Ancient Greek coinage

The history of ancient Greek coinage can be divided (along with most other Greek art forms) into four periods, the Archaic, the Classical, the Hellenistic and the Roman. The Archaic period extends from the introduction of coinage to the Greek world during the 7th century BC until the Persian Wars in about 480 BC. The Classical period then began, and lasted until the conquests of Alexander the Great in about 330 BC, which began the Hellenistic period, extending until the Roman absorption of the Greek world in the 1st century BC. The Greek cities continued to produce their own coins for several more centuries under Roman rule. The coins produced during this period are called Roman provincial coins or Greek Imperial Coins.

ATTICA, Athens. Circa 545-525-15 BC
The earliest coinage of Athens, circa 545-525/15 BC
ATTICA, Athens. Circa 510 to 500-490 BC
Archaic coin of Athens with effigy of Athena on the obverse, and olive sprig, owl and ΑΘΕ, initials of "Athens" on the reverse. Circa 510-500/490 BC

Weight standards and denominations

Denominations of silver drachma
Image Denomination Value Weight
Dekadrachm 10 drachmae 43 grams
Tetradrachm 4 drachmae 17.2 grams
AR Didrachm 90001284
Didrachm 2 drachmae 8.6 grams
Drachma 6 obols 4.3 grams
Tetrobol 4 obols 2.85 grams
Metapontum Triobol 868740
Triobol (hemidrachm) 3 obols 2.15 grams
Tarentum AR Diobol 851470
Diobol 2 obols 1.43 grams
SNGCop 053.jpg
Obol 4 tetartemorions 0.72 grams
Thasitischer Tritartemorion 630264 C.jpg
Tritartemorion 3 tetartemorions 0.54 grams
Hemiobol Corinth.jpg
Hemiobol 2 tetartemorions 0.36 grams
Triihemitartemorion Cilicia, 4th century BC.jpg
Trihemitartemorion 1.5 tetartemorions 0.27 grams
Tetartemorion 1/4 obol 0.18 grams
Hemitartemorion ½ tetartemorion 0.09 grams

The three most important standards of the ancient Greek monetary system were the Attic standard, based on the Athenian drachma of 4.3 grams of silver and the Corinthian standard based on the stater of 8.6 grams of silver, that was subdivided into three silver drachmas of 2.9 grams, and the Aeginetan stater or didrachm of 12.2 grams, based on a drachma of 6.1 grams.[1] The word drachm(a) means "a handful", literally "a grasp".[2] Drachmae were divided into six obols (from the Greek word for a spit[3]), and six spits made a "handful". This suggests that before coinage came to be used in Greece, spits in prehistoric times were used as measures in daily transactions. In archaic/pre-numismatic times iron was valued for making durable tools and weapons, and its casting in spit form may have actually represented a form of transportable bullion, which eventually became bulky and inconvenient after the adoption of precious metals. Because of this very aspect, Spartan legislation famously forbade issuance of Spartan coin, and enforced the use of iron ingots, called pelanoi in order to discourage avarice and the hoarding of wealth.[4] In addition to its original meaning (which also gave the diminutive "obelisk", "little spit"), the word obol (ὀβολός, obolós, or ὀβελός, obelós) was retained as a Greek word for coins of small value, still used as such in Modern Greek slang (όβολα, óvola, "monies").

Above: Six rod-shaped obeloi (oboloi) displayed at the Numismatic Museum of Athens, discovered at Heraion of Argos. Below: grasp[2] of six oboloi forming one drachma

The obol was further subdivided into tetartemorioi (singular tetartemorion) which represented 1/4 of an obol, or 1/24 of a drachm. This coin (which was known to have been struck in Athens, Colophon, and several other cities) is mentioned by Aristotle as the smallest silver coin.[5]:237 Various multiples of this denomination were also struck, including the trihemitetartemorion (literally three half-tetartemorioi) valued at 3/8 of an obol.[5]:247

Archaic period (until about 480 BC)

BMC 06
Uninscribed electrum coin from Lydia, early 6th century BC. Obverse: lion head and sunburst Reverse: plain square imprints, probably used to standardise weight
Horse head, rough incuse
Ionia, Uncertain city (possibly Kyme, Aeolis) 600-550 BC, Hemiobol. Horse head, rough incuse.[6]

The earliest known electrum coins, Lydian and East Greek coins found under the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, are currently dated to the last quarter of the 7th century BC (625-600 BC).[7] These coins were issued either by the non-Greek Lydians for their own use or perhaps because Greek mercenaries wanted to be paid in precious metal at the conclusion of their time of service, and wanted to have their payments marked in a way that would authenticate them. These coins were made of electrum, an alloy of gold and silver that was highly prized and abundant in that area.

