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Ancient Greek Coins – New Style Athens Tetradrachm

Athens AR Tetradrachm. New Style Coinage, circa 154-153 BC
Attica, Athens AR Tetradrachm. New Style Coinage, circa 154-153 BC

By Russell A. Augustin, AU Capital Management, LLC ……

Athens was once immensely powerful and independent, but its invincibility was ultimately disproved. It was conquered first by Sparta, then by Macedonia, and eventually by Rome. Athens’ value was well understood, and it was allowed to remain a wealthy city and cradle of culture but was no longer a discrete power, except for the Tetradrachm.

The earlier “Owl” tetradrachms were the dominant international trade coinage for over three centuries, but as Athens changed hands, their coinage eventually changed as well, moving away from the archaic coins into a new stylized tetradrachm which carried over artistic elements from its predecessor.

These new coins were produced on a large scale likely due to an influx in demand from Athens’ improving economy after it recovered the port of Delos in 166 BCE. The new coinage didn’t become quite as ubiquitous as the early tetradrachms, but they have been found throughout the Mediterranean and certainly circulated internationally.

When Rome dominated most of Greece, they confiscated land and destroyed several cities, but Athens was left largely independent as the Romans appreciated it for its intellectual, cultural, and artistic value. The mintage of the “new style” tetradrachms began in 164 BCE and continued on an annual basis up until Sulla’s capture of Athens in 86 BCE, after which the coins were produced far less frequently until ultimately stopping around 40 BCE.

The new coinage paid homage to the earlier tetradrachms by carrying over the iconography of an obverse depicting Athena and a reverse featuring her owl. However, the fabric of the coin was changed considerably, thinning and broadening to a much wider diameter and becoming slightly lighter.

This offered a larger space on which the artists could engrave more intricate designs and they certainly took advantage of the freedom. Athena is depicted with a triple-crested Attic helmet upon which the foreparts of a quadriga of horses are shown beneath a full flying Pegasus.

The reverse now shows an owl standing on an amphora, a jug referring to Athens’ international olive oil trade, surrounded by an olive wreath in which various symbols and names are included to denote the mintage and origination of the emission. The first line of reverse text retains the archaic “AOE” denoting that the coins are “of the Athenians”.

Athens remained a center of influence during its 500 years under Roman rule with numerous emperors supporting it financially and politically. Unfortunately, much of Athens was destroyed after being sacked by the Germanic “Heruli” tribe in 267 CE, and this marked the end of Athens’ reign as one of history’s most influential societies.

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Attica, Athens AR Tetradrachm. New Style Coinage, circa 154-153 BCE. Head of Athena right, wearing crested Attic helmet decorated with vine tendril and Pegasos / Owl standing right, head facing, on amphora; AQE across, monograms flanking, caps of the Dioskouroi to right; all within wreath. Thompson 61 (this obv. die). 16.89g, 33mm, 1h. Beautifully toned, well centered on sound metal, Extremely Fine. Rare issue of the new Athenian style.