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Coin Typology of

Abdera *

Topography and History

Abdera, modern-day Ávdhira, is a coastal city in the Thasian peraia of southern Thrace 1  whose remnants can be found on Cape Bulustra. 2  It can be located between the mouth of the Nestos River and Lake Bistonis (modern Vistonida). 3 

Abdera is known as a foundation of the Ionian city Klazomenai during the course of the great colonization in the 7th century BC, whereby the name of the oekist Timesios survived in the cultural memory of the Abderians. 4  It is debated whether or not this colonization was possibly preceded by an emigration of the Phoenicians. 5  Little is known about the early days of Abdera, given the rudimentary nature of the preserved written sources. Herodotus gives an account of the displacement of Timesios by the Thracians and of a later re-founding of the city by Teos, 6  which also seems to be confirmed by a textual report by Strabo, who calls the city καλὴ Τηίων. 7  In fact, given the archaeological findings, it is rather likely that the colonists from Teos found still existing traces of settlement, although the Ionian colony was apparently greatly decimated by the fighting against the Thracians and by a malaria epidemic. 8  The resettlement of a large portion of the population of Teos is attributed in research to the fact that these settlers apparently emigrated to Abdera in the face of the threat of Cyrus II and his general Harpagos in 545 BC. 9  Abdera’s economic prime began in the late 6th century BC, 10  which went hand in hand with the beginning of its minting activity. During the Persian war, the city was temporarily under Persian rule; 11  but after Xerxes’ defeat it played an important role in the Delian League, which is clearly reflected in the Abderian tribute payments. 12  In the late Classical and Hellenistic periods, however, Abdera seems to have largely lost its economic and political importance, which is connected in ancient historical research with the decisive effect of the raid of the Triballi in 375 BC and Abdera's integration into the Macedonian kingdom. 13 

  1. Varbanov 2005, 7.
  2. Hirschfeld 1894, 22; Varbanov 2005, 7.
  3. Hirschfeld 1894, 22.
  4. Chryssanthaki-Nagle 2007, 28.
  5. Chryssanthaki-Nagle 2007, 27f.
  6. Herod. 1,168.
  7. Strab. 14,1,30 C 644.
  8. Chryssanthaki-Nagle 2007, 28.
  9. Varbanov 2005, 7.
  10. Hirschfeld 1894, 22.
  11. Hirschfeld 1894, 22.
  12. Ruschenbusch 1983, 143.
  13. Hirschfeld 1894, 22f.; May 1966, 286; Varbanov 2007, 7.

State of Research

The coinage of Abdera's classical period has already been examined in a comprehensive study by J. May, 1  which is also fundamental to our type catalogue. The dissertation on Abderian coin history by K. Chryssanthaki-Nagle, which covers the entire period of the city’s coinage from the 6th century BC to the 2nd century AD, is considerably more recent. In addition, our type catalogue has also naturally taken into consideration later published coin types which are not included in J. May and K. Chryssanthaki-Nagle.

  1. May 1966.

Minting System and Typology

The minting activity of Abdera spanned from the late 6th century BC to the mid-2nd century AD, whereby a clear emphasis in the 5th and early 4th centuries BC can be established. In the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, the minting activity of the city is very negligible; at this time there seems to have been an interruption in the local coinage. By the end of the 5th century, Abdera minted entirely in silver, whereas in the 4th century, both silver and bronze coins were issued. In the late Classical and Hellenistic periods, bronze coins were minted almost exclusively; silver minting came to a complete stop in the middle of the 3rd century BC at the latest. A small gold emission dates to the second half of the 4th century BC. 1 

The weight standard of the Abderian silver coins during the Classical period is controversial. Our type catalogue does not follow the hypothesis widely used in the older literature, which postulates a putative Thraco-Macedonian weight standard or a local Abderian weight standard, 2  but instead follows the more recent research of S. Psoma, which states that Abdera initially minted under the reduced Chian standard in the late 6th and 5th centuries and minted under the Aegean (or reduced Aegean?) standard from the 4th century BC onwards. 3 

  1. Chryssanthaki-Nagle 2007, 152ff.
  2. See May 1966, 4ff.
  3. Psoma 2015, 179ff.

Chronology of the Coinage

Silver coins of varying denominatons were emitted from the late 6th century BC to the second half of the 5th century BC. Their obverse featured a griffin either standing, sitting, or jumping to the left, while the reverse depicted a quadratum incusum split in four. In some types, different mintmarks, monograms, or legends, which are to be understood as abbreviations of magistrate names, can be discerned under the raised front paw of the griffin or in other places on the front of the coin. On the reverse of many coin types, which date to the second quarter of the 5th century BC, various motifs such as a bull protome 1  or a lion's scalp 2  are depicted in the quadratum incusum.