In the middle of the 6th century BC, King Croesus replaced the electrum coins with coins of pure gold and pure silver, called Croeseids.[7] The credit for inventing pure gold and silver coinage is attributed by Herodotus to the Lydians:[8]

So far as we have any knowledge, they [the Lydians] were the first people to introduce the use of gold and silver coins, and the first who sold goods by retail

— Herodotus, I94[8]
Aegina Stater achaic
Silver stater of Aegina, 550-530 BC. Obv. Sea turtle with large pellets down center. Rev. incuse square with eight sections. After the end of the Peloponnesian War, 404 BC, Sea turtle was replaced by the land tortoise.
BMC 193
Silver drachma of Aegina, 404-340 BC. Obverse: Land tortoise. Reverse: inscription ΑΙΓ[ΙΝΑΤΟΝ] ([of the] Aeg[inetans]) "Aegina" and dolphin.

The Greek world was divided into more than two thousand self-governing city-states (in Greek, poleis), and more than half of them issued their own coins. Some coins circulated widely beyond their polis, indicating that they were being used in inter-city trade; the first example appears to have been the silver stater or didrachm of Aegina that regularly turns up in hoards in Egypt and the Levant, places which were deficient in silver supply. As such coins circulated more widely, other cities began to mint coins to this "Aeginetan" weight standard of (6.1 grams to the drachm), other cities included their own symbols on the coins.

Athenian coins, however, were struck on the "Attic" standard, with a drachm equaling 4.3 grams of silver. Over time, Athens' plentiful supply of silver from the mines at Laurion and its increasing dominance in trade made this the pre-eminent standard. These coins, known as "owls" because of their central design feature, were also minted to an extremely tight standard of purity and weight. This contributed to their success as the premier trade coin of their era. Tetradrachms on this weight standard continued to be a widely used coin (often the most widely used) through the classical period. By the time of Alexander the Great and his Hellenistic successors, this large denomination was being regularly used to make large payments, or was often saved for hoarding.

International circulation

Archaic Greek coinage seems to have had a very wide circulation in the Achaemenid Empire.[9] Many of them were discovered in coin hoards throughout the Achaemenid Empire such as the Ghazzat hoard and the Apadana hoard, and also very far to the East, such as the Kabul hoard or the Pushkalavati hoard in Ancient India, following the Achaemenid conquest of the Indus Valley. Generally, Greek coins (both Archaic and early Classical) are comparatively very numerous in the Achaemenid coin hoards discovered in the East of the Achaemenid Empire, much more numerous than Sigloi, suggesting that the circulation of Greek coinage was central in the monetary system of those part of the Empire.[9]

Ephesos 620-600 BC FANEOS

Electrum coin from Ephesus, 620-600 BC. Obverse: Stag grazing right, ΦΑΝΕΩΣ (retrograde). Reverse: Two incuse punches, each with raised intersecting lines.

ISLANDS off THRACE, Thasos. Circa 500-463 BC

Archaic coin of Thasos, circa 500-463 BC.[10]

ISLANDS off IONIA, Chios. Circa 490-435 BCE

Archaic coin of Chios, circa 490-435 BC.[11] Earlier types known.

ISLANDS off ATTICA, Aegina. Circa 510-490 BC

Archaic Aegina coin type, "windmill pattern" incuse punch. Circa 510-490 BC.[12][13][14]

Athens coin discovered in Pushkalavati

Athens coin (Circa 500/490-485 BC) discovered in the Shaikhan Dehri hoard in Pushkalavati, Ancient India. This coin is the earliest known example of its type to be found so far east.[15]

Classical period (480-323 BC)

SNGCop 039
Tetradrachm of Athens
(c. 454-404 BC)
Obverse: a portrait of Athena, patron goddess of the city, in helmet
Reverse: the owl of Athens, with an olive sprig and the inscription "ΑΘΕ", short for ΑΘΕΝΑΙΟΝ, "of the Athenians"
A Syracusan tetradrachm
(c. 415–405 BC)
Obverse: head of the nymph Arethusa, surrounded by four swimming dolphins and a rudder
Reverse: a racing quadriga, its charioteer crowned by the goddess Victory in flight.

The Classical period saw Greek coinage reach a high level of technical and aesthetic quality. Larger cities now produced a range of fine silver and gold coins, most bearing a portrait of their patron god or goddess or a legendary hero on one side, and a symbol of the city on the other. Some coins employed a visual pun: some coins from Rhodes featured a rose, since the Greek word for rose is rhodon. The use of inscriptions on coins also began, usually the name of the issuing city.

