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There are literally thousands of choices one could make regarding the collecting of ancient Greek coins. However, there are particular examples that, through their magnificent beauty or relative availability, have seized the imagination of collectors and non-collectors alike as the signature series of examples to own. Below are seven coins from ancient Greece that illustrate design techniques, nations in power and events that, because they happened have played a part in making us who we are.

  Aegina Turtle
The first silver coins of the ancient world, whose shapes were either elongated or round, were minted on the island of Aegina by order of the benevolent tyrant of Argos, Pheidon. He was the Head of the Amphyctiony (the confederation of the 7 Doric Greek city-States that included Aegina) and the first to determine weights and measures for both liquids and dry goods.

The motif on the coins of Aegina was a sea turtle - the island was a major sea power, and the turtle seemed to be an appropriate symbol. The turtle-coins of Aegina were widely used and very popular. They were commonly known as "turtles" - a slang expression still used in German language, today meaning "a few bucks", or "peanuts."

Athens 'Owl' Tetradrachm
  The most popular of all ancient coins and the most respected throughout the Mediterranean and other parts of the world is the silver tetradrachm of Athens, also known as the "Owl".

Nine million "owls" were struck over three centuries. Most were struck between 449 BC and 413 BC, and were used to finance grandiose building projects. (This was the coin used in paying the workers who built the Parthenon, the construction of which ran from 477 BC to 432 BC.) Also, many were used to cover the costs of the disastrous Peloponnesian War, which began between Sparta and Athens in 433 BC, and ended with financial ruin for the Athenian state in 405 BC.

In 490 BC, after the decisive Battle of Marathon occured, symbols of peace and victory were added to the coinage in the form of olive leaves on the helmeted Athena. Also, a waning moon in the field above the owl was added, for the night of the battle had a crescent moon; although Sparta was asked by Athens for assistance during the battle, due to religious laws they refused to help until the moon was full. This symbol was perhaps to show the world Athens' achievement without outside help.

This coin was the first to incorporate the "heads" and "tails" configuration which has since become a world standard.

President Theodore Roosevelt carried one at all times in his pocket to remind him of the artistic excellence of the Greeks. This also inspired him to press for a Greco-style redesign of many of our coins, particularly the Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle.

  Alexander the Great Tetradrachm
  The coinage of Alexander was highly respected in its purity and design by most of the civilized world and was used in trade throughout the countries and city-states he had brought under his reign. They were struck at many official mints scattered across his kingdom, although the largest and most prodigious was the mint at Amphipolis in Macedonia.

The tetradrachm pictured was struck at the Amphipolis mint sometime between 315 BC and 294 BC and was the equivalent of about two weeks' labor by a mason. The obverse carries a likeness of Heracles (the Greek name for the more familiar Roman Hercules) adorned with the head of the Thespian Lion, the killing of which was one of his first great feats. The reverse shows Zeus enthroned with an eagle perched on his outstretched right hand and a sceptre in his left. His legs are crossed, indicating this is a posthumous issue (struck after the death of Alexander.) In the right field, A L E X A N D R O U appears, meaning (Money of) Alexander, while the left field contains the marks or symbols of the mint's Magistrates.

  Corinth Stater
  One of the first Greek states to adopt coinage, Corinth was a Greek city located on the narrow strip of land joining the Peloponessos with mainland Greece, and was an important trading center due to its access to both the Aegean and the Adriatic seas.

The coin pictured is a silver stater, which weighed in at around 130 grains. Pegasos, the mythical flying horse captured by Bellerophon, the founder of Corinth, adorns the obverse while the helmeted goddess Athena appears on the reverse. For over 200 years, Corinth kept this same basic design on its coins.

  Rhodes Didrachm
  Rhodes was a small but very commercially successful island nation situated on the Meditteranean. The city of Rhodes, its capital, was famous for its huge brazen statue of Apollo, called the Colossus of Rhodes. It stood at the entrance of the harbor, and was so large that ships in full sail could pass between its legs.

Coinage of this nation included the didrachm, which was half the size of a tetradrachm. Struck around 300 B.C., the obverse of this popular silver didrachm bears the head of Helios, the sun god and patron of Rhodes, while the reverse bears a stylized rose, which Rhodes was named after. The angled face styling was virtually unique to the coinage of the era, and were at times crude, at others, impressive.

  Syracuse Tetradrachm
  Syracuse is located on the southeast corner of the island of Sicily, and was allied with Corinth and Sparta at the height of its power. It was considered the most beautiful city-state of all of Greece.

One of the most beautiful and prized coins to come out of ancient Greek times was the dekadrachm of Syracuse, which possessed magnificent artistic style. Of similar high style and quality were the smaller tetradrachms, as illustrated. The obverse depicts a quadriga, or a chariot pulled by four spirited horses, the driver with an goad in an outstretched arm. Above is a triskeles, or three bent legs, representing the shape of Sicily. A finely rendered head of the water nymph Arethusa, while dolphins swimming in the fields grace the reverse. This design, mimmicked from an earlier rendition was struck under the tyrant Agathokles between 317 and 289 B.C.

  Phoenicia Shekel
  It was the Bible that made this coin indelible in the mind of the devout. In the Book of Matthew, chapters 26 and 27, Judas, one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus, agrees to deliver Jesus to the Romans for thirty pieces of silver, or thirty shekels. Ridden with guilt after Jesus is condemned to death, he attempts to return the money to buy freedom for Christ, to no avail. He then throws the money down and leaves the temple to commit suicide. The elders take the blood money and eventually buy a field in which to bury strangers.

The obverse, or face of the coin displays the head of Melqarth, who was the city god or "Baal" of Tyre, located in Phoenicia, or present-day Lebanon. He was created in the heroic style of the Roman god, Hercules. The reverse has an eagle standing on the prow, or front of a ship, symbolizing the Phoenicians' active seafaring trade throughout the Mediterranean. Next to the eagle is a club and the date the coin was struck, in this case a "K", which was year 24, or 103/2 BC. Coins of this type were made between 126 BC until shortly after the death of Christ.

All male Jews were required to pay a yearly half-shekel temple tax. Although other coins from other lands were freely used in daily transactions, the purity of the silver in the shekel was considered superior. Only the shekel was accepted by temple authorities.


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