Featured Daorson: How a Handful of Coins Preserved the Memory of a Lost Civilization

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Curtisimo, Sep 20, 2017.

  1. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    Hello friends! On a recent trip exploring the Adriatic coast of the Balkan Peninsula I was fortunate to be able to visit a site with a fascinating cultural and numismatic history. I decided to put together a write up about what I learned since I have a feeling many of you will also enjoy learning about the site and its connection to ancient coins (The coins shown are housed at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina).
    Daorsi AE17, Daorson mint ca. 2nd cent. BC
    Found at Doarson, Bosnia and Herzegovina
    Wt.: 5.03 g
    Dia.: 17 mm, 3h
    Obv.: Male head wearing kausia facing right
    Rev.: Ship, ΔΑΟΡΣΩΝ
    Ref.: Basler 1971, 335

    Perched on the peak of a commanding hill top location in modern Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the most fascinating archeological sites in South-Eastern Europe. The site was the capital and primary cultural center of a small tribe of technologically advanced Illyrians known as the Daorsi. However, the name of this tribe (and their capital Daorson) would not be known to us today if it were not for three bronze coins that turned up in prominent collections in the 18th and 19th centuries and a handful of others that were unearthed when Daorson was rediscovered almost 120 years after its first coins were published [1]. The evidence provided by the coins show that the Daorsi had adopted the Greek alphabet and language and referred to their capital city as ΔΑΟΡΣΩΝ (Daorson). This allowed scholars to piece together the fragments of ancient text referencing a similar ethnonym to reconstruct the history of this lost civilization.

    1.0 – History of Daorson

    The site of the city of Daorson was located on a prehistoric settlement dating from around 1600 BC. From at least early classical times it was the center of the Daorsi tribe which inhabited an area that encompassed the left bank of the Neretva River (see Fig. 1). The Daorsi had early and extensive contacts with Greek (and later Roman) traders due to the establishment of the trading emporium at Narona [1]. The Daorsi grew into a wealthy and prosperous people due to their role as facilitators of trade between the Mediterranean world and the Balkan interior.

    Figure 1 – Map of Central Illyria

    It was through the influence of this trade relationship that the Daorsi would eventually become almost completely Hellenized in terms of language, art, culture and city planning by the 3rd century BC.

    It seems that the Daorsi were at least nominally subject to the Illyrian Ardiaei Kingdom from ca. 250 BC to 181 BC [3]. The Ardiaei Kingdom is particularly noted for its support of piracy in the Adriatic Sea and beyond which was the main cause for the Roman Republic to subdue the region during the three Illyrian Wars (229 BC – 168 BC). Livy points out that at the end of the Third Illyrian War the Daorsi were exempted from taxes because they had acted as Roman allies by supplying military (probably naval) support to the Romans during the war. This is also most likely to be the time when the Daorsi began minting their own coins [1].

    After the fall of the Ardiaei Kingdom the powerful Dalmatae tribe began to aggressively attack its neighbors in the region. The Greek island of Issa as well as the Daorsi sent embassies to Rome requesting aid [2]. The Romans responded by attacking the Dalmatae and sacking their capital of Delminium in 155 BC [4]. For the next hundred years the city of Daorson was the center of a prosperous and relatively secure society under Roman protection.

    All that changed during the wars between Caesar and Pompey when the still powerful Dalmatae threw their support to Pompey and resumed their attacks on the Daorsi (who supported Caesar). Caesar’s praetor P. Vatinius responded by attacking Dalmatia ca. 45 BC but was forced to withdraw his army to Dhyrrachium due to stiff resistance and harsh weather. It was at this time ca. 44/43 BC that the Dalmatae launched a counterattack against the Daorsi and burned Daorson to the ground. Much of the tribe was killed in this invasion and the site of Daorson would never be resettled.

