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 coin, 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:
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
Alexander the Great (336-323 BC), Silver Tetradrachm (25mm). Obverse: Head of Alexander as Herakles wearing lion-skin head-dress. Reverse: Zeus enthroned holding eagle and sceptre. Very Fine Condition. PHOTOGRAPH IS REPRESENTATIVE OF COIN SUPPLIED.
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.
Attica, Athens. Ca. 431-393 B.C. AR Tetradrachm. Helmeted head of Athena R. / Owl stg. facing with olive sprig, crescent moon to L. & 'AOE' to R. About Extremely Fine with ancient test cut on reverse, Scarce. PHOTOGRAPH IS REPRESENTATIVE OF COIN SUPPLIED.
Calabria, Tarentum. Ca. 280-228 B.C. AR Obol. Kantharos surrounded by pellets / Kantharos surrounded by pellets. Good Very Fine & Scarce. A lot of South Italian pottery was created here, most likely why it is depicted on the coinage.
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.
Massalia is the ancient name of the French city of Marseilles. Established about 600 B.C. by Greek colonists coming from Phocaea (now Foça, in modern Turkey) it soon became rich as the link between Northern Europe and the Mediterranean. One citizen, Pytheas, sailed North between 330-320 B.C. to find a cheaper sea trade route for Cornish Tin. While exploring he was the first to link the tides to the moon, the first Mediterranean to see floating sea ice, the Midnight Sun in the arctic, and to explore the British Isles! He travelled around the coast by boat and on the land on foot. The coins on offer here are Silver Obols struck between Ca. 350-150 B.C., the peak of Massalia’s prosperity. They show the head of Apollo on the obverse and on the reverse a wheel with ‘M-A’. They are Very Fine in grade but typically some are slightly off struck. As always the first to order will get the best.
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!
Wreathed head of Dionysos right / Head of Persephone right within incuse square. About Very Fine & Scarce. A famous port in ancient times Aristotle lived here, Julius Caesar helped capture it & Paul the Apostle passed through on his mission.
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. Warrior advancing R. holding shield & spear / Triskeles within incuse square; 'E' above. Struck from worn dies with test cut on reverse, Very Fine & Rare archaic issue.
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.
AR Tetradrachm. Head of Kore right, wearing earring, necklace and wreath of grain ears; ‘KOPAΣ’ to left / Nike standing right, wearing drapery that falls to waist, erecting trophy to right; triskeles to inner left, ‘AΓAΘOKΛEIOΣ’ to outer left. About Very Fine & Rare. A classic ancient coin from the time of the Agathokles mentioned in Machiavelli.
Founded in 709 B.C., the ancient city of Parion is the present day town of Kemer in Canakkale province of Turkey. It was a major coastal city and trading port with two harbours. Parion enjoyed strong relations with Thrace and Anatolia throughout history and it was the main customs station through which all goods bound for Constantinople (Istanbul) from Greece and the Aegean had to pass. After being conquered by the Persian Empire in the 6th Century B.C. it passed to Lysimachus in the 4th Century B.C. and then the Attalids in the 3rd. From one tyrant to another! A local city-coinage system was introduced by the ancient Greeks and continued through to Roman times with later coins being issued in the name of the emperor. The image of the Gorgoneion was used to ward off evil and for that reason was put on door frames, shields and, of course, on coins! We have recently bought a small collection of archaic Silver Drachm made in this city in the 5th Century B.C.. The obverse shows the facing head of a Gorgoneion with a protruding tongue and the reverse depicts a disorganized linear pattern within an incuse square. The coins are all in a Fine condition as they were used at the time and have survived from 2400 years ago! But they are a fascinating charm to ward off evil, then and now. Pick up this ancient coin for just £90, priced to please!