By Steve Benner for CoinWeek …..
I consider myself well-read in ancient Greek history, but I have to admit that I wasn’t very familiar with Paeonia. I actually own a very nice Patraus tetradrachm, which probably triggered my interest in looking deeper into their history.
The Paeonians were said to have derived their name from Paeon, the son of Endymion in Greek mythology. Little is known of their origins, but it is probably Thracian or Thraco-Illyrian. The boundary of the ancient kingdom, like its origins, was not well defined but centered on the valley of the Axius (Vardar) River. It corresponds to modern northern Macedonia, northwestern Greece, and western Bulgaria. Ancient authors placed Paeonia north of Macedon, south of Dardania, west of the Thracian mountains, and east of the southernmost Illyrians. It was separated from Dardania by a mountain range through which the Vardar River passes and extended into the valleys of the rivers Axius and Astibus and into the Strumica and Veles regions. The royal dynasty was originally seated in the city of Bilazora but later moved to Stobi. Some of the kingdom’s main cities were Damastion (on the border with Illyria), Audaristus, Stenae, Antigonea, Yoron, Bragile, Almana, Zapara, Kelenidion, Astraeum, Doberus, Eidomenae, and Gortinia. The area was rich in resources, especially gold and silver.
The country was made up of a number of independent tribes, including the Almopians, the Laeaeans, the Derrones, the Odomantes, the Paeoplae, the Doberes, and the Siropaiones. The main Paeonian religion was the cult of Dionysus, known amongst them as Dyalus or Dryalus, and Thracian and Paeonian women offered sacrifice to Queen Artemis. The Paeonians also worshipped the sun in the form of a small round disk fixed on the top of a pole. They drank barley beer and various decoctions (a medicinal preparation made from a plant and herbs), which must have led to some really wild parties.
In the Iliad, Homer mentions two Paeonian leaders who fought with the Trojans: Pyraechmes (parentage unknown) and Asteropaeus (son of Pelagon). Before the Persian invasions, Paeonian kings had subjugated all of Mygdonia (the area around Thessalonica), together with Crestonia (immediately north of Mygdonia). During the sixth century BCE (all dates are BCE), Dokidan and Dokim, both of the Derrones tribe, ruled Paeonia but the exact dates of their reigns are not known.
In 513, Darius the Great (521-486) invaded the area in order to fight the Scythians beyond the Danube River. Darius, and later his general Megabazus, conquered all of Thrace, the Greek coastal cities, and Paeonia. Pigres and Mantyes, two tyrant brothers, persuaded Darius to deport the coastal Paeonians to Asia.
After the Persians had been expelled, there were a number of tribal kings in the fifth and early fourth centuries that are known only from their coinage. During this period, Paeonia was under the control of the Thracians but was beginning to coalesce into a kingdom. King Agis (d. 358) is credited with bringing this unification to fruition and is considered the first real king of Paeonia.
In 365-359, the Paeonians raided Macedon in support of an invasion by the Illyrians. This brought the wraith of Macedon upon them, and, as a result, Philip II (382-336) invaded Paeonia. He annexed the southern part and reduced the rest to a semi-autonomous, subordinate state. The Paeonian kings continued to be highly respected, with King Audoleon becoming an Athenian citizen and his daughter marrying King Pyrrhus (319/318–272) of Epirus. A unit of Paeonian light cavalry under King Ariston was attached to Alexander the Great’s army. They were used mainly as scouts, but, when Alexander was crossing the Tigris River before the great Battle of Gaugamela, the Paeonians defeated a large force of Persian cavalry. The kings of a reduced Paeonia were as follows: Lycceius (358/356–340); Patraus (340–315); Audoleon (315–285), son of Patraus; Ariston (286–285), son of Audoleon; Leon (278–250); Dropion (250–230), son of Leon; and Bastareus (?).
The kingdom was ravaged during Gallic invasions in 280/279 but recovered under King Leon. Paeonia’s last hurrah was when they provided 4,000 troops to Philip V (221–179) in his failed war against Rome. After that, the whole region was brought under Roman control.
Very little is known of Lycceius except that he succeeded Agis and served as a vassal of Philip II. Lycceius issued a series of tetradrachms on a light Thraco-Macedonian standard of 12.8 grams. These coins paired either the head of Apollo or Zeus with Heracles wrestling the Nemean Lion on the reverse. The obverse is derived from contemporary Macedonian issues. Figure 2 shows an example of the Zeus/Heracles type. The reverse has the name of the king to the left of the lion, ΛYKK-EIOY. To the right is a bow and quiver, symbols of Heracles.
The drachms (3.0 grams) feature Apollo or a female head on the obverse and a lion standing or advancing on the reverse. Figure 3 shows an example of this denomination. The name of the king is above and below the lion.
Tetrobols (2.2 grams) were also minted with the head of Apollo obverse and a horse standing reverse. These are similar in style to the coins of Larissa in Thessaly. Lycceius also issued some tetradrachms based on the Attic standard of 17.2 grams in the same style as the aforementioned tetradrachms. What this indicates is unknown, whether it was for trade with Athens or that Athens was helping Paeonia resist Philip II. At least some of Lycceius’ coins were minted at Damastion, and the royal capital of Astibos may have also served as a mint.
