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Chapters on the History of Money: Chapter II. The Early Greek and Ionians Author(s): Jeremy C. Jenks Source: Financial Analysts Journal, Vol. 21, No. 5 (Sep. - Oct., 1965), pp. 94-103 Published by: CFA Institute

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by Jeremy C. Jenks





EARLY FLOWERING of Greek Civilizationwas

around the shores of the Aegean Sea and the numerous islands, such as the Cyclades, that stretch southeastward from Attica. The land around the Aegean is mountainous. Less than a quarter of Greece Proper is cultivatable, and good bottom land suitable for agriculture consists of small plains sepa- rated by mountains. The hill and mountain regions support sheep and goats but little else. The arable land is nothing like the fertile valleys of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Rainfall is sharply seasonal, and never-failing springs are rare and were usually the sites of the towns and cities that developed. No point in Greece is more than sixty miles from the sea. The origin of the Greeks is not known with any pre- cision. Greece was inhabited from early Neolithic times, probably from the fifth millennium B.C., and there is evidence that several waves of early settlers came down through the mountains from Macedonia and the North. Agricultural methods and many cultural influences, however, came across the Aegean by sea from the early civilizations of the Orient. It is only 200 miles from Athens to Miletus at the mouth of the Maeander River in Turkey and about the same distance from Athens to Cnossus on the island of Crete. At no point in the Aegean can a sailor be more than forty miles from land. The Bronze Age in the Aegean began about 2800 B.C., and lasted to 1100 B.C. The Minoan culture in Crete flowered by 2000 B.C. and the Achaean culture in Greece came somewhat later and owed much to the Cretans who, in turn, borrowed heavily from the cul- tures of Egypt and Babylonia. By 2000 B.C. the peoples of Greece and the Aegean shore and islands had created an agricultural society of village dwellers, used copper and bronze tools, and were governed by local lords. About this time (ca. 1950 B.C.) waves of Indo-Euro- pean nomadic tribes invaded Greece. These barbarians both conquered, and were assimilated by, the early

The author, a partner in the investment firm of Cyrus

J. Lawrence & Sons, has been President of The New York

Society of Security Analysts

Federation. He is a student of economic history, a col- lector of ancient Greek and Roman coins, and a member of the American Numismatic Society.

Chapter I on the History of Money was published in the March-April 1964 issue of the Journal.

and the Financial



Greeks. The Greek language that developed was pri- marily that of the invaders, but it took over and kept many old Greek words - seafaring terms and place names such as Athens, Thebes and Corinth. Also, words for spices and other luxuries that came from the East were from the old tongue, as apparently these products had not been known by the invading tribes. The Achaean culture blossomed and first conquered and then supplanted the Minoan culture by about 1400 B.C. We think of this civilization in terms of the Iliad, Odyssey and other heroic legends such as those of Jason and Hercules. The story of the early Greek Bronze Age is now emerging rather rapidly from obscurity and coIn- troversy due, in great measure, to the discovery of clay tablets at Cnossus in Crete, Pylos in the southwestern Peloponnese, Mycenae in the northeastern Peloponnese and other places that were centers of this civilization. The translation of this lost language and the surprising discovery that it was an early form of Greek is an excit- ing story in itself. What has been revealed confirms the broad outlines of the kind of civilization described in the Iliad, but adds a most interesting insight into the economic organization of these small fortress-states. The principal commodities of trade appear to have been wine, olive oil (which was frequently perfumed

and processed into unguents and ointments),

metals and metal products. Greece and Crete were, and are today, the principal olive oil producing regions of the easternMediterranean.These early Greeks were also experts at vine culture and wine production. Big jars in which wine was aged have been found with clay seals identifying the vineyard and the vintage year. Olive oil and wine were, of course, transported in pots and jars. The Achaeans took great pride in their pottery which was highly distinctive. Accordingly, we know from shards and fragments of broken jars that by the middle of the second millennium B.C. they had become a wide- roving, far-tradingpeople. Their pottery has been found in Syria and Palestine, in Egypt as far south as Aswan, around the shores and islands of the Aegean, Adriatic and Hellespont, in Rhodes and Cyprus, westward at coastal sites around the boot of Italy and in Sicily. One of the important commodities imported by the Greeks was tin, worth at times more than its weight in silver. While copper was fairly common around the Aegean, tin was very scarce. To make a good bronze sword that would hold a cutting edge required 15% tin. Bronze with less than 5% was very soft. It is possible that some tin mines were worked in the early centuries





