It is not an hyperbole that ancient artwork reached a high point in Classical Greece. The greek classical time period lasted from the ionian rebellion ( 500 BCE ) to the death of Alexander the Great ( 323 BCE ). At that indicate in history, the greek world was divided into roughly 2.000 city-states ; most with their unique coin production and imagination .
today ancient greek coins are besides numismatic coins. This means that they are worth more than the value of their precious metallic element and are consequently valuable collectibles. Their added value is chiefly a result of their ancient history and rarity .
In this article, we will explore 15 distinctive ancient Greek coins of the classical period. We will focus specifically on cities from mainland Greece, the Aegean islands, and Asia Minor .
All about Ancient Greek Coins
Ancient Greek argent coins from Athens, The Trustees of the british museum
The Lydians or the ionian Greeks introduced neologism erstwhile in the seventh hundred BCE. The first coins were made of electrum ( a shuffle of aureate and ash grey ) and promptly spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean. By the begin of the classical period in Greece, every major city had its own detailed coin types. Ancient greek coins of that point were chiefly issued in silver and bronze .
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ancient coins sold in auctions nowadays are numismatic coins. Their value depends on a series of factors like quality, curio, historical value, material, and others. however, in antiquity, two factors chiefly determined a coin ’ s value ; material and system of weights. To facilitate trade, ancient greek cities began following certain slant standards. The most democratic were :
- The Attic ( Athenian ), based on the Attic dram ( 4.3 g. of silver )
- The Corinthian, based on the corinthian stater ( 8.6 g. of silver )
- The Aeginitan, based on the Aeginetan stater ( 12.2 g. of silver )
The neologism of each city state hire symbols drawn from history and myth. These symbols ( badges ) were representations of the city and made its coins easily recognizable. worth note is that in ancient numismatics ( the study of ancient coinage ) a mint ’ s front-side is called obverse and its back-side reverse .
Turtle ( obv. ) and Incuse Square ( rev up. ), Silver stater of Aegina, 456/45-431 BC, American Numismatic Society
Aegina is an island near Athens in the western Aegean. The city of Aegina was a dorian colony of the city of Epidaurus. During the irani invasion of Greece, Aegina initially submitted to the Persians. however, it restored its image by fighting valiantly in the Naval battle of Salamis ( 480 BCE ) alongside the Athenians .
The beginning silver ancient Greek coins belong to the city of Aegina. The Aeginitan standard was based on a silver didrachm or stater. These coins were used widely in areas without argent neologism such as Egypt and the Levant. The far-flung circulation of Aeginitan coins led multiple Aegean cities to adopt the Aeginitan weight standard .
Aegina ’ s badge was the tortoise. The standard reverse type of the city ’ s coinage was an incuse invention besides called “ skew ” .
Chios is an island right across the Asiatic coast. Chios during the antediluvian period was a subject of Persia. The begin of the fifth hundred found the island fighting for its independence. last, it joined the Delian League of Athens. Nevertheless, Chios contend against the Athenians during the Peloponnesian War and again in the Social War ( 357–355 BC ) .
The sphynx remained the numismatic badge of the city until the one-third hundred BCE. The reverse side of its coinage normally featured an amphora with a bunch together of grapes. This served as an indication of the island ’ s wealth and deal bodily process which relied on the local wine .
Heracles ( obv. ) and Crab ( rev up. ), Silver tetradrachm of Kos, 370-45 BCE, American Numismatic Society
Kos was depart of the Dorian Pentapolis alongside the cities of Lindos, Ialysos, Kamiros, and Knidos. Located in the easterly Aegean near the coast of Asia, the city presented a rich numismatic custom. In the classical period, the crab became the city ’ s badge. During the fourth century, Kos produced coins with assorted themes chiefly drawn from the caption of the hero Heracles. however, the crab louse is systematically encountered on Kos ’ sulfur coinage, reminding us of its island culture .
Satyr Abducting Nymph (obv.) and Quadripartite Incuse Square (rev.), Silver stater of Thasos, 411-390 BCE, American Numismatic Society
The island of Thasos in the Northern Aegean was known for its cult of Dionysus ( Bacchus ). Dionysus was the god of wine and music. His fad had spread from the east and had reached Thasos from the adjacent area of Thrace .
