Cambridge Archaeological Journal

Minting Identity: Coinage, Ideology and the Economics of Colonization in Akhaina Magna Graecia

John K.  Papadopoulos  a1
a1 Department of Classics & The Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles, A210 Fowler, Los Angeles CA 90095-1510, USA;


This article focuses on the early coinage of the Akhaian cities of South Italy — Sybaris, Kroton, Metapontion, Kaulonia, Poseidonia — against the backdrop of colonization. Minting an early and distinctive series of coins, these centres were issuing coinage well before their ‘mother-cities’, a phenomenon that has never been fully appreciated. With its origins in a colonial context, the Akhaian coinage of Magna Graecia not only differs from that of the early coin-minting states of the Greek mainland, it offers a case study that challenges long-held assumptions and potentially contributes to a better understanding of the origins of coinage. It does so by suggesting that coinage is much more than a symbol of authority and represents considerably more than just an abstract notion of sovereignty or hegemony. The images or emblems that the Akhaians of South Italy chose for their coins are those current in the contemporary cultural landscape of the historic Akhaians, but at the same time actively recall the world of the heroic Akhaians of the Bronze Age by referring to prehistoric measures of value. More than his, the vicissitudes of colonial and indigenous history in parts of South Italy in the Archaic period were not merely reflected in coinage, the coins themselves were central to the processes of transformation. By boldly minting — constructing — their identity on coinage, the Akhaians of South Italy chose money in order to create relations of dominance and to produce social orders that had not existed before.

(Received October 26 2000)
(Revised May 17 2001)

Key Words: Akhaian coinage; Magna Graecia; coinage and colonization; South Italy, coinage.