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Ancient Coins – Tetradrachm


The tetradrachm was a large, silver coin which became popular in the Greek city-states at the end of the 6th century B.C. The tetradrachm was a large silver coin that became popular among the city-states of Greece in the late 6th century B.C. It represented four drachmae and would eventually become the standard throughout the ancient Greek world. The coin’s size, approximately 25 mm, made it an ideal advertising tool for the rulers of that time. It was used far beyond the borders of Greece. It was minted in various quantities, although it’s believed that the weight standard derived in Athens of about 17.2 grams was widely accepted as the standard weight throughout the region.

Here’s a look at some of the more popular tetradrachms among collectors including examples from Athens, Rhodes, Akragas, Syracuse and Amphipolis.

Silver Tetradrachm of Athens, struck 454 – 404 B.C. Classical Numismatic Group, LLC, at cngcoins.com, provided all images. Obverse


Athens produced the first coin in mainland Greece around the 6th century B.C. Their most recognizable type is the tetradrachm often referred to as the “Athenian Owl,” which was first introduced around 510 B.C. The style of this coin evolved over the years but it was still issued for over four hundred years. The coin was minted at Athens, and it features motifs that are symbolic of the city. On the obverse, Athena is depicted as the patron deity of Athens. On the reverse, an owl is shown with a sprig olive. The first three Greek letters of Athens are written on the right side of the owl: A?E.

Athenian Tetradrachms can be purchased today at a low price because of their high production and long-term availability. A quick search of the coin dealers’ site Vcoins.com reveals over 300 examples for sale which range from $400 to $4,000 depending on condition.

Silver Tetradrachm, Rhodes, reverse


The city of Rhodes was founded in 408 B.C., right in the middle of the Mediterranean. The city of Rhodes was formed in 408 B.C. by the merging of three cities, Ialyssos Kamiros and Lindos. Its location along the Mediterranean trade routes would allow it to prosper for over three centuries. The silver tetradrachm, which featured the sun god Helios and a rose as its reverse side, was a popular coin in Rhodes. Siculus, an historian, explained that Helios had saved the island after a devastating flood. He named the city Rhodos in honor of the nymph Rhodos.
Vcoins.com has over 200 coins for sale, ranging in price from $200 up to $3,000, depending on the condition.

Silver Tetradrachm, Akragas, Circa 460 B.C. Obverse


We then move on to Sicily. During the fifth century B.C., the major city states of the island were known for producing tetradrachms that were highly artistic. Akragas, a city that was built in 580 B.C. by citizens from Gela (nearby), is one of these. Akragas was ruled by a tyrannical oligarchic regime and saw many tyrants come to power. Akragas was at its peak under Theron (the third of these tyrants) who took over in 488 B.C.

Akragas’ silver tetradrachm features an eagle in profile, to the left. The reverse shows a crab with its eight articulated legs and claws. The shell of the crab additionally has what appears to be a face on its back, possibly representing the eponymous city god “Akragas.”
The fresh-water river crab was employed on the coins of the city of Akragas as the city’s symbol to show the city’s dominance over land and sea. Akragas’s symbols included the eagle, and also the crab. Later in the 5th century B.C. Many coins from the city had elaborate animal depictions.

Collectors will find it difficult to locate the Akragas Tetradrachm in good condition. Vcoins only lists a handful of examples at about $2,000 per coin.

Silver Tetradrachm, Syracuse, ca. 415 B.C. Obverse


Sicily was in turmoil at the beginning of the 5th Century B.C. when several city-states were fighting for control. The pressure to control the island led to the creation of tyrannical government such as Hippocrates and Gelon of Gela. They established a strong dictatorship in Syracuse around 485 B.C.

The constant warfare on the island demanded exorbitant amounts to finance mercenaries’ cultural movements and hire mercenaries.

Syracuse was believed to be the first official school for coin engraving. They hired the best talent to run the school. Signing their work began with famous engravers such as Euthydemus Euainetos Herakleidas. These masters broke away from the rigid forms and styles of Classical art to create new methods for depicting life and motion on coins. The silver tetradrachm, which was large enough to depict detailed images but also minted en masse, was the preferred medium of expression.

Nike, the goddess who brings victory to mankind, is seen in a flying position, crowning a charioteer’s head with a wreath. On the reverse, Arethusa is beautifully rendered as a nymph who represents a sacred spring in the colony.

The most expensive examples are the tetradrachms from Syracuse. Vcoins displays 50 different examples. Worn examples start at $1,000, and can quickly rise to $15,000 for a fine coin.

Silver Tetradrachm from Amphipolis, circa 325 BC. Obverse


Alexander the Great minted a large number of tetradrachms to fund his military expeditions during the 4th Century B.C. The eventual conquest of Greece by the Macedonian King Philip II and his son Alexander the Great would bring a close to the Classical period, and usher in a new era called the Hellenistic period by Alexander’s death in 323 B.C. Alexander issued a large number of coins during his reign. One of them was a tetradrachm with Herakles depicted on the reverse. Herakles is used to refer to Alexander’s claim that his family was descended from this famous hero. Zeus is depicted on the reverse, who in Greek mythology was revered as the king of gods and humans.
Alexander the Great’s tetradrachms are available at an affordable price. Vcoins currently has 400 examples for sale. Prices range from $200 for very good examples up to $4,000 for examples in excellent condition.

The silver Tetradrachm is a stunning hand-struck coin from the Classical and Hellenistic period of Ancient Greece. After conquering city-states the Romans permitted them to continue using their local coins. The tetradrachm was continued, which was a blend of local civic identities combined with the stamps of their Roman rulers. These hybrid examples illustrate the Roman tolerance for Greek religion and identity, and how they eventually adopted and absorbed many of their rituals.

The article on Tetradrachms appeared in COINage Magazine. To subscribe Click here for more information. Article by Timothy M. Ryan.

The post Ancient Coins – Tetradrachm first appeared on COINage Magazine.

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