Review: Coinage of the Achaean League

M. Oeconomides, M. Lakakis-Marchetti, and P. Marchetti
“Le Trésor de Zougra (IGCH 261) et la circulation monétaire dans le Péloponnèse au IIe siècle.” In Liber Amicorum Tony Hackens, ed. G. Moucharte et al., 379–433.
Louvain-la-Neuve, 2007. For a review of this book, see The Celator 22, no. 8 (August 2008): 35ff.

Warren, J. A. W.
The Bronze Coinage of the Achaian Koinon: The Currency of a Federal Ideal.
Royal Numismatic Society Special Publication 42, London, 2007. Hardcover with dust jacket, xvi + 212 pp., map, 39 pls.

In 1895, General Clerk, basing himself on Rudolph Weil and other earlier researchers, published his exhaustive and convenient study of the coinage of the Achaean League. For the silver, which rarely bore a clear inscription denoting where it was struck, he collected and listed the combinations of letters, monograms, and symbols found on the coins that enabled them to be attributed to specific mints; as for the bronze, which bore clear mint names, he collected all the variants then known (including some that did not exist!). The coins were all dated to the broad period running from the restoration of the League in 280 BC by Dyme and Patrae to the destruction of Corinth by the Roman general Mummius in 146 BC, after which the League itself was believed to have fallen into abeyance. However, in 1959 a hoard appeared that was to have profound implications for the study of this coinage, though a massive mistake in its cataloguing was to obfuscate the situation for a generation.

The Agrinion Hoard (IGCH 271) was unearthed in or around Agrinion, a city founded by the Macedonian king Cassander in 314 BC as a bulwark against the Aetolians; they captured it shortly later and it remained theirs from then on. The hoard contained a total of 1,348 silver coins: the largest component was of Achaean League hemidrachms, followed by a considerable number of hemidrachms of Megalopolis, Aetolia, and a variety of other Greek states; there were also, and this was terribly important, two discrete groups of Athenian New Style tetradrachms and Roman republican denarii. Since a distinctive form of corrosion covered all the coins, we can be certain they were all found together: there are no intrusions (eight coins were dispersed before the hoard was acquired by the ANS, but they were recorded). In her publication of this hoard (The Agrinion Hoard, ANSNNM 159, 1968), the late chief curator of the ANS, Margaret Thompson, came to a number of conclusions:

(1) She believed that, with the exception of some anonymous issues that had to date to the third century, all of the mass issues of the Achaean League must have been struck c. 196–146 BC. She placed the start after the Roman Flamininus’s proclamation of the freedom of Greece and the end with the destruction of Corinth. In fact, the ostensible start date could be slightly lowered since a number of cities only joined the league in the later 190s (like Elis and Lakedaimon).

Corinthia: Achaean League, Corinth. AR drachm, Thompson (1968), 242 (ANS 1963.31.367, purchase, from the Agrinion hoard).

Corinthia: Achaean League, Corinth. AR drachm, Thompson (1968), 584b (ANS 1963.31.376, purchase, from the Agrinion hoard).

(2) She divided the League coinage in the hoard into two groups by wear and style, an early series and a late series; almost every previously recorded variety of the two series was in the hoard. However, no coins of what she termed the final series were present in Agrinion, though they were not uncommonly found in other hoards or in public or private collections. Thus she concluded that the final issues were struck after the League component of Agrinion was closed.

(3) Thompson also observed that while earlier issues of Sicyon, Argos, and other cities were in Agrinion, later ones were not; she concluded that the later issues were contemporary with the final issues of League and that they too must have been struck after the League component in the hoard was closed.

(4) The Athenian tetradrachms were dated following Thompson’s chronology and ranged from 190/189 BC to 162/1 BC. They thus had no relevance for the hoard’s date of deposit but were contemporary with the hemidrachms.

Attica: Athens. AR tetradrachm. Thompson (1961), 407 (ANS 1963.31.270, purchase, from the Agrinion hoard). The latest issue to appear in the hoard.

