Ancient Greece: A Sketch of Its Art, Literature & Philosophy Viewed in Connexion with Its External History from Earliest Times to the Age of Alexander the Great

By H. B. Cotterill | Go to book overview

NOTE C
COINS

COINS are believed to have been first made in Lydia, where the Mermnadae kings began, c. 700, to punch ingots of electron (an alloy of gold and silver) with official marks (see I, 1) as assurance of full weight. The Greek Asiatic cities soon adopted the invention and used engraved dies, and the lower side (obverse) of the coin was adorned with the badge of the state or city (often an animal) or a tutelary deity or his symbol (see I, 2, 3, 4, where El. = electron). Croesus probably first used gold and silver coins (staters) instead of electron, and Darius adopted the practice in his gold daric and silver siglos (shekel). Pheidon, the Argive king, is said to have first introduced standard weights and measures into Greece, and the first European coins were probably struck in Aegina (see I, 15). Archaic coins are frequently bean-shaped. In the earliest specimens the reverse generally bears only an official mark, or incuse square ( I, 6), but later both sides bore a type. Before about 500 the eye of the profiled human face is represented (as in some old reliefs) as if fronting one, and the hair consists of small dots and the mouth has the 'archaic smile' ( I, 5, 9 II, 1).

In the period c. 500-400 very great advance was made in artistic engraving. The Syracusan coins are especially noticeable for their exquisite beauty ( II, 10; IV, 6). The Athenian coinage had so great a circulation through Hellas and so high a reputation for weight and purity that it was thought inadvisable to alter the old type. Hence the Athenian coins do not show such technical perfection as one might expect (see III, 7, compared with II, 1).

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