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"Freedom" for Thessalians in 196 BC

This article was originally issued in July 2021, as we celebrated the 4th, in the United States, and the American Declaration of Independence from the tyranny of King George in AD 1776. With a couple of new coins added, especially a Macedonian silver tetrobol of Philip V, it seemed time for an update. The main coin of interest is from a Greek federation of city states, the Thessalian League, declared free from Macedonian King Philip V, and Roman tribute, in 196 BC. It is interesting to note that it was July 2nd, 1776, that the Continental Congress voted nearly unanimously for independence. John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3rd:

"The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."
-Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776 

The next day, July 4th, the Declaration of Independence, written to explain the vote, was formally adopted (July 4th).

Meanwhile in Macedonia

Nearly 2000 years earlier, the Second Macedonian War (200–197 BC) ended between Rome and Macedonia led by King Philip V. This coin issued from near the end of the war.

Greek, Macedon, The Macedonians, circa 196-168 BC, AR Tetrobol, (15mm, 2.35 g, 12h), Amphipolis mint, Series III, Group 1A, circa 196-179 BC

Obv: Macedonian shield; on boss, MA-KE above and below club

Rev: Macedonian helmet left; two monograms across central field, ZΩ (mintmaster) monogram and [thunderbolt] flanking cheek guards

Ref: ACULA (Kremydi, S.; 'Autonomous Coinages Under the Late Antigonids') Issue 13, 24–30

Philip V, allied with Pergamon and Rhodes, was defeated and surrendered all his possessions in southern Greece, Thrace and Asia Minor. T. Quinctius Flamininus won the decisive battle in the Cynoscephalae hills to the south of Scotussa in Thessaly. Polybius and Livy report that at the start of the Isthmian Games, a declaration was made:

"The senate order and Titus Quintius the proconsul having overcome King Philip and the Macedonians, leave the following peoples free, without garrisons and subject to no tribute and governed by their countries' laws — the Corinthians, Phocians, Locrians, Euboeans, Phthiotic Achaeans, Magnesians, Thessalians, and Perrhaebians." At once at the very commencement a tremendous shout arose, and some did not even hear the proclamation, while others wanted to hear it again. 
-Polybius, The Histories, 18.46.5  

and the similar, derived, account from Livy:

"The senate of Rome and T. Quinctius, their general, having conquered King Philip and the Macedonians do now decree and ordain that these states shall be free, shall be released from the payment of tribute, and shall live under their own laws, namely the Corinthians; the Phocians; all the Locrians together with the island of Euboea; the Magnesians; the Thessalians; the Perrhaebians, and the Achaeans of Phthiotis."
-Livy, History of Rome 33.32 

The Thessalian League had been under Macedonian rule since the time of Philip I, King of Macedon, who annexed the territory (344 BC).

Here's an attractive coin from Thessaly in the late 4th or 3rd century BC:

Thessaly, Gyrton (late 4th-early 3rd centuries BCE) AE Trichalkon. 6.38g, 20mm.

Obv: Laureate head of Zeus left

Rev: ΓΥΡΤ/ΩΝΙΩ-N, horse prancing left; monogram below.

Ref: Rogers 236; BCD Thessaly II 82.4; HGC 4, 366.

Note: Ex CNG E-Auction 448 lot 66, from the BCD Collection, acquired in Thessaly in 1988 for 6000 drachmae. Features a particularly attractive horse. Flan crack at 8 o’clock on obverse.

T. Quinctius Flamininus re-established an independent Thessalian league and not long after that the Third Macedonian War with Rome (171–168 BC) broke out.

These Roman Republican denarii celebrate the Roman victory in the Third Macedonian War, over the son of Philip V, Perseus, at Pydna in 168 BC by Lucius Aemilius Paulus, who was consul in 182 and 168 BC.

L. Aemilius Lepidus Paullus, 62 BC, AR Denarius, Rome mint

Obv: Veiled and diademed head of Concordia, right

Rev: Trophy; to left, three captives (King Perseus of Macedon and his two sons) standing right; to right, Paullus standing left

Ref: Crawford 415/1; Sydenham 926; Aemilia 10

Here's another RR coin celebrating the next battle with the Macedonians (4th Macedonian War, 150-148 BC). This time with the coin commemorating the moneyer's father, Q Caecillius Metellus, who became "Macedonicus" for his victory over Andriskos. Andriskos claimed, falsely, to be the son of Perseus. The Romans initially didn't take him seriously - they had more than one opportunity to prevent the problem.

"When King Demetrius sent on to Rome the self-styled son of Perseus, a young man named Andriscus, the senate ordered him to live in a certain city of Italy. But after a period he escaped and sailed off to Miletus. During his stay there he invented tales about himself purporting to demonstrate that he was the son of Perseus... Since his story attracted much attention, it finally reached the ears of the magistrates of Miletus, who arrested him and placed him in prison. Certain envoys happening to visit the city, they referred the matter to them,seeking advice on what should be done. They scoffingly bade the magistrates let the fellow loose to go his own way."
-Diodorus Siculus, Library of History XXXII.15  

Andriskos became a serious threat and was initially successful in conquering Thessaly. The Romans eventually won, with the final battle again fought at Pydna in 148 BC (The Second Battle of Pydna).