Thanks to its rare mineral wealth, Thasos issued coins in both silver and bronze during the one-fourth and third base centuries. many coins depicted orgiastic scenes and fabulous beings related to Dionysus. Among the most matter to coins of the island portrayed Dionysus ’ s companion-god Silvanus running while carrying a nymph. The nymph was protesting her abduction while the bodies of the two formed the shape of a swastika ; a coarse symbol in ancient greek artwork .
Samos is an island located right across the greek ionian cities of Asia Minor. It was the first island to use coins during the early sixth hundred. Just like the other ionian cities, Samian early coins were electrum staters. During the classical music period, the Samians issued coins with a leo ’ s oral sex on the obverse and a bull on the overrule side. Another type with the bow of a Samian galley ( the Samaina ) became besides coarse on silver tetradrachms .
Both the lion and the bull were symbols of Hera, the wife of Zeus and Samos ’ s beloved deity. Besides, that was where the goddess ’ s most celebrated temple was ( the Heraion ) .
heading of Helios in ¾ ( obv. ) and Rose ( rev. ), Silver didrachm of Rhodes, 400-333 BCE, American Numismatic Society
In 408/7 BCE the cities of Lindos, Ialysos, and Kamyros founded the city of Rhodes to be the capital of their newfound state of matter. This promptly expanded to include areas in Asia and the surrounding islands. These conquests brought wealth and fame to the Rhodian capital which kept growing .
Rhodes was one of the few greek cities with adequate wealth to produce aureate coinage in the attic criterion. Without a doubt, Rhodian coins are among the most beautiful ancient greek coins. Their high quality combined with the fat Rhodian history besides means that they are among the finest numismatic coins of the classical Period. Their obverse side featured the sun-god Helios, the husband of the island of Rhodes. The Rhodians had besides devoted a massive statue to the God. Known as the Colossus of Rhodes, the statue was one of the seven miracles of the ancient universe. The reverse side depicted a rose. This was meant as a pun, as the Greek word for rose ( rhodos ) sounded precisely like the diagnose of the city .
Pomegranate ( obv. ) and Incuse Square with Cross ( rev. ), Silver Stater of Melos, 450-40 BC, American Numismatic Society
The dominant numismatic character of the island of Melos was an apple ( or pomegranate ). This was not a random choice. In Greek, the island ’ south name sounds precisely like the word for apple ( melon ). Just like the rose of Rhodes, the apple of Melos was a pun representation of the island ’ second list. furthermore, it is helpful to remember that most people in ancientness were illiterate. These punning representations could help person immediately recognize the origin of a coin .
Coin production in Melos stopped for a brief prison term after a celebrated episode in the Peloponnesian War. The Melians tried to help the Spartans, with whom they were related ( both were Dorians ) while maintaining their neutrality. Melos, a minor island power, did not want to provoke Athens, the naval world power of the time. however, in 416/5 Athens offered Melos an ultimatum : pay tribute and join the Delian League or be destroyed .
Thucydides describes a bewitching dialogue between the representatives of the two cities. The Athenians explained that no serve would come from Sparta and that the city was doomed unless it surrendered. The Melians last chose to fight holding award above everything and hoping that the Spartans will help them. In the ensuing siege, the athenian united states army destroyed the city of Melos. All male citizens were slaughtered, and all women and children sold to slavery. It was not until 405 BCE that Spartans ended the predominate of Athens on the island .
headway of Hera wearing stephanos ( obv. ) and Square inner ear ( rev. ), Silver stater of Cnossus, 350-00 BCE, The british museum
Cnossus was a city in Crete and an important commercial center since the Greek Bronze Age. Cnossus ’ sulfur history was rooted in myth .
The maze in the obverse side of Cnossian neologism was a reference to the myth of the minotaur. The floor goes as follows. King Minos of Crete prayed for a strong white talk through one’s hat to sacrifice to sea-god Poseidon. The god granted his wish. however, Minos saw the beauty of the animal and decided to keep it. To that aim, he sacrificed another bull to the god. Poseidon did not like this and decided to punish the baron. He then enchanted Minos ’ s wife Pasiphae who fell madly in sexual love with the bull that Minos had kept for himself. From their union, a atrocious beast was born. This was the Minotaur, half valet and one-half talk through one’s hat .
naturally, Minos wanted to hide the beast which was a bang-up dishonor for him. To that end, he ordered Daedalus, the legendary inventor, to build a great inner ear. Daedalus completed the study and Minos placed the Minotaur in its center. Theseus another legendary greek hero finally slew the giant in another sequence of the myth.