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of the Greek Bronze Age in the Peloponnese. Mycenae,

the leading fortress-state of the period, may have owed

much of its wealth and power to the happy accident of

a local tin deposit. Most tin came from Bohemian,

Spanish and English mines by trade routes that fre- quently involved several intermediaries. Because of the scarcity of tin, and accordingly good bronze, only a small segment of the population could afford bronze weapons. These were the aristocrats. The king, with their support, controlled the bronze supply and strictly organized the manufacturing, farming and commerce of the state. The picture that emerges is that the Homeric heroes, Agamemnon, Nestor, Menelaus and the others, were merchant monopolists whose real quarrel with Troy was, probably, King Priam's efforts to tax the Greek merchant vessels that sailed through the Hellespont. That these Achaean kings were prosperous is well attested by the objects found in their graves and by the inventory lists that have survived on clay tablets. Beads of amber from the North Sea, ebony from Egypt, ivory from the great ivory carving centers in Syria and Pales- tine, rock crystal from Crete, and many other rare and valuable objects were acquired as a result of the favor- able trade balance. Silver was mined in several areas of Greece, but gold was relatively scarce. Accordingly, the gold costume ornaments, hammered gold death masks, as well as the rings, necklaces, diadems and drinking cups found in

Mycenaean graves and elsewhere were probably only a token of the wealth this early Grecian civilization earned through commerce. As in the Babylonian and Egyptian civilizations, every 'exchangeable' article or material was negotiable

as money. However, there early developed a preference for metals in many forms which varied in region and period. In Crete, for example, golden ox heads were apparently used as money. The Achaean Greeks had

a preference for 'tool money.' In contrast to ancient oriental practice which weighed out metal bars, these old Grecian pieces were not carefully assayed and weighed but were accepted at a standard value. The most common forms were basins, tripods, sickles, axes and spits made out of gold, silver, copper or iron. Tool money appears to have had only a local use. Com- merce was still done by barter with a money valuation, and the balances were usually settled by weighing out gold or silver on the Babylonian standards by weight and value. As indicated in Chapter I, the early standards of value were weights of various metals, and gold was worth about 13 1/3 times the same weight of silver. The Bronze Age Greeks also used great ingots of cop-

per, frequently in the shape of a bull's hide. The ratio of gold to copper was about 3,000 to 1. Accordingly,

a small piece of gold weighing about 8.5 grammes was



worth the same as 25?/2 kilogrammes of copper (about 60 pounds) and both were the price of an ox. These heavy bronze and copper talents were in use between

1600 B.C. and 1000 B.C. and have been found in Greece, Crete, Cyprus, Sardinia, Egypt and other lands. A coalition of Greek states destroyed Troy about

and this long struggle may have contributed

to political troubles and the weakening of authority at home. In any case, by 1200 B.C. the fortress-states were under attack by barbarians from the North armed with iron weapons. These Dorians came primarily by sea from far northern and northwestern Greece. Epirus, in particular, is thought of as a likely area of Dorian occupation before the invasion. Pylos fell about 1200 B.C. and was looted and burned. The fact that taxes were collected in olive oil, as well as other commodities, and that the heat of the burning oil fired, and thus pre- served, the clay tablets in an adjacent 'tax collector's office' is responsible for much of our knowledge of this era. Over the next one hundred years the fortress-states of this civilization were overwhelmed one after another, only the Acropolis of Athens never being conquered. Mycenae fell about 1100 B.C. The strongly centralized civilization collapsed. The art of writing was lost and Greece descended into a dark age. While in Greece many of the warrior aristocrats perished when their citadels were overwhelmed, some escaped by sea to Athens and thence to the coast of Anatolia where they

founded such great cities as Miletus, Colophon and others. The Iliad and Odyssey probably were composed in one or more of these Ionian cities, in the eighth cen- tury B.C., perhaps by descendants of these refugees. The destruction of this Bronze Age Civilization was not an isolated event. Egypt beat off an invasion by sea about 1230 B.C. and an even more serious attack by land around 1190-1185 B.C. Many powerful cities were sacked on the coast of Cyprus, Syria and Palestine. The Hittite kingdom in Asia Minor was overwhelmed, and even the great warrior kingdom of Assyria had trouble riding out the storm. The Dorians had a racial background similar to the Bronze Age Greeks of Mycenae or Pylos and spoke

The terms Dorian, lonian or Aeolian, as they

are used in history books, do not refer to any special ethnic group but rather to the Greek dialects spoken. These invaders were barbarians and were apparently motivated by a lust for loot. They did not conquer be- cause their iron weapons were better, quite the contrary. The soft iron sword of that day was greatly inferior to the keen bronze weapons of the Achaeans. For that matter, after a few lusty whacks the Dorian would have to bend his sword back into shape, which could be risky in the middle of a hot fight. The reason they won was that iron was cheaper and the whole tribe was armed while as we have seen, bronze was expensive and only a few had weapons.