M. Caecilius Q.f. Q.n. Metellus, 127 BC, AR Denarius, Rome mint

Obv: Helmeted head of Roma right, ROMA upward behind; mark of value below chin

Rev: M.METELLVS.Q.F. around Macedonian shield with elephant's head in central boss, surrounded by laurel wreath

Ref: Crawford 263/1a; Sydenham 480; Caecilia 29

Finally we come to my coin of interest today, from Thessaly sometime late second century BC to the start of the Roman empire. This is a coin from the federation, portraying Apollo on the obverse and on the reverse, Athena Itonia, which was the local cult of Athena named for the town of Iton. An interesting write-up on Athena Itonia can be found on CoinTalk. This coin likely struck in Larissa.

Thessaly, Thessalian League, Drachm (4.24 g), Late 2nd-mid 1st centuries BC, Her… and Heg… magistrates

Obv: Laureate head of Apollo right; behind, HP monogram

Rev: ΘEΣΣA-ΛΩN, Athena Itonia striding right, hurling spear and holding forth shield; in right field, HΓ monogram

Ref: BCD Thessaly II (Triton XV) Lot 836; BMC 42; McClean 4968

A Roman copy of a Greek bronze statue of Athena (possibly Itonia), Louvre Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The interesting defect at the top of this coin, prompted a review of other coins in ACSearch, which surfaced four coins from the same dies, one of which is before the die broke - the others sharing the same die break. The second coin is listed by CNG as "from the BCD collection":

The reverses are all from the same die as my coin:

Here is an example of a different die shown for my OP coin in Triton XV and two more in lot 889 from the same catalog.

Here is a Thessalian stater from this period (sometime called a double Victoriatus, but the weight of these coins does not support this naming):

Thessaly, Thessalian League, Late 2nd – mid 1st century BC, AR Stater, Kraterophronos and Amynandros, magistrates.

Obv: Head of Zeus right, wearing oak wreath

Rev: ΘEΣΣA/ΛΩN, Athena Itonia striding right, hurling spear held in her right hand, shield on her left arm; KPA-TEPO/ΦPO-NOΣ above spear and across central fields, Λ above monogram in inner right field, AMVNANΔPOΣ in exergue

Ref: McClean 4725, pl. 176, 20

This coin in the Nomos catalog that shares magistrates with my coin (Kraterophronos & Amynandros):

Crawford, published in 1985, Coinage and Money under the Roman Republic which mentions on p.245 a small hoard from Aidona, that support the dating of the last flurry of Thessalian staters to the Roman civil wars. This coin and example of the later style, very different from the coin above, on a very large flan.

Thessaly, Thessalian League. Mid-late 1st century BC. AR Stater (31.0mm, 6.09 g, 1h). Alexandros and Menekrates, magistrates.

Obv: Head of Zeus right, wearing oak wreath

Rev: ΘEΣΣA-ΛΩN, Athena Itonia advancing right, holding shield and preparing to hurl spear; AΛE-ΞANΔP[OY] above spear; MENEKPATHΣ in exergue. Ref: BCD Thessaly II 844; HGC 4, 210

How do we know the time frame? An answer is found in an article by Peter Robert Franke in Sweitzer Munzblatter 1958 35 pp.61-67: In the fall of 1955, in the village of Αηδονά (southwest of Kalambaka), a small hoard of 8 silver coins was discovered. The coins are both dated Roman Republican denarii and Thessalian federal staters. In addition to the association in this find, there is a reference to magistrates who show up on these coins, from Caesar's Bellum Civile III. Thessalians both friend, Petraeus, and enemy, Hegesaretos, of Caesar:

"Of these officers Calvisius was received on his arrival with the utmost goodwill of all the Aetolians, and having expelled the garrisons of the foe from Calydon and Naupactus gained possession of the whole of Aetolia. Cassius arrived with his legion in Thessaly; here, since there were two factions, he met with a divergence of feeling among the towns: Hegesaretos, a man of long-established influence, favoured the cause of Pompeius; Petraeus, a youth of the highest rank, energetically supported Caesar with his own and his people's resources."

The name Hegesaretos, adding to my curiosity about the mysterious magistrates HΓ (Heg...) and HP (Hep...) from my coin. From 148 BC, the Thessalian League was integrated into the Roman province of Macedonia. Local bronze coinage during the Imperial period continued to be issued with Athena Itonia illustrated. The "freedom" declared in 196, was not long lasting for the Thessalians and the Thessalian League, limited in 148 BC and reduced to "ceremonial" in the Imperial period.

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Curtis JJ
Curtis JJ
Sep 28, 2022

Great topic and lovely series of coins! I've been trying to understand Thessaly's status under the Macedonians and Romans. (Complicated!)

Was Thessaly ever its own free-standing Province? Did Rome lump Thessaly & Macedonia together at first? I don't know the timing, but it also might've been part of Achaea's Province at some point.

I've been trying to nail down what happened when Nero "liberated" Greece (from taxes, mostly) -- namely, Peloponnesos and Achaea (during one of his grand musical tours, prob. 67 CE). And whether it applied to Thessaly.

The contemporary Roman Provincial bronzes honored Nero by showing him as Apollo playing the lyre/cithara. This one is from the Thessalian League, but Achaea had similar types. Example: Burrer 1.1 (this coin…


Alfred Kowsky
Alfred Kowsky
Jul 04, 2021

Sulla, This is an excellent & timely article. The group of Thessalian drachms with progressive die breaks is especially interesting 😉.

Jul 04, 2021
Replying to

Glad to have you as a reader, Al! Happy 4th!

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