The inner ear remains one of the most easily recognizable symbols on ancient greek coins. Its importance must have been great for the people of Cnossus. The inner ear was not plainly a ocular character to the myth of the Minotaur. It was besides a reminder of a legendary by where kings, heroes, monsters, and gods walked the land. A fabled past where the Cretans dominated the worldly concern .
The city of Gortyna, or Gortys was the other most important Cretan city of the period. Gortyna chose another myth for its coins. The most common issues portrayed the abduction of the beautiful nymph Europa by Zeus transformed into a bull. In respect of Europa, Gortyna celebrated the festival of Ellotia. Interestingly the celibate of Europe is named after Europa .
On the obverse side, Europa appeared sitting in a tree while the reverse side depicted a talk through one’s hat as a symbol of Zeus. This means that Gortynian coins told the lapp history in both of their sides .
boeotian shield ( obv. ) and Amphora and rose ( rev up. ), Silver stater of Thebes, 378-35 BCE, The british museum
Thebes was a city in the region of Boeotia. It was besides called the Seven-Gated Thebes in contrast to the Hundred-Gated Thebes of Egypt. The city had a rich political and military history balancing between the bang-up forces of the fourth dimension. During the persian invasion, the Thebans joined Athens and Sparta while their aristocrats supported the iranian king Xerxes. In the Peloponnesian War, the Thebans took Sparta ’ second side and exited the war in good condition .
In the take after years, Thebes gradually developed into a formidable ability. Thanks to the military leadership of Pelopidas and Epaminondas, Thebes triumphed over the Spartans in Leuctra ( 371 BCE ). This was the beginning of a ephemeral Theban hegemony. The aspirations of Thebes came to an end soon after the battle of Mantineia ( 362 BCE ). While the Thebans won against the Spartans, they lost their greatest leaders and a good separate of their army. The city never fully recovered .
Thebes ’ second neologism is one of the most distinct in the greek world. The most coarse type featured the characteristic Boeotian harbor on the obverse and an amphora on the invert side .
Athena ( obv. ) and Owl ( rev up. ), Silver tetradrachm of Athens, 450-06 BCE, The british museum
Athens proved itself a formidable power after successfully defeating the Persians in Marathon ( 490 BCE ) and Salamis ( 480 BCE ). By the end of the War, Athens posed as the defender of greek autonomy and the defender of majority rule .
The athenian heighten to ability provoked the Spartans who were until then the uncontested military drawing card of the greek world. To protect their interests, both sides created potent alliances which finally clashed violently in the Peloponnesian War ( 431-404 BCE ). Sparta emerged victoriously, but the price of the conflict was besides capital for everyone. The city state would never recover its force facilitating the transition to the reign of Macedon .
athenian neologism followed the attic standard. The position of Athens as a leading naval exponent allowed it to dominate trade in the Aegean. Besides, the Laurion mines, located near the city, provided a great supply of silver medal. This think of that the city could mint high-quality coins which finally became the standard for deal in the classical period .
athenian coins depicted an owl on the obverse side. For this reason, they were called “ owls ”. Athens ’ s defender deity was the goddess Athena. The Parthenon was her temple and the owl her sacred symbol .
today the owl are the most popular and easily recognizable ancient greek coins. This means that the finest and rarest amongst them are prized numismatic coins .
Athena ( obv. ) and Pegasus ( revolutions per minute. ), Silver stater of Corinth, 415-387 BCE, The british museum
Corinth was a major city located between Athens and Sparta. For a long prison term, Corinth dominated naval deal by controlling a cardinal geostrategic area between the Peloponnese and the pillow of mainland Greece. The city accumulated so much wealth from trade that Horace said : “ not everyone is able to go to Corinth. ”
furthermore, in Corinth took position the league that developed into the Hellenic League ; an alliance of greek cities ( including Athens and Sparta ) against the irani invasion. Later, Corinth ’ s dispute with its colony Corcyra led to a major dispute that sparked the Peloponnesian War. At that sharpen, the city allied itself with the Spartans. After the war, Corinth fought against every great city in a serial of conflicts that further weakened its placement .
playboy coins normally featured Pegasus – the fabulous winged horse of Bellerophon, Corinth ’ s legendary hero. The other english of the coin depicted the oral sex of Athena wearing the alleged corinthian helmet. The symbol koppa ( ϙ ) is constantly present in the coinage of the period as a symbol of the city ’ s antediluvian name ( Ϙόρινθος ) .