(5) Thompson believed that the denarii were the key to the date of the hoard and, following Michael Crawford and Rudi Thomsen’s analysis of them, placed the burial in 135 BC. Since she firmly believed that the Achaean League coinage must have ended in 146 BC, she had to find a reason for the lack of all the final Achaean League coins and contemporary or earlier civic issues. What she did was to maintain that the final issues of the League and all the later civic issues were struck in a massive outpouring of coinage produced in the run up to the war with Rome, c. 150–146 BC. The fact they were not in a hoard interred at least ten years later than she believed the coins were struck was explained by her theory that, with the exception of the denarii, all the remaining coins in the hoard dated to before c. 150 BC and that Aetolia was so remote that newer coins had not arrived there in time to be buried in this deposit.

Rome. AR denarius, Q. Philipus. Crawford 259.1; Thompson (1968), 717 (ANS 1963.31.39, purchase, from the Agrinion hoard). The latest denarius to appear in the hoard.

This reconstruction can no longer stand today.

The major change is in the dating of the New Style tetradrachms of Athens. As is well known, Thompson was convinced that these coins were first struck in 196/5 BC and that they continued without a break until the Sullan sack in 86 BC. Her arrangement of issues was unchallenged, but her chronology was seen by most scholars to be impossible (for example, it resulted in a small issue signed by one King Mithradates being assigned to 121 BC on the occasion of an unknown visit of Mithradates V to Athens, rather than to 87/86 BC, when Mithradates VI held the city). In the end, Thompson’s chronology was revised downward by a generation: the coinage began in the 170s and ended c. 40 BC with some breaks in the series, especially in the years after 86. So now, when we turn to the tetradrachms in Agrinion, we find that the last is dated to 130/129 BC and is accompanied by coins mostly dating to the 140s and 130s: while the earlier pieces are worn, the latest are fresh. Astoundingly enough, by 1974, when Crawford’s Roman Republican Coinage was published, his revised dates for the denarii in Agrinion resulted in a group primarily from the 130s, with a closing piece that also dated to 129 BC (these coins are virtually unworn). Thus the hoard’s date of deposit has to be lowered to the mid-120s at the earliest, and the lack of any of the final Achaean League issues or any of the late issues of other mints, all supposedly struck c. 150–146 BC, becomes even more perplexing (it should be noted that these are not small, rare issues, but very extensive ones). If numerous Athenian and Roman issues of the 130s could manage to get to “remote Aetolia,” why couldn’t Peloponnesian coins of the 140s get there too?

The obvious answer is that these coins had not yet been struck.

This answer was first proposed by the eminent German scholar Christof Boehringer (for references, see the bibliography and discussion in the auction catalogue LHS 96, Coins of Peloponnesos: The BCD Collection, May 8–9, 2006) who made the startling proposal that the final issues of the Achaean League, as well as the latest civic issues from a number of cities (Sicyon, Patrae, Messene, Korone, Lakedaimon, Argos, and Megalopolis), were primarily struck during the first century, some around the time of the Roman general Sulla and others down until the battle of Actium in 31 BC. After all, not only is there ample proof that the League continued to exist after 146 BC, but the reissue of coins of an earlier type for trade purposes was often done in antiquity (as the posthumous Alexanders). Boehringer based himself on Agrinion and on the Poggio Picenze Hoard (IGCH 2056), in which datable coins of the first quarter of the first century BC were combined with mint-fresh Peloponnesian material. His theory was initially met with some skepticism, but it rapidly received a great deal of support, most enthusiastically, perhaps, from Jennifer Warren, an expert on the coinage of the Peloponnesos. She provided a good deal of supporting evidence, including epigraphic, prosopographic, and stylistic links, and produced a number of articles building on Boehringer’s foundations (again, see LHS 96 for the bibliography and commentary, and also, most recently, C. Boehringer, “Quelques remarques sur la circulation monétaire dans le Péloponnèse au IIe et au Ier siècle a. C.,“ in Le Péloponnèse d’Épaminondas à Hadrien, ed. C. Grandjean, 2008).

