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Coin Typology of

The Coin Typology of the Thraco-Macedonian Tribes

Topography and History

The Thraco-Macedonian tribes of the 5th century BC are only known from sporadic literary evidence and from their coinage. Perhaps the most tangible of them is the tribe of the Bisaltae, which could be found at the lower Strymon River, was mentioned in various myths,1 and whose territory was later annexed by the Macedonian king Alexander I.2 The Oreski3 and Derrones,4 on the other hand, are not mentioned in the literary tradition but are attested only by their coinage; the exact location of these tribes is controversial, and even a potential equation of the Derrones to the Agrianes attested by Thucydides remains highly speculative.5 Information about the Edones and their exclusively-numismatically testified king, Getas,6 is also relatively sparse; after the Cimmerian invasion, one part of this tribe seems to have emigrated to Asia Minor, while the other remained in Thrace.7 Likewise, the Ichnai8 and the Tynteni9 are only known through their coinage; the connection of the Ichnai to the homonymous city near Pella remains enigmatic.10 The Laiaioi, who settled on the upper Strymon, are mentioned in the histories of Thucydides and are also known from a few coins.11 Apparently, this tribe had been subdued by the Odrysian ruler Sitalkes.12 The Letes or Siris probably settled near the towns of the same names, testified by ancient authors.13 The tribe of the Dentheletae is attested by Theopompus and possibly under another name by Hecataeus of Miletus; however, their settlement area can only be pinpointed roughly to the upper Strymon.

  1. Delev 2014, 481. ↑

  2. Peykov 2011, 33. ↑

  3. Delev 2014, 486. ↑

  4. Delev 2014, 482f. ↑

  5. Delev 2014, 482f. ↑

  6. Delev 2014, 483. ↑

  7. Delev 2014, 483. ↑

  8. Delev 2014, 484. ↑

  9. Peykov 2011, 31. ↑

  10. Delev 2014, 484. ↑

  11. Delev 2014, 484. ↑

  12. Delev 2014, 484; Peykov 2011, 27. ↑

  13. Peykov 2011, 9. ↑

State of Research

Several relevant studies on the tribal coinage have been carried out, but these should not be regarded as complex type catalogues and do not claim to be complete. P. Delev has primarily dealt with the history and coinage of the tribes without clearly distinguishing between the individual coin types. The catalogues of A. Peykov, J. Jurukova, and S. Topalov, as well as various studies by A. Tyamalis, have also been used for our database. In principle, the question of the authenticity of the respective coins arises especially in regard to tribal coinage, as there are many counterfeits in circulation. For the first time, H. Gaebler has intensively dealt with this issue; his findings are also incorporated into our type catalogue.

Minting System and Typology

In the case of tribal coinage, the question of the monetary standard and nominal levels is particularly charged. In this respect, our type catalogue is largely based on the investigations of S. Psoma, who postulates a reduced Aegean standard, at least for the tribal coinages of the Bisaltae, Ichnai, Derrones, and Oreski; these coinages are all documented by a reasonably representative number of single coins, whose denominations can be most accurately identified according to the stater system.14 In literature, the nominal names are (erroneously) commonly referred to as multiples of the drachma.

The Coin Types of the Bisaltae

The Bisaltae minted coins in two denominations, which we refer to as tristaters and hemistaters. On the obverse of these coins is a horseman who can possibly be interpreted as Hermes, wearing the petasus and holding a double spear (sometimes forward and sometimes upright), leading a horse to the right. On the large nominal, the ethnikon is sometimes named in the obverse legend,15 but it is not indicated on any type of the small nominal. Some types have a helmet,16 a small ball,17 a shield,18 or a crane19 added to the obverse as a mintmark; others have a monogram next to the horseman or on the horse’s back.20 A regular quadratum incusum split into four parts appears on the reverse of all coin types minted by the Bisaltae. The affiliation of the so-called Mosses coins, on whose reverse a quadratum incusum with the inscription ΜΟΣΣΕΩ is depicted,21 with this tribe is considered highly controversial in scientific discourse;22 in our database we have decided against the affiliation of these coins to the Bisaltae.

