Attica, Athens. c. 454-404 BC

Attica, Athens. c. 454-404 BC


AR Tetradrachm, 16.95g (23mm, 5h). Head of Athena right, wearing earring, [necklace with pendants], and crested Attic helmet decorated with three olive leaves over visor and a spiral palmette on the bowl / Owl standing right, head facing; olive sprig and crescent to left, AΘE to right; all within incuse square.

References:  Starr p. 74, 1–2; Kroll 8; HGC 4, 1597; SNG Lockett 1839; Dewing –; Kraay & Hirmer 359.

Grade:  Attractive toning and lovely strike. EF  (gk1194)

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Fifth century Athens has long been considered the “golden age” of the Greeks. It was the time of Pericles and the birth of democracy.  The model of democracy as we know it today is largely based on the principles set forth in Athens at that time.  What started out as a combined effort of the Greek city-states to defeat the Persians ended with Athens as the clear authority of the known world not unlike the path the United States took in terms of prestige and power.  

Part of the refocus certainly began in 454 BC when the Delian League moved the treasury from the island of Delos to Athens.  Additionally, the mines located at Laurium and the continuous tribute paid to Athens by the Greek city-states resulted in a huge proliferation of Athenian owl tetradrachms. The estimated number of coins is purely hypothetical but it must have been in the millions considering the ubiquity of the type. 

Today the tetradrachm of Athens is considered one of the hallmarks of the Greek coin series. There still is not a definitive die study on these coins for the simple fact that their numbers are far too great for most scholars to tackle. Their contemporary use is also still debated: what they were primarily used for and whether the Athenians collected coinage from other city-states and reissued them as Athenian owls.  These are questions that remain for the scholars of tomorrow.

Tetradrachms of Athens are beautiful types that show how Athens changed throughout their years as a superpower.  The earliest of Athenian coinage (c. 510 BC) reflect an archaic looking Athena with a small, dumpy owl on the reverse. The gradual change from the archaic to the classical looking Athena occurs around the time that this coin was struck (c. 454 BC).  The coinage continues to retain the Athena/owl theme for all of its existence.  Even when Athens became subservient to Rome the coinage reflected a “new style” with a flatter, larger flan but still maintained the everlasting image of Athena and the owl.  

The beautiful coins of Athens will forever hold a unique place in the history of democracy and coinage.