1260 B.C.,



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The Dark Ages in Greece lasted from 1100 B.C. till about 800 B.C. The well organized economy was totally destroyed and the population of the Aegean basin dropped terrifically and many areas sank back into a nomadic life as the survivors fled to the hills. Within a few hundred years even the physical remains of Mycenaean palaces were no longer understood. The massive stone walls of Tiryns and Mycenae and the roads that led northward to Corinth paved with stone and with well built bridges, still standing in many cases, seemed beyond the power of mortal man to build. They had been built, it was thought, by a race of giants, the Cyclopes. The cultural center of Greece shifted to the Greek colonies founded on the shore and nearby islands of Anatolia. Apart from early settlements in Rhodes, which go back before the Trojan wars, the first Greek colonies were in the North, particularly the Island of Lesbos and the adjacent mainland. A second wave of settlers generally went to the Central part of the coast, the area of Chios and Samos and the mainland nearby. The northern group became known as Eolis; the middle group, Jonia. The latter was more important and the distinction was usually ignored. A later colonization in the South by the Dorians from the eastern Peloponnese, including the re-settlement of Rhodes, became known as Doris. With the breakup of Minoan sea power and later of Achaean, the Phoenicians began to dominate the trade of the eastern Mediterranean. Their principal product was cloth dyed in shades ranging from crimson to purple. These dyes were made from the juice of the murex, a shellfish that flourished off the Phoenician coast and was also found among the islands of the Aegean. For a while, Sidon dominated the trade but by the twelfth century B.C. a colony, Tyre, rivaled the mother city. Between the tenth and eighth centuries B.C., Tyre became the dominate city of the Phoenicians, and they not only traded throughout the Mediterranean but colonized. They founded Utica on the North coast of Africa, settled in western Sicily and in Spain, both on the Mediterraneanand the Atlantic. For a time they dominated the tin trade. While iron was gradually re- placing bronze, the process of hardening iron was not well developed and tin was still in great demand. Around 814 B.C. Carthage was founded and, after the Assyrians conquered Phoenicia, became the great rival of the Greeks. The most important result of early commercial contacts between the Phoenicians and the Greeks was the adaptation of the Phoenician alphabet to the Greek language by the lonians in the ninth cen- tury. This was done by rearrangingthe letters in order to add vowels. As mentioned in Chapter I, the Greek settlers on the coast of Anatolia soon entered into trade relations with Lydia in the interior. Greek colonies beeganto pan


electrum from the streams and rivers and gradually to open up mines in the mountains. Coinage in lonia began very shortly after Lydia and on the same weight stand- ard. The history of this standard can be traced back to the Bronze Age Greeks. As discussed, the Achaeans employed large ingots of copper weighing 251/2 kilo- grammes which were their heaviest weight unit and were called talents of copper. The metal was mined, in those days, mainly from rich mines on the island of Euboea, separated from Attica and the Greek mainland by a narrow stretch of water. The Achaeans took this stand- ard of measurement with them when they migrated to

Ionia and, in turn, gave it to the Lydians, and it became

known as an Euboic talent.

was composed of

The talent, as explained,

sixty mina which in turn was 60

shekels, or sigloi. So, 3,600 went to make up an Euboic talent and each shekel weighed 7 to 7.08 grammes. A stater equalled two shekels and weighed about 14.1 grammes.


students of

Ionian coinage

ascribe the first

known coins to Miletus. This Ionian Greek city was strategically situated on a promontory with four shel- tered harbors and easy communication by boat inland via the Maeander River. There was flat fertile land for grain, flanked by hillside vineyards. On the plateau behind was ample pasturage for the sheep whose wool supplied the city's famous cloth manufacture. By 700 B.C. Miletus had become the busiest and largest Greek city anywhere around the Aegean with sixty colonies and trading posts around the Black Sea, and even on the coast of Egypt. In addition to textiles and rugs, the Milesians turned out metal products, furniture, espe- cially beds, and oil and wine shipped in distinctive pottery. Miletus was also famous for its philosophers, such as Thales,1 who introduced mathematical and astronomical sciences into Greece, and Anaximander,2 his pupil.

The early coins of Miletus were electrum and were on

1. Thales, (640?-546 B.C.)

Greek philosopher and scien-

tist of Miletus. One of the Seven Wise Men of Greece. Recognized as founder of Greek geometry, astronomy and philosophy. Gained fame by predicting an eclipse of the sun for May 28, 585 B.C. Aristotle tells this story: "They say that Thales, perceiving by his skill in astrology (astronomy) that there would be a great plenty of olives that year, while it was yet winter hired at a low price all the oil presses in Miletus and Chios, there being no one to bid against him. But when the season came for making oil, many persons wanting them he all at once let them upon what terms he pleased; and raising a large sum of money by that means, convinced them that it was easy for phi- losophers to be rich if they choose it." Solon studied under Thales.

the "If you are so smart why

aren't you rich?" question came, also, to his attention.)