The Coin Types of the Ichnai

The Ichnai tribe minted coins in four denominations. While the reverse sides of the coins all show a wheel with either four or six spokes within a quadratum incusum, there is a variety of obverse types. The obverse of the large nominal, which can probably be described as a tristater in accordance with the stater system, features a shepherd wearing a petasus, as well as two oxen; the ethnikon appears as an obverse legend on some coins and is missing from others entirely.23 On the obverse of the staters, a rider, perhaps a warrior, is depicted next to his horse.24 A kneeling bull is featured on the hemistaters and hektes,25 whereby a number of different mintmarks also appear optionally in the form of a lotus blossom ,26 one or several small balls,27 or a dolphin.28

The Coin Types of the Oreski

The coin types of the Oreski comprise six denominations, of which two are only documented by a few scant copies. On the obverse of the tristaters and the only preserved distater is the image of the shepherd and two oxen already known from the Ichnai.29 For most types, the ethnikon is given in the obverse legend, though orthographic variations occur. The obverse of most staters and hemistaters show the iconographic motif of a centaur seizing a nymph, which is strongly reminiscent of Thasian imitations.30 On other staters is a horseman standing beside his horse and wearing the petasus.31 The kneeling bull motif, also known from the Ichnai, can be found on a few hemistaters and hektes. A bull protome is present on the obverse of the coin types belonging to the smallest nominal level.32 The reverse side of each coin issued by the Oreksi features a quadratum incusum, which is sometimes divided in four by two vertical lines and other times in the form of windmill sails; the quadratum incusum is divided by two diagonal lines on a single coin type.33

The Coin Types of the Derrones

Of all the Thracian tribes, the Derrones minted coins with the largest nominal level. Their tetrastaters depict a charioteer driving an ox-drawn biga on the obverse and a triskele of cattle legs on the reverse. This coinage is quite complex due to the different accompanying mintmarks that can appear in different positions on the obverse and reverse. Additionally, some floral elements can be recognized between the legs of the triskele in some types.34 Apart from the tetrastaters, the remaining nominal structure of the Derrones is relatively difficult to grasp. An insignificantly lighter coin type shows two oxen stretched in front of a biga on the obverse and a quadratum incusum divided in four on the reverse;35 a single coin, which can perhaps be called a distater, features a kneeling bull to the left and the partioned quadratum incusum.36 On the coins of the smallest denomination, the tetartemorion, the kneeling bull known from the Ichnai and Oreski is depicted on the obverse, and either a triskele or a Corinthian helmet are featured in the quadratum incusum on the reverse.37 Another coin of this denomination shows a bull protome on the obverse and a bull proteme on the reverse.38 It should be noted that numerous forgeries appear with the coins of the Derrones especially and are likewise noted as such in our type catalogue.

The Coin Types of the Letes/Siris

On the obverse of the staters (as well as the only known hemistater) that can be assigned to the Lete/Siris tribe, either the aforementioned motif of the centaur seizing a nymph or an ithyphallic Silenus holding a nymph by the wrist are depicted. On the reverse, numerous variations of a quadratum incusum divided in four appear, which is sometimes divided by vertical lines39 and other times by diagonal ones;40 other coin reverses depict a Corinthian helmet within the quadratum incusum.41 On the obverse of the small denomination, a sitting or jumping Silenus can be recognized, while on the reverse a quadratum incusum is shown.