Bee (obv.) and Stag (rev.), Silver tetradrachm of Ephesus, 390-40 BCE, American Numismatic Society
Ephesus was an Attic-Ionian colony on the coast of Asia Minor and partially of the twelve cities of the Ionian League. The city was known for its temple of Artemis ; one of the seven wonders of the ancient earth .
due to its military position, Ephesus was in contact with the easterly civilizations that inaugural publish coins. As such, the city produced its own early coins made of electrum in the antediluvian period .
The ancient greek coins of Ephesus systematically depicted a bee. The beauty of the symbol is undoubtedly axiomatic. The bee was one of the symbols of Artemis, a goddess associated with nature and hunt. deserving note is that the high priest of the Artemis Temple was called the King-Bee while the priestesses honeybees. The elegant bees of Ephesus make for fine numismatic coins that enjoy privileged positions in auctions nowadays .
The ionian city of Miletus on the slide of Asia Minor was among the pioneers of neologism fair like Ephesus. Archaic Miletus used electrum coins with a leo ’ s head on the obverse and an incuse feather on the revoke. initially, Ephesus had its own system of weights standard but adopted the Aeginetean by the begin of the classical period. Following the iranian Wars, the city abandoned electrum and embraced silver for its coinage. It besides replaced the incuse square with variations of floral decoration .
During the fourth hundred, the obverse type of Milesian neologism featured an prototype of Apollo and the reverse a lion with a rose or a star .
1. Mytilene’s Beautiful Numismatic Coins
Apollo ( obv. ) and calf ( rev. ), Electron hekte of Mytilene, 454-28 BCE, via american Numismatic club
Mytilene competed with the city of Methymna for dominion over the island of Lesbos. The city lied in the eastern side of the island across the Asiatic mainland. During the classical time period, Mytilene became the center of the island .
Mytilene is celebrated for standing against the athenian empire in 428 BCE amidst the Peloponnesian War. The Mytilenian originate provoked anger and frustration in Athens. Initially, the extreme voices prevailed, and the athenian forum sent ships to destroy Mytilene, kill all men, and sell women and children into slavery .
Overnight, everyone started having second thoughts and, by dawn, the city was shocked. A new assembly canceled the former decisiveness and a fast transport was sent to stop the invasion in its tracks. fortunately, the ship succeeded, and the athenian united states army learned of the new orders moments before launching an attack. The people of Mytilene never learned that they had scantily escaped end .
Coin collectors are credibly familiar with the beauty of coins from Mytilene. Besides, this was the only city that kept issuing electrum coins until 326 BCE. The denomination favored for electrum coinage was called hekte. The Mytilenians besides experimented with billon coins ( a mixture of flatware and bronze ) .
The coins of Mytilene did not follow a certain iconography and are normally anepigraphic ( without inscriptions ). They are distinct not because of their imagination but their quality and rare material. diverse gods, heroes, and symbols appear on the hektes of the city. however, Apollo, Artemis, Leda, and the lyre have a singular place on its coin production .
due to their singularity in terms of material ( electrum ), iconography, and timbre, Mytilenian issues are numismatic coins of high value. A beautiful coin from Mytilene is surely a pry item for every solicitation of ancient greek coins .
Bonus: Where are the Ancient Greek Coins from Sparta?
Young Spartans Exercising by Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, 1860, National Gallery
In this article, we saw ancient greek coins from 15 greek city-states. We saw coins from every major greek power of the time except for one, Sparta .
Sparta or Lacedaemon was celebrated for its disciplined society. in truth, the city invested heavily in the education and military train of its citizens. The result was a herculean army that no early greek city could match. This is precisely why the Spartans boasted that the walls of Sparta were its citizens .
Spartan discipline and conservatism shaped a police that forbade the circulation of Spartan neologism. rather, the Spartans traded using the pelanoi – big iron ingots. Why ? Because the pelanoi had no value in the rest of Greece and were difficult to save. This way the city encouraged its citizens to avoid the material pleasures that come with a affluent life. such pleasures were seen as a haphazard path towards an Athenian-like “ gentleness ” of mind and body .
Read more: About Witter Coin
Sparta last started producing coins around 300 BCE when it no longer played an important political function. The city state had already given its place to the large empires of Alexander ’ second successors .