2. Anaximander, (611-547 B.C.) Greek astronomer and

philosopher of Miletus; disciple of Thales. Discovered the obliquity of the ecliptic, introduced the sundial, and geo-

graphical maps.

(Author's note-Perhaps

Expounded his doctrines in prose.




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Phocaea This electrumhecte, or 1/6th s t a t e r , is at- tributedto Phocaeabut

This electrumhecte, or 1/6th stater, is at-

tributedto Phocaeabut as with manyIonian coins definite identificationis difficult; the head is a goddessand the reverseis a wind-

mill-like punch mark. Probablybefore 500

the -Hemswt_odrvrtasotto


Lda caia_fSri.Te


(Twoanda half times actual size)


i mnrls








the same weight standard as the Lydian coins. Smaller fractions were minted. A hecte (or hektai) was one- third of a sigloi, or one-sixth of a stater. Even smaller coins were used. This coinage started around 670 B.C. The earliest coins of Miletus had heraldic devices on the obverse and merely punch marks on the reverse. For example, a very early coin had an archaic, geometric- looking stag and the legend: "I am the badge of Phanes." Miletus at that time was an oligarchy, and Phanes was apparently a very important citizen who was given charge of the coinage, as mint-master. The next lonian Greek cities to open mints were Phocaea, Chios, Ephesus, Samos, and Lesbos, but not necessarily in that order. The Phocaic-Chian staters were of a different standard as follows:

1 di.achmn




4 di-achni


1 stater,

or 16.4 girammes

Accordingly, I Milesian stater of 14.1 grammes plus 1 hecte of 2.3 grammes equalled 1 Phocaic-Chian stater of 16.4 grammes.-Phocaea was situated at the mouth of



from which it rose were apparently controlled by the Phocaean Greeks. Phocaea was the mother city of

Massilia (Marseilles) which was founded in the early sixth century, B.C. These colonists carried Greek goods up the Rhone as far as Arles and Mines. They intro- duced the olive tree and the grapevine and settled all along the coast in Nice, Monaco and into Spain as far

as Tartessus where there were silver mines. In 535 B.C. the Carthaginians and Etruscans combined to destroy the Phocaean fleet and from then on Greek power in the Western Mediterraneanwaned. Ephesus and Samos began to strike coins soon after Miletus on the same standard. The Aeolian Isle of Lesbos rivaled the Ionian centers to the south. Of its five cities, Mytilene, the home of the poetess, Sappho,3 was the greatest. Mytilene was famous for its vineyards and its perfumed wines. The following four electrum hecte are probably from Mytilene. They are arranged in order of their probable age with the oldest, perhaps back near 500 B.C. The metal electrum was supposed to be about 75% gold and 25% silver, and apparently this was the natu- ral combination of metals found in the early days of Lydian and Ionian coinage. With this proportion elec- trum was worth approximately ten times as much as silver by weight and about three quarters as much as gold. The Greeks shortly learned to artificiallymix gold and silver for this coinage which was confined primarily to lonia and Greek cities around the Bosporus and Black Sea at that time. An analysis of Greek electrum coins indicates a gradual reduction in the gold content to about 50% and in some cases to as little as 25% and, while electrum lasted for several hundred years as

a monetary metal in local areas, it soon lost its inter- national utility in commerce to gold and silver coins. The nature of the Aegean and the land around it encouraged trade by sea rather than by land. Those roads built by the 'Cyclopes' remained almost the only ones in Greece for many centuries. The Greeks at- tempted to adapt ox harnesses used for plowing to horses and mules for pulling carts. A draft animal with

a properly designed harness putting the load on the animal's shoulders is able to pull fifteen times as much as a man. With the strain on the animal's throat, as with these harnesses, a mule could pull only four times as much as a man and could carry that much as a pack animal. Also, the early Greeks never developed good



























in 593





to Sicily.








and became

a leader

in society.


the ancients

























one ode to Aphrodite

and a few







by ecclesiastical



1073 A.D.


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0 i

1. Headof Pan-Gorgonian head

2. Persephone-buttingbull

3. Hermes-panther

(Twoanda halftimesactualsize)

4. Zeus Ammon-eagle

horseshoes to increase the animal's traction. So, in con- trast to the great road systems and caravan trade of the Middle East, the Greek's carried their goods mainly by sea. The large Greek ship of the seventh century B.C. was normally a penteconter, that is, a 50 oared ship with 25 men on each side and two sweeps at the stern to serve as rudders. The ship carried sail but could not tack against the wind. She was shallow draft with very little keel and could be beached. After the development of anchors, ships became larger, first the bireme and later the trireme. With the development of commerce and trade, the Greeks gained knowledge of the rich farm lands around the Mediterranean and began to colonize. First trading posts were established especially in areas rich in metals. The first Greek settlement in Italy, for example, was the northernmost at Cumae, north of Naples, where there was active metal trade with the Etruscans. The second stage was simply that the poorer people in Greece sought farm land, and they went out in all directions especially to southern Italy, Sicily, southern France, north Africa and all around the Black Sea. Accordingly, the Greek cities of the motherland became dependent on the colonies for wheat, meat, fish, and timber, for


which they sent in returnmanufactured goods of various kinds and wine and oil.

