The coinages of Athens

Yannis Stoyas
Archaeologist - numismatist

One of the first issuing authorities of coinage in mainland Greece, following Aegina and Corinth at a close pace, was the city of Athens.
One could get the initial impression that the Athenians had already struck coins in the early 6th century BC, based on the testimony of certain literary sources. The phrasing of particular passages in the Aristotelian Constitution of the Athenians (10.1-2) and in Plutarch’s Life of Solon (15.3-5, 21.2, 23.3-4) could imply that the introduction of coinage came about at the time of Solon (594/3 BC or a little later). However, scholars have discarded this possibility beyond any doubt, since these references simply constitute a belief that was formed at a later date. This notion obviously came to pass in connection to the reform of measures and weights which was associated with Solon (Andokides, 1.83) and more specifically with the raising of their standard (Aristotle, Athenian Constitution, 10.1). Other references to Solon’s laws, e.g. about the naukraric silver (Aristotle, Athenian Constitution, 8.3.2-8.4.1), make clear that during that period transactions were made in uncoined silver, in the form of weighed bullion. Moreover, the rate of the interest of loans was calculated on the basis of this weighed silver (Lysias, 10.18).

The launch of the coin production of Athens is nowadays placed by the scholars just after the middle of the 6th century BC, around 545 BC. At that point started to be struck the Wappenmünzen series, i.e. the so-called ‘heraldic coins’, that had been interpreted in the past as coin issues of the aristocratic families of Attica, bearing particular types perceived as distinctive badges. The early issues are comprised of silver didrachms, although fractions were struck too. While just an incuse appears on the coin reverses, a variety of types adorns the obverses: amphora, triskeles, owl, horse or horse’s part, knuckle-bone, wheel, bull’s head, etc.   The appearance of the bull’s head resonates in a well-known proverbial saying (An ox on the tongue…) , which evidently hints to the appeal of that coin type in the collective memory. It seems that the coin types of the series in question, which belongs to the period of Peisistratos’ rule (and later of his sons), can be viewed as iconographic references connected to festive events. In any case, within the context of the ideological propaganda of the tyranny there was clearly incorporated the promotion of religious ceremonies and contests. During the years ca. 525-510 BC there were produced tetradrachms bearing a Gorgoneion and, for the first time illustrating the reverse, a bull’s head or the forepart of a lioness. The circulation of the Wappenmünzen is traced mainly within the boundaries of Attica, a fact that most probably suggests an introversive economic policy of the Peisistratids. It should be also noted that Hippias ordered the withdrawal of the older Athenian coins and imposed a procedure of silver accumulation and recirculation with new coin types (pseudo-Aristotle, Economics, 1347a).

Furthermore, an important find from Sounion is of special significance in the overview of side aspects of the Wappenmünzen series: This is a bronze coin die (reverse type: incuse), which had been found in a deposit of the shrine of Poseidon in 1907. The 6th century die in question was located within context dated also before the destruction of the shrine by the Persians in 480 BC. Judging from the dimensions of the die, this specific reverse punch (charakter) was probably employed for striking drachms. The discovery of this rare object raises critical and difficult questions that have to deal with its concealment (votive offer or safe-keeping burial?), as well as with the matter of who was in charge of the coin production. The possibility cannot be ruled out that until the end of the 6th century BC the Athenian coinage was in the hands of individuals (powerful and rich families), while at first minting of coins could have been done outside of the city, more specifically in the area where the nearby silver mines of Laurion ―also in private hands― made the manufacture easier. In addition, it has to be taken into account that chemical analyses point out that the precious metal of the Wappenmünzen seems to have a different provenance than that of the later Athenian coins. The major source for the metal was Thrace, as it is documented that Peisistratos, when he came into power for the third time (546 BC), relied on local resources but also on the mines of the Strymon area, a part of which was under his control (Herodotos, 1.64).

