The Athenian Owl

It is generally agreed that the first minted coins came from Lydia in the late 7th century BC (Lydia is located now in western Turkey). Coinage spread quickly and by the 5th century most major Greek city-states were minting their own coins. Of the many beautiful coins minted in the ancient world, one coin stands above the others, and that is the Athenian Owl.

This Owl, a silver tetradrachm (four drachma) of standard weight (16.7 grams), was minted in Athens sometime in the latter half of the 5th century BC.  The obverse displays the patron of the city, Athena in her helmet. The reverse depicts an owl, a symbol of Athena’s knowledge and wisdom. As was typical, a tip of an olive branch and a half moon reside to the left of the head of the owl.  To the right are the letters alpha-theta-epsilon, “Athe”, an abbreviation for “of the Athenians’.

The owl was first minted in the 6th century BC and continued for centuries afterwards.  Due to the profound influence of Athens it was probably the first “internationally” recognized form of money.

Not surprisingly really, as soon as money was invented, in the form of minted coins that conformed to standard weights published by the minting cities, the debasement of currency was quick to follow. Thus, at some point on its ~2400 year journey to my collection this particular coin was tested for its silver purity as is evidenced by the deep cuts into its reverse side (it passed).