The wealthy cities of Sicily produced some especially fine coins. The large silver decadrachm (10-drachm) coin from Syracuse is regarded by many collectors as the finest coin produced in the ancient world, perhaps ever. Syracusan issues were rather standard in their imprints, one side bearing the head of the nymph Arethusa and the other usually a victorious quadriga. The tyrants of Syracuse were fabulously rich, and part of their public relations policy was to fund quadrigas for the Olympic chariot race, a very expensive undertaking. As they were often able to finance more than one quadriga at a time, they were frequent victors in this highly prestigious event. Syracuse was one of the epicenters of numismatic art during the classical period. Led by the engravers Kimon and Euainetos, Syracuse produced some of the finest coin designs of antiquity.

Amongst the first centers to produce coins during the Greek colonization of mainland Southern Italy (Magna Graecia) were Paestum, Crotone, Sybaris, Caulonia, Metapontum, and Taranto. These ancient cities started producing coins from 550BC to 510BC.[16][17]

ISLANDS off ATTICA. Aegina. Circa 456-45-431 BC

Aegina coin type, incuse skew pattern. Circa 456/45-431 BC.

MACEDON, Akanthos. Circa 470-430 BC

Coin of Akanthos, Macedon. Circa 470-430 BC.

PAMPHYLIA, Aspendos. Circa 465-430 BC

Coin of Aspendos, Pamphylia, circa 465-430 BC.

KORKYRA, Korkyra. Circa 350-30-290-70 BC

Coin from Korkyra. Circa 350/30-290/70 BC.

CYPRUS, Paphos. Onasi(...). Mid 5th century BC

Coin of Cyprus, circa 450 BC.

Hellenistic period (323-31 BC)

Gold 20-stater of Eucratides I, the largest gold coin to have survived from Antiquity.
Alexandria 222-235 Drachm
Drachma of Alexandria, 222-235 AD. Obverse: Laureate head of Alexander Severus, KAI(ΣΑΡ) MAP(ΚΟΣ) AYP(ΗΛΙΟΣ) ΣЄY(ΑΣΤΟΣ) ΑΛЄΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ ЄΥΣЄ(ΒΗΣ). Reverse: Bust of Asclepius.

The Hellenistic period was characterized by the spread of Greek culture across a large part of the known world. Greek-speaking kingdoms were established in Egypt and Syria, and for a time also in Iran and as far east as what is now Afghanistan and northwestern India. Greek traders spread Greek coins across this vast area, and the new kingdoms soon began to produce their own coins. Because these kingdoms were much larger and wealthier than the Greek city states of the classical period, their coins tended to be more mass-produced, as well as larger, and more frequently in gold. They often lacked the aesthetic delicacy of coins of the earlier period.

Alexander the great temnos tetradrachm
Posthumous Alexander the Great tetradrachm from Temnos, Aeolis. Dated 188-170 BC. Obverse: Alexander the Great as Herakles facing right wearing the nemean lionskin. Reverse: Zeus seated on throne to the left holding eagle in right hand and scepter in left; in left field PA monogram and angular sigma above grape vine arching over oinochoe; ALEXANDROU vertical in right field. Reference: Price 1678.

Still, some of the Greco-Bactrian coins, and those of their successors in India, the Indo-Greeks, are considered the finest examples of Greek numismatic art with "a nice blend of realism and idealization", including the largest coins to be minted in the Hellenistic world: the largest gold coin was minted by Eucratides (reigned 171–145 BC), the largest silver coin by the Indo-Greek king Amyntas Nikator (reigned c. 95–90 BC). The portraits "show a degree of individuality never matched by the often bland depictions of their royal contemporaries further West" (Roger Ling, "Greece and the Hellenistic World").

The most striking new feature of Hellenistic coins was the use of portraits of living people, namely of the kings themselves. This practice had begun in Sicily, but was disapproved of by other Greeks as showing hubris (arrogance). But the kings of Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria had no such scruples: having already awarded themselves with "divine" status, they issued magnificent gold coins adorned with their own portraits, with the symbols of their state on the reverse. The names of the kings were frequently inscribed on the coin as well. This established a pattern for coins which has persisted ever since: a portrait of the king, usually in profile and striking a heroic pose, on the obverse, with his name beside him, and a coat of arms or other symbol of state on the reverse.

The Hellenistic period conventionally ends with the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, although a few Hellenistic rulers are known in India until the reign of the Indo-Greek King Strato III (ruled c. 25 BC to 10 AD), who issued the last Hellenistic coinage. Many Greek communities in the eastern half of the Roman empire continued to issue their own coinages, known as Roman provincial coinages or 'Greek Imperials' in older scholarship, until the third century AD.

Antiochos I Soter Ai Khanoum mint

Antiochus I (281–261 BC), Ai Khanoum.

Antiochos II Theos Ai Khanoum mint

Antiochos II (261-246 BC), Ai Khanoum.

Diodotos I in the name of Antiochos II or coin of Antiochos Nicator Mint A near Ai-Khanoum

Diodotus I (256-238 BC).

