antigoneia in Epirus, consists predominantly of late 4th-century drachms of Corinth, along with a small number of coins of Sicyon (1, late 4th–early 3rd c.), Chalcis (4, early 3rd c.), Ambrakia (1, 3rd c.) and Histaea (4, 3rd c.). There was also apparently one bronze of the Epirote League (not illustrated), which may be intrusive. Gjongecaj-Vangjeli combines discussion of this hoard with the superficially similar Dërmish 1954 hoard which contains 63 late 4th-century drachms of Corinth and 9 hemidrachms of Histiaea. For the Antigoneia hoard, Gjongecaj-Vangjeli relies on the two drachms of Ambrakia and the bronze of the Epirotes, to both of which she assigns ranges of 234–168 BC, and assumes the latest date in those ranges as the date of burial. This seems highly unlikely. The dates of all three coins seem quite unclear. The Ambrakiot silver looks comparatively fresh (as does much of the Corinthian). The most worn coins are that of Sicyon and those of Chalcis, the latter of which were struck in the first quarter of the 3rd century. This, combined with the absence of any Macedonian coinage, may rather suggest a date in the 230s or early 220s for this hoard, before the beginning of serious Macedonian incursion into this region under Philip V. Conceivably the turmoil of the Illyrian raids or the First Illyrian War provided the backdrop to its deposit. Although apparently similar, the Corinthian coins of the Dermish hoard look somewhat more worn, as do the Histiaean pieces, and it may be that this group was deposited slightly later. However, the oddity may rather be that the coins of the Antigoneia hoard are not more worn, and both hoards may have been occasioned by events around the Illyrian Wars.

No. 19. Shkodra, 1997
This hoard is not new, having been published by Picard and Gjongecaj-Vangjeli in 2000, but has eluded the Coin Hoards inventories. It consists of 157 drachms of Apollonia and 8 of Dyrrachion, and is reprinted without incorporation of Meta’s classification (the three issues are last in her sequence: III.v.84–6).

No. 21. Dimal, 1973 and No. 22. Byllis, 1990
Again, these hoards have been published in the past, but have not made it into the Coin Hoards volumes. Both are important for our understanding to the activity of the mint of Apollonia in the Triumviral period and potentially afterwards. The first (first published by B. Dautaj in Albanian in 1984) presents a full picture of the silver and bronze coinage of the city after its conversion to the use of Roman standards, comprising silver denarii and quinarii and bronze tresses, dupondii, asses and semisses. The chronology of this shift to the Roman system has been much debated (see Roman Provincial Coinage I, pp. 288–9 for a summary). The Byllis hoard, which contains denarii of both Apollonia and Rome, sets this now on a firmer footing. The latest Roman coin is a fresh legionary denarius of Mark Antony, providing a terminus post quem for the deposit of the hoard in the late 30s BC. Apollonia’s issues must also belong to the 30s.

No. 26. Apollonia, 1975
For completeness one should note also the Apollonia 1975 hoard, essentially a denarius hoard, originally published by Gjongecaj-Vangjeli in 1981, and now included in Coin Hoards of the Roman Republic as This contained 1874 denarii to 45 BC (RRC 474) and a single hemidrachm of Dyrrachion.

For the rest, the hoards will be familiar to consumers of the standard reference works, though the republication provides the signal benefit (where necessary) of translating all articles from their original Albanian into French. Not all have survived unscathed. The Hoxhara 1979 hoard (No. 18, 512 denarii to 112/1 BC), for example, exhibits numerous unexplained discrepancies in numbers of coins per magistrate between the original (Iliria [1990]) and translated version. Nor have opportunities been taken to bring the original catalogues up to date. The problems with Apollonia noted above aside, this is a particular problem for the important Hija e Korbit hoard (No. 8), where identifications of the 474 coins in the name of Alexander the Great are provided by reference to a Turkish hoard, rather than to the standard reference work of Martin Price. The substantial bibliography on this hoard’s chronology has also not been updated: a date in the 220s now seems more likely than Boehringer’s 231 BC.[6]