However, not everyone is convinced. A number of scholars, especially in Greece, strongly disagree with Boehringer’s and Warren’s “new landscape” and prefer to see all the final League issues and all the late Peloponnesian civic issues in silver as having been struck in a single burst of frenzied activity c. 150–146 BC in preparation for the Roman attack; thus, in their view, no silver was produced anywhere in the Peloponnesos after 146 BC other than two issues that must have been struck by Patrae in the 30s BC.

Oeconomides, Lakakis-Marchetti, and Marchetti are proponents of this early dating and their publication of the Zougra Hoard (IGCH 261) presents that point of view. Zougra is the site of ancient Pellene, and it was there in 1859 that one of the largest hoards of ancient silver coins ever found in Greece was discovered. It consisted of 9,171 pieces, virtually all hemidrachms; the total weight of the hoard when found was 17.25 okas, or 22.8 kg. The coins were presented to Queen Amalia of Greece, who in turn gave them to the Numismatic Museum in Athens. More than half of the coins were of the Achaean League, but there were small groups from central Greece and civic issues from some Peloponnesian mints. However, between 1859 and 1967, when Mando Oeconomides, then the director of the Numismatic Museum, began to search for the coins from this hoard in the vaults of the museum, the vast majority of the pieces presented by the queen had disappeared. Were they disposed of as duplicates? Were they melted down? No one knows. Were the coins that were kept retained as a representative sample of the hoard’s original contents, or were they held simply because they were coins that the then curator felt the museum needed? No one knows. In any event, there are only 771 identifiable pieces left, and it is on this small fraction of the original hoard (around 8.5 percent) that the three authors have based their theories; I admire their confidence, but I certainly cannot share it.

The present inventory is as follows (the figure in parentheses refers to the number of coins when found as given by Noe in A Bibliography of Greek Coin Hoards, 2nd ed., ANSNNM 78 [1937]: 1186):

Ainianes 1 (“Thessaly” 13)
Lamia 1 (“Thessaly” 13) Epirus 0 (1)
Aetolia 15 (421)
Locris 6 (146)
Boeotia 31 (289)
Aegina 1 (14)
Corinth 1 (0)
Sicyon 11 (0)
Elis 0 (1)
Messene 2 (3)
Argos 91 (1409)
Megalopolis 45 (“Arcadia” 1185)
Achaean League 564 (5689)

The coins have been carefully described and a considerable number have been illustrated. One surprise is the presence of the eleven coins from Sicyon: Noe does not mention any in the list he took directly from J. de Witte’s original notice of the coins in the Revue Numismatique of 1862 (pp. 170–71: the information came from A. Postolacas, who had been charged with the publication of the hoard by Queen Amalia). It is impossible that nineteenth-century numismatists such as Postolacas or de Witte could have mistaken them for something else—so how could they have missed them? Could they have been misfiled in modern times? Another surprise is the way the Achaean League issues have been treated: rather than ascribing them to the mints to which they have long been attributed, the authors have, without any explanation, simply listed them in thirty-three series. These are, presumably, taken from a rather revolutionary study of the Achaean League coinage that Lakakis-Marchetti is preparing, but it would have been helpful had some inkling been given to the reader. If she thinks none can be ascribed to individual mints, she should say so: otherwise, why not note, for example, that those pieces marked ϜΑ were from Elis, those with ΛΑ from Lakedaimon, and those with ΩΝ from Aegium? In any case, the coins include early, late, and final Achaean League issues, as well as both earlier and later issues from Sicyon, Messene, Argos, and Megalopolis. Thus, we can be sure that Zougra has to be later than Agrinion—the question is how much later.

