Thursday, March 11, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Selene Psoma, Chryssa Karadima, Domna Terzopoulou, The Coins from Maroneia and the Classical City at Molyvoti: A Contribution to the History of Aegean Thrace. Meletemata 62. Athens: Diffusion de Boccard, 2008. Pp. lxxxvi, 297; 70 p. of plates. ISBN 9789607905482. €96.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Gonda Van Steen, University of Florida

This exemplary and very readable study presents all of the Greek and Roman provincial coins that came to light during excavations at Maroneia and "the Classical city at Molyvoti," both located on the Aegean coast of Thrace. This book also takes into consideration the larger number of surface finds of coins that is now being held in the museum of Komotini and that can be traced back to the two sites or to their immediate vicinity. The authors (and in particular Selene Psoma, who did the lion's share of the research and writing) offer far more than a revision of the long-time standard work by Edith Shönert-Geiss (also a dedicatee of this book).1 The authors do due diligence to the twenty years' worth of new materials that has surfaced since the publication of Schönert-Geiss to deliver a comprehensive study of the local coinage of Maroneia and Molyvoti that includes and makes relevant all available physical and historical evidence.

This book begins with a history and overview of the excavations that Georgios Bakalakis carried out at the sites of Maroneia and Molyvoti and that E. Pentazos continued at Maroneia. These surveys are contributions by the co-authors Chryssa Karadima and Domna Terzopoulou. Then follows the in-depth numismatic component of the book, in which the authorship reverts to Psoma. Psoma first presents a conspectus and summary of the Greek coins of Molyvoti and Maroneia, a strong introductory chapter, and catalogues of coins from the same sites. After some 200 pages of precise documentary evidence and factual catalogues, the narrative chapters of this book commence, all of which were written by Psoma. Psoma reconsiders the bronze and silver coinage of Maroneia (chapters one and two, respectively), the numismatic iconography (chapter three), issues of monetary policy (chapter four), the history of the Macedonian foundation of Orthagoreia and its connections with Maroneia (chapter five), and the history of Agathokles and Maroneia that led to the refoundation of Maroneia as Agathokleia (chapter six). The subsequent chapters treat specific types of coins from Maroneia (chapter seven) and Paroreia (chapter eight). Then Psoma delves into matters of historical, military, and prosopographical importance (the Second Syrian War, chapter nine, and the numismatic evidence for the Hellenistic rulers in Thrace and in Maroneia, in particular, chapters ten to eleven). In chapter twelve, Psoma presents her most significant contribution to the history of Aegean Thrace based on the documentary evidence provided by the coins. The book concludes with carefully organized lists of the coin "retrievals, chance finds, and coins handed in," concordances, indices, and seventy pages of high-quality plates.

Psoma discusses all the known types of coins from Maroneia and Molyvoti, first in the chapters reconsidering the silver and then the bronze coinage and, in later chapters, in focused studies of several specific coin series. Her work is informed by coin finds from the two sites and also by knowledge from all available published sources. The plates, however, focus on the excavation coins and illustrate only those found at the two sites and not any other known types (about which one can still read in the text). Other organizational and structural decisions are again well motivated but bear some consequences for the reader and especially for the cataloguer and researcher. Psoma decided to present the catalogues and plates documenting the coinage of the two sites separately and to organize the coins according to her chronology, rather than arranging them by type. This choice helps the reader to follow the chronology without any difficulty. However, this organization makes it more challenging to use the catalogue for identifying and attributing coins (for instance, the reader seeking to catalogue a bronze coin of the Dionysos/grape bunch type must compare the coin to multiple sections of the catalogue with coins of this type). Admittedly, numismatists can continue to use, along with Psoma, the work of Shönert-Geiss, who organizes the coins by type. Thus it made sense for Psoma not to duplicate those defining aspects of the work of Shönert-Geiss. Also, while Psoma provides a comprehensive table of all the types of silver coins with a concordance to the catalogue of Shönert-Geiss (p. 173), she does not offer an equivalent table for the various types of bronze coins.

