Archaic Greece consisted of various independent city-states, and each region used different coin designs to represent their city. Ancient Greek Coins were handmade by placing a heated metal mass between two dies, which were then struck with a hammer until the images that had been carved into the dies eventually appeared. This process resulted in the designs being raised on either side of the coins. One of the most popular designs used on Greek Coins was the head of Athena.
The coin engravers of Greece used to turn to religious and mythological traditions to find inspiration for their coin designs. As the patron goddess of Athens, Athena was the obvious choice for the Athenians when making coins in ancient times.
Goddess Athena has always been closely associated with Athens, a city that is named in the goddess’ honor. It was the people of Attica that chose her as their patron after she gave them the gift of the olive tree, which is believed to be a symbol of peace and plenty. Athena was one of the twelve Olympians and is known for helping many Greek heroes including Hercules and Odysseus on their adventures. She was also the goddess of many things, such as wisdom, power, war, skill, and craft.
Athena was the child of Zeus, the god of the sky and ruler of the Olympian gods. She was also the child of Metis, Zeus’ first wife. As the legend goes, Zeus swallowed his wife before she gave birth to Athena in fear of his child dethroning him. When Athena’s birth date was due, Zeus experienced a dreadful headache that was so unbearable; he called for Olympian god Hephaistos to cut open his head. Hephaistos did as he was told and seconds later, Athena emerged from Zeus’ head wearing full battle armor.
Unlike many war gods, Athena was not known for her brutality and was often called upon to mediate disputes and wars. She was also a powerful defender and was often associated with crafts. The ancient Greeks believed that the goddess kept an eye on the buildings and structures, such as fortresses, courts, and harbors that protected the people of Greece.
Also known as the Silver Athenian Tetradrachm, the Athenian Owl Coin is the most widely recognized Ancient Greek Coin among collectors today. It was around the time of 510 BC when the people of Athens began making the silver coin, which had the value of four drachmae.
As Athena was the patron goddess of Athens, the Athenians struck the right-facing image of her head on the obverse side of the Athenian Owl Coin. The reverse displayed Athena’s symbol of an owl with large eyes, as well as an olive branch to the left of the bird and the inscription AOH to the right. Like Athena, the owl was a symbol of wisdom.
The Athenian Owl Coin was minted to the Attic standard of 4.3 grams, a different weight standard than any coin produced before its introduction. As time went by, the Attic standard became the leading standard of Ancient Greek Coinage and many other cities began minting coins of the same weight with markings that symbolized their local areas.
Athens wasn’t the only Greek city to use Athena on Ancient Greek Coins. A different image of Athena’s head was also used in the silver coins of Corinth. Athena was worshipped in Corinth as the inventor of the bridle, the headgear used to control a horse. According to myth, a Corinthian hero named Bellerophon asked Athena to help tame his horse Pegasus. Bellerophon was resting in Athena’s temple at the time. While Bellerophon was sleeping, Athena suddenly appeared in his dream and presented the hero with a golden bridle. Bellerophon accepted the gift and was then able to tame his beloved horse Pegasus.
This ancient Greek myth explains why the people of Corinth chose Athena and Pegasus to appear on their Corinthian Staters. The Corinthian Stater is a silver coin that features a left-facing head of Athena on its reverse. Traditionally, the obverse side of Ancient Greek Coins was considered the most important side of a coin and would usually display the head of a worshipped god or ruler. However, Athena is depicted on the Corinthian Stater’s reverse. On the obverse side of the silver coin is Pegasus the winged horse.
Many other Greek cities produced coins featuring Athena including but not limited to Iton, Itanos, Ilion, Macedonia and the Aegean region. Some cities were home to temples dedicated to the worship of the goddess and each city would have their own name for Athena. For example, the city of Itanos in Crete called her Athena the goddess of storm, thunder, and lightning. In the Thessaly region of Iton, she was known as Athena Itonia, the warrior goddess. While certain Greek cities minted coins displaying Athena, each city would use a unique image of the goddess to help paint a picture of how she influenced its residents.
Athena Coins have attracted collectors for centuries for their artistic merit and extraordinary beauty, and they continue to fascinate coin enthusiasts in the United States and across the world. While many of the best examples are kept in museums, you can still find some excellent Athena Coins on the market today.
Many people make the assumption that their budget will not stretch to Athena Coins because they will be too expensive to purchase, however, this isn’t always the case. The amount you will need to spend will largely depend on the scarcity and condition of the coin. It’s also important to remember that Athena Coins offer a special attraction in that they’re works of ancient art.
In order to avoid forgeries and protect your investment, we recommend you always seek help from a reputable dealer when purchasing Athena Coins. Here at Capital Gold Group, we pride ourselves on being able to offer our customers only authentic ancient, rare, and modern collectible pieces. If you’re looking to buy Athena Coins or any other Ancient Greek Coin, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for further advice.