Diodotos II Ai Khanoum mint

Diodotus II (235-225 BC)

Coin of Antialkidas

Coin of Indo-Greek king Antialcidas (105–95 BC).

Coin of the Bactrian King Agathokles

Coin of Agathocles of Bactria with Hindu deities, circa 180 BC.


All Greek coins were handmade, rather than machined as modern coins are. The design for the obverse was carved (in incuso) into a block of bronze or possibly iron, called a die. The design of the reverse was carved into a similar punch. A blank disk of gold, silver, or electrum was cast in a mold and then, placed between these two and the punch struck hard with a hammer, raising the design on both sides of the coin.[19]

Coins as a symbol of the city-state

Coins of Greek city-states depicted a unique symbol or feature, an early form of emblem, also known as badge in numismatics, that represented their city and promoted the prestige of their state. Corinthian stater for example depicted pegasus the mythological winged stallion, tamed by their hero Bellerophon. Coins of Ephesus depicted the bee sacred to Artemis. Drachmas of Athens depicted the owl of Athena. Drachmas of Aegina depicted a chelone. Coins of Selinunte depicted a "selinon" (σέλινον[20] - celery). Coins of Heraclea depicted Heracles. Coins of Gela depicted a man-headed bull, the personification of the river Gela. Coins of Rhodes depicted a "rhodon" (ῥόδον[21] - rose). Coins of Knossos depicted the labyrinth or the mythical creature minotaur, a symbol of the Minoan Crete. Coins of Melos depicted a "mēlon" (μήλον - apple). Coins of Thebes depicted a Boeotian shield.

Corinth Stater 80000251
Corinthian stater with pegasus
Tétradrachme d'argent de Rhodes
Coin of Rhodes with a rose
Selinos didrachm ANS 685 670331
Didrachm of Selinunte with a celery
Tétradrachme en argent représentant une abeille et un cerf
Coin of Ephesus with a bee
Stater of Olympia depicting Nike
Coin of Melos with an apple
Stymphalian bird
Obolus from Stymphalus with a Stymphalian bird
Greek Silver Stater of Thebes (Boeotia), a Stunning Depiction of Dionysos
Coin of Thebes with a Boeotian shield
Gela. 480-475 BC Tetradrachm
Coin of Gela with a man-headed bull, the personification of the river Gela
Didrachm Knossos 425-360BC obverse CdM Paris
Didrachm of Knossos depicting the Minotaur

Ancient Greek coins today

GREEK. Northern Greece. AR 1-5th tetradrachms of the Kings of Macedon, Philip II
Various ancient Greek coins.

Collections of ancient Greek coins are held by museums around the world, of which the collections of the British Museum, the American Numismatic Society, and the Danish National Museum are considered to be the finest. The American Numismatic Society collection comprises some 100,000 ancient Greek coins from many regions and mints, from Spain and North Africa to Afghanistan. To varying degrees, these coins are available for study by academics and researchers.

There is also an active collector market for Greek coins. Several auction houses in Europe and the United States specialize in ancient coins (including Greek) and there is also a large on-line market for such coins.

Hoards of Greek coins are still being found in Europe, Middle East, and North Africa, and some of the coins in these hoards find their way onto the market. Due to the numbers in which they were produced, the durability of the metals, and the ancient practice of burying large numbers of coins to save them, coins are an ancient art within the reach of ordinary collectors.

