BMCR 2023.06.05

The “Koina” of southern Greece: historical and numismatic studies in ancient Greek federalism

, The "Koina" of southern Greece: historical and numismatic studies in ancient Greek federalism. Numismatica antiqua, 12. Bordeaux: Éditions Ausonius, 2021. Pp. 292. ISBN 9782356133960

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review]


The title captures the focus of the volume, with one contribution on Boiotia, and the rest dealing with the Peloponnese and Aitolia. The inclusion of Aitolia means the concept of ‘southern Greece’ is taken to its most flexible extent. For those looking for excellent analyses of elements of the Arkadian, Aitolian or Achaian koinon, there is much to be found in this volume.

Müller tackles the question of uses of local and federal citizenship. Is it possible to see local and federal citizenship in our sources or are these vestiges of modern anachronistic imagination? She turns to three Boiotian cases. The first is the dedication of Epiddalos to Apollo at Delphi. In this inscription, he calls himself ‘a Boiotian from Orchomenos’, whereas the two artists of sculpture Hypatodoros and Aristogeiton, identify themselves as ‘Thebans’.[1] Epiddalos’ self-identification is rather striking considering the Thebans’ leading role in forging the Boiotian identity and their long-standing difficulties with the Orchomenians.[2] Her reconstruction of the Boiotian koinon’s fifth-century existence invites some difficulties—whether Larson’s mid-fifth century inception ex novo should be maintained is unsure[3]—but what is so striking about this inscription is that it captures the polyphonic nature of federal and civic identities in Boiotia, even at this early stage. Her reasons for dating the inscription later than the normal date given (475-50) is a bit circular and convenient, despite the well-founded reason to assert palaeographical grounds cannot be conclusive.[4]

What the inscription does prove, however, is Müller’s point that citizens of a koinon, like the Boiotians, could opt for different identifications, depending on the venue where these were expressed. This is exemplified by the juxtaposition of Epiddalos’ self-identification and that of the sculptors: whereas Epiddalos opts for a combination of local and regional, the sculptors stress their origins as being a civic one. Müller also includes evidence from athletics and proxenia to detail how outsiders often refer to Boiotians as ‘Boiotian’, but that their emic outlook differs starkly. This indicates issues of agency, i.e. who inscribed or commissioned a piece and where it was dedicated or shown. There is certainly merit to it that the epichoric perspective mattered more strongly in a local context than it did on a grander stage. Nevertheless, the dedication described above ironically contradicts and confirms it as Epiddalos opted for the regional denomination as well, arguably having commissioned the statue himself. At the same time, he stresses his local origins (‘from Orchomenos’) so he clearly aimed at different audiences with his offering. Müller thus offers an insightful expose into the polyphonic denominations available to members of a koinon in identifying themselves, in contrast to the more regional homogenisation employed by outsiders.

The next piece by Ganter investigates the unprovenanced pinax from Arcadia recently published by Carbon and Clackson, and Heinrichs.[5]  This inscription is intriguing for the insights it offers into Arkadian festival organisation and possibly the seeds of the later koinon. That can be gathered from Ganter’s insightful work into the connection between the fifth-century ARKADION coinage—whose minters are unknown—and the contents of the pinax. She combines two vectors of analysis, ritual and economic, to demonstrate how the coins could have been used during the celebrations detailed in the inscription and how that could have stimulated a cohesive feeling of togetherness in the region.

However, the issue remains that this pinax came on the market under dubious circumstances. It first appeared around 2010 with no evidence of documentation before that date or evidence of its legal export from its country of origin. As Carbon writes: “The tablet appeared on the antiquities market in 2010, no doubt after being looted and illegally exported from Greece. The tablet is currently in a private collection.” Ganter notes the inscription was not supposed to be published in the first place, but only checked for authenticity by scholars for the prospective buyer. That already is a red flag to begin with and should invite the question whether scholars should investigate and use such material in the first place, despite the potential of the source in question.[6] Ganter admits questions were posed to her at the conference of a similar nature. The problem is that she only briefly mentions the dubious circumstances of the pinax’s emergence, but does not really engage with the difficulties. She notes it goes against epigraphic tradition to forbid other scholars access to the text and describes her initial worries about the possibility it is a forgery. But a real engagement with the ethical question of reproducing or using this material is nowhere found, unfortunately.