The iconographical change that occurred during the penultimate or (according to certain scholars) during the final decade of the 6th century BC marks a significant terminus in the Athenian coin production. The appearance of the combination head of Athena / owl constitutes a turning point and was to be dominant on the Athenian coins until the late 1st century BC. According to one theory the introduction of the new coin series is associated to Hippias, the son of Peisistratos, as it could be hinted by the aforementioned change of the coin types (see above). However, this reference could signify only the innovation of illustrating the later Wappenmünzen reverses. It can be deemed more probable that the parthenoi (virgins) or glaukes (owls) appeared after the expulsion of Hippias (510 BC) and the establishment of the democracy following the reforms of Kleisthenes (508/7 BC). In relation to these crucial events there can be explained more logically the simultaneous addition of the ethnic AΘE (of the ATHEnians) on the coins, which also begin to circulate more widely. At that time a supplementary ornament (an olive-branch) is adopted in the above left corner of the reverse incuse.

A little later the Athenian coinage enters another era: the transition is captured in the coin hoard that was found on the Acropolis in 1886, in a destruction layer connected with the Persian invasion of 480 BC (IGCH 12). In this hoard Wappenmünzen and Archaic owls coexist; the coins bear characteristic marks of fire, connected to the burning of this area by the Persians. The end of the Archaic coinage of Athens comes with the addition of two iconographic details. On the obverse an olive-branch adorns from now on the helmet of the goddess, while on the reverse (of the tetradrachms only) a small crescent on a standard basis appears left to the field, next to the owl. The precise moment cannot be easily pinpointed, however the first feature could readily resonate the glorious victory of Marathon (490 BC) or more possibly the crushing triumph of Salamis (480 BC). Critical for the supply of the Athenian coin production turned out to be the discovery already during the Persian Wars (in 483 BC) of an important silver load in the area of Laurion (Aristotle, Athenian Constitution, 22.7). The site, reported as Maroneia, was most probably located between Kamariza and Agrileza, in the area called Noria - Botsari. From that area the Athenian state acquired one hundred talents of silver, which Themistocles managed to be used for building 100 triremes (200 according Herodotos, 7.144), a choice to be proven crucial for the outcome of the conflict with the Persian Empire. Indeed, the silver fountain of Laurion, the treasure in the earth mentioned by Aeschylos (Persians, 238), contributed decisively in winning the naval battle of Salamis.

Characteristic of the vigour of the Athenian mint during the second quarter of the 5th century BC was also the striking of decadrachms, i.e. heavy multiples (ca. 43 g) distinctive for the frontal owl of their reverse. Recently, locating more of these rare coins has shown that the Athenian decadrachms constitute a series completely incorporated in the coin production of Athens. The possibly commemorative character of this emission can be associated with the great victory gained by Kimon at Eurymedon River (466 BC), while the duration of the issue is more difficult to estimate. The later decadrachm specimens were produced maybe after the translocation of the treasury of the First Athenian League from Delos to Athens in 454 BC and the subsequent influx of precious metal (Diodoros, 12.38.2: almost 8,000 talents of silver). The view for a lower dating of these coins down to the beginning of the Peloponnesian War is rather without convincing argumentation, based on the stylistic, numismatic and historical data.

Boosted by the allied tribute the Athenian economy flourishes and the Athenian coinage becomes widely accepted. The consolidation of the Athenian naval hegemony brings prosperity to the city: all the goods come there from everywhere “for having control of the sea” (pseudo-Xenophon, Constitution of the Athenians, 2.7). Of critical importance was of course the connection with the harbour of Piraeus, which emerged as the “common trading post of Greece” (Sopatros, 8.47.2-5). The location of this port, which was at a central spot in the Greek mainland (Xenophon, Ways and Means, 1.6-7), brought great advantages to the Athenians (Isokrates, Panegyric, 42). At the waterfront of the great harbour of Kantharos was located the Long Stoa (in mod. Akte Poseidonos), a building of Pericles’ era where grain was bought and sold; there was also the Deigma (in mod. Akte Miaouli) were merchandise were exhibited and currencies were exchanged at the trapezae. It has to be also noted that the Athenians made profit when trials of the allies were held at the city, particularly from the hekatoste, i.e. the one per-cent customs tax which was collected at Piraeus (pseudo-Xenophon, Constitution of the Athenians, 1.17-18).

