Apollonia Pontika
Drachms

 

 

Among the most interesting, and controversial, Medusa coins are Apollonia Pontika drachms, minted c. 450-350 BC in the Greek colony of Apollonia Pontika, which was situated in Thrace along the Black Sea. Apollonia Pontika drachms feature among the most visually striking images on coinage of Medusa, with fierce gaze and tongue sticking out. These coins are also among the most reasonably priced Medusa coins. They may not be quite as shocking as Neapolis staters or Athenian wappenmünzen, but they don't cost as much as one month's worth, or a year's worth, of mortgage payments. Unfortunately, Apollonia Pontika drachms are also the most dangerous Medusa coins. But if you take into consideration the message of danger intended by the Medusa imagery, their danger can add to rather than subtract from their appeal.

These coins are dangerous because of the huge number of modern counterfeits of them that surfaced at the New York International Numismatic Convention of 1999 and the significant number still in the ancient coin marketplace. An estimated three thousand forgeries were sold to coin dealers at this coin show as authentic coins, fooling many, though soon afterward they were condemned, with conscientious dealers refunding money to customers they could locate. This is the first time these forgeries have been published en masse.

I'm calling this group of forgeries the "New York Hoard" after an earlier and similar group of forgeries that has come to be known as the "Black Sea Hoard." Both groups of forgeries emanated from Bulgaria (the Black Sea area), with the originals of these fakes emanating from the same area as well, and both groups were dispersed in New York City. (If you like, you can bypass the discussion below about the authentic coins and go straight to the
forgeries.)

Along with the Medusa's fearsome visage on these coins, another interesting aspect to them is the wide range of variation in the way Medusa is depicted on the authentic coins. With most coins series through history, die cutters strove for a consistency of appearance to promote the acceptance of their work as good money, and changes appeared gradually. Conversely, with these coins, the die cutters exhibited startling individuality and creativity, with many different varieties all appearing at about the same time or close in time to one another. This creative individuality would later characterize other Thracian coins as well, most notably those minted by Thracian tribes and patterned after Thasos tetradrachms, which I'm calling
Thracian tetradrachms.

Based primarily on Medusa's changing appearance and on the changing metrology of these Apollonia Pontika drachms, I've identified 16 main varieties, which I'm simply calling Type 1 through Type 16, using the following sources:

  • Greek Coins and Their Values by David Sear (Sear Greek)
  • Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, British Museum, Vol. IX, Part 1: The Black Sea (SNG BM Black Sea)
  • Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, Danish National Museum (SNG Cop.)
  • Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, The Burton Y. Berry Collection (SNG Berry)
  • Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, The Lewis Collection in Corpus Christy College Cambridge (SNG Lewis)
  • Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, The Collection of the Society of Antiquaries, Newcastle Upon Tyne (SNG Newcastle)
  • Traité des monnaies grecques et romaines by Ernest Babelon (Babelon Traité)
  • The Dewing Collection of Greek Coins (Dewing)
  • A Catalogue of the Calouste Gulbenkian Collection of Greek Coin (Gulbenkian)
  • Griechische Münzen in Winterthur (Winterthur)
  • Catalogue of the McClean Collection of Greek Coin (McClean)
  • Catalogue of Greek Coins: Boston Museum of Fine Arts (Boston MFA)
  • The Weber Collection of Greek Coins (Weber)
  • Sammlung von griechischen Kleinsilbermünzen und Bronzen by Dieter Klein (Klein)
  • Catalogue des monnaies grecques antiques de l'ancienne collection Pozzi by Serge Boutin (Pozzi)
  • A Catalogue of Greek Coins in the British Museum (BMC)
  • the ancient coin online auction archive sites Acsearch.info and Wildwinds.com
  • recent ancient coin auction and dealer sales

The following are representative specimens of these 16 authentic types. This is not meant to be an exhaustive catalog of authentic Apollonia Pontika drachm varieties, though I believe this is the most comprehensive visual catalog of these coins online or offline. From examining the literature and the marketplace it's apparent that other varieties exist as well. No one reference source illustrates all of the varieties, though SNG BM Black Sea, SNG Cop., Babelon Traité, and McClean are the most comprehensive (Babelon Traité is particularly useful in illustrating several varieties not illustrated below).