Psoma makes extensive use of the coins from other cities that were found at the sites of Maroneia and Molyvoti to support a study of the local history and to document monetary circulation in the region during Hellenistic and Roman times. Thus she extends the reach of her book into other and often pioneering directions. For example, she presents the four coins from Delos that were found at the site of Hellenistic Maroneia as evidence that complements other sources demonstrating regular contacts between Maroneia and Delos, such as several fragmentary inventories from Delos and another Delian inscription bearing a decree honoring a citizen of Maroneia. Psoma also engages in a thought-provoking socio-economic history of the region and lays the foundations for further research in this exciting area. Some of Psoma's conclusions will, undoubtedly, spark some debate. For instance, she uses the evidence of the bronze coins that bear the name and types of Adaios and that were found at Maroneia and in other Thracian cities to identify Adaios as a Macedonian general operating in the region, thereby subverting the traditional identification of Adaios as a local dynast. Also, following Picard, she concludes that certain bronze coins of Maroneia circulated in inner Thrace carrying the face value of silver coins (p. 151).2

As John H. Kroll notes in the brief preface to this book (ix-x), Psoma masterfully succeeds in telling the history of the city of Maroneia through its coinage: "Psoma demonstrates how the [numismatist] aggregates documents and reflects . . . other political or military vicissitudes of this community over time, especially as it was caught up in the power struggles for the control of Thrace and the Northern Aegean in the Hellenistic era. Such is the continuity provided by coins as historical artifacts that the author's survey of the coinage excavated at Classical and then Hellenistic Maroneia becomes in effect a history of the city itself". As Kroll also points out, Psoma's book is only one of a handful of publications (and one of even fewer studies in English) to present a complete corpus of coins from excavations carried out in Greece. Indeed, much of the excavated numismatic material that could enrich the wider socio-economic picture of the ancient Greek world remains unpublished. Psoma's book can serve as a model of organization, clarity, and depth for the hoped-for future studies.

Psoma's close study of the coinage from the sites of Maroneia and Molyvoti (the latter formerly thought to be ancient Stryme) has important implications for the topography of the region: she proves beyond any reasonable doubt that Maroneia was located on the site of Molyvoti during the Archaic and Classical periods and that, during Hellenistic times, it was moved to the site on the south slopes of Mount Ismaros near Komotini. Based on the 243 coins from the previously unlocated site of Orthagoreia that were found at Hellenistic Maroneia, Psoma also proves that Orthagoreia, which has traditionally been called a Macedonian foundation based on the coins' types, formerly occupied this Thracian site. She thereby rehabilitates the authority of Pliny, who made this identification of Orthagoreia as the original name of Maroneia in his Natural History (4.42-43). Lysimachos likely renamed Maroneia "Agathokleia" in honor of his son, but the city reverted to its original name after the execution of Agathokles in 283/282 BCE. The name of the city remained Maroneia throughout Roman and Byzantine times, and it lives on as the name of the modern town located on this site.

Let me conclude by restating the important and secure findings that emerge from Psoma's path-breaking work and that prove their importance far beyond the field of numismatics: Psoma presents significant revisions to the chronology established by Shönert-Geiss. She also proposes attributions for several series of previously unattributed bronze coins and shares important new insights on several other coin series found at the two sites (e.g. the coinage from Paroreia). Psoma invites the historian and archaeologist to rethink the history of the habitation of Maroneia: "The Classical City at Molyvoti" must be identified as Archaic and Classical Maroneia, which, in the Hellenistic era, was relocated to the slopes of Mount Ismaros near Komotini, which had originally been the site of Orthagoreia. Psoma has succeeded in organizing the large mass of coins from Maroneia into a compelling chronology. Her book will become the standard reference work for the coinage of this city and offers a lasting model for the study of the region's economic history as well.


1.   Edith Shönert-Geiss, Griechisches Münzwerk: Die Münzprägung von Maroneia. Two vols. (Berlin: Akademie -Verlag Berlin, 1987).
2.   Olivier Picard, "Innovations monétaires dans la Grèce du IVe siècle," CRAI (1989): 673-687.

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