The commercial and financial development of the Greek mainland began to flourish by about 750 B.C. The Iron Age Dorians had established their great stronghold in the southern Peloponnese, a fertile valley between two mountain ranges. This area was poor in copper bearing ores, gold was non-existent and silver was scarce. However, iron ore was plentiful in Laconia especially in the central and eastern capes of Taenarum and Malea. In contrast to other Dorian settlements, the Spartans subjugated the natives of the regions and

abjured intermarriage or any form

this small minority was supported by restless and re- bellious subjects. The early history of Sparta shows a normal Grecian interest in art, sculpture, poetry and especially music. However, the need to keep the Helots under control resulted in a severe code of laws ascribed to Lycurgus4 which in part says:

of assimilation and

"He commanded that all gold and silver coins


Lyeurgus, according to tradition, a Spartan lawgiver




B.C. who by decree imposed upon




to produce tough








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should be called in and that only a sort of money made of iron should be current, a great weight and quantity of which was very little worth; so that, to lay up 20 to 30 pounds (English pound sterling, or ten minas in the original Greek) there was re- quired a pretty large closet and to remove it noth- ing less than a yoke of oxen.".'

This stricture effectively reduced Sparta's foreign trade to very little and, of course, removed this military state from the main stream of Grecian culture. Sparta's iron money became symbolic of the iron discipline and hard life of the Spartans. At this time, Sparta's great rival, Argos, in the north- eastern Peloponnese also used iron money as currency. This iron money was in various forms, the best known of which were iron rods or spits suitable for roasting meats but for little else. Iron bars represented a larger unit of value. Pheidon~ was king in the first half of the seventh century at Argos. He extended his rule over the island of Aegina in the Saronic Gulf, at that time the most important trading center on the western side of the Aegean Sea. In contrast to Sparta, which maintained its iron money for four centuries after the other Greek cities adopted coinage of precious metals, Pheidon adopted coin money which he had learned about in trade with the lonians. A single iron spit was known as an obolos. Six iron spits were known as a drachm or literally, a graspful. Four hundred units of iron became worth, by his decree, one unit of silver as fol- lows: an obolos of iron weighing 403 grammes became worth 1 Pheidonian obol of 1.008 grammes; a 'drax' of 6 iron spits weighing 2,418 grammes became equal to 6.03 grammes of silver, or 1 drachm. As these coins were lighter than the Ionian coins of Miletus it took 70 to equal a mina. Aegina had substantial silver mines under her control on the island of Siphnos which, before the full develop- ment of the mines of Athens at Laurium, were the richest in the Aegean. We can distinguish the source

of the silver used in the sixth century, B.C., 'turtle'coins of Aegina from silver used in other coinage because it was relatively high in gold content. The gold content was, apparently, not sufficient to make extraction eco-

silver rather than electrum or gold

became the standard money of Greece. Aegina and her allies had early in the century roundly defeated Athens in a naval war. The result was that Aegina and later Corinth were the first great commercial

nomic. Accordingly,




page 55.

6. Pheidon, (ca. 680 B.C.) Dictator of Argos, with the support of the rising merchant class. Went to the rescue of Aegina when threatened by Athens and Epidaurus and took it for himself. Established a coinage and weights and measures. Promoted the arts, built theaters and the Temple of Hera, the most ancient in Greece. Took the management of the games at Olympia from Elis and returned it to Pisa.





A didrachmof Aeginawitha landtortoiseon the obverse and an incusewith letters signifyingthe city's nameon

the reverse.

After 404


(Oneanda halftimes actual size)

cities of Greece Proper. The coinage of Aegina was at first a sea turtle, sacred to Poseidon, with an incuse punch mark on the reverse. Later Athens reversed the earlier naval decision and from that time Aegina's coin- age, still welcomely accepted in trade, became the land tortoise. Aegina's weights and measures remained standard in much of Greece till its conquest by Rome. Corinth controlled the isthmus and accordingly the



Greece. She had good harbors on both the Saronic and Corinthian Gulfs, and between these she built a wooden tramway along which ships were drawn on rollers over the four miles of land between the gulfs. The city was built around a fortress on a peak 2000 feet high, Acro- corinthus, which had its own inexhaustible spring. In 655 B.C. CypseluSr 7 seized the government, with the






7. Cypselus, Tyrant of Corinth (655?-625 B.C.) over- threw the ruling clan, the Bacchiads. Defeated Corcyra in the first naval battle between Greek cities. Promoted com- mercial activity and colonization. Introduced a coinage. Established a beauty contest for women.


