Ancient Greek Coins
ANCIENT GREEK COINS
Ancient Greek Coins have fascinated people across the world for many centuries and collecting these coins has become an increasingly popular pastime in recent years. Buyers from the United States, Europe, China, Russia and the Middle East know that Ancient Greek Coins significantly increase in value and offer investment appeal in such turbulent financial times. But for many collectors, it’s the history and artistry that make Ancient Greek Coins so incredibly alluring.
As the ancient Greeks started producing their own coins from the 7th century BC, they were among the first to use a coinage system. Before we share details about some of the most talked-about pieces, we’re going to look back at the history of Ancient Greek Coins.
The History of Ancient Greek Coinage
The first Greek Coins appeared on the island of Aegina around 600 BC. These coins were made from silver and featured a sea turtle, which is believed to be a symbol of the island’s prosperity. Aegina was a land filled with merchants and seafarers who used their coins when making trading deals with the lonians, a tribe from the region of lonia in Asia Minor. The practice of minting coins by hand eventually spread through the whole of Aegina and later led to the birth of coinage in wider Greece.
Athens was one of the first cities to follow Aegina’s lead around the time of 510 BC. The Athenians started producing a fine silver coin known as the Tetradrachm, which was equivalent to four drachmae. This coin’s reverse is stamped with the image of an owl’s head and features the goddess Athena on the obverse. The fine Silver Tetradrachm became the original trade coin of ancient Greece and was used to fund the building of the Parthenon and other important structures in Athens.
Over time, the Tetradrachm was minted to the Attic standard, a then leading weight standard established by the Athenians. This achievement of coinage standard combined with Athens’ dominance in trade helped the city to become more powerful and, as a result, Aegina was no longer the major sea force it once was. In the mid-5th century, Aegina switched their sea turtle coin design for a tortoise to symbolize its loss of naval power.
As Tetradrachms continued to circulate widely, the rest of the ancient Greek world began minting their own coins. All Ancient Greek Coins were handmade and usually featured a god or legend on one side and a recognizable symbol of the region in which they were produced on the other. It wasn’t long before coins were being minted throughout Greece, with the trend stretching to Macedonia where Alexander the Great and his father went on to strike millions of silver and gold coins.
Most Widely Recognized Ancient Greek Coins
While various subjects were used to represent particular coins, most Ancient Greek Coins carried designs that were recognizable symbols of the city where they were made. Gods and legendary figures were especially desirable subjects to feature on Ancient Greek Coins, which were made using mostly silver but sometimes gold, electrum, copper or even bronze. As master engravers, the Greeks were able to transform their irregular shaped coins into beautiful works of art, regardless of the metal or alloy they used.
Below, you can find details of the most influential and widely recognized Ancient Greek Coins all thought to be among the most collectible coins ever made.
It was the Athenians who were the first to use the image of Athena on a coin (the Athenian Owl Coin) sometime around 510 BC. The Greeks were deeply dedicated to their faith in their gods and, as the patron goddess of Athens, the Athenians decided to depict Athena on their coinage. Athena was actually the favorite daughter of Zeus.
The head of Athena was also used on the silver coins of Corinth, which displayed an image of the mythical winged creature called Pegasus on the obverse. In fact, Athena was worshipped in many Greek regions and used on various different coins in Greece and beyond.
Athenian Owl Coins
Otherwise known as the Silver Athenian Tetradrachm, the Athenian Owl Coin is arguably the most iconic Ancient Greek Coin of all time. As the patron goddess of Athens and a Greek symbol of wisdom and bravery, it was only natural for Athena to feature on this ancient coinage.
Having put Athena’s head on the obverse of the coin, the Athenians decided to decorate the reverse with an owl, another symbol of wisdom. They also chose an own because it was Athena’s mascot. According to ancient Greek mythology, Athena often acted like an owl with her all-seeing and all-knowing eyes. The original images used of Athena and her owl remained essentially unchanged for approximately two centuries.
Alexander the Great Coins
Many different coins were struck for Alexander the Great until his death in June 323 BC, with the three main denominations being the Silver Drachms, Silver Tetradrachms and Gold Staters. Large amounts of these coins were produced during his reign, and nearly identical coins continued to be made after his death. When Alexander the Great started issuing coins, he had no idea that he had created a currency system that would go on to be valid for centuries.
As an admirer of Greek culture, Alexander the Great had come to the conclusion that he was in some way related to Heracles (Hercules), the Greek mythological figure. Like Alexander, Heracles was known for his great courage and strength. Perhaps this is why Alexander used the image of Heracles on his Silver Tetradrachm Coin or maybe he was simply trying to portray himself as the heroic figure. The one thing we do know for sure is that no other king, or person for that matter has managed to leave their mark on numismatics like Alexander the Great.
Ancient Greek Coin Authentication and Grading
If you’ve ever been put off from purchasing a particular Ancient Greek Coin because you don’t have the ability to tell if it’s authentic, you’re certainly not alone. Even though you may not have the expertise to determine whether a coin is genuine or fake, there is a trusted grading service in the United States that can.
Since 2008, NGC Ancients, a branch of the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) has been identifying and grading Ancient Greek Coins. Prior to this, all Ancient Coins were traded “raw” and only given an approximate grade, which basically means they were not certified and their authenticity was not guaranteed. Thankfully, NGC Ancients has put an end to this problem.
The introduction of the NGC Ancients grading service in 2008 has given today’s buyers and collectors the confidence to purchase Ancient Greek Coins, a market which is now experiencing tremendous growth. This doesn’t surprise us, especially as the NGC has been around since 1987 and is currently the world’s largest and most trusted third-party grading service for coins.
NGC Ancients provides unbiased and precise analysis of not only a coin’s quality but also its preservation. With this information, NGC Ancients can grade the coin. The rarity of the coin is then taken into consideration before determining its value and market demand. This service has been a real blessing for buyers and collectors wishing to discover the authenticity and true value of their Ancient Greek Coins.
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