Athenian Silver Tetradrachm

SKU LC.260

449 BC to 413 BC




City of Athens

Gallery Location



Obverse, laureate head of the goddess Athena in left profile; reverse, Owl standing on olive branch, centre; ???, right; crescent moon and olive-sprig, top-left. The tetradrachm – a silver coin equivalent to four drachmae – first came into circulation in Athens in 510 BC, replacing the earlier “heraldic” type of currency. The tetradrachm became the most authoritative coinage of Classical Greece and was soon adopted by many other city-states of ancient Greece. The obverse of these archetypal coins is always the head of Athena, the goddess who gave her name to the capital and the reverse always features an owl, the iconographic symbol of the Athenian polis; an olive-sprig and crescent moon are customarily seen in the field. According to the ancient sources, this type of coinage was vernacularly known as “little owl”, which clearly distinguished it as Athenian. State-owned silver mines provided the bullion, which was used to fund building projects in Athens such as the reconstruction of the Acropolis and erection of the Parthenon. This example, produced almost one hundred years after the issue was first minted, marks the perpetuation of a tradition that would endure and remain little changed for over two centuries thereafter. – (LC.260)

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