See also


  1. ^ BMC 11 - Attica Megaris Aegina
  2. ^ a b Entry δράσσομαι in LSJ, cf: δράξ (drax), δραχμή (drachmē): grasp with the hand
  3. ^ "Obol". Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  4. ^ Figueira, “Iron Money and the Ideology of Consumption,” Sparta: Beyond the Mirage (2002) 137-70
  5. ^ a b American Numismatic Society (1916). American Journal of Numismatics. 49-50. American Numismatic and Archaeological Society.
  6. ^ Classical Numismatic Group
  7. ^ a b Kurke, Leslie (1999). Coins, Bodies, Games, and Gold: The Politics of Meaning in Archaic Greece. Princeton University Press. pp. 6–7. ISBN 0691007365.
  8. ^ a b Metcalf, William E. (2016). The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage. Oxford University Press. pp. 49–50. ISBN 9780199372188.
  9. ^ a b Kagan, Jonathan. Archaic Greek coins East of the Tigris. pp. 230–234.
  10. ^ "a fragmentary stater of Thasos" described in Kagan p.230, Kabul hoard Coin no.9 in Daniel Schlumberger Trésors Monétaires d'Afghanistan (1953)
  11. ^ "a worn Chiot stater" described in Kagan p.230, Kabul hoard Coin no.12 in Daniel Schlumberger Trésors Monétaires d'Afghanistan (1953)
  12. ^ Kabul hoard Coin no.5 in Daniel Schlumberger Trésors Monétaires d'Afghanistan (1953)
  13. ^ CNG: ISLANDS off ATTICA, Aegina. Circa 510-490 BC. AR Stater (20mm, 11.73 g).
  14. ^ "The 1933 Cabul hoard pub-lished by Schlumberger consisted of over 115 coins, with significant overlap with the Malayer hoard. Athens again is the largest group, with 33 recorded tetradrachms compared to eight sigloi. In addition to the worn archaic stater of Aegina, a fragmentary stater of Thasos and a worn Chiot stater may be archaic. There are two well-preserved early classical tetradrachms from Acanthus and an early classical stater of Corcyra. Again there is a significant Levantine component represented by coins from Pamphylia, Cilicia and Cyprus, though nothing from Phoenicia. The early Cilician coins probably date the hoard slightly later than the Malayer hoard." in Kagan, Jonathan. ARCHAIC GREEK COINS EAST OF THE TIGRIS. p. 230.
  15. ^ "A Truly International Currency", Triton XV, Lot: 1163, ATTICA, Athens, CNG Coins
  16. ^ "Bruttium - Ancient Greek Coins - WildWinds". Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  17. ^ "Lucania - Ancient Greek Coins -". Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  18. ^ CNG Coin 338684
  19. ^ Grierson: Numismatics
  20. ^ Entry σέλινον at LSJ
  21. ^ Entry ῥόδον at LSJ

Further reading

  • Grierson, Philip (1975), Numismatics, Oxford, Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-885098-0
  • Head, Barclay V. (1911), Historia Numorum; A Manual of Greek Numismatics, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Hill, George Francis (1906), Historical Greek Coins, London : Archibald Constable and Co.
  • Jenkins, H.K. (1990), Ancient Greek Coins, Seaby, ISBN 1-85264-014-6
  • Konuk, Koray (2003), From Kroisos to Karia; Early Anatolian Coins from the Muharrem Kayhan Collection, ISBN 975-8070-61-4
  • Kraay, Colin M. (1976), Archaic and Classical Greek Coins, New York: Sanford J. Durst, ISBN 0-915262-75-4.
  • Melville Jones, John R, 'A Dictionary of Ancient Greek Coins', London, Seaby 1986, reprinted Spink 2004.
  • Melville Jones, John R, Testimonia Numaria. Greek and Latin texts concerning Ancient Greek Coinage, 2 vols (1993 and 2007), London, Spink, 0-907-05-40-0 and 978-1-902040-81-3.
  • Ramage, Andrew and Craddock, Paul (2000), King Croesus' Gold; Excavations at Sardis and the History of Gold Refining, Trustees of the British Museum, ISBN 0-7141-0888-X.
  • Rutter N. K, Burnett A. M, Crawford M. H, Johnston A. E.M, Jessop Price M (2001), Historia Numorum Italy, London: The British Museum Press, ISBN 0-7141-1801-X.
  • Sayles, Wayne G, Ancient Coin Collecting, Iola, Wisconsin : Krause Publications, 2003.
  • Sayles, Wayne G, Ancient Coin Collecting II: Numismatic Art of the Greek World", Iola, Wisconsin : Krause Publications, 2007.
  • Seaford, Richard (2004), 'Money and the Early Greek Mind; Homer, Philosophy, Tragedy', Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-53992-0.
  • Sear, David, "Greek Coins and Their Values: Volume 1", London: Spink, Seaby, ISBN 0 900652 462
  • Sear, David, "Greek Coins and Their Values: Volume 2" London: Spink.
  • Seltman, Charles (1933), Greek Coins, London: Methuen & Co, Ltd.
  • Seltman, Charles, Masterpieces of Greek Coinage, Bruno Cassirer - Oxford, 1949.
  • Thompson M, Mørkholm O, Kraay C. M. (eds): An Inventory of Greek Coin Hoards, (IGCH). New York, 1973 ISBN 978-0-89722-068-2
  • Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum:
    • American Numismatic Society: The Collection of the American Numismatic Society, New York
  • Ward, John, Greek Coins and their Parent Cities, London : John Murray, 1902. (accompanied by a catalogue of the author's collection by Sir George Francis Hill)

External links

Ancient South Arabian art

Ancient South Arabian art was the art of the Pre-Islamic cultures of the southern Arabian peninsula, which was produced from the 3rd millennium BC until the 7th century AD.

Apadana hoard

The Apadana hoard is a hoard of coins that were discovered under the stone boxes containing the foundation tablets of the Apadana Palace in Persepolis. The coins were discovered in excavations in 1933 by Erich Schmidt, in two deposits, each deposit under the two deposition boxes that were found. The deposition of this hoard, which was visibly part of the foundation ritual of the Apadana, is dated to circa 515 BCE.