It is reported that in 422 BC the annual income of the city ―allied tribute, other taxes, collection of the 1% customs duty, court and port taxes, revenues from the mines and the agoras, rents and confiscations― was amounted to 2,000 silver talents (Aristophanes, Wasps, 657-660). A considerable sum of money, approx. the 1/13 of the total revenues (150 talents annually), was being given as wages to 6,000 citizens that served as jurors (Wasps, 661-664). In fact, at the time of Pericles the increased revenues boosted many activities and building projects, so that the grants made “almost the whole city to be under payroll” (Plutarch, Pericles, 12.3-4• cf. Aristotle, Athenian Constitution, 24.3). Indeed, during the age of Pericles, perhaps already before the middle of the 5th c. BC, or rather shortly after, it was established jury pay for citizens serving at the courts (Aristotle, Athenian Constitution, 27.4). During the years of the demagogue Cleon (429-422 BC) the daily jury pay, which initially seems to have been two obols (Scholia on Aristophanes: Wasps, 300), became one triobol (Wasps, 684-5, 689-90; Knights, 800). Serving at the court of Heliaea was paid with an obol per day (Aristophanes, Clouds, 863-4). Additionally, an ironic remark presents Cleon in 424 BC promising to increase the wage of the Heliasts to five obols (Aristophanes, Knights, 797-799). In that period an advocate was paid one drachm per day (Wasps, 691). Furthermore, by the mid-5th c. BC a military wage had been introduced: maybe 4 obols daily at first (ca. 450 BC), one drachm a little later (ca. 441 BC) for a common soldier or a sailor.

The transition from the high times to the dire straits of the Peloponnesian War led the Athenians to a characteristic move for the economic affairs of that time: a decree (preserved in fragments today) was passed concerning coins, weights and measures (IG I3, 1453). Τhis renowned epigraphic testimony, the first of this kind, had been dated in the past around the middle of the 5th c. BC; nowadays it has been generally accepted that it should be associated with the year 425/4 BC, a turning point of the war, and the re-adjustment of the allied tribute. The main goal of the decree was to impose to the whole Delian League the Athenian coinage, as well as the Attic weights and measures. As long as the conflict was still at hand the echo of the prosperity brought with the Athenian tetradrachms is casually recorded. Indeed, who would then “bring owls to Athens”? (Aristophanes, Birds, 301). Of course the reference is for the silver Lauriotic owls (Aristophanes, Birds, 1106-8), which in 414 BC were still circulating aplenty in the city (Loukianos, Nigrinos, prologue). During these troubled years grants to the citizens did not cease; most important was the establishment of the diobelia by Kleophon the lyre-maker (410-406 BC), i.e. the distribution of two obols a day to the war-inflicted citizens. A little later (ca. 405 BC) Kallikrates the Paeanian promised to give three obols instead of two to the impoverished Athenians; however the diobelia was abolished then (Aristotle, Athenian Constitution, 28.3.7-12). In any case, it seems that this Kallikrates was responsible for the increase of the jury pay to a tetrobol, mentioned by later literary sources based on the comedy-writer Theopompos and on Aristotle: Pausanias the lexicographer (s.v. tetrobolizon), Photios (s.v. hyper ta Kallikratous), Eustathios of Thessalonike (Od. 1.41.21-23).

Approximately at that same point of time (ca. 408/7 BC) an Athenian (or an ally) sailor was paid three obols per day; then the Spartan admiral Lysander, backed by the Persians, came to offer four obols to his crews, in order to cause defections to the adversary (Xenophon, Hellenika, 1.5.4-7; Plutarch, Alcibiades, 35.5, Lysander, 4.3-4). At the same time, in Athens, it has been observed that the workers at Erechtheion (409-407 BC) were paid the same wage regardless their specialization: one drachm daily (IG I3, 475-476). This fact does not anyway seem to hint towards the establishment of a standard wage, but rather consists an exception. However, the Athenian state had already come in a dire economic situation after the Sicilian disaster and the encampment of the Lacedaemonians at Dekeleia (413 BC). More than 20,000 slaves defected from Laurion to the Spartan camp (Thucydides, 7.27.5), this having as a consequence the interruption of the mines production. Without the revenues from the allied tribute, which ceased to be collected because of the desertions of many allies, the city was forced to melt down seven of the eight Victory statues which were dedicated at Parthenon (407/6 BC, under the tenure of the eponymous archon Antigenes). Each of these Nike statues weighed about two talents of gold; by melting also other votive artefacts from the Acropolis the Athenians must have used approximately 17 gold talents in order to strike staters and fractions ―equivalent to 204 silver talents following a 12:1 ratio of silver to gold. With these resources the city managed to meet its military needs and its fleet emerged victorious from the battle of Arginousae. The impact of the gold coinage is attested both in literary texts (Aristophanes, Frogs, 720: the new gold coinage) and in a later inscription (IG II2, 1408) preserving that the dies employed for the striking of the gold coins were still kept in the Parthenon just after 385/4 BC.