    2.0 – Layout of the City

    Figure 2 – Plan of Daorson

    The city layout is fascinating to consider because it clearly shows the Daorsi moving from a typical Illyrian “hill-fort” type settlement into an urban plan that is recognizably Greek.
    The cyclopean walls (so-called because of the immense stones) were finished in the 3rd century BC and separate the Acropolis of Daorson from the settlement on the wider plain.
    Behind the walls on the Acropolis there is an artificially raised platform with a retaining wall that was likely the site of a temple. Looking back at the cyclopean wall from the Acropolis it is possible to see the damage that was caused to the inside of the wall (behind me) from the fire that destroyed the city in 44 BC.
    Just beyond the Acropolis there are a series of terraces that descend down the side of the cliff face and are only accessible by ancient stone walkways that wind down the steep slopes. From what I could tell from what was written about the archaeology of the site (most of it is in Croatian!) this area would have been where the mint facility was located!
    Croatia 584.JPG
    The paths between the terraces are very narrow and the sides are much steeper than the photos make them appear.
    In the foreground of this photo you can see the zig-zag pattern of the secondary defensive wall in front of the cyclopean wall (see Figure 2). This photo looks out onto the plain known as “Banje” with what would have been the Agora directly ahead. To the left you can just make out the foundation of the Stoa and in the far background would have been the Necropolis.

    It was this area of Daorson where the transformation from Illyrian hill-fort to Hellenized urban center is most apparent. While none of the buildings in this area survive above the foundation the Hellenic layout is unmistakable. It’s also interesting to note that this wider area is almost completely unexcavated so there may well be some more fascinating discoveries waiting to be uncovered by future archaeologists.

    3.0 – Daorson Coins: Obverse

    The obverse of the Daorsi coins show a young male facing right and wearing a kausia type hat. The features and style of the coins struck at Daorson have been noted as being of much superior artistic quality and realism than the coins struck by their regional neighbors. The inclusion of a kausia on the obverse is a clear indication of influence from Macedonian Greek culture as this hat was closely associated with Macedon in antiquity. In fact, the Persian name for Macedonian is Yauna Takabara meaning “Ionians (Greeks) with hats that look like shields”.

    4.0 – Darson Coins: Reverse

    The reverse of male head/ship type is particularly important because it clearly shows the ethic ΔΑΟΡΣΩΝ (Daorson). This has been important to scholars because it positively identifies the Daorsi with a specific site and allows scholars to make sense of fragmentary references to this cultural group within the ancients sources (such as Livy and Polybius). The reverse is also noteworthy in that it depicts a type of Illyrian ship that is known as a lembi. This was like the Viking ship of its day in that it was very maneuverable and versatile (though limited in range) and allowed the Illyrians to become feared pirates all over the Adriatic and Ionian Seas.

    So what are some of your thoughts on the coin/site/historical period?

    Please comment or post anything you think would be of interest to this thread!

    [1] Dragicevic, I.; Daorsi coins and a contribution to the understanding of the circulation of coinage in Daorsi territory. UKD 904: 737. Original scientific paper; March 2016.

    [2] http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0234:book=32:chapter=18

    [3] http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0168:book=45:chapter=27

    [4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman-Dalmatae_Wars
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2017
    RaceBannon, Ryro, Andres2 and 57 others like this.
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  3. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    Nice!!!! And great information.
    Curtisimo likes this.
  4. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic

    Fantastic post! Love the coin and great write-up. Coins and history, what more can you ask for?
  5. chrsmat71

    chrsmat71 I LIKE TURTLES! Supporter

    Cool write up and a cool coin. I've never seen headgear like that before, except from this guy!

  6. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    Thanks guys! I thought the history of the site and the uniqueness of the coins was too cool not to share with you all.

    The thing I really liked about this site is how off the beaten trail it was. We pretty much had the whole place to ourselves to enjoy at our leisure and the surrounding area looks like it might not have changed since the last days of the city.
    Lol yeah that reminds me of this!
  7. Orfew

    Orfew Supporter! Supporter

    A wonderfully informative writeup. Thanks.
    Curtisimo likes this.
  8. Ancient Aussie

    Ancient Aussie Supporter! Supporter

    Some fantastic picks there Curtisimo, and great write up on what looks like a turbulent time in history, keeping the Romans busy as well. Great coin, love the detail and patina. Looks as though that area was full of interest, where did you stay when holidaying there?
    Curtisimo likes this.
  9. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Great write up and photos.
    Curtisimo likes this.
  10. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    good write up and pics! thanks for sharing Curtismo:)
    Curtisimo likes this.
  11. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

