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Thessalian Nymph, 4th Century BC

Livy in mentions Phalanna in his account of the Third Macedonian War against the Romans (171–168 BC). After four days attacking and ultimately wrecking and burning the city of Mylae, King Perseus of Macedon marched on to Phalanna, and on the following day arrived at Gyrton.

"After wrecking and burning most of the city [of Mylae], Perseus marched on to Phalanna, and on the following day arrived at Gyrto. On learning that T. Minucius Rufus and the Thessalian captain-general Hippias had entered this place with a body of troops he did not even attempt an assault, but marched past it and captured Elatia and Gonnus, the inhabitants being utterly dismayed by his unlooked-for appearance.
- History of Rome 42.54

Perseus' success was short-lived

Although Perseus was initially victorious, the stalemate near Phalanna and the retirement of the Romans to a narrow strip of coast near the Vale of Tempe was overshadowed by the failure of support from the Attalids of Pergamon and the Seleukid king, Antiochos IV. In 168 BC, Perseus was defeated at the Battle of Pydna and the Kingdom of Macedon was broken up into four districts, ormerides (μερίδες). 
-BCD Thessaly II 

The Town

In northern Thessaly, you find the town of Phalanna. Phalanna on the map (red marker). Source: public domain with thanks to the University of Texas Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection (Sheperd, Ancient Greece, 1926).


Today's post features 2 AE coins from Phalanna from ~150-200 years earlier than Livy's reference. It was minted not far from the time ~352 BC when Philip II of Macedon was appointed Archon of Thessaly for life, making him head of the Thessalian armies and uniting Thessaly and Macedon.


The Nymph

Rogers (1936) overview of copper coins of Thassaly, describes Phalanna as the daughter of Phoenix and sister to Tyros. Phalanna is said to have founded the city, and is the nymph on the coin. The male head is ambiguous, possibly Ares but Rogers also mentions a similar coin with Apollo. A more intriguing possibility can be found in notes from the BCD collection suggesting that the figure could also be Pelagos. This leads to a founding story from Baton of Sinope writing "On Thessaly and Haemonia"

"When the Pelasgians were carrying out a public sacrifice, a man named Pelorus brought Pelasgus a message, to the effect that there had been major earthquakes in Haemonia, producing a rift in what is known as the Tempe Range; that the lake-water had rushed out through the gap and joined the course of the Peneius River, and the land that had previously been at the bottom of the lake had all been exposed; and that as the water dried up, extraordinarily large and beautiful plains were emerging."

The people served a feast for Pelorus and later took control of this fertile territory, and this feast persisted as "Peloria" a Thessalian festival with sacrifices to Zeus Pelorius. (See Graninger 2022)


The Coins

Notes from BCD suggest that this coinage may have been used across Northern Thessaly.

"Why did some cities produce relatively small issues of bronze, perhaps struck by only a few die pairs, while others, as here, minted massive numbers, produced by very considerable numbers of dies? Coins may have been issued just for prestige, so that all citizens could use ‘their own’ money to buy things, while others must have been struck not only for local use, but also as the money of a whole region. The enormous coinage of Phalanna was probably used all over northern Thessaly, if not beyond."
-Nomos Auction IV March 2011 

An error in reverse legend with a retrograde N and although faint in the photo, the letters "ANNAIΩN" are all visible with a magnifying glass.

Thessaly, Phalanna, 380-350, Æ Trichalkon

Obv: Youthful male head right (Apollo or Ares?)

Rev: [ΦAΛ]–ANNAIΩN, head of nymph, Phalanna, right, with hair in sakkos [a hairbag made of a coarsely worked wool or linen], wearing earring and necklace

Size: 18mm, 6.04g

Ref: CoinProject 35-047, Rogers 446-452


This second coin seems to have a very stern looking nymph with a sakkos that looks more like a helmet.

Thessaly, Phalanna, mid 4th century BC, Æ trichalkon (17mm, 5.67g, 12h)

Obv: Head of Ares right

Rev: ΦΑΛΑΝΝΑΙΩΝ, head of nymph right, with hair in sakkos

Ref: Rogers 446-452; BCD Thessaly I 1255.1; Triton V, BCD Thessaly II 591.6;


References - in addition to those shared inline

- Environmental change in a sacred landscape: the Thessalian Peloria, Charles Denver Graninger, Journal of Ancient History and Archeology Vol 9, No 1 (2022) DOI: 10.14795/j.v9i1.698


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