established 1942

Greek silver tetradrachm of Athens (Attica)

Attica, Athens. Ca. 454-404 BC
Silver tetradrachm.
Diameter: 25 mm.; Weight: 17.15 grams

Obverse: Head of Athena right, wearing crested Attic helmet decorated with three olive leaves and spiral palmette.

Reverse: Owl standing right, head facing; olive sprig and crescent behind; all within incuse square.

Extremely fine condition.

Cf. J.H. Kroll. The Greek Coins. The Athenian Agora, vol. XXVI. Princeton. 1993. No. 8.


Many surviving tetradrachms were minted by the polis of Athens from around the end of the 6th century BC onwards; the popular coin was widely used in transactions throughout the ancient Grecian world, including in cities politically unfriendly to Athens. Athens had silver mines in state ownership, which provided the bullion. Most well known were the silver mines of Laurium at a close distance from Athens. The Athenian tetradrachm was stamped with the head of Athena on the obverse, and on the reverse the image of the owl of Athena, the iconographic symbol of the Athenian polis, with a sprig of olive and a crescent for the moon. According to Philochorus , it was known as glaux (owl) throughout the ancient world and "owl" in present day numismatics. The design was kept essentially unchanged for over two centuries, by which time it had become stylistically archaic. To differentiate their curency from the rival coinage of Aegine using the Aeginetic stater of about 12.3 grams, Athens minted its tetradrachm based on the "Attic" standard of 4.3 grams per drachma. The vast number of "owl-tetradrachms" available those days mainly from the silver mines of Laurium financed the several achievements of Athens, such as the reconstruction of the Acropolis and building the Parthenon, as well as many Wars, including the Peloponnesian Wars.
The tetradrachm's use as a currency was soon adopted by many other city-states of the ancient Greece, Asia Minor, Magna Graecia, and other Greek colonial cities throughout the Mediterranean Sea. With the armies of Alexander the Great it spread to the Greek-influenced areas of present-day Iran and India.

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