By Steve Benner for CoinWeek …..
Kephallenia is the sixth-largest island of Greece and the largest in the Ionian Sea. It is located opposite the Gulf of Corinth (Figure 1). The island was associated with the city of Elis on the mainland but functioned independently. Kephallenia is about 31 miles long and 20 to three miles wide with an area of about 340 square miles. Mt. Aenos is the tallest mountain in a range running from northwest to southeast across the island. There is little arable land and fresh water is scarce, having only one permanent freshwater stream, the Rakali. Most wells dry up during the summer. The main products of the island were olives, timber, and some wine. The island of Ithaka was just off the northeast coast of the island.
Kephallenia has a long history of habitation, with archeological studies showing humans living on the island as far back as 40,000 years ago. There was a significant Mycenean presence on the island between 1,500 to 1,100 BCE (all dates are BCE) as indicated by several tholos tombs that have been discovered on the island. Homer suggests that the Kephallenians may have been subjects of Odysseus of Ithaka. The island is named after the Attic hero, Kephalos, who helped Amphitryon of Mycenae defeat the Taphians and Teleboans. He was given the island as a reward, and his four sons are credited with founding the four cities on the island. This period ended when the Mycenean civilization collapsed around 1,100.
During the Classical Period, Kephallenia was known as a tetropolis because of its four cities: Pale on the western peninsula (Paliki); Kranion on the west coast near the Gulf of Koutavos; and Same and Pronni on the eastern side. The cities did not become a confederacy with common institutions but were united by their geographical and ethnic identity. The island was little affected by the Persian Wars and joined Athens during the Peloponnesian War (431-404). In 431, Corinthian troops invaded the island but were repulsed. After the war, the Kephallenian cities joined the Second Athenian League (378-355) and then the League of Corinth (338-322).
Around 224, the island joined the Aitolian League to fight against Philip V of Macedon and was invaded by him in 218 with little effect. The island remained allied with the Aitolian League during the Roman-Seleucid War (192-188), but two years after the League’s defeat in 191, the island surrendered to the Romans.
The minting of Greek coins ceased in 189, though a few Roman city coins were produced much later. Like the rest of Greece, Kephallenia was taken over by Rome in 146, and some Roman ruins have been excavated on the island.
Kranios, one of four sons of Kephalos, is said to have founded the city of Kranion. The Mycenean city had a fortified acropolis and strong walls almost three miles long that connected it to its harbor. Temples to Persephone and Demeter were located on its acropolis. During the Peloponnesian War, Kranion supported Athens with ships. It allowed settlers from Messenia into its territory, but at the war’s end, the Spartans exiled these settlers. The rest of Kranion’s history is the same as that of the whole island, being absorbed into the Roman Empire in 146.
Kranion was the first city on the island to begin minting silver coins, early in the fifth century (circa 480). It minted staters using the Korkyraian standard of 11.6 grams per stater (didrachm). The other silver coins the city minted were small fractions: tetrobols (3.86 g), triobols (2.9 g), trihemiobols (1.45 g), and obols (0.96 g). The ram’s head was the most common obverse, being used on the stater, the trihemiobol, and the obol, and on the reverse of the tetrobol. A bow (or “D”) in a square incuse was used on the reverse on the stater, triobol, and obol. The ram is sacred to Hermes from whom Kephalos was supposedly descended, and the bow may just relate to his being a hunter. Figure 2 shows a typical triobol. The city legends on the Kranion coins were KP, KPA, or KPANI.
As the end of the fifth century approached, the ram and bow style was replaced with an archaic-style female bust obverse and a reverse with ram’s head in an incuse square for tetrobol and trihemiobols. The female figure may represent Kephalos’ wife, Prokris, who was a princess of Athens and was accidentally slain by her husband. In the fourth century, the style was changed again with the issuing of new trihemiobols, tritartemoria, and hemiobols. The trihemiobols and hemiobols returned to the ram’s head obverse but with a ram’s hoof reverse for the former and a denomination mark for the latter. One hemiobol had a ram’s leg obverse and a quadripartite incuse square reverse. The tritartemorion used the denomination mark reverse but a Gorgon-head obverse. Figure 2 shows a nice example of a trihemiobol of the new style.
The minting of bronze coins began in the fourth century, and this consisted of two denominations: C (around 4 g) and D (around 2 g). Most of the symbols used on the silver coins were used again, especially the ram and bow combination, but obverses with Kephalos, Athena, a bull’s head, or an Attic helmet and reverses with monograms, letters (“K” and “H”), or a ram’s foot were added (see Figure 4). All Kranion coinage minting stopped after about 300, with the exception of some bronzes minted during the Roman occupation in the late first century BCE.
Another son of Kephalos, Peleus, was said to have established the city of Pale on the western peninsula of Paliki. It had the usual fortified acropolis and city walls and may have had a temple to Poseidon. Pale was lucky to control a rich agricultural area. The history of the city is pretty much that of Kephallonia, allying with the Athenians in the fifth and fourth centuries until joining Philip II’s League of Corinth. Around 224, when the Kephallenians allied themselves with the Aitolian League against Macedon, Philip V invaded the island and laid siege to Pale. Even though Philip had some success against the city, he was forced to withdraw after several setbacks. Pale became part of the Roman Empire in 146 like the rest of the island.
Early in the fifth century, Pale began minting silver triobols (2.9 g) on the Korkyraian standard like Kranion. It had a ram on the obverse and a pinecone on the reverse. By around 430, the city added the tetrobols (3.86 g) and diobols (1.93 g). These had Kephalos’ head on the obverse or reverse and Kephalos seated or standing on the other. A few diobols featured either Persephone or Kephalos’ unfortunate wife, Prokris, on the obverse. The former could refer to the agricultural wealth of the city. Since these early fractions are rare and seldom come up for sale, decent photos of them are hard to find.