    Curtisimo likes this.
  12. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Great post, @Curtisimo! I really enjoyed the writeup and pics.
    Curtisimo likes this.
  13. Deacon Ray

    Deacon Ray Biblical Kingdoms Supporter

    Don’t forget to give yourself plenty of credit for preserving the memory of a fascinating civilization, @Curtisimo ! By visiting and photographing the site, studying their coins, and creating your excellent post—you’ve contributed greatly to the memory of the ancient Daorsi also!
  14. GerardV

    GerardV Well-Known Member

    I joke about the evil genius tactic people on this forum use to draw in collectors. But, this is the exact reason it works. The fact remains that very few modern coins have such a fascinating, dramatic and informative story attached to them.

    Sure, there are a few. In comparison, just about every ancient coin attaches itself to a truly remarkable history.

    Simply stated, this is GREAT stuff.
  15. ErolGarip

    ErolGarip Active Member

    As an outsider who view/read only this ancient forum from time to time, my comment is that; This title is a little exaggeration.
    The coin shown here is dated 2nd century BC. But, it is said that the history of that city goes back 1600 BC.
    So, where is those 1400 years? Lost. 1400 years without any coin. and a coin or two only in last period, 100-200 BC and it is Rome/Greek influence period. While too much is known about the history of that ancient town, isn't it strange that no older coin (at least 1000 BC coin) has been unearthed yet?
    chuck123 likes this.
  16. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    Thanks for all the kind words everyone! And a big thank you to whoever nominated my thread to be featured :)

    Since I've been on CT when I come across something historically interesting I find my self thinking "I bet my coin-friends (and probably only my coin-friends) would find this cool" and start planning a write up.

    I started out in Split, Croatia then moved on to Mostar and Stolec in Bosnia and Herzegovina, then Dubrovnik, Croatia and final Budva and Kotor in Montenegro.

    I got to see a lot of fascinating stuff and I have a few more write ups and coin targets I want to get around to now :)
    GerardV, chuck123, Theodosius and 2 others like this.
  17. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Great job Curt! Great article, big fun on your trip! Whose are those painted toes in your last pic? :D I see there was air-time for YOU, but no credits for the other!
  18. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    Thank you for your comment ErolGarip. I will do the best I can to clarify for you.

    While the site of Daorson has been occupied since at least 1600 BC the first peoples who lived there may not have been associated with the cultural group we refer to as the Illyrians (of who the Daorsi are a tribe). The origin of the Illyrians is disputed but it is possible that they may not have migrated to the coastal Balkans until the 8th to 5th century BC. This previous settlement would not have left any coins because the first coins can be dated to around around the 7th century BC in Lydia and Anatolia. The first recognizable coins of the Romans themselves didn't appear until the 3rd or 4th centuries BC. The pre-history of the site is dated from artifactssuch as pottery and other items that can either be carbon dated or associate with dates from another source.

    I say that the coins preserved the memory of the Daorsi because the coins provide the only concrete evidence of what the tribe actually called themselves. It also allowed scholars to associate a people with a site and then use disparate references in ancient sources and artifacts uncovered in the excavations to start building a fuller history. I think you would be surprised how many peoples names are lost to us because they didn't think to write it down which makes it almost impossible to reconstruct their history.
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2017
  19. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    Haha yes you are correct I did have a better looking travel companion keeping me in line. Those are the feet of my beautiful fiance. I need special permission to post photos of her though. God help me if I were to post a picture of her that she didn't like her hair that day :dead::D
  20. Mikey Zee

    Mikey Zee Delenda Est Carthago

    WOW!! What a fascinating and superb thread!! I immensely enjoyed reading every word. I was mesmerized by the terrific photos almost as if I was experiencing it all first hand.
  21. ancientcoinguru

    ancientcoinguru Supporter! Supporter

    A fascinating read, thanks @Curtisimo! I was also mesmerized with your article, and enjoyed learning about the Daorsi.
    chuck123, Alegandron and Curtisimo like this.
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