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Transcript
1
In the Classical Age of ancient Greece, the beginning of the fifth century B.C. and the
rise of Alexander the great in 323 B.C, Athens expanded developed a flourishing economy based
on trade and the shipment of goods to other parts of Greece and the Aegean.1 In order for Athens
to maintain this established trade economy, they needed to have a system of coinage that could
be used to trade for goods. Athens developed the owl coins which had the Owl of Athena on the
face of the coin. 2The Athenian Owls, or Tetradrachms, were used as the Athenian currency
during the Classical Age through the Hellenistic Age.3The coins were called tetradrachms
because they contained the value of four drachmas.4The coins of Athens were silver coins of a
very specific weight, because traders knew the weight was exact they were readily accepted in
exchange for goods.5 The Athenian Owls developed into one of the most influential coins of the
ancient world because they were the first coins ever traded in international exchange due to their
standard weight and the fact they were widely accepted among traders around the Aegean and
Mediterranean Seas.6Athens would use these coins in order to strengthen their influence over
their allies and develop their own empire. 7
During the Persian War Athens discovered large silver mines at Laurium.8 The Athenians
were able to extract large amounts of silver from these mines and they were able to mint large
numbers of silver coins. These coins were known as tetradrachms, or more commonly as owl
coins or Owls.9 The Athenian owl coins were made of silver and they got their name because one
side of the coins was a picture of the goddess Athena, but on the other side was a picture of an
owl, the bird of Athena.10The Owl coins were originally produced with an almond eye and an
archaic smile, but around 480 B.C. a wreath of olive leaves and a decorative scroll were added to
Athena’s helmet, and on the side of the owl the Athenians added a crescent moon.11 The majority
of the Owls weight between 17 and 17.2 grams.12The Owls were known as good money. They
2
were trusted on the street throughout the Greek world because they were trusted to contain the
full weight they were worth.
13
The owls were used as payment to soldiers, for storing wealth,
and during international trade when merchants and large numbers of the coins were minted to
finance the building projects such as the Parthenon after the Persian War. 14
A crude version of Owls was created during the Archaic Age in Athens but later they
were developed into a more sophisticated version by the Persian invasion of Greece. A discovery
of the Laurion mines near Athens gave the Athens a very large amount of silver in order to mint
a large number of silver coins. The Athenians used the majority of the new silver owls to fund
the building of ships for the Athenian navy to defend against the Persians at Salamis and Athens
continued to mine silver from the mine for years after the war and it supplied Athens with the
silver needed to mint a very large number of the Owls.15 Newer Owls were introduced in 478
B.C. and they were continued until 393 B.C, they included the changes to Athena and the moon
added to the side of the owl. 16 The new Owls were used during the time in which Athens passed
the Athenian Coinage Decree. The Athenian Coinage Decree was passed because Athens wanted
to force all their allies in the Delian league to uses Athenian coins, weights, and measures.17
Athens made changes to their coins, but they kept a design similar to that of the Archaic Age so
that they could maintain a demand for the coins in foreign markets.
18
If the traders believed that
the Athenian coinage was no longer valuable in foreign markets then the traders would not trade
with Athens as often. Athens would the lose goods that the traders brought to Athens in
exchange for the coins, but Athens would also lose the economic benefits of trading the Owls.
Athens would lose an export commodity with which they balanced the import of goods. 19
Athens used the Owls to build their influence over the other members of the Delian
League. The Greeks defeated the Persians for the second time in 478 B.C. 20 The Greeks felt that
3
they needed to band together to form a military alliance if the Persians decided to return to
Greece. The Greek city-states banded together to form the Delian League in order to build a
military force powerful enough to stop another Persian invasion. 21 The League was created with
the goals of liberating the Ionian Greeks from Persian control and keeping the islands in the
Aegean safe from another Persian attack. The Delian League banded together and created a
strong navy under the leadership of Athens. The members of the League contributed ships and
money to the Athenians so that they could maintain their powerful navy and keep the Aegean
secure. In time Athens decided to strengthen their hold on their allies in the Delian League.