Atropa pallidiflora

Atropa pallidiflora is a close relative of the infamous deadly nightshade and, like it, is an extremely poisonous plant, containing a variety of tropane alkaloids valued in medicine for their anticholinergic, antispasmodic and mydriatic properties and deliriant in excess. Atropa pallidiflora is the least well-known of the four currently accepted species of Atropa and is endemic to the remarkable Caspian Hyrcanian mixed forests of Northern Iran, which can boast all the species of Atropa currently recognised, with the sole exception of the strictly Ibero-Maghrebi A.baetica. The binomial Atropa pallidiflora was published by Eva Schönbeck-Temesy in volume 100 ('Solanaceae') of Karl Heinz Rechinger's monumental Flora Iranica in 1972. The specific name pallidiflora signifies 'bearing flowers of a pale, wan or washed-out hue' and, while appropriate, is not especially evocative, given that the flowers of most Atropa species are far from vivid (only the flowers of the yellow-flowered form (as opposed to the green) of Atropa baetica could be said to have a colour that is cheerful rather than sombre). The flowers of A. pallidiflora, like those of A.baetica, vary from greenish to yellow, but, as the designation 'having pallid flowers' might suggest, the yellow in question is a dingy greenish-yellow that is far from ornamental.

The geographical term 'Hyrcanian' in the common name signifies that the plant is native to what was once the satrapy of Hyrcania, the name of which derives (via Ancient Greek) from an Iranian root meaning 'wolf' : Hyrcania is thus the 'Land of Wolves' ( - see also Gorgan). The name is an apt one, since the Hyrcanian forests have long been known as a hunting ground (or, in modern parlance, 'ecosystem') of legendary richness and beauty : the lush forests could support an abundance of large, mammalian herbivores, which in turn could support an abundance of apex predators - notably the wolf, but also the Persian leopard and even the tiger. The word 'Hyrcanian' (also its variant form 'Hyrcan') will be familiar to any diligent reader of the works of William Shakespeare, as an epithet of the proverbially savage (but now, sadly, extinct) Caspian Tiger, known to the dramatist from his reading of the works of various Latin authors - who, in turn, were familiar with the Ancient Greek coinage 'Hyrcania' and the lands adjoining the Caspian Sea to which the place name referred. Regarding the richness of the Hyrcanian flora - of which Atropa pallidiflora is a noteworthy element - it is worth mentioning that the name of the modern Iranian province of Golestan (which constitutes the easternmost portion of ancient Hyrcania) has the delightful meanings of 'Rose Garden' and 'Land of Flowers'.

Bes (coin)

The bes (plural bessēs) was an Ancient Roman bronze coin produced during the Roman Republic. Valued at two-thirds of an as (8 unciae), it was only produced in 126 BC by C. Cassius in combination with the dodrans, another very rare denomination which was valued at three-fourths of an as.


A coin is a small, flat, (usually, depending on the country or value) round piece of metal or plastic used primarily as a medium of exchange or legal tender. They are standardized in weight, and produced in large quantities at a mint in order to facilitate trade. They are most often issued by a government.

Coins are usually metal or alloy, or sometimes made of synthetic materials. They are usually disc shaped. Coins made of valuable metal are stored in large quantities as bullion coins. Other coins are used as money in everyday transactions, circulating alongside banknotes. Usually the highest value coin in circulation (i.e. excluding bullion coins) is worth less than the lowest-value note. In the last hundred years, the face value of circulation coins has occasionally been lower than the value of the metal they contain, for example due to inflation. If the difference becomes significant, the issuing authority may decide to withdraw these coins from circulation, possibly issuing new equivalents with a different composition, or the public may decide to melt the coins down or hoard them (see Gresham's law).

Exceptions to the rule of face value being higher than content value also occur for some bullion coins made of copper, silver, or gold (and, rarely, other metals, such as platinum or palladium), intended for collectors or investors in precious metals. Examples of modern gold collector/investor coins include the British sovereign minted by the United Kingdom, the American Gold Eagle minted by the United States, the Canadian Gold Maple Leaf minted by Canada, and the Krugerrand, minted by South Africa. While the Eagle, Maple Leaf, and Sovereign coins have nominal (purely symbolic) face values, the Krugerrand does not.

Historically, a great quantity of coinage metals (including alloys) and other materials (e.g. porcelain) have been used to produce coins for circulation, collection, and metal investment: bullion coins often serve as more convenient stores of assured metal quantity and purity than other bullion.


The dodrans (from Latin de-quadrans: "less a quarter") or nonuncium (from Latin nona uncia: "ninth twelfth") was an Ancient Roman bronze coin produced during the Roman Republic.