In the first half of the fourth century, the silver coins changed. For the tetrobol, now Persephone’s head is on the obverse and either Kephalos seated or a dolphin leaping is on the reverse. In the example in Figure 5, the legend PA for Pale is on the obverse, and the legend KEFALOS is on the reverse for Kephalos.
For the triobol, a spearhead replaced the ram obverse, and the diobols now had the same Kephalos seated and Persephone combination as the tetrobols. This combination was also used on a hemiobol (0.48 g) that was now being minted. In addition, a tetartemorion (0.24 g) was added to the mix with an Attic helmet obverse and a barleycorn inside a large P reverse.
The minting of bronze coins started in the fourth century, being issued in three weights (denominations B, C, D). Denomination B (about 6 g) either had Athena or Prokris on the obverse. The Athena obverse had a reverse with the city ethnic in a wreath (see Figure 6), and the Prokris obverse had a barleycorn with a P and dolphin above. Denomination C (2 to 4 g) mostly used the same Kephalos and Persephone combination mentioned above, but some coins would pair Prokris with a city monogram or dolphin. This Prokris/monogram was also used on the Denomination D (about 2 g) coins along with a Hermes obverse and caduceus reverse combination.
This city was said to have been founded by Pronos, another son of Kephalos. Like the other cities on the island, it had defensive walls but two fortified acropoleis. A temple to Poseidon and a rock-cut altar to Zeus have been found in the area. The history of Pronni is the same as the rest of the Kephallenian cities as described above.
Pronni only began minting coins around 370, and even then, they minted only two silver fractions: a triobol (2.9 g) and a trihemiobol (1.45 g), based on the Korkyraian standard. The triobol had the head of Kephalos on the obverse and a club on the reverse. The city name of PRWNNWN is to the left and right of the club (Figure 7). The trihemiobol has the head of Prokris on the obverse and a pinecone within a large PR monogram reverse. This type may have been influenced by the neighboring city of Pale. As mentioned above, these coins are rare, and finding good photos of them is hard.
The city minted only one denomination of bronze coins weighing between 2.87 and 6.33 grams. One had Zeus’ head on the obverse and the pinecone in the monogram reverse seen in the trihemiobol. Another was the same except that the pinecone reverse was not in the monogram, the P and the R were on each side. The last bronze had the same monogram but with an “O” to the right obverse and a club reverse with the city name. All Pronni’s coins have the ethnic monogram and/or name of the city. Both silver and bronze coins were minted up until 189.
Same was supposedly settled by Kephalos’ fourth son, Samos. The city had two fortified acropoleis and some defensive works, but little else is known of the city’s layout. Foundations of temples and forts have been found outside the city. The history of the city is the same as that of Kephallenia and the other cities, as described above.
Same began minting two sliver fractions at the end of the fifth century: tetrobols (3.86 g) and diobols (1.92 g). Both denominations had the head of Apollo on the obverse and a hound on the reverse. The city name of SAMAIWN is shown on the reverse, but on other denominations, the name could be abbreviated to SAMAI or even just SA. The hound is Laelaps, a gift to Kephalos from his wife, Prokris. The hound was special in that it would always catch its quarry. When Kephalos sent Laelaps to capture the Teumessian fox, which was fated to never be caught, both animals were turned to stone to resolve the dilemma.
A few decades after these first fractions were minted, two more fractions were added: triobols (2.9 g) and obols (0.60 g). The former had Athena wearing either an Attic or Corinthian helmet on the obverse and a ram standing on the reverse (see Figure 8). The extremely rare obols had the Apollo obverse and the hound-standing reverse (Figure 9). Silver coinage ceased being minting around 300.
The bronze coins began to be minted in the early fourth century and continued into the second century. There are three denominations: B (4.71-6.96 g), C (3.05-3.89 g), and D (1.10-2.3 g). The types closely followed those of the silver fractions using the ram, Athena, and hound, though some variation was added. For example, Kephalos or his wife replaced Athena or Apollo on the obverse (see Figure 10). One denomination B coin has a ship’s prow on the obverse and a reverse with a large S inside a wreath, and a denomination C coin has a filleted bull’s head facing forward and a large SA on the reverse. All bronze coinage stopped being minted in 189.
Kephallenia was mostly a backwater area of classical Greece, but it managed to play, at least, a minor role in the major conflicts of the time. The cities never reached the prosperity of some of the other cities on the mainline, so they might not have had the resources to devote to minting coins. The craftsmanship of the Kephallenian city silver and bronze coins is not very impressive, though occasionally they did produce an attractive coin – see Figure 3, above. However, coins of the island cities, both silver and bronze, can be very expensive due to their scarcity.
* * *
Gardner, Percy. Catalogue of Greek Coins: Peloponnesus (excluding Corinth). Arnaldo Forni. (1887)
Hansen, Mogens, and Thomas Nielsen. The Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis. Oxford University Press. (2004)
Head, Barclay V. Historia Numorum: A Manual of Greek Numismatics. Oxford. (1887)
Hoover, Oliver D. Handbook of Coins of Adriatic, Ionian, Thracian, Aegean, and Carpathian Seas (excluding Crete and Cyprus) [The Handbook of Greek Coinage Series, Vol. 6]. Classical Numismatic Group, LLC. (2010)
Sear, David. Greek Coins and Their Values, Vol. 2: Asia. B.A. Seaby Ltd. (1979)
Smith, William. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, Vol. 1. Boston: Brown, Little, and Company. (1854)
* * *
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).