top of page
  • Writer's picturesulla80

Thracian Wine & Coins

A nice glass of red wine would go well with today's post. There is evidence of wine making in Thrace from 4300 BC. The coins of interest are silver and copper coins of "free and independent" cities of Thrace after the end of the Third Macedonian War.

The Black Corinth Grape (Vitis vinifera cv.). Colored etching by W. Clark, c. 1835. Public domain with thanks to the Wellcome Collection.

In ancient Greece, "Wine in moderation" was recommended. This 4th century BC paragraph summarizes well:

"Mnesitheus said that the gods revealed wine to mortals to be the greatest
blessing for those who use it correctly, and, for those who use it unregulated, the opposite. For it gives nourishment to those who use it well, and strengthens the soul and the body. In medicine, it is a very useful thing. Indeed, it can be mixed with medicines in a potion, and it is beneficial for those who have wounds. In daily gatherings, for those who drink a moderated and mixed amount, it adds to their well-being. However, if it is drunk in excess, it leads to violence. If it is drunk in equal measure, it provokes madness; and if it is taken undiluted, it leads to paralysis of the body. This is why Dionysus is everywhere called doctor."
-Athenaeus, Deipnosophists, Book 2 36A 

According to myth, the city of Maroneia in Trace was founded by Maron, son of Evantheus. Thrace and especially Maroneia was known for fine wines.

"Osiris also took an interest in hunting elephants, and everywhere left behind him inscribed pillars telling of his campaign. And he visited all the other nations of Asia as well and crossed into Europe at the Hellespont. In Thrace he slew Lycurgus, the king of the barbarians, who opposed his undertaking, and Maron, who was now old, he left there to supervise the culture of the plants which he introduced into that land and caused him to found a city to bear his name, which he called Maroneia."
-Diodorus Siculus, Library, 1.21.1, writing between 60 and 30 BC

Homer wrote of the "Mellifluous, undecaying, and divine" wine of Maroneia.

"I left my vessel at the point of land,
And close to guard it, gave our crew command:
With only twelve, the boldest and the best,
I seek th' adventure, and forsake the rest.
Then took a goatskin fill'd with precious wine,
The gift of Maron of Evantheus' line
(The priest of Phoebus at th' Ismarian shrine.)
In sacred shade his honour'd mansion stood
Amidst Apollo's consecrated wood;
Him, and his house, heaven mov'd my mind to save,
And costly presents in return he gave;
Seven golden talents to perfection wrought,
A silver bowl that held a copious draught,
And twelve large vessels of unmingled wine,
Mellifluous, undecaying, and divine!
-Homer, Odyssey, Book IX, translated by Alexander Pope p.162 

It was this wine that he gave to the Cyclops, Polyphemus, whom he blinded in drunken sleep.

 I filled a cup with this wine of Maroneia and offered it to him to drink with these words: ‘O Cyclops, son of the sea-god, come see what kind of divine drink this is that Greece [415] provides from its vines, the gleaming cup of Dionysus.’ And he, his belly full to bursting with that execrable meal, took it and downed it in one long draught, then raising his hand in admiration he said, ‘Dearest friend, you give me fine drink on top of a fine meal.’
-Euripides, The Cyclops, 408 BC, translated by David Kovacs

A copper coin from Maroneia, and a silver Tetradrachm from nearby Thasos led to reading Homer, Euripides, and sources on Thracian wine. Dionysos, god of wine and for some the father of the founder of Maroneia, carries a bunch of grapes in his right hand on this coin.

Thrace, Maroneia, Æ 26mm, Circa 168-145 BC

Obv: Head of Dionysos to right, wearing ivy-wreath

Rev: ΔIONYΣOY ΣΩTHPOΣ MAPΩNITΩN, Dionysos standing to left holding grape bunch and spears; monogram to lower left

Ref: Schönert-Geiss 1354-1405

Orpheus and Eurydice depicted on a Terracotta bell-krater, a bowl for mixing wine and water. Public Domain image courtesy of the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Thrace is also where the tragic love story of Orpheus & Eurydice originates. Orpheus, son of Apollo or son of Oeagrus, a king of Thrace, loses his love, Eurydice, to a poisonous snake bite, so he travels to the underworld to rescue her, and succeeds in getting the chance to bring her back from Hades. However, just before re-emerging from the underworld, he slips up and loses her again as he breaks the rules established for her return.

