The Coins that Built the Parthenon
According to myth the then-unnamed city of Athens sought for itself a patron deity. Athena the goddess of wisdom and war vied with Poseidon for the honour was ultimately chosen by king Kekrops when she offered the gift of the olive tree symbolic of peace and a source of prosperity.
Archaeological evidence indicates Athens was continuously inhabited since the early Neolithic period and was an important Mycenaean center by the middle of the 2nd millennium BC. The city fell into decline during the late Mycenaean Period but later prospered with the population having a direct impact on the foundation of Athenian democracy.
The coins offered here date to a period in the 5th century BC when Athens had transformed itself from leader of an alliance of city-states to the head of an effective ‘empire’ following the Persian wars including the well known battles of Marathon and Thermopylae.
This was also the age of the First and Second Peloponnesian Wars (460-445 and 431-404 BC respectively) fought between the Delian League led by Athens and the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta.
The famous statesman Perikles started construction of the Parthenon in c.447 B.C. employing the legendary sculptor Phidias for the task. Naturally it was dedicated to Athena and contained a massive 12 metre high statue of the goddess made of gold and ivory. It is said that these are “the coins that paid for the Parthenon” (as well as many other parts of the acropolis).
Thukydides records that Athens received six hundred talents of silver in tribute every year and the city controlled a major source of silver in Laurion Mines. It has been estimated that at any one time there may have been more than 3 000 talents worth of silver (4.5 million tetradrachms) stored on the Acropolis and on occasions more than three times that number (c.10 000+ talents). This gives some sense of the staggering output of the Athenian Mint.
In 454 BC the treasury of the Delian League was transferred from Delos to the Athenian acropolis and the League's funds were used for undertaking massive building projects intended to glorify Athens (the Parthenon being the most famous). Tribute was now paid directly to Athens which had become an empire in all but name and the scale of coin production soared.
Certain details in the design set tetradrachms of this period apart from their earlier counterparts. In broad terms they are:
Athena’s eye is shown ‘frontally’ in lozenge form rather than in profile
- The goddess wears a necklace and earring
- The design of the helmet is modified to show a spiral palmette and three leaves on the visor
- The owl is shown with larger eyes and a longer more slender body
- The letters on the reverse are gradually enlarged
These original and genuine 454-404 B.C silver Athenian Owls are in superb EF-mint state quality.
SEEN ELSEWHERE PRICED @ $US2750 = $A3700.00
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