A number of varieties have appeared on the market that look authentic but don't appear to be catalogued anywhere else except here. The possibility exists that not all of these varieties are ancient, but the startling diversity of varieties of these coins has been evident in the literature for at least the past century. BMC Mysia in 1892 illustrated four different varieties, McClean in 1923 illustrated five, and Babelon in 1933 illustrated ten. Forgers worked at these times and prior to them. The argument has been made that forgers concentrate the bulk of their efforts on larger, pricier coins, but the New York Hoard and other fakes of smaller fractions indicates that forgers may feel it's easier to get away with forgeries of less conspicuous coins.

The following images are courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, R.M. Smythe, Dr. Busso Peus Nachfolger, H.D. Rauch, Pegasi Numismatics, Classical Cash, Herakles Numismatics, Ancient Auction House, Ancient Treasures, Glenn W. Woods, and Ed Snible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apollonia Pontika drachm (Type 1), c. 450-400, 3.4 grams. Medusa, on reverse (concave side), has a small head, puffed-out cheeks, hair of pellets, and a crown of snakes. Sear Greek 1655, SNG BM Black Sea 155, SNG Cop. 452, SNG Lewis 455, Babelon Traité 1624, McClean 7314, Boston MFA 795, Weber 2672, Pozzi 2561-2562, BMC Mysia Pl. II, 3.

Apollonia Pontika drachm (Type 2), c. 450-400 BC, 3.3 grams. Medusa, on reverse (concave side), has a small head relative to her face as with the previous variety, but here she has slanted "Oriental"-looking eyes, a characteristic frequently seen in the New York Hoard fakes. SNG BM Black Sea 158, Gulbenkian 577, Winterthur 1158, BMC Mysia Pl. II, 2.

 

 

Apollonia Pontika drachm (Type 3), c. 450-400 BC, 3.3 grams. Medusa, on reverse (concave side), now has only slightly puffed-out cheeks along with wavy hair parted in middle. Babelon Traité 1625 (fig. 12).

Apollonia Pontika drachm (Type 4), c. 450-400 BC, 3.2 grams. Medusa, on reverse (concave side), is similar to the previous variety but now has beaded hair. SNG BM Black Sea 157, SNG Cop. 454, SNG Berry 391, SNG Newcastle 205, Babelon Traité 1625 (fig. 11).

 

 

Apollonia Pontika drachm (Type 5), c. 450-400 BC, 3.4 grams. Medusa, on reverse (concave side), has slightly puffed out cheeks and beaded hair, but unlike with the previous variety, her hair is divided into beady tufts. McClean 7315.

Apollonia Pontika drachm (Type 6), c. 450-400 BC, 3.2 grams. Medusa, on reverse (concave side), now has a round and more human-like face, and her hair instead of being divided into beady tufts is divided into wavy tufts. SNG Cop. 456.

 

 

Apollonia Pontika drachm (Type 7), c. 450-400 BC, 3.3 grams. Medusa, on reverse (concave side), has hair that consists of wavy tufts on her forehead, as with the previous variety, but at the top of her head her hair is rendered as straight lines. Possibly unlisted, or possibly false. This specimen was put up for auction by two major ancient coin auction houses, but according to an expert who examined it in hand, the flan bulges in the center and it has a modern feel to it. The second auction house withdrew the lot after this piece was questioned.

Apollonia Pontika drachm (Type 8), c. 450-400 BC, 3.3 grams. Medusa, on reverse (concave side), has wavy vertical hair on top of her head and wavy bangs parted in the middle. SNG Lewis 456.

 

 

Apollonia Pontika drachm (Type 9), c. 450-400 BC, 3.2 grams. Medusa, on reverse (concave side), has straight vertical hair on top of her head and horizontal lines on her forehead that look like deep wrinkles or alien intelligence. Possibly unlisted, more probably modern.