Unfortunately, unlike in Agrinion where the Athenian and Roman republican contents date the deposit to the 120s, or in Poggio Picenze, where the date in the mid 80s is provided by the Pontic, Cappadocian, and Sullan issues, there are no coins in Zougra that are independently datable. For the authors there is no problem: the date of the hoard has to be 146 BC, as it is for every other hoard containing Achaean League coins. Lakakis-Marchetti categorically dismisses the chronological relevance of Agrinion and Poggio Picenze, as well as any other hoard that seems to support the arguments of Boehringer and Warren, by saying that since they turned up in trade their value as evidence is null (see M. Lakakis-Marchetti, “A propos du monnayage achéen et des trésors qui le font connaître,” in ΧΑΡΑΚΤΗΡ, Athens 1996, for a blanket condemnation of all opposing theories). She assumes the Athenian and Roman parts of Agrinion were simply added to it by the finders or by local middlemen to make it more attractive financially, yet she does not deign to explain how these locals could have managed to produce two groups with exactly the same closing date, especially in the 1950s, when those dates had not yet been determined by scholars!

In the catalogue of the Zougra hoard, opposing dates are either dismissed without comment or ridiculed. For example, on p. 386 they mention, and then ignore, the fact that Grandjean dated the two Messene hemidrachms in Zougra to the late second–first century. Turning to p. 390, in their note 20 to coins 4349–4350, late Argive hemidrachms signed by Lydiadas, they imply that the cataloguer of the BCD Peloponnesos collection must have been an idiot, because they say that he claimed that this magistrate (see BCD lot 1174), with a good, old Greek name, was possibly a Roman (thus supporting the date of c. 80s–50s used in BCD for this series). And the cataloguer would have been, had he done so: in fact, had they bothered to read the commentary correctly in BCD (p. 279, note to lot 1161), they would have discovered that the magistrate identified as a Roman had the decidedly Roman sounding name of Leukios (Lucius) and that the BCD cataloguer had made no comments about Lydiadas whatsoever. Rather intriguingly, magistrates named Leukios only seem to turn up in relatively late contexts on Greek coins and almost certainly indicate a Roman, or at least Italic, origin: one appears as the first magistrate on an early post-Sullan New Style tetradrachm of Athens struck in the 70s (Thompson 1227; see also for an earlier case, S. B. Zoumbaki, “Prosopographie der Eleer bis zum 1. Jh. v. Chr,” Μ40, Athens 2005, A114, pp. 111–113; and M16, pp. 256–257, for a notorious Roman mercenary named Leukios who was in Elis during the 270s). They also (p. 423 and n. 55) dismiss Kroll’s dating of the late silver of Aegium, which is, in fact, firmly connected with the late bronze, which is, in turn, firmly dated to the 30s (see BCD pp. 120–121), by using the amazingly circular argument that since one piece is still in Zougra (p. 396, 3365) and Zougra has to date to 146, it has to be earlier.

Despite all the effort put into resurrecting the Zougra Hoard, basing conclusions on a mere 8.5 percent of its original contents strikes me as unwise; ignoring and belittling any evidence that goes against some deeply held ideas does not make those ideas any righter. Yes, there are good historical reasons for thinking that the League coinage ended in 146, but the actual physical evidence makes it clear that it did not: dismissing that evidence will not make it go away. Two perfect parallels for these problems caused by holding on to preconceived ideas both come from Margaret Thompson, one of the great classical numismatists of the twentieth century. The first was, of course, Agrinion. As we have seen, since she firmly believed that the League coinage had to have ended in 146, she had to bend over backward to create a reason (the supposed remoteness of the site) why all the final League and all the late Peloponnesian coins were not in Agrinion, a hoard she dated to 135 BC. She managed to get away with that idea as long as the Athenian material was dated to the 160s but, as we have seen, the whole scheme collapsed when the latest Athenian coin was redated to 130/129 BC. The second parallel comes from the famous Dipylon Hoard of 1875 (IGCH 339), which contained Athenian New Style tetradrachms going down to the issued signed by King Mithradates (T 1143–1146), along with four tetradrachms of Mithradates VI dated to 87: to maintain her chronology, Thompson was forced to postulate a simply impossible gap of thirty-four years between the last Athenian coin and those of Mithradates VI! In any case, nothing in the Zougra Hoard can be used as any kind of proof for the validity of the high chronology.