The paper by Grandjean and Blut-Lemarquand comparing Achaian coinage is a wonderful exposition of the ways in which numismatics can illuminate hitherto less travelled paths in the study of koina. They analysed the rate of silver used in coins emanating from different minting centres, in this case Megara and the main civic centres in the Achaian League such as Megalopolis and Argos. What they established in their elemental analysis is remarkable: Megara, as a peripheral member polis, differed somewhat in its standards of minting in terms of valuable material from other minting centres. Emerging from the analysis is that as long as the minting centres adhered to the same choice of denomination of federal coinage, there was a flexibility and autonomy for mints. In terms of the technical aspects, the Megarian mint re-used local older coins, rather than use ‘new’ silver. It reveals the ‘limitations’ of the Achaian League in determining standards and supply but also demonstrates how the federal, centralised authority allowed for local autonomy as long as the same message of adherence to the Achaians was promulgated through the coinage.

This juxtaposition between local authority and autonomy vis-à-vis the central government proves to be a fil rouge throughout the volume. Jim Roy, for instance, demonstrates how minting habits in Elis as compared to Arkadia had less to with antagonism towards the Achaian koinon, and more to do with the local traditions that were maintained even when under the koinon’s fold. Rather, the Arkadian tradition embraced variety, competition and plurality of mints, with many poleis issuing coins, whereas in Elis, the dominance of the city of Elis was reflected in its almost monopolistic minting habit. Similar insights can be gathered from the study by Salzmann, Kemmers and Klein on Aitolian and Peloponnesian federal coinage. Preliminary results indicate that 1/3 of the coins tested did not reach a level of 90% silver purity. The lack of such standards—as in similar amounts of silver in all the coinage—indicates a fairly loose control over the process and limited centralisation. The silver in late Hellenistic coinage seem to have travelled from further afield. Arguably, this counters the possibility of possible restamping of coins and suggests a wider trade network at the disposal of the mints, perhaps through intermediary efforts by the koinon.

The strength and persistence of the epichoric outlook under the wings of a common polity are also explored by Eliza Gettel. She uses an inscription of Saon of Megalopolis to demonstrate how a plurality of identities remained afloat in the Roman Peloponnese of the second century CE. This inscription comes from the sanctuary of Despoina in Lykosoura, Arcadia.[7] This sanctuary enjoyed widespread acclaim across Arcadia through the second century, as can be gathered from Pausanias’ visit.[8] Saon is honoured with a statue after his death—presumably he was still young, as his parents are mentioned as being alive—on account of his great lineage in the local community and as a descendant of the hierophants of Lykosoura. More importantly, the Achaian League wants to honour him because of the shining example he left to all the Hellenes. This honorific inscription therefore captures the intersection of three vectors: that of the local, the ‘federal’ and the ‘Panhellenic’. The emphasis on his long lineage and services to his homeland stress the epichoric outlook, with the roots of his Arcadian identity still vivid despite their long-standing integration in the Achaian League. The involvement of the Achaian League suggests that Saon was equally involved in federal affairs and thus honoured as such. Finally, it is his ‘Panhellenic’ acclaim that almost feels ‘Roman’, considering the time in which the dedication was set up. In addition, he was to be honoured through statues at all the Panhellenic sanctuaries like Olympia and Delphi. Saon’s honours therefore beautifully capture the plurality of identities alive and well in the Roman Peloponnese. Gettel’s exploration shows how the koinon was not an empty shell of itself, devoid of political purpose other than honouring Romans and supporting the imperial cult. In fact, it remained a vividly important aspect for locals at the time, as expressed in Saon’s honorific inscription.

In sum, this is a rewarding volume with certain contributions standing out. Equally valuable are the methodological excurses in the elemental analyses. The title ‘Koina of Southern Greece’ is somewhat deceiving as certain interesting case studies—such as Boiotia, or the later Euboian koinon or the Lokrians—are hardly treated. Undoubtedly, this stems from the KOINON project upon which this volume is based, which focussed on Aitolian and Peloponnesian coinage. Such a broader exploration could have captured the extensive innovative character of the koinon, which was truly idiosyncratic in the way it combined local needs and characteristics with different political solutions, such as the lack of a ‘federal’ sanctuary in Akarnarnia until the third century BCE.[9] But these remarks should not detract from a successful volume that demonstrates the inherent tension between local and regional in Greek koina, and both strands of analyses are needed to provide a full scope of federalism in antiquity. Numismatics can still reveal a lot about the functioning of these political entities, as this volume so vividly illustrates.