Apollonia Pontika drachm (Type 10), c. 450-400 BC, 3.4 grams. Medusa, on reverse (concave side), has straight vertical hair on top of her head and straight horizontal bangs parted in the middle. McClean 7316, Dewing 1275, Pozzi 2563.

 

 

 

Apollonia Pontika drachm (Type 11), c. 450-400 BC, 3.3 grams. Medusa, on reverse (concave side), has straight vertical hair on top of her head and wavy horizontal bangs. SNG BM Black Sea 159, Klein 83, BMC Mysia Pl. II, 5.

Apollonia Pontika drachm (Type 12), c. 400 BC, 3.3 grams. This is a transitional variety between the drachms and the light drachms. Like the previous drachm varieties illustrated here, it's full weight. Like the following light drachm varieties, Medusa is on the obverse (convex) side. Medusa has snaky ringlets that circle her face. SNG Cop. 457, Babelon Traité 1626, BMC Mysia Pl. II, 6.

 

 

Apollonia Pontika light drachm (Type 13), c. 400-350 BC, 2.8 grams. Like the previous version, Medusa, on obverse (convex side), has snaky ringlets that circle the face, though her face is slimmer. SNG BM Black Sea 161.

Apollonia Pontika light drachm (Type 14), c. 400-350 BC, 2.8 grams. Medusa, on obverse (convex side), has braided hair parted in middle on her forehead and snaky hair above, along with thin snaky whiskers. Medusa is beginning to morph into Apollo. SNG BM Black Sea 163.

 

 

Apollonia Pontika light drachm (Type 15), c. 400-350 BC, 2.8 grams. Medusa, on obverse (convex side), has wavy horizontal hair and thin snaky whiskers. SNG BM Black Sea 162, McClean 7316, Boston MFA 796, Babelon Traité 1627.

Apollonia Pontika light drachm (Type 16), c. 400-350 BC, 2.8 grams. Medusa, on obverse (convex side), has wavy horizontal hair and thin snaky whiskers and is continuing to morph into Apollo. An inscription appears on the reverse, likely a mint magistrate. Babelon Traité 1633.

 

 

 

 

Types 1and 2 are seen the most frequently, and these are the varieties that the New York Hoard forgeries are patterned after. These are the only varieties in which Medusa has a small head and dramatically puffed-out cheeks. With Types 6 to 16, Medusa's face is rounder and proportioned more like a human face. Types 3 to 5 depict Medusa with slightly puffed-out cheeks.

I believe that with Types 14 through 16, Medusa is beginning to morph into Apollo, which isn't fully realized until the smaller Apollonia Pontika diobols. With the diobols, Medusa's snaky hair transforms into Apollo's spiked hair or laurels, and his tongue is firmly in his mouth. Even here, though, Apollo's hair spikes sometimes take on the appearance of snakes, which is why these diobols are sometimes described as Gorgon/Medusa coins.

With the Apollonia Pontika drachms, the face shape and hairstyle of Medusa are the features that vary the most widely.

On the earlier varieties, which were minted c. 450-400 BC and which correspond to Types 1 to 11, Medusa appears on the reverse (concave) side. On later varieties, which were minted c. 400-350 BC and which correspond to Types 12 to 16, Medusa appears on the obverse (convex) side. I'm calling the latter varieties light drachms because they weigh about a half gram less than the earlier varieties. Type 12 is transitional, having the full weight of a drachm but with Medusa on the obverse (convex) site.

With both drachms and light drachms, the opposite side depicts an upside-down anchor, perhaps depicted as they looked when hanging from a boat, and a crayfish. Sometimes the crayfish appears to the left of the anchor, sometimes to the right. Most often an A for Apollonia appears on the opposite side of the anchor, sometimes it doesn't. On one variety (Type 16), an inscription appears on the reverse above the anchor, which is likely an abbreviation of the name of the magistrate responsible for the coinage.

Here are the diagnostics and pictures of the New York Hoard
forgeries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Medusa Coins

Medusa Background

Selected Medusa Coins

Medusa Coin Catalog

Apollonia Pontika Drachms

"New York Hoard" Forgeries

Parion Hemidrachms

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