The most famous ancient coin, the Athenian owl, was first produced in around 520 B.C. Over the following centuries, there were numerous changes to the coin (as well as a rapid decrease in artistic quality, especially following the Peloponnesian war), and yet it still retained the same basic design. The most abundant type of these were struck from 454-404 BC, and are known as “mass issue” owls.
These were made of good silver and circulated over a massive area, becoming the trade coin of the ancient world, praised as “the finest coins of all” and standing “the test everywhere among barbarians and Greeks”. In fact, they grew so popular that they were even imitated by many Eastern tribes: Persians, Egyptians, Arabians, etc.
The obverse of these Tetradrachms (worth roughly 4 days’ labour) depicts the patron goddess Athena wearing an Attic helmet (decorated with olive leaves and a spiral palmette), an earring, and a pearl necklace.
The reverse features an owl, and it is for this reason that the coins were known as “little owls” (γλαύξ) in antiquity. The legend ΑΘΕ is an abbreviation of ΑΘΕΝΑΙΩΝ, telling us that this is a coin “of the Athenians”. In the top left of the flan we can see an olive branch and a crescent moon, although its meaning is often debated.
An exceptional issue of mythological and historical interest that uses both sides of the coin to narrate the story of Corinth's most famous son, who slew the feared Chimaera - a monster that Homer depicts as possessing a lion's head, goat's body and a serpent for a tail, whose breath 'came out in terrible blasts of burning flame'. The Chimaera, being impervious to Bellerophon's attacks even when mounted on Pegasos, required an inventive weapon - mounting a block of lead on the end of his spear, Bellerophon lodged the lead in the Chimaera's mouth so that when it breathed fire the lead melted and blocked its airway, suffocating it.
The collector BCD stated that Warren, in Essays Robinson p. 137, gives a possible production date for this coin that is far too early, with the style and flan indicating that it cannot be dated before the very end of the 5th century BC. He further suggests that "the issue is exceptional enough so that an allusion to the Aigospotamoi victory that was the final blow to the Athenians in the Peloponnesian war is a distinct possibility".
Leukas is a Greek island located in the region of Akarnania (Western Greece). Corinth colonised the city as well as many others (Corinth had roughly 25 colonies) by means of sailing, and it was among the first to issue coinage of the Corinthian type.
Here are 3 fun facts about the city:
According to legend, the poet Sappho committed suicide by jumping off the cliffs on this island after being rejected by her love, the boatman Phaon (Φάων).
Originally part of mainland Greece’s peninsula, Leukas became an island in the 600s BC as settlers from Corinth built a canal.
Some believe the island to be the site of Homer’s Ithaca, given it fulfils the description of being an “island accessible by walking”.
On the reverse of these pieces, you’ll find the head of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, wearing the distinctive and popular Corinthian helmet. She will often be accompanied by letters and all sorts of symbols. The obverse of these coins features the Pegasos, Corinth’s symbol given its connection to the city state in myth. Staters from this mint, issued from the 5th century BC, are easily identifiable by the Lambda (Λ) struck below the Pegasos.
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