In the next year (406/5 BC, under the tenure of the eponymous archon Kallias) the dire economic pressure led the Athenian state to an act never seen before: this was the issuing of subaerate coins, i.e. coins with a silver-wash surface and a copper core. Tetradrachms and drachms of this kind were preserved in a rare hoard (IGCH 46), which comes from Piraeus (1902) and is displayed today in the Numismatic Museum, Athens. These are the notorious cunning coppers for which Aristophanes protested in 405 BC (Frogs, 725-6), an emergency issue that it is not clear if it had a fiduciary character or if it consisted state counterfeiting. It should be also underlined that, due to lack of silver, the dole (diobelia) was covered with the distribution of grain the next year (405/4 BC).

In 403/2 BC, when Athens had already yielded to Lysander, cuts were made in the military ration payments by one-third: a mounted archer was given 8 obols instead of 2 drachms and a cavalryman 4 obols instead of a drachm per day (Lysias, Against Theozotides, 75-79). Similarly, it can be deduced that in that period ration-money for a soldier or a sailor dropped from 3 to 2 obols (Theopompos, Stratiotides, fr. 56).

During the transitional era which followed it is quite interesting that the misthophoria, i.e. a special salary for the citizens that attended the Assembly, was established. More specifically, in ca. 400 BC Agyrrios passed a law setting an allowance of an obol per day; around 393 BC Heraclides the Clazomenian came forth to double this (two obols) and then Agyrrios came again (ca. 392 BC) to make it three obols (Aristotle, Athenian Constitution, 41.3). The new practice for the public affairs was derisively illustrated by Aristophanes (Ecclesiazusae, 309-310). In the same comedy is made also a reference to the withdrawal of copper coins, probably meaning the cunning coppers (Ecclesiazusae, 815-822). However, another possibility is that the reference to the withdrawn small copper change is valid for the so-called kollyboi. The incident must had taken place in the year before; using again silver seems to be connected with the return of Konon (393 BC) and the Persian money he brought with him. The Long Walls and Piraeus’ walls were built again and the city, regaining a part of its old glory, went on to consolidate the Second Athenian League in 377 BC. The building that is located at the SE corner of the Athenian Agora, next to South Stoa I, and which was named mint belongs to this period (early 4th c. BC). The construction of the building is placed around 400 BC; its remains can be barely seen today, because of later alterations and mainly because of the neighbouring church of the Holy Apostles (Solaki). Archaeological research at this place brought into light flans (blanks, discs of unstamped metal) of bronze coins only. Additionally, the industrial waste found there is connected with the metalworking of copper and lead only, thus the building is sometimes erroneously called argyrokopeion. The location of the other mint of Athens, where the silver coins were struck, remains unknown.

Athens’ recovery boosted again its coin production which had waned. The shortcomings of the Athenian mint however had an impact as already during the last fifteen years of the 5th c. BC had appeared the first imitations, modelled on the Athenian coins (mostly tetradrachms) which were dominant in the markets of the Levant and not only of that area. It is known the emission struck by the Persian satrap Tissaphernes (ca. 412 BC) which copies the reverse of the owls, inscribed though with the title ΒΑΣ = Basileos, i.e. of the (Great) King. His example was followed by satraps and cities of Lycia (ca. 405-360 BC), as well as by cities or regions in Palestine (Gaza, Ascalon, etc) and in Arabia ((Lihyan, Saba, Qataban) during almost the whole 4th c. BC. Imitations were issued also in Egypt; moreover there has been found a punch for striking Athenian tetradrachms coming from the site of Tel el-Athrib. Later, just before the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great (332 BC), similar imitations were issued by the Persian satraps Sabakes and Mazakes. The impact of this trend was great as imitations of this kind seem to have been produced during the 4th c. BC in Babylonia or even in Bactria.