Athens used the money that they minted from the Laurium mines to mint large numbers of silver
Owls. Athens combined their own coins with the money collected from the other members of the
Delian League to build a strong navy.22 Athens used their navy to force members of the Delian
League to remain in the league and when members attempted to leave Athens would send their
soldiers to the other city states. Athens began implemented currency controls over its allies in the
Delian League to further its control over the other Greeks. Athens issued the Athenian Coinage
Decree; this decree forced all the other members of the Delian League to adapt Athenian
weights, measures, and use of the Owls.23 The Athenian Coinage Decree provided the new
Athenian Empire with a standard coinage and it exposed all the people in Athens’ new empire to
Athenian propaganda because every time they saw the Owls they would see the symbols of the
owl and Athena.24
The Athenian silver coins were very important to the economy of Athens. The minting of
the Owls allowed the Athenians to build a strong navy so that they were able to defend Greece
from the second Persian attack and they were able to use their strong navy to expand their
influence all over the Aegean. The Owls were the first coins to be traded internationally across
4
the Greek world. The Owls were accepted as currency before Athens built their empire because
they could be trusted to contain the proper weight and value.25 The Athenian owl coins are one of
the most important pieces of currency in history because of its importance in the development of
the Athenian Empire and its status as the first internationally traded currency.
“Classical Greece,” The History Channel, http://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/classical-greece (accessed
4 Nov. 2014).
2
“The Athenian Owl,” The Lydian Mint, http://www.lydianmint.com/about_owl.xml (accessed 24 Oct. 2014).
3
“Through the Ages: Athenian Owls,” http://athenianowlcoins.reidgold.com/ (accessed 24 Oct. 2014).
4
“Tetradrachm,” Merriam-Webster, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tetradrachm (accessed 4 Nov.
2014).
5
“The Athenian Owl,” The Lydian Mint, http://www.lydianmint.com/about_owl.xml (accessed 24 Oct. 2014).
6
“Through the Ages: Athenian Owls,” http://athenianowlcoins.reidgold.com/(accessed 24 Oct. 2014).
7
“ The Delian League and the Athenian Empire (478-431BCE),” The Flow of History,
http://www.flowofhistory.com/units/birth/3/FC23 (accessed 24 Oct. 2014).
8
“Silver tetradrachm of Athens,” The British Museum,
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/cm/s/silver_tetradrachm_of_athens.aspx(
accessed 24 Oct. 2014).
9
“Silver tetradrachm of Athens,” The British Museum,
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/cm/s/silver_tetradrachm_of_athens.aspx
(accessed 24 Oct. 2014).
10
“The Athenian Owl,” The Lydian Mint, http://www.lydianmint.com/about_owl.xml (accessed 24 Oct. 2014).
11
“Through the Ages: Athenian Owls,” http://www.lydianmint.com/about_owl.xml ( accessed 24 Oct. 2014).
12
“Through the Ages: Athenian Owls,” http://athenianowlcoins.reidgold.com/ ( accessed 24 Oct. 2014).
13
“The Athenian Owl,” The Lydian Mint, http://www.lydianmint.com/about_owl.xml ( accessed 24 Oct. 2014).
14
“Through the Ages: Athenian Owls,” http://athenianowlcoins.reidgold.com/ ( accessed 24 Oct. 2014).
15
“Silver tetradrachm of Athens,” The British Museum, accessed
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/cm/s/silver_tetradrachm_of_athens.aspx
(accessed 24 Oct. 2014).
16
“Through the Ages: Athenian Owls,” http://athenianowlcoins.reidgold.com/ (accessed 24 Oct. 2014)
17
“Through the Ages: Athenian Owls,” http://athenianowlcoins.reidgold.com/ (accessed 24 Oct. 2014).
18
Darel Tai Engen “Ancient Greenbacks: Athenian Owls, the Law of Nikophon, and the Greek Economy,”
Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte (2005), 364 (accessed through JSTOR).
19
Darel Tai Engen “Ancient Greenbacks: Athenian Owls, the Law of Nikophon, and the Greek Economy,” Historia:
Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte (2005), 364 (accessed through JSTOR).
20
“The Delian League and the Athenian Empire (478-431BCE),” The Flow of History,
http://www.flowofhistory.com/units/birth/3/FC23 (accessed 25 Oct. 2014).
21
“The Delian League and the Athenian Empire (478-431BCE),” The Flow of History
http://www.flowofhistory.com/units/birth/3/FC23 (accessed 25 Oct. 2014).
22
“The Delian League and the Athenian Empire (478-431BCE),” The Flow of History,
http://www.flowofhistory.com/units/birth/3/FC23 (accessed 25 Oct. 2014).
23
“Through the Ages: Athenian Owls,” http://athenianowlcoins.reidgold.com/ (accessed 24 Oct. 2014).
24
“The Delian League and the Athenian Empire (478-431BCE),” The Flow of History,
http://www.flowofhistory.com/units/birth/3/FC23 (accessed 25 Oct. 2014).
25
“The Athenian Owl,” The Lydian Mint, http://www.lydianmint.com/about_owl.xml (accessed 24 Oct. 2014).
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