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Research Coins: Feature Auction


The Illyrian King Monounios

CNG 91, Lot: 160. Estimate $1500.
Sold for $1300. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

KINGS of ILLYRIA. Monounios. Circa 305/0-280/75 BC. AR Stater (20mm, 10.64 g, 3h). Dyrrhachion mint. Cow standing right, looking back at suckling calf standing left below; monogram of Monounios above / Double stellate pattern divided by two lines, all in double linear square border; Δ-Y-P and club around; all within linear circle border. Meadows, CH (forthcoming), 187 (this coin); Gjongecaj em. 1, 165-8 (same dies); Paškvan –; Maier 34 (cow right); SNG Copenhagen 425; Weber 2977 (same dies). Good VF. Extremely rare.

Monounios, an Illyrian king in the late 4th – early 3rd centuries BC, was the first Illyrian king to issue coins in his own name. The Illyrians consisted of a number of tribes whose habitation extended from the coast to the mountainous inland area bordering on Paionia. These tribes were not politically unified, but it seems that they were connected by a common culture and language, and were governed by hereditary kings and queens. Little of their language is known, and it was extinct by the 5th century AD, but enough fragments are attested to classify it as Indo-European.

Although little is known of Monounios’ reign, his issue of coinage took place only after he had extended his influence to Dyrrhachion, and the coinage may have been connected with his intervention in Macedonian affairs. In 280 or 279, it is reported that Monounios unsuccessfully aided Ptolemy I Epigone, son of Lysimachos, against Ptolemy Keraunos. A bronze helmet has been found in Lake Ohrid, on the border between modern-day Macedon and Albania, with the Greek inscription ‘Of King Monounios’, apparently confirming the presence of his army in this conflict of Macedonian succession. Pompeius Trogus (24,4) describes a “Dardanian prince” who offered Ptolemy Keraunos help against the invading Celts in 279. It seems likely that this prince was Monounios, and either Monounios had Dardanian heritage (references to which are not preserved elsewhere), or the distinction between Illyrian and Dardanian was unclear to the author.

The circumstances under which Monounios came to control the mint at Dyrrhachion are unknown. Around that time, Dyrrhachion issued an Alexander-type tetradrachm (Paškvan 1a = Price 661) which is obverse die linked to an issue struck in Monounios' name (Paškvan 1 = Price pl. CLVIII, H). It is likely that these issues were the first coinage he struck, and it was probably a very small issue – only one example of each are known today. In any case, Monounios was apparently content to adopt the familiar cow / stellate design of Dyrrhachion for the bulk of his coinage, of which there are various issues. The first issue (Gjongecaj identifies five) is linked to Monounios solely by his monogram that appears above the cow on the obverse, while the reverse is unchanged from the standard type with club and ethnic. This subtle introduction of his name in the form of a monogram may well indicate that he did not gain control of Dyrrhachion by force, and we can imagine that he may even have been invited in by at least one faction within the city. However, he was soon bold enough to replace the monogram with his name and title. The second emission features the jaw bone of a boar above the cow on the obverse, the legend ΒΑCIΛEΩC MONOYNIOY on two sides of the rectangle, with ΔYPPA and the club on the remaining sides. The third emission adds a ground line to the obverse, while the reverse reads ΒΑCIΛEΩC MONOYNIOY on two sides, ΔY above and P below, with the club completely eliminated. Sometimes in this issue there is a control mark in the obverse exergue, such as a bird. For the fourth emission, the obverse remains the same as on the third emission, but on the reverse the city’s abbreviation has been replaced with a club and a spearhead. On the fifth and final emission, the obverse remains the same, but the reverse legend features only Monounios’ name and title, omitting both the city’s name and the control marks of the club and the spearhead. The succession of issues, as Monounios’ name increases in prominence and the city name is ultimately removed, suggests a gradual increase in Monounios’ authority and an awareness that he could use the coinage to reflect his rising power.

The significance of the boar’s jaw on the obverse is a mystery. Jördens and Becht-Jördens have pointed out that the boar’s jaw went on to become the symbol of the Aitolian League on their coinage, suggesting a connection with the Caledonian Boar that, according to legend, inhabited Aitolia before being killed by a group of Greek heroes. However, this does not explain the connection with Monounios, since Illyria is not near Aitolia, nor is it near Arkadia, the home of that other famous beast, the Erymanthian Boar. There also seems to be no link between the Greek words for either ‘boar’ or ‘jaw’ and the names of any Illyrian tribe or member of the royal family, nor was any Illyrian hero present at the hunt for the Caledonian boar.

The pecularities of Monounios’s coinage have led to speculation about the circumstances in which an Illyrian king would issue coins at a Greek city, adopting the city’s designs but placing his own name and title on the coins. Otto Mørkholm and Ulrike Peter suggest that Epidamnos-Dyrrhachion could simply have loaned Monounios its minting facilities for a set period of time, possibly for an emergency issue. However, the multiple issues by Monounios and the fact that Monounios’ successor Mytilios also issued coins from Dyrrhachion suggest a more permanent link, possibly in the form of conquest or at least some form of political control.

The cow / stellate pattern coins of Monounios have rarely appeared in the market. CoinArchives includes only two specimens sold in all the recorded auctions through 2011. In the catalogs of major public collections, there are three in the BM (BMC 1-3), three in Tübingen (SNG 1341 and 1508-9), two in Munich (SNG 468-9), two in Copenhagen (SNG 425 and 528), one in the Fitzwilliam (McClean 5075), one in Brussels (Hirsch 1174), and one in Venice (von Schlosser p. 66, 1). In addition to these published pieces, Maier also records four in Berlin, two in Paris (one of which may be Mionnet II 164), and one in Vienna. In the major private collections, there is one each in Jameson (no. 1112), Lockett (SNG 1642 = Pozzi 2943), and Weber (no. 2978).