A decree of that period which was found in the Athenian Agora excavations is of great importance; in this inscription the city dealt with the coins that were to be accepted. With the law of Nikophon (375/4 BC) two factors were deemed as necessary: the metal (silver) and the public seal (charakter) of the city. Alongside with the Athenian coins, it was decided that the Athenian-type foreign coins (imitations) had now to be put under examination: if they got over the tester’s control, their circulation was allowed; if not, the pieces not meeting the standards (bronze beneath, lead beneath or counterfeit coins) were immediately cancelled with a chisel cut and were withdrawn in the Metroon. Several penalties were also established for the breaking of supplementary rules concerning the enactment of this decree.

It is rather impressive that during this period (first third of the 4th c. BC) the Athenians are somehow conservative regarding the use of copper coinage. Bronze (cast) coin-like objects circulated from the 5th c. BC onwards in the Black Sea area, while (hammered) bronze coins were introduced in Magna Graecia and in Sicily during the last quarter of the 5th c. BC; such coins were struck by cities in Corinthia in the last decade of that century at the latest. The production and use of bronze coinage was diffused in several territories of the Greek world (Macedonia, Thessaly, Rhodes, etc), especially from the early 4th c. BC onwards. The city of Athens seemingly did not follow this trend, with the exception of the general Timotheos when he was beseiging Olynthos (363-359 BC). In this case, it is reported by literary sources (pseudo-Aristotle, Economics, 1350a; Polyaenos, Stratagems, 3.10.14) that Timotheos due to lack of silver went on to issue bronze pieces in order to cover the needs of his troops. Moreover, he made an agreement with the natives and with traders, guaranteeing that the coins in question could be exchanged with silver ones. The character of this issue justifies certain iconographic differentiations ―the head of Athena facing to the left, the ethnic name written in the Ionic alphabet (ΑΘΗ) and the presence of dots perhaps signifying denominations (two dots appear on the larger pieces, one on the smaller ones). The purpose of the emission becomes evident in the detail of the kernel of wheat on which the owl is standing: there is no doubt that these coins were struck in order to cover the daily distribution of grain to the soldiers (siteresion, ration-money). According to research until nowadays, the first Athenian bronze coins ―those in the name of Eleusis― were minted a bit later (ca. 355 BC onwards), while the first bronze issues of Athens appeared just after 340 BC. Perhaps, however, it should not be discarded a higher dating of certain Athenian bronzes, closer to the Timotheos’ incident. Furthermore, it has been proposed that the conservatism of the Athenian society towards bronze coinage had mainly to do with the attempt of stabilization of the restored democracy, particularly through the reinvigoration of the silver coinage and of its commercial credit.

It should be brought to mind that during that period the silver owls were highly favoured and they had been established as the “common Hellenic coinage”, as stated by Platon, contrary to the local coinages which covered the everyday needs (Laws, 5.742a-b). Accordingly, at about the same time, ca. 355 BC, Xenophon underlines that the Athenian argyrion was universally accepted (Ways and Means, 3.2).

During the first half of the 4th c. BC politicians such as Agyrrios, Diophantos and Euboulos focused their efforts on the prudent administration of economics and the realization of a relevant prosperity, which among else aimed at social welfare provision, mainly through the theoric fund. The emergence of a new rising power, though, in the form of the Macedonian kingdom, posed new challenges for the Athenian republic. This is the time of Demosthenes, who tried to thwart the expansionism of Philip II of Macedonia, suggesting a different economic policy, especially for the matter of the theorika. In Harpokration, based on the historian Philochoros (late 4th c. - ca. 261 BC), is noted that the allowance was one drachm per person, while information is provided by other lexicographers (Hesychios, Suida) that this had been inaugurated under the tenure of the eponymous archon Diophantos (395/4 BC). Other welfare provisions were given to the adynatoi, i.e. the poor and physically challenged people; the city granted an obol per day to each one according to Lysias (For the Invalid, 24.13.2-6), while Aristotle, possibly a little later, reports distribution of two obols to them.

