The first Ancient Greek Coins appeared in Aegina around 600 BCE and were amongst the first coins ever minted by a western civilization. Their design tells the story of a fascinating civilisation. A society that minted coins to celebrate outstanding individuals, gods, and religious practices, as well as ancient international relations. Examples are the Alexander the Great coins the Athenian Owl, and the Obol, just to name a few.
What were Ancient Greek Coins Called?
The coins of Ancient Greece, as well as modern-day Greece pre-euro, were called Drachma. The denominations used in the old city-states of Greece, differ from city-state to city-state (polis) and derive from the weights for gold and silver merchants used to trade goods. To make matters worse, the weights used also differed from era to era. And as you may know, their coinage went through 4 different periods: the Archaic, the Classical, the Hellenistic, and the Roman. So here too, there are substantial differences coin collectors need to be aware of.
So in the name of keeping things simple for newbie coin collectors, we are going to use the Attic standard to answer this question. As it was the most popular weight standard in the Greek world, due to the power and influence of Athens across the ancient world. In this standard, the Drachm is the base, divided by obols with a sixth of the value.
Starting from largest to smallest, the denominations of Greek coins were as follows:
Alexander the Great (336-323 BC), Silver Tetradrachm (25mm) in Good Fine Condition. Obverse: Head of Alexander as Herakles wearing lion-skin head-dress. Reverse: Zeus enthroned holding eagle and sceptre. Good Fine Condition. PHOTOGRAPH IS REPRESENTATIVE OF COIN SUPPLIED.
Silver drachm coin minted by Alexander the Great (336-323 BC). Obverse: Head of Herakles wearing lion-skin head-dress. Reverse: Zeus enthroned holding eagle and sceptre. Very Fine Condition Actual size of coin varies between 15-17mm diameter PHOTOGRAPH IS REPRESENTATIVE OF COIN SUPPLIED
Everyone has heard of Alexander the Great but most collectors only dream of owning a coin in his name. We have a small group of silver tetradrachms that were struck in his name by the Ptolemaic dynasty in the 3rd Century B.C. On one side you have the head of Herakles wearing a lion’s skin headdress and on the other Alexander’s name ‘AΛEΞANΔPOY’ in Greek script with the seated Zeus holding an eagle and sceptre. These particular coins also have a countermark of an anchor that would have allowed them to circulate in Seleukid lands, three kingdoms for the price of one! They are struck on a large flan, grade About Very Fine with some discolouration from their time spent in the ground, don’t miss out on owning an Alexander the Great Tetradrachm struck in the 3rd Century.
Apollodotus II was an Indo-Greek king who ruled in the western and eastern parts of Punjab between Ca. 80–65 B.C. He was considered an important ruler who was responsible for re-establishing the Indo-Greek kingdom to much of its former glory. These silver drachms depict the bareheaded king facing right with the Greek legend around translated as ‘of King Apollodotus, the saviour’. The reverse shows Pallas/Athena Alkidemos standing left, holding a shield and hurling a thunderbolt with a monogram to the side and the Kharoshthi legend around. The slightly crude style indicates that these coins originate from the eastern part of his kingdom with more Indian influence as they were new to engraving. Grading About Very Fine, this is the first time that we have been able to offer a nice group of these coins but unfortunately, we don't have that many of them. So grab yours while stock lasts!
Attica, Athens. Ca. 431-393 B.C. AR Tetradrachm. Helmeted head of Athena right / Owl standing facing, olive sprig with crescent moon to left & 'AOE' to right. About Extremely Fine & Scarce. Made using the silver from the mines of Laurion during the Peloponnesian War. A Classic coin everyone knows. PHOTOGRAPH IS REPRESENTATIVE OF COIN SUPPLIED.
Cilicia, Mallos. Ca. 440-390 B.C. AR Stater. Bearded & winged male deity (Kronos?) in kneeling-running stance to right, holding solar disc with both hands / 'MA?' swan standing left, with wings uplifted. About Very Fine, archaic & Scarce. Mallos had an oracle where people would dream in the temple to receive the gods instructions. The Swan is most likely for Apollo.
Cyprus, Kition. Azbaal - Ca. 449-425 B.C. AR Stater. Herakles in fighting stance right wearing lion skin & holding bow with club overhead / Lion attacking (from behind) a stag, facing right, inside dotted border within incuse square. Obverse struck from worn die as usual for these, Very Fine & Rare. Made during the time of Persian rule on Cyprus. The founder of Stoicism, Zeno, was from this city.
