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Home ▸ Catalog ▸ |Themes & Provenance| ▸ |Birds| ▸ |Owl||View Options:  |  |  | 

Owls on Ancient Coins

Owls are depicted on many different ancient coin types but the most prolific types are the coins of ancient Athens. The ancient slang names for the coins of Athens were "owls" (but in Greek of course) and "girls" (referring to Athena on the obverse, also in Greek). "Owls" were so popular as a central currency of the ancient world that the design remained essentially unchanged and somewhat archaic long after other cities began to produce coins of a more refined artistic style. "Owls" of Athens are still very popular. For collectors, they are perhaps the most popular ancient coin type.


Athens, Attica, Greece, c. 454 - 404 B.C., Old Style Tetradrachm

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The old-style tetradrachm of Athens is famous for its almond shaped eye, archaic smile, and charming owl reverse. Around 480 B.C. a wreath of olive leaves and a decorative scroll were added to Athena's helmet. On the reverse, a crescent moon was added.

During the period 449 - 413 B.C. huge quantities of tetradrachms were minted to finance grandiose building projects such as the Parthenon and to cover the costs of the Peloponnesian War.
SH91292. Silver tetradrachm, SNG Cop 31, SNG Mnchen 49, Kroll 8, Dewing 1611, Gulbenkian 519, HGC 4 1597, SGCV I 2526, VF, well centered, bold strike, high relief, light tone, flow lines, light marks, weight 17.196 g, maximum diameter 24.7 mm, die axis 90o, Athens mint, c. 454 - 404 B.C.; 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 owl standing right, head facing, erect in posture, olive sprig and crescent left, AΘE downward on right, all within incuse square; ex Numismatic Lanz; $1530.00 (1346.40)


Velia, Lucania, Italy, Late 5th Century B.C.

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According to Herodotus, in 545 B.C. Ionian Greeks fled Phocaea, in modern Turkey, which was being besieged by the Persians. After wandering 8 to 10 years at sea, they stopped in Reggio Calabria, where they were probably joined by the philosopher Xenophanes and then moved north along the coast and founded the town of Hyele, later renamed Ele, then Elea, and eventually Velia.
GI89083. Bronze chalkous, Di Bello II.1.A.a.193 (not in his collection), HN Italy 1321; SNG ANS 1413; BMC Italy p. 317, 118; HGC 1 1342 (R1) var. (owl left), VF, green patina, earthen deposits, some light scratches, weight 2.045 g, maximum diameter 14.3 mm, die axis 0o, Velia mint, 440 - 400 B.C.; obverse head of Herakles right, wearing Nemean lion skin headdress; reverse owl standing right on olive spray, head turned facing, wings closed, VEΛH upward behind; ex CNG e-auction 233 (26 May 2010), lot 66; ex Colin E. Pitchfork Collection, ex Spink America (6 Dec 1999), part of lot 440; this coin is the only specimen of the type on Coin Archives; very rare; $250.00 (220.00)


Nero, 13 October 54 - 9 June 68 A.D.

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Quadrantes, like quinarii, were issued only occasionally, perhaps exclusively for imperial distributions. Suetonius reported that, from the roof of the Basilica Julia "Caligula threw coins among the people." Perhaps this small coin was thrown to the crowd by the Nero himself at a similar event.
RB89528. Orichalcum quadrans, BMCRE I p. 258, 300 (same legend breaks); Mac Dowall WCN 342a; RIC I 258, BnF I 353; Cohen I 110; Hunter I -; SRCV I -, aEF, nice red and green patina, porosity, obverse slightly off center, weight 1.910 g, maximum diameter 13.7 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, c. 64 - 66 A.D.; obverse NERO CLAV CAE AVG 16, owl, with wings spread, standing facing on garlanded altar, snake winding up the right side of the altar; reverse GER P M TR P IMP P P, upright olive-branch, three tiny dots (mark of value) below, S - C (senatus consulto) flanking at sides; from the Errett Bishop Collection; $250.00 (220.00)


Kamarina, Sicily, 420 - 405 B.C.

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Kamarina was suffering a plague. A marsh north of the city was the suspected source. The town oracle advised them not to drain the marsh, but in 405 B.C., the leaders ignored the advice. Once the marsh was dry, there was nothing to stop the Carthaginian army. They marched across the newly drained marsh, razed the city, and killed every last inhabitant.
GB91194. Bronze onkia, Calciati III, p. 56, 21.3 (same dies); Westermark-Jenkins, type F, 195.6; SNG Mn 410; BMC Sicily p. 40, 38; McClean 2159; Weber 1255; SNG HGC 2 547, VF, well centered, green patina with red-brown areas, buff earthen deposits, weight 3.513 g, maximum diameter 15.2 mm, die axis 90o, Kamarina (near Scoglitti, Sicily, Italy) mint, 420 - 405 B.C.; obverse facing head of Medusa (gorgoneion), smooth neatly waved hair tied with ribbon, symmetrical locks on forehead, dimpled cheeks, protruding tongue; reverse owl standing left, head facing, lizard with head down in right talon, one pellet (mark of value) in exergue, no control marks, KAMA downward on right; scarce; $220.00 (193.60)


Kamarina, Sicily, 413 - 405 B.C.