For the trade and the economy of the city during the 4th c. BC vital was, first of all, the policy of the Athenian state regarding import-export matters, particularly concerning grain. Any inhabitant of Athens that imported grain to any other port besides Piraeus faced capital punishment. Moreover, Athenians and metics were allowed to lend money only to ships that were bringing grain to the city. It was also an old law of the city to ban the export of agricultural products, besides olive oil. Additionally, there was a regulation that saw that the overseers (epimeletae) had to take care so that the two-thirds of the imported corn reached the city (Aristotle, Athenian Constitution, 51.4). Another law restricted the purchase of an amount of corn larger than 50 phormoi (Lysias, Against the Corn Dealers, 5-6). Even if the precise quantity (phormos = a unit of capacity, a basket of a kind) is not known, it is obvious the wish to contain the concentration of a great volume of grain which could lead to profiteering. In the same text making sixfold profit (a drachm for an obol), sometimes gained illegally, is also denounced (Lysias, Against the Corn Dealers, 8, 12). By the way, it is worthy noting that while after the mid-4th c. BC the price of an Attic medimnos (52.18 l or 40.27 kg) of wheat was 5 drachms, around 330 BC it rose to 16 drachms (Demosthenes, 34.39).

Among the city’s resources was also the metoikion, i.e. the tax paid by the metics and which was 12 drachms annually, plus the administrative fee of three obols payable to the secretary. PHOTO|055.jpg|Pollux, 3.55] Women metics had to pay 6 drachms per annum until a male child came of age. For the public resources quite important turned out to be the reforms made by Kallistratos of Aphidnae during the years ca. 378-362 BC. The first change had to with taxation and especially the rich citizens, who had now to pay tax in advance (proeisphora) to the city. A second regulation changed the terms of leasing of the mines from the state to individuals. From then on the exploitation of the ‘working’ mines (ergasima) were of three years duration, while the already exploited galleries were leased for ten years. A little later (ca. 355 BC) Xenophon expressed his interest on the exploitation of Laurion, emphasizing on the meagre results until then and suggesting intensification of the operation by using more slaves (Ways and Means, 4.1, 4.4, 4.23-25). At that time there are also many references to banking activities in the city, documented by writers such as Lysias, Isokrates, Hypereides and particularly Demosthenes (e.g. 36.5, 45.6, 45.31, 49.6, 52.3-4). Several banker names are reported ―Antisthenes, Apollodoros, Archestratos, Aristolochos, Demoteles, Phormion, Pylades, Sosinomos, Timodemos, Xouthos― with that of Pasion being perhaps the most famous.

Regarding the wages in Athens there are many pieces of information for the 4th c. BC. It seems that for long the standard wage for a soldier was four obols per day (Pausanias the lexicographer, s.v. tetrobolou bios; Eustathios of Thessalonike, Od. 1.41.23). In 351 BC the daily ration-money for the rowers and the soldiers was two obols, while the horsemen were paid a drachm (Demosthenes, 4.28). A little later (ca. 335-322 BC) four obols per day covered the maintenance of the Athenian ephebes (Aristotle, Athenian Constitution, 42.3). The wage of four obols a day is also valid for a sailor in the year 314/3 BC (Menandros, fr. 297).

It is intriguing that while during the 4th and 3rd c. BC the Athenian coin types remained unchanged, their poorer rendering did not go unnoticed. It is worth mentioning the comment made by Zenon of Kition (ca. 333-264 BC) who, although from another perspective, describes the Attic tetradrachms, compared to the “beautiful in appearance and well-rounded” Alexandrian coins, as being “struck carelessly and inartistically” (Diogenes Laertios, 7.18).

The fortunes of the city are affected at that time by the turbulence caused by the agendas and the actions of the Hellenistic rulers. The episode with Lachares at the beginning of the 3rd c. BC is rather characteristic. The tyrant in question was being besieged by Demetrios Poliorketes and in order to cover mercenary payments and other emergency expenses he did the unthinkable: he stripped the chryselephantine statue of the goddess bare (“…Lachares undressed Athena…”, Plutarch, On the Worship of Isis and Osiris, 71), and melted down, alongside with other offerings, the gold in order to strike coins. In this fashion he acquired a great amount of precious metal (the gold of the statue alone weighed 40 talents); in spite this the city yielded to the Besieger and Lachares was forced to flee to Boeotia.