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A stater of Corinthwith headof Athena-Chali- nitis and a chimaeraas a symbolon the obverse and the flying horseon the reverse-a fairly late coin probablyafter 400 B.C. (Oneand a half times actual size)

help of the middle and lower classes, from the control of the landed aristocracy. He established the state coin- age. He was followed by his son, Periander, 8 who ruled forty years from 625-5 85 B.C. He made Corinth the foremost commercial city in Greece, promoted trade by lowering taxes, supported Corinthian colonies abroad and established new ones. Corinth naturally expanded to the West, as Athens to the East, and Syracuse, on the island of Sicily, founded by Corinth in 734 B.C. became in time the greatest Greek city of them all. The early Corinthians had Pegasus, the divine horse, who was intimately connected in myth with the Citadel and springs of Corinth, on the obverse and punch marks on the reverse. The Corinthian stater was divided into three, not two, drachm. From about 540 B.C. they added the head of Athena with a helmet of Corinthian shape. The coinages of Corinth and Athens

8. Periander, (?-585 B.C.) Son of Cypselus, Tyrant of Corinth (625-585 B.C.) Conquered Epidaurus and annexed Corcyra. Stimulated trade and industry by lowering taxes. Limited slavery. Encouraged art and literature. Formed an alliance with Thrasubulus, the Tyrant of Miletus. Built the Temple of Apollo.


were competitive in commerce, and two Corinthian statersexactlyequalledan Atheniantetradrachm. Attica,perhapsbecauseof the povertyof its soil, was spared the full brunt of the Dorian invasion which flowed by to the West. Only adventuroustrade and patientcultivationof the olive and the grapemade the civilizationof Athens possible. Here was not a small groupof conquerorsimposingtheirwill on a largenum- berof serfs,butfourtribeswho in time learnedto work togetherfor theircommonwelfareanddefense. Athens grewaroundthe ancientAchaeanAcropolis,and all the land owners of Attica were its citizens. After King Docrushad died in heroic self-sacrificeagainstthe in- vadingDoriansin 1068 B.C., as the legendshave the story,the citizensdecidedthatno manwas good enough to succeedhim and replacedthe king with an archon, chosen for life. Successively,they limitedand divided the archon'spowers,and the governmentgraduallybe- came a feudal aristocracywhich lasted for nearlyfive centuries. In Attica, and in much of the rest of Greece, eco- nomic problemsbeganto developto the point of class warfare. In the country the land was divided into smallerand smallerholdingsas the farmswere appor-

tioned amongthe sons. Emigrationrelievedthe pres- sure for a time, but eventuallycheap grain and other farm productsbegan to flow back from the colonies, andthe plightof the smallfarmerbecamedesperate.To convertgrainland to grapesor olives took capital. An olive tree takes sixteen years to bear fruit and forty yearsto reachfull yield. The aristocratslent money at highratesto the poorfarmerwithnot only his farmbut

himself and his family as security. For

his debts the individualand his family could be sold

into slavery.

failureto pay

In thetown,the freelaborerswerebeingreducedalso

to destitutionby the competitionof slave labor. By the endof theseventhcentury,B.C., Athenswas at the edge

of revolution.

A scionof one of the noblefamiliesof Attica, a poet

and a successfulmerchant,Solon,9was askedby repre- sentativesof the middle class in 594 B.C. to accept election, nominallyas a archon, but with dictatorial powers to establish a new constitution and restore stabilityto the state. His first measurewas to cancel all existingdebts (except in all likelihoodcommercial

debts) andclearedall Attic landof mortgages.All per- sonsenslavedfor debtwerefreedandthose sold abroad

9. Solon, (638?-559 B.C.) Athenian lawgiver. Wrested Salamis from the Megarians (ca. 596 B.C.) In period of economic distress elected archon (ca. 594). Reorganized the senate, popular assembly and council of the Areopagus. Improved the lot of debtors and divided the population into four classes. Left Athens for 10 years and traveled in Egypt, Cyprus and Lydia. As Plutarch says: "Each day he grew older and learned something new."




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were bought back and freed by the state. In the future no one could be enslaved for debt. Also, limits were set

to the size of estates, and the dispossessed landless were helped to recover their property. The Athenians began to coin money about 615 B.C.