J. Warren’s study of the bronze coinage of the Achaean League is on quite another level. It consists of an astonishingly detailed catalogue and commentary on the 929 known legible examples of League bronze coins (from forty-five or forty-six mints): every coin is individually described with die links noted and, in a second list, given its full provenance. This catalogue is amazingly complete: it includes all legible and illegible examples from public and private collections and commercial catalogues and scholarly publications going back to 1682, when the first piece, which is now in the British Museum, was published by G. Wheler (A Journey into Greece, London 1682). She even goes so far as to include some unillustrated pieces from earlier publications that can now no longer be traced (though not all: she has left out lots 2421–2423 and 2425–2427 in Rhousopoulos; while those are surely all unidentifiable, 2422 was an extremely rare piece from Hypana that sold to Froehner—might it be Warrens’s 334 = BCD 700?), as well as misattributions and one forgery (it is hard to believe anyone would fake one of these things, but it was possibly made in the nineteenth century, when a number of collectors avidly competed to find rarities and new mints in this series). A fascinating section is what Jennifer Warren terms a “chronological bibliography, [a] survey of interest in the bronze coinage of the Achaian Koinon”: the books and articles range from 1644 to 2006.

Arcadia: Achaean League, Megalopolis. AE fraction (ANS 1944.100.40160, bequest of Edward T. Newell).

In her commentary, she points out that the original coinage was immense: the fact that the survival rate is much lower than it is for other ancient bronze coinages seems to indicate that the coins were actively withdrawn from circulation (probably after 146 BC, when its status as a nonintrinsically valuable fiduciary coinage would have become anomalous). Neither the reason why the coinage was produced nor the date when it was issued is clear. It was certainly partially for military reasons and partially to ensure that there was a uniform bronze coinage throughout the League. In addition, while the coins were surely valued as hemiobols it would have cost much less than that to make them; thus, the towns that struck them would make a nice profit. Warren discusses how the coinage was made, rightly assuming that official instructions were sent out describing how the coins were to look and what the legends were to be; her analysis of which mints struck first and how mint practice developed supports her theories in this regard. As to when they were minted, Warren is such a cautious scholar that she does not clearly state when this took place. She opts for c. 167–164 BC, but I was only able to find this out by writing to her directly! I know that many scholars are loath to ascribe absolute dates to coins about which they are unsure (even only a little bit, as with the early ANS Sylloge volumes), but since this kind of scholarly diffidence will drive the reader crazy, I think Warren should have bitten the bullet and put a clear statement into the text. The reader should also be warned that unlike other classical scholars who use notes solely for references, Warren seems to adore putting vast amounts of extremely interesting information into them. She is notorious for this, but luckily in this volume they appear as footnotes rather than endnotes, and thus the reader will not have to constantly flip back and forth to read them (and read them one must).

Even more than the Achaean League silver, which normally only bears an abbreviated name or symbol to denote its origin, the Achaean League bronze truly symbolizes the political union of the League’s members: the types are uniform and the ethnic is a double one, with the name of the individual city and of the Achaeans in the genitive. While unprepossessing and not particularly attractive, these coins are of real historical and numismatic importance for our understanding of the Hellenistic world. This is definitely not a book for everyone; it is only for specialists. As a work of scholarship, however, it is outstanding, and Warren must be congratulated for producing it; one hopes that soon we will be able to congratulate her when she completes her study on the silver coinage of Sicyon!

—Alan Walker

Note: Copies of Margaret Thompson’s The Agrinion Hoard are still available for purchase through the ANS, for $60. For further information, please contact Megan Fenselau at 212-571-4470 x117 or by e-mail at