Ariobarzanes III of Cappadocia was one of the last of the true Greek kings. He had the surnames ‘Eusebes Philorhomaios’ meaning ‘Pious and Friend of the Romans’. He earned this as the Roman senate helped put him on the throne about 52 B.C., just before the huge Roman civil war between the Senate, under Pompey the Great, and Julius Caesar. Repaying this he supported Pompey and the Roman Senate against Julius Caesar but when it was obvious that Caesar would win he switched sides to survive. Eventually, though this ‘treachery’ caught up with him! In 42 B.C. he was killed by one of Caesar's assassins, Gaius Cassius Longinus, for being fed up and refusing to allow more Romans to interfere in his kingdom. We offer a Silver Drachm from Cappadocia of Ariobarzanes III. They grade Very Good and show his head on the obverse with Athena holding Nike on the reverse. Add to your collection one of the last truly Greek silver coins from a ruler who learned the hard way, what did the Romans do for us!
This is something you will not see often. These bronze coins from Greek colony city of Olbia in Thrace were cast in the shape of a dolphin! They were made to honour their god Apollo Delphinios. This name is linked to the story of Cretan sailors in a storm who were guided to safety by Apollo shaped as a dolphin, landing at Delphi they became his priests. It also likely that the people were imitating what they saw, there were large numbers of dolphins in the Black Sea and still are today! Playful and intelligent, they would have been as friendly then as they are now. These were cast in bronze in the 5th to 4th centuries B.C., and because of this process do not have a tail. They show the body, the vast majority have the dorsal fin and some will even have eye pellets. As always the first to order will get the best, in this case the shape and features!
Histiaia, Euboia, ca. 340-330BC, Silver Tetrobol. Obverse: Head of the nymph Histiaia wreathed with vine and hair rolled facing to right. Reverse.: The nymph Histiaia seated to right on the stern of a galley. Very Fine+
Pausanias tells us Kolophon was one of the earliest Greek settlements, founded on the Ionian coast about 1000 B.C. It was based eight miles from the sea and faced East, unlike most Ionian cities, to take advantage of the fertile plain of the Kaystros. This meant instead of trading with passing ships their main product was horses, which they were also experts at riding. They were so proud of this the reverse of their bronze coins shows a horseman galloping with a lance, while the obverse depicts their principle god, Apollo. The coins were made between Ca. 330-285 B.C. The city flourished until the end of this period when the old general of Alexander the Great, Lysimachos, forced nearly all the occupants to leave so he could bolster populations on the coast. This meant the quality of the coins plummeted until the Romans arrived 300 years later. This makes these the last of the beautiful classic coins from this city for a price we think you will agree is most pleasing. Here we offer this coin in Very Fine condition. Not many in stock...
Islands off Thrace, Thasos, ca.148-90 BC. Silver Tetradrachm. Obv. Head of young Dionysos to right. Rev. Herakles standing naked left holding club and lion's skin. About Extremely Fine / Good Very Fine
Lucania, Metapontum. Ca. 470-440 B.C. AR Nomos. Barley ear; in left field a ram's head facing upward / Incuse barley ear. About Very Fine & Scarce. A well known coin from antiquity the incuse is said to have been designed by Pythagoras, the school childs bane.
Lycia, Phaselis. Ca. 4th Century B.C. AR Stater. Prow of galley right with fighting platform, gunwale decorated with eye / ‘ΦAΣH’ above galley stern to left. Extremely Fine & Rare. Ex. Michael Higley collection. A well struck, beautiful ancient silver coin showing details of ancient ships. Phaselis had a temple to Athena that reputedly held the Lance of Achilles
Mysia, Kyzikos. Ca. 450-400 B.C. AR Diobol. Forepart of boar left; to right, tunny upward / Head of roaring lion left within incuse square. Very Fine & Scarce. A Scarcer denomination these are a well known coin from antiquity frequently missing from many collections.
Pamphylia, Aspendos. Ca. 465-430 B.C. AR Stater. Naked warrior advancing right holding shield & spear / Triskeles within incuse square; 'E' above. Good Very Fine with two scratches on obverse. Rare archaic issue. This coin was made around the time Aspendos joined the Delian League.
Laureate head of Apollo facing, turned slightly right / ΠIΞΩΔAPOY’ Zeus Labraundos standing right, holding double-axe (labrys) & lotus-tipped sceptre. Very Fine & Scarce. A beautiful Hellenistic portrait of Apollo. This ruler almost married his daughter to Alexander the Great before Philip, his father, put a stop to it!
Seleukid Kingdom. Antiochos I. 280-261 B.C. Seleucia on the Tigris. AR Tetradrachm. Diad. head of Antiochos with middle-aged features / Naked Apollo seated L. on Omphalos holding arrow; Monograms to L. & R. About Very Fine & Scarce as early in the dynasty.
Sicily, Syracuse, Under Tyrant Gelon. 485-478 B.C. AR Tetradrachm. Slow quadriga driven right by male with Nike flying above right crowning horses / Head of Aretemis-Arethusa right with four dolphins around. Rare & Very Fine. These famous archaic coins are much sought after.