In part 2 of the book, Gjongecaj-Vangjeli provides her analysis of ‘l’activité monétaire en Albanie’ from the 5th to 1stcenturies BC. Five zones of circulation are identified (with a useful map on p. 316): first, a northern one encircling Lissus and the Mat valley, characterized by coins of Genthius and Ballaios and, in the 2nd century, the near ubiquitous issues of Apollonia and Dyrrachion. The second is centred on Dyrrachion where, unsurprisingly, the coinage of that city dominates. The same is true of region three, centred on Apollonia, where the coins of that city dominate, with a remarkably high concentration of bronze hoards. The fourth and southernmost region, Chaonia on the border with Epirus, sees the circulation of Epirote issues, but also a concentration of the coinage of Corinth and its colonies. Finally, a fifth, inland region to the south of the line of the later Via Egnatia displays demonstrable monetary connectivity through the two startlingly international hoards recovered at Hija e Korbit (No. 8) and Hollm (No. 1: 387 Aeginetan Turtles and Tortoises and one coin of Thera).

Three clear chronological horizons also emerge: one around the period of Polybius’ two Illyrian Wars (230s-220s), a second in the context of the Third Illyrian War (c. 168), and the third in the period of the Roman Civil Wars of the 40s and 30s BC.

Gjongecaj-Vangjeli concludes, perhaps oddly given the title of the book, with an overview of coin production in the region. This is, of course, important background to the study of the hoards. However, once more, we find an unfortunate elision of Meta’s major study of one of the two main mints in the region, Dyrrachion. Without reference to this work (ironically, the first volume in the series that contains the book under review), Gjongecaj-Vangjeli provides her own account of the coinage of Dyrrachion and related issues of Monounios. Of greater interest is her account of the other main production centre, Apollonia. This draws on important earlier work, and it is useful to have it brought together in one place.

In her conclusions, Gjongecaj-Vangjeli limits herself still further, to discussion of the supposed monetary accord between the cities of Apollonia and Dyrrachion, following past scholarship in seeing one in the silver coinage but not in the bronze. No account is taken of the prudent arguments of Meta (op. cit. pp. 191–4) cautioning against such a supposition. In the end, we have much new material at our disposal, for which we should be grateful, but considerable scope for new interpretation remains.


[1] However, the following identifications are omitted: Butrint 1927 = IGCH 207; Kreshpan 1982 = CH 9.147; Shalës 1963 = CH 10.52; Apollonia 1941 = CH 9.177; Selca 1870? = IGCH 560; Lleshan 1988 = CH 10.171; and the five hoards from Apollonia listed last (1950, 1952, 1956, 1964 and 1977) = CH 10.85-89.

[2] A. Meta, Le Monnayage en argent de Dyrrachion, 375–60, 55 av. J.-C. Recherches archéologiques franco-albanaises 1 (Athens, 2015).

[3]  Comparison suggests the following broad equivalences: G group I = M(eta) group III; G II = M II ethnic 12; G III.1–2 not known to M; G III.3 a–b (misdescribed) = M I ethnic 1; G IV.1–5 = M II ethnic 4, 9, 4 (again), 5 and 10; G V.1 = M IV. 10 (G129 seem to be struck from M R152); G IV.2 = M IV.2?; G IV.3 = M IV.5?; G VI.a–b = M IV new issues.

[4] M.J. Price, The Coinage in the Name of Alexander the Great and Philip Arrhidaeus: A British Museum Catalogue. (London/Zurich, 1991), no. 3692 (‘Babylon’) was present in the Demanhur hoard; Price no. 3176 (Salamis) is an issue of Demetrius Poliorcetes, probably of the very late 4th century.

[5] Emission 1 = Meta III.i.7; 2 = M. III.ii.15; 3 = M. III.iii.13. Pace Gjongecaj-Vangjeli (p. 116), the first of these is not the earliest issue: see Meta pp. 214–5 for discussion of the order, based on hoard evidence.

[6] See most recently K. Panagopoulou, The Early Antigonids. Coinage, Money and the Economy (New York, 2020), pp. 264–5.