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🦉Athenian Owls (Weekly Post 2)
The Most Famous Ancient Coin
Athens. A testament to the very height of human achievement. Let’s take a look at the greatest city-state the world ever saw.
🏛️ - History
Constantly occupied for over 5,000 years, Athens has an extremely rich history, and continues to be of importance even today, as Greece’s capital. Athens’ golden age occurred in the mid 5th century B.C. Following the destruction of the city by Persia in 480 B.C., the city grew in strength and, indeed, wealth, as local mines1 began producing great quantities of silver. Its position as the head of the Delian league2 (a group of cities united against Persia) also helped massively. Great monuments like the Parthenon and Temple of Hephaestus were constructed, but a war3 between Athens and rival city state, Sparta, left Athens devastated by the close of the 5th Century B.C.
The famous parthenon, temple to Athena, was constructed during Athens’ golden age (mid 5th century B.C.)4
🔱 - Mythology
According to myth, both Athena (goddess of wisdom) and Poseidon (god of the sea) wanted to be the patron deity to the city-state. They therefore arranged a challenge, where both gods were to provide the Athenians with a present:
From Poseidon, a spring, a symbol of maritime supremacy.
From Athena, an olive tree, a sign of peace and wealth.
Athens preferred the gift of Athena, and so was named after her. In antiquity, Athens was known for its olive oil export.
🪙 - The Coins
The most famous ancient coin, the Athenian owl, was first produced in around 520 B.C. Over the following centuries, there were numerous changes to the coin (as well as a rapid decrease in artistic quality, especially following the Peloponnesian war), and yet it still retained the same basic design. The most abundant type of these were struck from 454-404 BC, and are known as “mass issue” owls.
These were made of good silver and circulated over a massive area, becoming the trade coin of the ancient world, praised as “the finest coins of all” and standing “the test everywhere among barbarians and Greeks”5. In fact, they grew so popular that they were even imitated by many Eastern tribes: Persians, Egyptians, Arabians, etc.6
The obverse of these Tetradrachms (worth roughly 4 days’ labour) depicts the patron goddess Athena wearing an Attic helmet (decorated with olive leaves and a spiral palmette), an earring, and a pearl necklace.
The reverse features an owl, and it is for this reason that the coins were known as “little owls” (γλαύξ) in antiquity. The legend ΑΘΕ is an abbreviation of ΑΘΕΝΑΙΩΝ, telling us that this is a coin “of the Athenians”. In the top left of the flan we can see an olive branch and a crescent moon, although its meaning is often debated.
My Athenian Tetradrachm (of the “mass issue” type, produced from 454-404 B.C.) is easily my favourite ancient coin7
💬 - Quote
“τὰ πάντα ῥεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει.”
“Everything flows, nothing stands still.”
- Heraclitus (according to Plato)
🔗 - Recommendation
If you’re looking for a place to chat with other ancient coin collectors, then I’d recommend checking out NumisForums. With nearly 500 members, there are new ‘threads’ every day about all areas of the hobby - a great place to be for any numismatist. This is my favourite coin forum, and one I learn from every day. If you’re a beginner, I’m sure its wonderful members would be happy to help with any questions you might have about the hobby too.
You can check it out here: https://www.numisforums.com
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Image credit to Roma Numismatics