"And now, retracing his steps, he evaded all mischance,
and Eurydice, regained, approached the upper air,
she following behind (since Proserpine had ordained it),
when a sudden madness seized the incautious lover,
one to be forgiven, if the spirits knew how to forgive:
he stopped, and forgetful, alas, on the edge of light,
his will conquered, he looked back, now, at his Eurydice."
- Virgil, Georgics, Book IV:453-527, Orpheus and Eurydice

Thrace, Thasos, AR Tetradrachm (32mm, 16.85g), circa 148-90/80 BC

Obv: Head of Dionysos right, wearing ivy wreath

Rev: HPAKΛEOYΣ / ΣΩTHPOΣ / ΘAΣIΩN, Herakles standing left, holding club and lion skin, monogram to inner left

Ref: SNG Copenhagen 1046-8

Islands off Thrace, Thasos, circa 168/7-148 BC, Tetradrachm (Silver, 29mm, 16.34g, 11h)

Obv: Head of youthful Dionysos to right, wreathed with ivy

Rev: ΗΡΑΚΛΕΟYΣ ΣΩΤΗΡΟΣ ΘΑΣΙΩN Herakles standing left, resting right hand on club set on ground and holding lion's skin draped over left arm; to inner left, monogram of MH

Ref: Le Rider, Thasos 51. SNG Copenhagen 1040. Toned. Very fine.

Where is Thrace?

Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection: Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd p. 17.

Ancient Thrace overlaps with modern countries of Greece, Bulgaria and Türkiye, with Maroneia and Thasos both on the South western edge of Thrace where it bordered with Macedonia and today in modern Greece. Thasos is an island south west of Maroneia.

An archeological study found evidence of wine-production in the region going back to 4300 BC from residue analysis and grape seeds found on site in Dikili Tash. This site near the ancient city of Philppi which was at various times eastern Macedonia and Thrace, just a little northwest of Thasos in northern Greece.

Thrace was conquered by Philip II of Macedonia around 335 BC. This began a turbulent period of about 180 years for Maroneia and Thrace, moving first from Macedonian control to the Thracian kingdom of Lysimachus and then control by Ptolemy III of Egypt. The Ptolemaic rule ended in the year 200 BC, when Philip V of Macedon retook Thrace for Macedonia. At the end of the Second Macedonian War, between Rome and Philip V, and after the Battle of Cynoscephalai in 197 BC CE, Rome freed Maroneia and Thrace for the first time.

Freedom was not long lasting, as early as 194 BC Thrace was conquered by Seleucid King Antiochus III, and then freed again by the Romans in 189 for the second time. Then Philip V recaptured Maroneia and unleashed a bloodbath on the city after they complained to Rome. However in 185/184 BCE under pressure from Rome, Phillip V retreated and the city was freed a third time. At the end of the Third Macedonian War (171–168 BC), with the destruction of Perseus and the Macedonian kingdom by the Romans, Rome initially promised Maroneia and Ainos to Pergamon, but reversed this decision and declared both cities free in 167/6 BCE. Both of these coins are from after the Third Macedonian War.

I enjoyed Edith Schönert-Geiss's qualification of "freedom" with "as much as one can speak of freedom and independence given the position that Rome had won in the Aegean".

Aparently there was wine industry as well further North as evidenced by the coin from Nikopolis ad Istrum (modern Bulgaria).

Moesia Inferior, Nicopolis ad Istrum. Elagabalus. A.D. 218-222. AE assarion (16.8mm, 3.24g, 1 h)

Obv: AV K M A ANTΩNINOC, laureate and draped bust right

Rev: NIKOΠOΛITΩN ΠPOC I, bunch of grapes hanging from vine

References (others linked above)

104 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page