The Coin Types of the Edones

On the few coin types minted by the Edones, the pictorial motif known from the Oreski of the shepherd wearing a petasus is represented beside two oxen on the obverse, while the reverse shows either a quadratum incusum divided in four with a circulating inscription or a wheel within a quadratum incusum. On all known coins of the Edones, their tribal king Getas is named in the obverse or reverse legend.42

The Coin Types of the Laiaioi

The aforementioned pictorial motif of the centuar with the nymph is also used on the coins of the Laiaioi.43 On other coins of this tribe, the charioteer motif that was popular with the Derrones appears with an ox-drawn biga on the obverse; a Pegasus can be discerned within a quadratum incusum on the reverse.44

The Coin Types of the Tynteni

The Tynteni use the same iconographic repertoire as the Ichnai. On the obverse of their coins, either a shepherd with the petasus appears next to two oxen, or a rider is depicted next to his horse.45 A four- or six-spoked wheel can be found on the reverse, which is also analogous to the Ichnai.46 This tribal coinage, however, can be unambiguously assigned to the Tynteni based on the presence of the ethnikon that appears in either the obverse or reverse legend.

The Coin Types of the Dentheletae

The coins of the Dentheletae appear to break away from the aforementioned iconographic trends. Theirs was a bronze coinage, which depicted the head of Dionysus on the obverse and a warrior with a shield and spear within a quadratum incusum on the reverse.47 The assignment of these coins to this tribe can be firmly secured by the ethnikon on their reverse. A somewhat later date than the other tribal mintings, sometime in the second half of the 5th century seems obvious.

The Coin Types of an Uncertain Classification

One coin that cannot be assigned with any certainty features a centaur with a kantharos on the obverse and four pine cones within a quadratum incusum on the reverse;48 it is obvious, however, that the specimen can be attributed to the tribal coiange. Likewise, a further type with a depiction of a striding bull to the left on the obverse and a quadratum incusum on the reverse cannot be definitvely assigned.49 This one in particular is probably one of the earliest tribal coinages, and dating it to the late 6th century BC seems plausible.

The Coin Types of the Odrysen

The bronze coinage of the Odrysians also falls within the scope of the Thracian tribal mintings, but they date to the 2nd and 1st centuries BC and can therefore be attributed to a later period than the other coins described above. The obverse of these coins feature the head of Heracles turned to either the left or the right with the lion’s pelt, while a bull standing on a club is depicted on the reverse.50 The ethnikon appears above the bull in numerous variations. Finally, the stylistic differences between the obverse and reverse iconography allow for the distinct dating of these coins.

Our type catalogue represents the state of research from August 2019 and does not take into consideration any coin types that have become known later. Further information, especially about new types, is always welcome.

Bibliography

  • Delev 2014 = P. Delev, A History of the Tribes of South-Western Thrace in the First Millennium B.C. (Sofia 2014).
  • Peykov 2011 = A. Peykov, Catalogue of the Coins from Thrace. Part I: Tribal and Rulers’ Coinages of Thracians, Paeonians, Celts and Scythians 5th c. B.C. - 1st c. A.D (Centrex 2011).
  • Psoma 2015 = S. Psoma, Did the So-Called Thraco-Macedonian Standard Exist?, in: U. Wartenberg – M. Amandry (Eds.), ΚΑΙΡΟΣ- Contributions to Numismatics in Honor of Basil Demetriadi (New York 2015) 167–190.
  • Tzamalis 2011 = A. Tzamalis, Monnaies “thraco-macédoniennes“. Quelques observations sur les monnaies au centaure et à la nymphe, in: Nomisma. La circulation monétaire dans le monde grec antique. Actes du colloque international, Athènes 14-17 avril 2010 (Paris 2011) 67–77.
  • Tzamalis 2012 = A. Tzamalis, The Kneeing Bull Type from the “Thraco-Macedonian” Region, in: E. Paunov (Ed.), ΗΡΑΚΛΕΟΥΣ ΣΩΤΗΡΟΣ ΘΑΣΙΩΝ. Studia in honorem Iliae Prokopov sexagenario ab amicis et discipulis dedicate (Veliko Tǎrnovo 2012) 39–58.

Map with Mints of typology