What did ancient Greek coins look like?
Welcome to Quatr.us Study Guides!

Ancient Greek coins

Athenian coin

September 2016 - Beginning around 600 BC, each Greek city-state minted (made) its own kinds of coins. (They got the idea from the Lydians in West Asia). A lot of the Greek coins were silver. You made them by taking a small lump of silver and putting it on an iron mold, and then striking it with a hammer that had another kind of mold in it. That way you could squash a picture into both sides at the same time. The Athenians had a lot of silver from their silver mines at Laurion, so a lot of their coins were silver.

The pictures on the coins were different for each city-state. Athenians put a picture of Athena's owl on their silver coins. Can you see that the coin says ATHE on it in Greek letters?

corinth coin

Silver coins from Corinth had a picture of the flying horse Pegasus. Can you see him?

obols from Athens
Silver obol (front and back) from
Kelenderis in Cilicia (300s BC)

Just like today, some coins were worth more than others. This coin is worth less. It's an obol (it has a centaur on it). An unskilled worker, like someone who unloaded boats or dug ditches, in Athens, would earn about two obols a day - two silver obols a day was approximately minimum wage in ancient Athens.

bronze coin - green with corrosion, with an owl on it
Chalkos (Athenian
bronze coin)

Even an obol was too much to spend at the store, so the Athenians also made tiny silver coins and larger bronze coins. Eight chalkoi were worth one obol.

All the designs on these coins changed a little from year to year, so numismatists can tell what year (more or less) a particular coin was made, or struck. The government changed the coins so that if anyone cheated and put less silver in some coins, it would be easy to know which were the bad coins.

After the Greeks were conquered by the Romans, Greek cities stopped minting their own coins and used Roman coins instead.

Learn by doing: making Athenian coins
Check out the coins of other Greek cities.

Bibliography and further reading about Greek coins:

Eyewitness: Money (Eyewitness Books) (2000).

Sold!: The Origins of Money and Trade (Buried Worlds) (1994). School Library Journal says, "Grade 6-10-Covering primarily the ancient Mediterranean civilizations, this well-written, beautifully illustrated account describes early forms of money, how the first coins were made, and what they reveal to archaeologists about the people who used them."

Ancient History from Coins, by C. J. Howgego (1995). Not so easy to read, but a good introduction to what we can learn about history from coins.

Greek Coins, by Ian Carradice (1995). This handbook for beginners shows some of the different types of Greek coins, with a little historical background. About a page per century.

More on the Greek economy
Ancient Greece
Quatr.us home


Celebrating Black History Month with the pharaoh Hatshepsut, the queen Shanakdakhete, the poet Phillis Wheatley, the medical consultant Onesimus, the freedom fighters Toussaint L'Ouverture, Denmark Vesey, Yaa Asantewaa, and Samora Moises Machel, and the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
Please help other teachers and students find us: link to this page from your class page.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
Cite this page
  • Author: K.E. Carr
  • Title:
  • Site Name: Quatr.us Study Guides
  • Publisher: Quatr.us
  • Date Published:
Proud of your class page, homework page, or resource page? Send it in and win a Quatr.us "Great Page!" award!
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in Quatr.us' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Comment on This Article

Cool stuff we've been enjoying: Looking for birthday gifts? Check out these new Chromebooks - all the computer you need for only $229.00!. Then study in peace with these Beats wireless headphones - for the exact same price! When you're done, show off your presentation or watch a movie with this excellent smartphone projector for only $39.99!


Does your class page honor diversity, celebrate feminism, and support people of color, LBGTQ people, and people with disabilities? Let us know, and we'll send you a Diversity Banner you can proudly display!
Looking for more?
ADVERTISEMENT
Quatr.us is loading comments...
(Comments will appear after moderation, if they are kind and helpful. Feel free to ask questions, and we'll try to answer them.)
Cite this page
  • Carr, K.E. . Quatr.us Study Guides, . Web. 26 February, 2017
ADVERTISEMENT