Some coins dating a little bit later to the second half of the 5th century BC with largely unchanged obverse iconography show on the reverse the names of different magistrates as a circumpscription of a linear square embedded in a quadratum incusum. In some cases, different image motifs are reproduced within the linear squares, and in others, the linear square is completely omitted, so that different motifs are displayed on the reverse of the coins within a legend that reproduces the city name. Slightly out of the ordinary are two types whose reverse show a dolphin in a dotted square. 3  The city ethnic is reproduced on the obverse of some types from the early 4th century.

The early bronze coins of the fourth century differed only slightly from the silver coins of that time in terms of obverse iconography; on the reverse of the coins, however, the head of an indeterminate person or a deity, such as Apollo, 4  Dionysus, 5  or Pan, 6  is depicted. A scallop 7  can be discerned on the reverse of another bronze coin type; in addition, the appearance of ears of corn as a reverse motif is also very popular on the early bronze coins. 8  A single early bronze type shows a griffin to the right for the first time on the obverse. 9 

Special Features of the Coinage

The late Classical and early Hellenistic silver coins differ from the earlier silver emissions in that the magistrate names no longer appear on the reverse and can instead be seen on the obverse and also in that the city ethnic is rendered on the reverse. The obverses still show a griffin––turned equally either to the right or left––but now predominantly lying down or jumping and only rarely in a seated posture. On the reverse of the silver coins the head of Apollo is depicted, which is partially shown isolated or embedded in a linear square. A relatively early silver drachma with a lying griffin on the obverse and Apollo's head in a linear square on the reverse deserves special interest, as the Thracian king Spokes is mentioned in the obverse legend of this coin type, which was minted in Abdera around 360 BC. 1 

The head of Apollo is also depicted on the reverse of some late Classical and early Hellenistic bronze coins. Other reverses of bronze emissions show a linear square, in which a large dot is placed within each of its four fields; the legend has the magistrate's name as the circumscription of the linear square in almost all types, 2  while the obverses, unlike the contemporary silver coins, have no legends. There are also some gold coins dating to the second half of the 4th century BC, with a griffin lying or jumping to the left on one side and a laureate head of Apollo on the other. 3 

On the obverse sides of some later dated early Hellenistic silver and bronze coins, the griffin lies on a club, while the reverse of the coins shows the Apollo head unchanged. In addition, in some early Hellenistic types, the obverse and reverse iconography are reversed, so that the head of Apollo is depicted on the obverse and the lying jumping griffin is shown on the reverse. In addition to Apollo, the reverse sides of other coins from the first half of the 3rd century BC show the head of a beardless man who cannot be identified more precisely.

In addition to Apollo, other deities were added to Abdera's iconographic repertoire in the later Hellenistic period. Some types, roughly dating from 250 to 150 BC, now show a Hermes head with petasos on the obverse, while the griffin is now used almost exclusively as a motif on the reverse. Two late Hellenistic coin types show a male head on the obverse, probably to be interpreted as Poseidon, and again the griffin on the reverse. 4 

  1. CN_Type6625.
  2. An exception is CN_Type6622; on this type, in this type, the reverse legend indicates the city ethnic.
  3. CN_Type6036; CN_Type7265; CN_Type7282. See also: May 1966, 270.
  4. CN_Type7027; CN_Type7028.

Bibliography

  • Chryssanthaki-Nagle 2007 = K. Chryssanthaki-Nagle, L’histoire monetaire d’Abdere en Thrace. VIe s. av. J.-C. – IIe s. ap. J.-C., MEΛETHMATA 51 (Athen 2007).
  • Hirschfeld 1894 = G. Hirschfeld, Abdera, in: RE I,1, 1894, Sp.22-23.
  • May 1966 = J. May, The coinage of Abdera. 540-345 B.C. (London 1966).
  • Psoma 2015 = S. Psoma, Did the so-called Thraco-Macedonian standard exist?, in: U. Wartenberg – M. Amandry (Hrsg.), ΚΑΙΡΟΣ- Contributions to Numismatics in Honor of Basil Demetriadi (New York 2015) 167-190.
  • Ruschenbusch 1983 = E. Ruschenbusch, Tribut und Bürgerzahl im ersten attischen Seebund, in: ZPE 53, 1983, S.125-143.
  • Varbanov (vol. II) 2005 = I. Varbanov, Greek Imperial Coins. And their Values, vol. 2: Thrace. From Abdera to Pautalia (Bourgas 2005).

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