First mints in Ancient Greece

They were the first men whom we know who coined and used gold and silver currency; and they were the first to sell by retail.

Herodotos, The Histories, [Book1, section 94] Perseus website

The first coins minted were on an island in Greece–Aegina–in the 6th Century BCE. The island is south of Athens in the Saronic Gulf, and was one of ancient Greece’s earliest maritime powers. The transition from weights and measures as a standard exchange for goods across Greece saw the development of coins. How or why and who was the driving force behind the creation of the coin is still yet to be discovered, though ancient Greece and Aegina are considered the front runners in minting coins.

Uncertain King of Lydia. Early 6th century BCE. Made from electrum. Obverse: Head of roaring lion right, the sun with multiple rays on the forehead. Reverse: Double incuse punch
Inc, C. N. G. (2017, June 26). Lydia Electrum Stater. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/image/6770/

The coins were made from electrum, a composite of gold and silver and some copper. As coins grew in popularity, the ‘stater’ was standardised: 55% gold, 45% silver and 1-2% copper. The oldest coin discovered was from Efesos, has a head of a lion imprinted on one side and is 2,700 years old. The coins were used in trade dealings and soon became the norm for buying and selling goods. The islands of Aegina, Samos and Miletos were central to minting coins for the Egyptians, and were transported to Naukratis, the only Greek settlement and trading post permitted by the Pharaoh of Egypt of the time (also a location my characters travel to in Book 1, Search for the Golden Serpent).

Coins were struck with either an image of an animal, be it a lion, tortoise, eagle, dolphin etc; one of the gods/goddesses, patron of the island or city-state; or a plant, such as wheat or celery; even mythical creatures have been used—the Minotaur and the griffin. Over time, rulers had their own likeness imprinted on the coins, and their citizens carried them where ever they went, whether they liked their leader or not! In time, the composition of coins were made from silver and gold, and as the value of the metals changed, so did the coin.

In my upcoming novella, the coin was created during the 6th century BCE, and with a print of a tortoise, as it was the symbol associated with the Goddess Aphrodite, patron of Aegina. The tortoise, with its flippers and shell are detailed on one side, and on the obverse is a Trinacria: a tiny face from which three legs, bent at the knee, form a circle. The Trinacria honoured an Eastern God called Baal, similar to Zeus, and the three legs represented movement and change. The idea for the coin came from combining the elements of Greek and Phoenician mythology, hence the tortoise and Trinacria. The symbol is on the Sicilian and Isle of Man flags, the Sicilian Trinacria has the face of the gorgon, while the Isle of Man’s version has only the legs.

Silver Drachma from Sicily, minted during the reign of Agathocles, tyrant of Syracuse (r. 317–289 BC) and king of Sicily (r. 304–289 BC). Inscription: ΣΥΡΑΚΟΣΙΩΝ (“Syrakosion”) Laureate head of the youthful Ares to left; behind, Palladion. Reverse: Triskeles of three human legs with winged feet; at the center, Gorgoneion By Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28973249

Next blog post: Herakles

Thank you for your continued support and as always, I look forward to your comments and will respond.

Historical fiction novelist and a secondary teacher, Luciana Cavallaro, burnt out but not done… yet.

2 comments

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  1. Linnea Tanner

    Fascinating article. Discovered coins also provide insight into the leadership, culture and religious beliefs of the area. It’s amazing the amount of detail on some of these coins, particularly the charioteer with the horses. Interestingly, one of the best insight into who ruled a tribal kingdoms in Britain was from minted coins. Hope you have a lovely weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

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