As with his successor, very little is known of the reign of Patraus. He may have been the brother of Ariston, who commanded a contingent of cavalry during Alexander’s invasion of Persia, but this is not certain. Patraus also struck tetradrachms on a light Thraco-Macedonian standard. These coins had Apollo on the obverse and a cavalryman riding down a foot soldier. The foot soldier was thought to be a Persian in reference to Alexander’s invasion, but some experts say that the soldier is actually a Macedonian phalangite since he is wearing a kausia and holding a Macedonian shield. It is thought that Patraus unsuccessfully sought independence from Macedon sometime between 331-323. Figure 4 shows a tetradrachm as described above. The reverse has the name of the king, PATRAOU, below the horse. Most, if not all, of Patraus’ coins were minted at Damastion.
The drachms (3.2 g.) and the tetrobols (2.2 g.) are modeled on those issued by Macedon. The drachms have Apollo wearing a tainia on the obverse and the forepart of a boar on the reverse. In Figure 5, the king’s name is to the upper right. The tetrobol has the same obverse and a standing eagle on the reverse.
Audoleon was the son of Patraus, and, as with his predecessors, only a couple of significant events from his reign are known. In a war against the Autariatan Illyrians, he was able to defeat them with the help of Kassander (305-297), the Macedonian regent. In 288-286, he joined a coalition to drive Demetrius Poliorcetes (294–288) out of Macedon.
During his reign, Audoleon minted several denominations to a light Thraco-Macedonian standard; the denominations were tetradrachms, didrachms (6.2 g.), drachms, and tetrobols. On the obverse, the head of Athena is three-quarters facing on the tetradrachms, drachm, and tetrobols and in profile on the didrachm. A prancing horse was on the reverse except for the tetrobol, which had the forepart of the horse. These are similar in style to the coins of Thessaly. Figure 6 shows one of the tetradrachms with Athena in an Attic helmet obverse and a horse prancing on the reverse. The king’s name, AYΔΩΛEONTOΣ, is above the horse.
Audoleon also minted another two types of tetradrachms. One was exactly like the Philip II series that had a laureate head of Zeus on the obverse and a youth riding a horse holding a palm frond. Audoleon’s name is on the reverse like the coin in Figure 6. Another tetradrachm probably associated with the war against the Autariatans was minted on the Attic standard of 17.3 g. These are very similar to those minted by Alexander with the Heracles head obverse and Zeus seated reverse. The early issues had Alexander’s name on the reverse but by 305, Audoleon’s name appeared on the reverse. Figure 7 shows one of these latter coins with BASILEWS AUDWLEONTOS on the reverse. The first word is a title meaning “king”.
Nothing is known of this ruler except for the existence of three tetradrachms. Bastareus may not have been a king of Paeonia but only a ruler of Illyria or Dardania. All three coins have an Illyrian helmet on the obverse and a charging bull on the reverse. The dynastic coins ceased to be produced after about 285, and no bronze coins were produced at all.
Other Paeonian Coins
There are a number of very attractive coins that were minted during the fifth and fourth centuries by what is thought to be Illyro-Paeonian and/or Thraco-Macedonian tribes. Damastion was established by at least the fifth century and was occupied by people of Illyrian/Dardanian origin as well as Greek settlers. The wealth of the city was due to the silver mines located nearby. The large denomination coins were a way of exporting the mineral wealth of the city.
One of the tribes associated with this coinage is the Derrones tribe. These coins are rare today because it is believed that they were melted down for bullion. I was very impressed to read that they produced dodekadrachms (based on the 12.8-gram tetradrachm), which at 32 grams must rank in the top five heaviest silver coins minted in the ancient world. Figure 8 shows a dodekadrachm minted probably in Damastion by the Derrones. It has a male figure wearing a kausia driving a cart with a Corinthian helmet above. The reverse has a triskeles. There is no legend on the coin that would help with its identification.
Another dodekadrachm minted at the same time had two bulls with fillets yoked together on the obverse and a quadripartite incuse square reverse. The legend ΔERONIK is on the obverse above the bulls, obviously referring to the Derrones. These coins are very rare.
Figure 9 shows a tetradrachm that was minted around the time that Agis was unifying the tribes into a cohesive entity (see above). The coin has Apollo on the obverse and a tripod with a knife to the left on the reverse. What the legend ΗΡΑΚΛΕΙΔΟ refers to is unknown but may be a local tribal leader.
The coins of the Paeonian kingdom can be very attractive and very well crafted. The dynastic tetradrachms can be expensive in EF (see Figures 2 and 6), but those in VF can be reasonably priced. The fractions, though they may not be as attractive, can be obtained at a moderate cost. There are no bronzes, which are usually the less-pricey coins that allow collectors to fill a slot in their collection of ancient Greek coin types without going broke. Of course, the non-dynastic coins are rare and only for top-end collectors, but any one of these coins would be a nice addition to a collection. Plus, since they are not very well known, these coins make interesting talking points.
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Hoover, Oliver D. Handbook of Coins of Macedon and its Neighbors, Part 1: Macedon, Illyria, and Epeiros [The Handbook of Greek Coinage Series, Vol. 3]. Classical Numismatic Group, LLC. (2016).
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About the Author
Steve M. Benner has a Ph.D. in engineering from the Ohio State University and worked for NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for almost three decades before retiring in 2016. He has been an ancient coin collector since the early 1970s and is a member of the ANS, the ANA, and the ACCG. He specializes in coins of the ancient Greek leagues and in Roman Imperial bronzes. Dr. Benner has published over 30 ancient coin articles in various publications and is the author of Achaian League Coinage of the 3rd through 1st Centuries B.C.E. (2008) and History and Coinage of the Ancient Greek Leagues, 5th through 1st Centuries B.C.E. (2018).