The dodrans, valued at three-fourth of an as (9 unciae), was produced only twice:

in 126 BC by C. Cassius, in combination with the bes, another very rare denomination which was valued at two-thirds of an as.

in the 2nd century BC by M. Caecilius Metellus Q. f. (perhaps Marcus Caecilius Metellus, consul 115 BC), in combination with the denarius and other Æ coins, e.g. the semis, triens, and quadrans.Dodrans as a unit may refer to a time span of forty-five minutes or a length of nine inches. It has also been used to refer to the metrical pattern ¯˘˘¯˘¯, which constitutes the last three-quarters of the glyconic line. Also called the choriambo-cretic, the pattern is common in Aeolic verse.


Electrum is a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver, with trace amounts of copper and other metals. It has also been produced artificially, and is often known as green gold. The ancient Greeks called it 'gold' or 'white gold', as opposed to 'refined gold'. Its colour ranges from pale to bright yellow, depending on the proportions of gold and silver.

The gold content of naturally occurring electrum in modern Western Anatolia ranges from 70% to 90%, in contrast to the 45–55% of gold in electrum used in ancient Lydian coinage of the same geographical area. This suggests that one reason for the invention of coinage in that area was to increase the profits from seigniorage by issuing currency with a lower gold content than the commonly circulating metal. (See also debasement.)

Electrum was used as early as the third millennium BCE in Old Kingdom of Egypt, sometimes as an exterior coating to the pyramidions atop ancient Egyptian pyramids and obelisks. It was also used in the making of ancient drinking vessels. The first metal coins ever made were of electrum and date back to the end of the 7th century or the beginning of the 6th century BCE. For several decades, the medals awarded with the Nobel Prize have been made of gold-plated green gold.

Gold coin

A gold coin is a coin that is made mostly or entirely of gold. Most gold coins minted since 1800 are 90–92% gold (22 karat), while most of today's gold bullion coins are pure gold, such as the Britannia, Canadian Maple Leaf, and American Buffalo. Alloyed gold coins, like the American Gold Eagle and South African Krugerrand, are typically 91.7% gold by weight, with the remainder being silver and copper.

Traditionally (up to about the 1930s), gold coins have been circulation coins, including coin-like bracteates and dinars. Since recent decades, however, gold coins are mainly produced as bullion coins to investors and as commemorative coins to collectors. While modern gold coins are also legal tender, they are not observed in everyday financial transactions, as the metal value normally exceeds the nominal value. For example, the American Gold Eagle, given a denomination of 50 USD, has a metal value of more than $1,200 USD.

The gold reserves of central banks are dominated by gold bars, but gold coins may occasionally contribute.

Gold has been used as money for many reasons. It is fungible, with a low spread between the prices to buy and sell. Gold is also easily transportable, as it has a high value to weight ratio, compared to other commodities, such as silver. Gold can be re-coined, divided into smaller units, or re-melted into larger units such as gold bars, without destroying its metal value. The density of gold is higher than most other metals, making it difficult to pass counterfeits. Additionally, gold is extremely unreactive, hence it does not tarnish or corrode over time.

Henry A. Greene

Henry Augustus Greene (5 August 1861-9 July 1950) was a collector of ancient Greek coins and citizen of Providence, Rhode Island, USA. He had ties with the Rhode Island School of Design Museum to whom he donated a variety of objects, and where his coin collection now resides.

Hermodike II

Hermodike II has been attributed with inventing Greek coinage, i.e. the transfer of earlier technical knowledge from Lydia into ancient Greek society through Aeolis by Aristotle. Other historians have translated the name as Hermodice, Damodice or Demodike as translated by Pollux.Hermodike II was the daughter of a dynastic Agamemnon of Cyme and married to the third dynastic King Midas in the 6th Century BC. She was named after Hermodike I who has been attributed with inventing the Greek written script.

History of coins

The history of coins extends from ancient times to the present, and is related to economic history, the history of minting technologies, the history shown by the images on coins, and the history of coin collecting. Coins are still widely used for monetary and other purposes.


Lydia (Assyrian: Luddu; Greek: Λυδία, Lydía; Turkish: Lidya) was an Iron Age kingdom of western Asia Minor located generally east of ancient Ionia in the modern western Turkish provinces of Uşak, Manisa and inland İzmir. Its population spoke an Anatolian language known as Lydian. Its capital was Sardis.The Kingdom of Lydia existed from about 1200 BC to 546 BC. At its greatest extent, during the 7th century BC, it covered all of western Anatolia. In 546 BC, it became a province of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, known as the satrapy of Lydia or Sparda in Old Persian. In 133 BC, it became part of the Roman province of Asia.

Coins are said to have been invented in Lydia around the 7th century BC.

