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Home > Member Collections > Cleisthenes > Greek Classical Period (479 -- 336 B.C.)

Athens, Greece, Old Style Tetradrachm, 449 - 413 B.C.
Silver tetradrachm, SNG Cop 31 ff., SGCV I 2526, VF, near full crest, Athens mint, 16.410g, 25.1mm, 90o. Obverse: head of Athena right, almond shaped eye, crested helmet with olive leaves and floral scroll, wire necklace, round earring, hair in parallel curves; Reverse: AQE right, owl standing right, head facing, erect in posture, olive sprig and crescent left, all within incuse square.

This coin is one of the most familiar of all the coins struck throughout the ancient Mediterranean. The images of Athena and her Owl, while not static, changed undramatically, in an unhurried and deliberate way. Although its production rests firmly during the time that numismatists call the Classical era (479 BC --336 BC), this coin's "style" better reflects the earlier Archaic period.

The Athenian "Owl" (until its debasement as a result of the Peloponnesian War) was the standard of its day. Between the late 5th century BC and the late 3rd century BC, these coins were the currency against which all other coins were measured. This high esteem was due to the Athenian tetradrachms' consistent weight and quality of silver.

"The little elf-like owl dear to ancient Athens had greenish-blue-gray eyes that could see clearly where humans could not. Glaukopis -- the "shining eyed one" was often shortened to glaux, a nickname for the tetradrachm that bore the owl's likeness" (

It is only with the emergence of the Imperial coinage of Alexander the Great (beginning quickly after his ascension to the throne in 336 BC) that the ancient world had another coin as widely accepted. As Martin J. Price notes, "ďThe impressive list of twenty-three mints on Asian soil and one in Egypt, all used to strike Alexanderís imperial coinage during his lifetime, shows that there was a conscious policy of providing this form of money on an empire-wide basis" (Price, Martin J. The Coinage in the Name of Alexander the Great and Philip Arrhidaeus. Zurich: The Swiss Numismatic Society in Association with British Museum Press, 1991. 72).

More than two millennia after the Athenian Tetracrachm was first struck, the 26th President of The United States, Theodore Roosevelt (b. 1858; d. 1919), is said to have carried an Athenian "Owl" in his pocket--to remind him just how beautiful a coin could be.

J. P. Fitzgerald, Jr.
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Album name:Cleisthenes / Greek Classical Period (479 -- 336 B.C.)
File Size:53 KB
Date added:Feb 28, 2009
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Noah  [Jan 08, 2010 at 06:32 PM]
great example of this timeless piece