Information about the 3rd c. BC is more scant, however for a while it seems that the standard military wage remained four obols per day. In order to cover the everyday transactions many bronze issues were produced by the Athenian mint, as it becomes evident in the Athenian Agora excavations.

The transition to the 2nd c. BC is marked by the involvement of the Romans in the Hellenic affairs. For the city of Pallas Athena the alliance with Rome heralded the beginning of a period of recovery. The impact was felt on coinage, where for the first time after more than three centuries the old coin types were altered. On the new tetradrachm series the head of the goddess bears the features of the Phidian Parthenos’ sculpture, while on the reverse the owl is standing on a pointed amphora, within an olive-wreath. From the last detail derived the term denoting these coins in inscription of that era: stephanephora (wreath-bearing tetradrachms) or tetradrachms of the Attic stephanephoric silver. The precise date for the introduction of the coins known as New Style tetradrachms is rather open to debate. Initially the launch of the series had been placed in 196/5 BC (Margaret Thompson); this was almost immediately questioned and a lower chronology was proposed (164/3 BC, D. M. Lewis). A ‘compromising’ solution was put forward by O. Mørkholm (185-180 BC), while several scholars accepted the lower chronology (A. Giovannini, M. J. Price, H. B. Mattingly, J. H. Kroll, etc). New hoard evidence ―like from the coin hoard Gaziantep 1994; forthcoming publication― maybe turn the scales now in favour of an initiation date around 165 BC (A. Meadows - thanks are due to the latter for kindly sharing this information).

With the acquisition of Delos ―handed over by the Romans in 166 BC― the Athenians obtained a great port, as well as an important religious and commercial centre. By serving mainly the Roman interests the city entered a second age of prosperity. Gradually, the Athenian coins dominated again the markets, although not reaching as far as before. The vigourous presence of the New Style coins was reflected on issues that were apparently influenced by the Athenian iconography (Macedonia, Aenianes, Thyrreion in Acarnania, Heraclea near Latmos, etc). During the last quarter of the 2nd c. BC (or a little later) the appeal of the Athenian coinage led to the issue of an Amphictyonic decree that essentially advanced the generalized use of the Attic tetradrachms by the members of the Delphic Amphictyony (FD III, 2, 139). At about the same time, an Athenian decree, part of which was found also on the Acropolis, came to establish the correspondence of the Attic weights and measures to the Roman ones, obviously so that the commercial exchanges would be facilitated (IG II2 1013).

The Athenian prosperity turned out to be short-lived as the city was entangled in the turmoil of First Mithridatic War (89-85 BC). By approaching Mithridates VI Eupator, ruler of Pontos, and with the rise to power of the anti-Roman faction in the city, the center stage is taken by Athenion and Aristion. Moreover, the latter issued in the name of king Mithradates (as eponymous archon) and in his name New Style tetradrachms in 87/6 BC. A parallel emission of gold staters was also minted, possibly after the king provided the precious metal. The presence of the Mithridatic forces in Greece and the slaughter of the Italians at Delos brought the swift reaction of Rome; L. Cornelius Sulla was sent to bring things under control. Sulla laid the city and Piraeus under siege; under his command were L. Licinius Lucullus and M. Licinius Lucullus. The former went to Crete to gather troops and provisions. Most probably this was the reason for the minting of New Style imitations by seven Cretan cities: Polyrrenia, Kydonia, Lappa, Knosos, Priansos, Gortyna and Hierapytna. His brother Marcus, who was serving as quaestor (treasurer), was probably responsible for the striking of the coins which are mentioned in inscriptions (“broad-flanned Lucullan coins”; FD III, 3, 282) and by Plutarch (“Lucullan … coinage”, Lucullus, 2.1-2). These could be the New Style tetradrachms which are without the ethnic name ΑΘΕ and bear only two monograms. These monograms, according to the prevailing interpretation, are transliterated in MAR and TAM, i.e. Mar(kou) Tam(iou) = of Marcus the quaestor. It should not go unnoticed that the two coin series, the one with the monograms and those of the Cretan cities, are connected: the link is traced on a tetradrachm (from the P. Z. Saroglos Collection, NMA), which besides the two monograms has also the labyrinth, the punning reference for Knosos, appearing right on the field (Ι. Svoronos, JIAN 17 (1915), 61-62, fig. 6). The Mithridates affair closed with Sulla occupying Athens (March 86 BC) and crushing the Mithridatic army at Chaeronea and Orchomenos. Additionally, for these two victories Sulla issued another New Style coin series, illustrating only two trophies.