Matthew Raper

Matthew Raper (1705–1778) was a British astronomer, mathematician, and scholar in various fields. He published papers on diverse subjects, including ancient Greek coinage and Roman currency, as well as their measures and their history from Greek and Latin texts.

Raper was elected to the Royal Society on the 30th of May 1754 and was awarded the Copley Medal in 1771 for a paper "Inquiry into the Value of the ancient Greek and Roman Money." He translated Dissertation on the Gipseys from Heinrich Grellman's German original and wrote diverse papers such as "An Enquiry into the Measure of the Roman Foot" (1760) and "Observations on the Moon's Eclipse, March 17., and the Sun's Eclipse, April 1, 1764."Matthew Raper's father was also named Matthew and left him the Manor of Thorley, Hertfordshire, upon his death in 1748. Raper had an observatory on the roof of the manor house; upon his death in 1778, the manorial rights passed to his brother John Raper.

Numismatic Museum of Athens

The Numismatic Museum in Athens (Greek: Νομισματικό Μουσείο) is one of the most important museums of Greece and houses one of the greatest collections of coins, ancient and modern, in the world. The museum itself is housed in the mansion of the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, formally known as Iliou Melathron (Greek: Ιλίου Μέλαθρον, "Palace of Ilion").


Numismatics is the study or collection of currency, including coins, tokens, paper money and related objects. While numismatists are often characterised as students or collectors of coins, the discipline also includes the broader study of money and other payment media used to resolve debts and the exchange of goods. Early money used by people is referred to as "Odd and Curious", but the use of other goods in barter exchange is excluded, even where used as a circulating currency (e.g., cigarettes in prison). The Kyrgyz people used horses as the principal currency unit and gave small change in lambskins; the lambskins may be suitable for numismatic study, but the horses are not. Many objects have been used for centuries, such as cowry shells, precious metals, cocoa beans, large stones and gems.

Today, most transactions take place by a form of payment with either inherent, standardized, or credit value. Numismatic value is the value in excess of the monetary value conferred by law, which is known as the collector value.Economic and historical studies of money's use and development are an integral part of the numismatists' study of money's physical embodiment.

Sampul tapestry

The Sampul tapestry is an ancient woolen wall-hanging found at the Tarim Basin settlement of Shanpula (Chinese: 山普拉) also known as Sampul, in Lop County, Xinjiang, China, close to ancient city of Khotan. The object has many Hellenistic period features, including a Greek centaur and diadem, linking it to the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom (formed after the conquest of the Achaemenid Empire by Alexander the Great of Macedon and establishment of the Seleucid Empire).

Silk Road numismatics

Silk Road Numismatics is a special field within Silk Road studies and within numismatics. It is particularly important because it covers a part of the world where history is not always clear – either because the historical record is incomplete or is contested. For example numismatics has played a central role in determining the chronology of the Kushan kings.

Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum

Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum (SNG) is a project to publish ancient Greek coinage, founded in Great Britain by the British Academy in 1930. It was originally intended to catalogue both public and private Greek coin collections in the UK. It has gradually spread to other countries, and has now published more than 120 volumes. In 1972 the project was adopted by the Union Académique Internationale. Volumes are now published under the patronage of the International Numismatic Council. The British project has also established an online database, which includes over 25,000 coins in British collections. Though not necessarily comprehensive, it is considered a useful resource for researched Greek and Greek Imperial coinage for numismatists and historians alike at both specialist and undergraduate level.


The word Yona in Pali and the Prakrits, and the analogue "Yavana" in Sanskrit, are words used in Ancient India to designate Greek speakers. "Yona" and "Yavana" are transliterations of the Greek word for "Ionians" (Ancient Greek: Ἴωνες < Ἰάoνες < *Ἰάϝoνες), who were probably the first Greeks to be known in the East.

Both terms appear in ancient Sanskrit literature. Yavana appears for instance, in the Mahabharata, while Yona appears in texts such as the Mahavamsa.

The Yona are mentioned in the Ashoka inscriptions, along with the Kambojas, as two societies where there are only nobles and slaves.Examples of direct association of these terms with the Greeks include:

The mention of the "Yona king Aṃtiyoka" in the Edicts of Ashoka (280 BCE)

The mention of the "Yona king Aṃtalikitasa" in the Heliodorus pillar in Vidisha (110 BCE)

King Milinda and his bodyguard of "500 Yonas" in the Milinda Panha.

The description of Greek astrology and Greek terminology in the Yavanajātaka "Nativity of the Yavanas" (150 CE).

The mention of Alexandria on the Caucasus, "the city of the Yonas" in the Mahavamsa, Chapter 29 (4th century CE).In general, the words "Yoṇa" or "Yoṇaka" were the current Greek Hellenistic forms, while the term "Yavana" was the Indian word to designate the Greeks or the Indo-Greeks.

Ancient Greek coinage
Hellenistic coinage
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