The minting of coins in Greece began in the 7th century B.C.
in the city of Aegina on the Aegean Islands.
One peculiarity of Greek practice was that in early
times coins were made only from silver. The basic unit was the drachma.
Under the polis system, in which each city minted its own
coins, standard weights varied. Most common were the Aeginetan
system with a drachma weighing 6 grammes and the Attic
system, with a 4.3-gramme drachma. The largest-value coin
was the dekadrachm, worth ten drachmas, but such coins were impractically
large and were minted more as commemorative pieces. In daily
life the largest coin in circulation was the tetradrachm,
worth four drachmas. Still, tetradrachms and even drachmas were too big
for small purchases and so fractions of a drachma
were also minted - right down to the hemitetartemorion,
equal to 1/48 of a drachma. Such tiny coins, weighing around
0.08 gramme, were not very convenient to use, however, and so in
the time of Alexander the Great (4th century B.C.)
an important reform was carried out, ushering in the regular minting of
gold, silver and copper coins. After the Roman conquest
of Greece, the Greek cities were, as a rule,
permitted to mint only copper coins.
The Greeks took a very serious attitude towards such an important matter
as minting coins. They tried as far as possible to keep the metal pure
and full weight. They also paid much attention to the appearance of their
coinage, seeking to make it attractive and often invited well-known artists
to produce the dies for coins. Each polis sought to make its coins distinct
from those of other city-states and to use them as a means of self-promotion.
In the majority of cases the obverse (the side with the principal design)
of a coin bore the depiction of a deity particularly venerated in the
city where it was minted. In this way the Greeks hoped to protect their
coins from possible theft of part of the precious metal ("clipping"),
while at the same time reckoning that the protection of the deity would
bring the city wealth and prosperity.
The reverse sides of the coins were far more varied in design, since
they were a sort of coat of arms of the city, and it is the design on
this side that makes it possible to determine in which of the many Greek
cities a coin was minted.
Stater with Zeus
Tetradrachm with Zeus
Stater with Hera
Stater with Poseidon
Tetradrachm with Athena
Tetradrachm with Apollo