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Kamarina was suffering a plague. A marsh north of the city was the suspected source. The town oracle advised them not to drain the marsh, but in 405 B.C., the leaders ignored the advice. Once the marsh was dry, there was nothing to stop the Carthaginian army. They marched across the newly drained marsh, razed the city, and killed every last inhabitant.
GB91201. Bronze tetras, Westermark-Jenkins 198; Calciati III p. 68, 38; SNG ANS 1230; HGC 2 548, VF, well centered, nice style, blue-green and red-brown patina, light cleaning scrapes and scratches, earthen deposits on edges, weight 3.305 g, maximum diameter 14.7 mm, die axis 345o, Kamarina (near Scoglitti, Sicily, Italy) mint, 413 - 405 B.C.; obverse head of Athena left, wearing crested helmet decorated with wing, some locks of hair showing, olive spray before her, dot border; reverse KAMA (retrograde upwards), owl standing left on left leg, head facing, grasping lizard in right talon, three pellets (mark of value) in exergue; $220.00 (193.60)


Kamarina, Sicily, 413 - 405 B.C.

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Kamarina was suffering a plague. A marsh north of the city was the suspected source. The town oracle advised them not to drain the marsh, but in 405 B.C., the leaders ignored the advice. Once the marsh was dry, there was nothing to stop the Carthaginian army. They marched across the newly drained marsh, razed the city, and killed every last inhabitant.
GI88919. Bronze tetras, Westermark-Jenkins 200; Calciati III pp. 63 - 65, 33; BMC Sicily p. 40; 40; SNG Mnchen 415; SNG ANS 1228; SNG Cop 169; HGC 2 548, VF, well centered, bold strike, brown patina, porous, weight 3.263 g, maximum diameter 15.0 mm, die axis 0o, Kamarina (near Scoglitti, Sicily, Italy) mint, 413 - 405 B.C.; obverse head of Athena left, wearing crested Attic helmet decorated with wing, dot border; reverse owl standing left on left leg, head facing, lizard in right talon, KAMA downward on right, three pellets (mark of value) in exergue; $200.00 (176.00)


Pergamon, Mysia, c. 200 - 100 B.C.

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The sanctuary and temple of Athena Polias Nikephoros (Athena of the City, Bringer of Victory) was one of the oldest and most important religious centers in Pergamon. It stood directly behind and above the theater on the acropolis and included the famous Library of Pergamon. The propylon of the sanctuary, in the photograph on the right, is now in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.Sanctuary

GB89046. Bronze AE 18, BMC Mysia p. 133, 202; SNG Cop 388; SNG BnF 1910 var. (monograms); SNGvA 1376 var. (same), gVF, dark patina, light highlighting earthen deposits, light marks, minor edge flaw, weight 2.530 g, maximum diameter 17.5 mm, die axis 0o, Pergamon (Bergama, Turkey) mint, c. 200 - 100 B.C.; obverse head of Athena right, wearing crested Macedonian helmet ornamented with a star; reverse facing owl standing facing on palm frond, wings spread, AP monogram under left wing, MH monogram under right wing, AΘH-NAΣ (for Athena) above, NIKHΦOPOY (Bringer of Victory) below; $80.00 (70.40)


Roman Empire, Anonymous, Domitian to Antoninus Pius, c. 81 - 161 A.D.

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Minerva was the Roman virgin goddess of wisdom, trade, medicine, defense, magic, and the arts: music, poetry, weaving, and crafts. She was born from the head of Jupiter. The Romans equated her with the Greek goddess Athena. She is often depicted with her sacred creature, an owl, which symbolizes her connection to wisdom.
RB91944. Copper quadrans, RIC II p. 216, 8; Cohen VIII p. 268, 7 var. (owl right); SRCV I 2918 var. (same), VF, dark green patina, earthen deposits, scratches, edge cracks, weight 3.568 g, maximum diameter 16.7 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, c. 138 - 161 A.D.; obverse helmeted bust of Minerva right; reverse owl standing slightly left, head facing, wings closed, S - C (senatus consulto) flanking across field; $70.00 (61.60)







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