The plundering of Athens by the Sullan troops signalled the beginning of a downturn for the city. In coinage this is a terminus post quem for the Athenian bronzes with the New Style types, based on hoard evidence and excavation data. In chalkoi (bronze coins, 1/8 of the Attic obol) are given the prices in an agoranomos inscription of that era found at Piraeus (BCH 118 (1994), 51-68; Archaeological Museum of Piraeus, 4628), where are cited the meals of a hefthopolion (boiled meat shop).

During the 1st c. BC the production of the Athenian silver issues declined and finally ceased around 45/42 BC. However the owls had already left their impact in a broader area: from Pontos and Paphlagonia ―possessions of Mithridates VI, where bronze coins with Athenian influences were issued― to the lands of Arabia, where the presence of imitations is traced down to the 1st c. AD.

The coming of Mark Antony to Athens in 42/1 BC marks the end of the Athenian silver coins, which give way to the denarii that dominate now the Greek world. It is worth noticing though that the bronze issues of Athens which were continued in the era of Octavian Augustus were not denominationally reckoned to the Roman monetary system. Moreover, the city follows a radically different practice compared to the vast majority of the Hellenic and Hellenized cities that mint coins under the Roman sway; it continues to place the bust of the goddess Athena on the obverses of its bronzes instead of the imperial portrait. Regarding the resources of the city, in the beginning of the 1st c. AD the famous mines in Laureotike had been worn out according to Strabon (9.1.23). For more than a century a gap can be detected in the coin production, in accordance with what is known for the rather poor economics of the city (see e.g. the relevant comment for the years ca. 70-82 AD by Dion Chrysostomos, 31.123). Quite characteristic can be considered a finding from a deposit in Athenian Agora, discovered north of the Stoa of Attalos, near the tracks of the Athens-Piraeus railway. This is a clay savings ‘bank’ containing a few bronze coins of the 1st c. BC. The fact that the terracotta ‘bank’ was thrown in the deposit around 100 AD shows that the late Hellenistic issues circulated and were deposited for a long period. During the reign of Hadrian the city goes through a recovery, due to the special interest shown by the philhellene emperor. From the glimpses of the imperial interest one can single out the epigraphic testimony that takes care for the transactions in the broader area ―there are mentioned fishermen from Eleusis― in AD 124/5, when overseer (epimeletes) was T. Iulius Herodianus from Kollytos (IG II2 1103). The revival of the bronze coinage did not happen by chance at that time and it was followed by a variety of issues in the Antonine era. Besides the representations that refer to the mythological roots of the city, depictions of famous sculptures appear too. The glory of the past comes back on occasion with the appearance of well-known historical persons (Miltiades, Themistocles) that are engraved on the surface of the coins. In the 3rd c. AD, during the reign of Gallienus, a last peak can be observed in the coin production; among else the employed themes focus on the key sites of the city. This was a short-lived but prolific coin series which was produced during the years ca. 264-267 AD in order to deal with defence expenses in the face of barbarian invasions. This was also the numismatic swansong of the ancient city, which could not check though the wrath of the Herulians in AD 267. After more than 770 years this was the end of the road for the coins with the figure of Pallas.


BCH: Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique
JIAN: Journal Internationale d’Archéologie Numismatique
FD: Fouilles de Delphes
ID: Inscriptions de Délos
IGCH: Margaret Thompson, O. Mørkholm, C. M. Kraay (eds.), An Inventory of Greek Coin Hoards, New York 1973.
ΝΜΑ: Numismatic Museum, Athens, Greece

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