The first coins had a representation of

a principal item of export, and on the reverse a punch mark. Attica at the time was the sole state on the Greek mainland that mined silver in its own territory. The mines at Laurium, which is near Sunium, in the hills on the southern point of Attica produced silver and other metals for more than five hundred years. The strata are limestone and schist. The Greeks early discovered, perhaps before the Dorian invasions, that rich ores con- taining silver, lead, manganese and zinc lay between these strata. Red iron oxide on the surface, which usually accompanies lead crystals, supplied the clues for digging. The tunnels were seldom more than a meter high so the workers, usually slaves and criminals, had to work on their knees or bellies. The ore was carried out in sacks or baskets. Vertical shafts from 200 to 300 feet deep were driven into the mine in order to pull up the ore by ropes and for ventilation. The mines were state property, and each mine was let to a contractor on

a three to ten-year lease. The rate varied but was fre- quently a talent per year plus one-twenty-fourth of the production. The ore was pulverized with mortar and pestle and washed so the heavy metals would settle out. The lead was melted with iron and a catalyst, such as calcium carbonate. This yields ferrous sulfide and a mixture of lead, silver and other metals. The silver was extracted by filtering the molten lead through a material such as bone ash or porous clays and heating with an excess of oxygen. The silver was .978 fine. The total production out of this mine was over two million tons of silver bearing lead, and the slag heaps contained less than 12% metal indicating the efficiency of the smelting process. The silver from Laurium contained minute quantities of gold but somewhat less than Aegina's silver from the mines at Siphnos. The social and political change in Athens, and in many of the other Greek city-states of this period, was caused in part by the development of a flexible monetary system. The old methods of barter with values based on precious metals worked well in large transactions, such as commerce, but much less well in the market place. The development of coins in small denomina- tions, which Greeks carried in their mouths, greatly facilitated the exchange by the small farmer of his sur- plus production for the product of the local blacksmith or shoemaker. Now the small farmer and the small

tradesman could easily sell their surplus production for


This meant the opportunity for making savings

an oil amphora,



to tide them through lean periods and for expanding their production by reinvestment, and so improving their social, economic and political positions. Prior to this time ownership of land, together with an establishment of members of the family and slaves which could self-sufficiently produce almost all living requirements, had been the only basis for citizenship and the only reasonably secure means of livelihood. With the development of a money economy, all types of

manufacturing and trading businesses began to

Fortunes were made in mining, pottery manufacturing, leather working, weapon and armor production along with all kinds of metal working and, of course, com- merce, money lending, tax farming, slave leasing and many other businesses. These people, most of them not of the old landed families, gradually gained political power and under Solon and Peisistratus'lo in Athens achieved the vote and the right to hold the highest office. The other Greek development that tended to spread the franchise was the emergence of the heavily armed foot soldier, the Hoplite, who standing together in phalanx with long spears, shields, swords and body armor, became the decisive military force of the age. These soldiers learned how to defeat cavalry and chariots and they also were the marines in the large navies that developed, particularly at Athens at this time. In relation to their larger military value to the city-state, they also were able to increase their political authority. The original coins of Athens were of the same weight

as the Pheidonian coins of Aegina. Seventy of these made a mina. Solon reduced the size of the coins so that 100 made a mina. The didrachm (double drachm) weighed from 8.23 to 8.60 grammes and the obol weighed about 0.7 grammes. After Solon's voluntary exile from Athens, the aris- tocrats regained control of the government. Their coins had a variety of designs including the triskeles (3 bent legs radiatingfrom the center), chariot wheels, the fore- part of a horse, a bull's head, a horseman and other designs. These were shield devices representing noble families and clans. The triskeles and the chariot wheel are associated with the Alcmaeonidae, the bull's head with a priestly clan called the Eteobutadae, and so forth. The chariot wheel coins are datable to 589-61 B.C., the period between Solon's archonship and Peisistratus'


10. Peisistratus, Tyrant of Athens following Solon. Dis- tinguished himself in war against Megara. Took up cause of working class and seized power in 560 B.C. Driven out twice, in 556 and 549 B.C., but established himself firmly and governed from 546 till his death in 527 B.C. Preserved and strengthened the democratic institutions of Solon. Planted colonies on the Dardanelles. Built Temple of Zeus. Founded Panathenaic games. Appointed a committee to give the Iliad and Odyssey the form which we know. Col- lected the earliest library in Greece.


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Athens A tetradrachmwith a headof Athenaof archaic s t y l e on the obverseand the

A tetradrachmwith a headof Athenaof archaic style on the obverseand the Attic owl, whichwas the state seal, on the reverse. The first three

letters of the city's nameare to the rightof the


(Oneand a half times actual size)

fairly earlycoin around540 B.C.






after, Athensbecame



the dominate~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~mint.

tyranny when the nobility were in the ascendency. Peisistratus, a kinsman of Solon, took up the cause of the common people and it was he who issued the first two-sided coins, the Athena-Owl series, at the time of the first Panathenaic games in 566 B.C. He owned a

large part of the mines at Laurium, later expropriated

by the city from his descendents

political opponents. He also slightly increased the weight of the coinage, and Corinth followed suit.