Authors and Titles

Catherine Grandjean, Introduction


Part 1: Koinon and Polis

Christel Müller, What’s in a (Federal) name? The denominations of membership in the Boiotian Confederacy during the Classical and Hellenistic periods

Angela Ganter Money, Cults and Arms: Questioning Regional Cooperation in Early Arcadia

Athanase D. Rizakis, Joining or Abandoning the Achaian League

Catherine Grandjean and Maryse Blet Lemarquand, The Hellenistic Achaian koinon and its Coinage

Amélie Perrier, Embodying the Aitolian koinon: the personification of Αἰτωλία

Eliza Gettel, Saon and the koinon of the Achaians in Roman Arcadia


Part 2: Hellenistic Koina and Kingdoms

Kostas Buraselis, Symbiosis of koinon and King. Remarks on the Interconnections between Greek koina and Hellenistic Monarchs

Pierre Bourrieau, Funding the “Macedonian Peloponnese” under Antigonus Doson and Philip V: a Regional Study Case

Clément Pinault, King Perseus and koina: Diplomatic stakes in Greece from 179 to 168 BC


Part 3: The Aitolian Coinage

Eleni Papaefthymiou, The Aitolian Tetradrachms Reconsidered and some Further Remarks on the Elemental Analysis of the Aitolian Silver Coinage

Dimitri G. Gerothanasis, Aitolian Spears in the Olympia IGCH 270 Hoard

Eleni Papaefthymiou, The Aitolian koinon: Coinage and History in the Light of the Maryse Blet-Lemarquand Results of the Elemental Analyses of 26 Silver Coins


Part 4: Peloponnesian Coinages

James Roy, Arcadia and Eleia as Contrasting examples of Numismatic habit

Franck Wojan, The Famous ‘Final Group’ of the Silver Coinage of the Achaian League. The Eleian Case

Aliki Moustaka, Excavation coins of a Pan-Hellenic Sanctuary: the Case of Olympia

Eva Apostolou, A Peloponnesian Triobol Hoard from the area (?) of Patras: a Recent Acquisition of the Numismatic Museum

David Weidgenannt, Xρῆσθαι τοῖς αὐτοῖς νομίσμασι? Achaian League Type and Civic Issues in Hoards from the Peloponnese (iind and ist century BC)


Part 5: Elemental Analyses

Éveline Salzmann, Fleur Kemmers, and Sabine Klein, High Precision Analysis of the Silver Metal in Coinage from the Aitolian and Peloponnesian koina: First Preliminary Results

Maryse Blet-Lemarquand LA-ICP-MS Analysis of Silver Coins for the KOINON Project



[1] FD III, 1. 574.

[2] E.g. Giroux, C. 2020. “Mythologizing Conflict: Memory and the Minyae” in F. Marchand and H. Beck (eds.) The Dancing Floor of Ares. Local Conflict and Regional Violence in Central Greece. AHB Supplements 1: 2-20.

[3] Larson, S. L. 2007. Tales of Epic Ancestry: Boiotian Collective Identity in the Late Archaic and Early Classical Periods. Stuttgart. But see Aravantinos, V. 2014. ‘The Inscriptions from the Sanctuary of Herakles at Thebes: An Overview’ in N. Papazarkadas (ed.) The Epigraphy and History of Boeotia: New Finds, New Prospects. Brill studies in Greek and Roman epigraphy, 4. Leiden: 149-210.

[4] Müller argues that Epiddalos couldn’t have named himself a Boiotian prior to the 450s, because there was no koinon. Yet the early existence of the koinon might now be accepted (see note above), whereas there are early attestations of Boiotian identity: Beck, H. 2014. ‘Ethnic Identity and Integration in Boeotia: The Evidence of the Inscriptions (6th and 5th centuries BC)’ in N. Papazarkadas (ed.) The Epigraphy and History of Boeotia: New Finds, New Prospects. Brill studies in Greek and Roman epigraphy, 4. Leiden: 19-44.

[5] See Carbon, J.-M., “CGRN 223: Regulation concerning festivals from Arkadia”, in Collection of Greek Ritual Norms (CGRN), Carbon, J-M., and Clackson, J. 2016. ‘Arms and the Boy: On the New Festival Calendar from Arkadia’, Kernos 29: 119-58,; J. Heinrichs, “Military Integration in Late Archaic Arkadia: New Evidence from a Bronze Pinax (ca. 500) of the Lykaion”, in W. Heckel et al. (eds.), The Many Faces of War in the Ancient World, Cambridge 2015: 1-89.

[6] See Kersel, M., “To Publish or Not to Publish? This is No Longer the Question,” BMCR 2023.02.05.

[7] IG V.2 517 = SEG 11.1159.

[8] Paus. 8.37-8.

[9] K. Freitag. 2013. ‘Die Akarnanen: ein Ethnos ohne religiöses Zentrum und gemeinsame Feste?’ In: M. Haake, P. Funke (Ed.), Greek Federal States and their Sanctuaries. Identity and Integration. Stuttgart: 65-84.