Attic Silver Tetradrachm

SKU C.4158

5 th Century BC


0.750″ (1.9cm) high




City of Athens

Gallery Location



Obverse: head of Athena in left profile, wearing laurel wreath
Reverse: ?T?, right; Owl standing right, centre; olive sprig and crescent moon in field, 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 early issue marks the perpetuation of a minting tradition that would endure and remain little changed for over two centuries thereafter.

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