Following the early coinage of lonia and the three great early coinages of Greece Proper, which have been discussed in this chapter, many other cities in Magna Graecia, Sicily and other areas began to issue coins in great profusion. Till about 500 B.C. Aegina appears to be the mint whose coinage was most widely accepted. The coins of Athens and Corinth were gaining substan-






inchaamite behest of his


number of different weights and, as indicated earlier, with varying proportions of gold and silver. The Euboic electrum stater varied in weight from about 8 grammes to a maximum of about 8.75 grammes. The Lydio-

Milesian stater, frequently referred to

stater, varied in weight from about 14 grammes to about

14.3 and as mentioned earlier, the Phocaic-Chian stater was somewhat heavier varying from 16 to about 16.5 grammes. These were the three principal electrum coin- ages of the time. The next chapter will cover the standards for gold coinage which were important in the western Greek cities such as Syracuse. Greeks in Greece Proper very rarely coined in gold and, in lonia and the Black Sea regions, electrum and silver were much more common than was gold. The following were the principal denominations of Greek silver coinage:

as the Phoenician


8 drachm


4 drachm


2 drachm


6 obol


4 obol


2 obol


1 1/2 obol



1/2 obol

Some cities also coined in fractions of 3/4 obol, 3/8 obol and even 1/4 and 1/8 obol. The term stater was

applied to gold, electrum and silver coinages and had varying values in different cities. A silver stater was usually 2 drachm. However, in the case of Corinth and certain Ionian cities, the stater was broken up into 3 drachm. The most extensive silver coinage was based on the Euboic system of weight after Athens changed to it. These drachm varied in weight from around 4.2 to 5 grammes. The next most extensive silver coinage was the Pheidonian, developed by Aegina and taken up by most cities in the Peloponnese where the drachm varied

in weight from about 6 grammes to a maximum of about

6.3 grammes. Most of the islands in the Aegian also

adopted this weight standard for their coinage as did the

larger islands to the South such as Rhodes and Crete. The Lydio-Milesian silver drachm weighed from about 7 grammes to a maximum of about 7.3 grammes. However, in certain areas this coin was called a di- drachm and a coin of half the weight was called a drachm, adding to the confusion. If we compare the silver shekel of Babylonia and Persia with a Greek drachm, we find that the Baby- lonian silver coin weighed from about 5.3 grammes to

a maximum of 5.44 grammes, and the Persian silver coin ranged from about 5.55 grammes to a maximum of

5.7 grammes. In all cases these maximum weights are




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based upon a fair sample of nearly uncirculated coins that have been found in various hoards.


ally that of a money changer, had to deal with all these coinages and, as we will see in the next chapter, a large number of others that developed around 500 B.C. and somewhat later. Within a hundred years of this period a thousand or more Greek cities were minting coins. There has been a tendency in recent years to down date these early coinages. Some students suggest that the Aeginetian coinage did not begin till after 600 B.C. and that it is unlikely that Corinth began to coin before that date. It is also suggested that the Athena-Owl tetradrachms may not have come into circulation until about 525 B.C. and are to be attributed to Hippias,"1 not Peisistratus. These questions remain unsettled and, in this article, the author has elected to use the tradi- tional dates pending additional evidence. *

The Greek banker, whose primary function was

11. Hippias, Son of Peisistratus, the brother of Pip- parchas with whom he shares the rule from 527 B.C. to 514. After the assassination of his brother, he ruled with great severity until forced into exile in 511 or 510 B.C.


Chester G. Starr, The Origins of Greek Civilization

1100-650 B.C.-Alfred

A. Knopf, 1961.

Joseph Alsop, From the Silent

Greek Bronze Age

Report on the

Harper & Row, New York, 1962.

Earth -a

Leonard Cottrell, Realms of Gold New York Graphic Society Publishers, Ltd. Greenwich, Conn., 1963.

Paul MacKendrick, The Greek Stones Speak St. Martin's Press, New York, 1962.

Fritz M. Heichelheim, An Ancient Economic History Translated by Mrs. Joyce Stevens Volume I-A. Sythoff-Leyden-1958 Volume II-1964.


V. Head, A Guide to the Principal

Coins of the

Greeks, The University

Press, Oxford, 1959.

Charles Seltman, Masterpieces of Greek Coinage Bruno Cassieer Ltd., Oxford, 1949.


Barr, The Will of Zeus

J. B. Lippincott Co., Philadelphia and New York, 1961.

Will Durant, The Story of Civilization:

Part II

The Life



& Schuster,




J. B. Bury, A History of Greece The Modern Library, Random House, Inc., New York. Plutarch's Lives, Translated by John Dryden and revised by Arthur H. Clough The Modern Library, Random House, Inc., New York.

n L i b r a r y , Random House, Inc., New York. N o







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