Aezanis, Temple of Zeus, 117-138 AD 
 
History/Classics 310
 
Athenian Empire: 480-404 B.C.

Index 

Syllabus: 
 Structure
 Schedule 

Readings: 
 Book List 
 Reserve Readings
 Themistocles Decree
 Megarian Decree
 Athenian Treaties

Chronologies: 
 Early Sparta and Athens
 514-482 B.C. 
 Pentekontaeteia, 479-431 B.C.
  Peloponnesian War 

Handouts: 
 Finances in Athens
 Greek Coinage and Measures
 Military

Links

GREEK COINAGE AND MEASURES:
 
I. Classical Greek Measures
II. Greek Currencies
III. Athenian Law on Silver Coinage
IV. Decree of Olbia Regulating Coinage
V. Ptolemaic Regulation of Imported Coins
VI. Use of Emergency Bronze Coins
VII. Decree on Use of Bronze Coins in City Markets
VIII. Revenues of the King of Persia
 
CLASSICAL GREEK MEASURES
 
Measures of Capacity 

Greeks measured dry capacity (grain) by the MEDIMNOS (25 kilogrammes or 55 lbs.) and wet capacity (oil or wine) by the METRETES (34 liters or 9 gallons).  Each measure was based on the common unit of the KOTYLE (pluarl kotylai) so that the liquid metretes was 4.5 times greater in volume than the dry medimnos. 
 
DRY MEASURES 

1 medimnos = 48 choenikes = 192 kotylai 
1 choenix = 4 kotylai 
1 kotyle = 6 kyathoi

LIQUID MEASURES 

1 metretes = 12 choes = 144 kotylai = 864 kyathoi 
1 chous = 12 kotylai = 72 kyathoi 
1 kotyle = 6 kyathoi

 
Measures of Area in the Greek World 

Greeks measured area based on the amount of land ploughed by a yoke of oxen in one day.  The PLETHRON represented 100 x 100 feet or 100 square feet (the approximate equivalent of 4 acres or 2 hectares).  In Dorian Sicily and Cyrene, land was measured by the area sowned to yield 1 medimnos of wheat. 

Measures of Distance in the Greek World 

Greeks measured distance and speed by the STATHMOS or the equivalent of one day’s journey.  This was, on average, an army’s  march of 15 to 17 miles per day.  Great distances were measured by the Persian PARASANG, divided into 30 stadia (singular stadion).  The STADION was composed of 600 feet.  The parasang was 3.45 miles; the stadion represented 600 Greek feet or 606.75 English feet (1/8 of the Roman mile). 

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GREEK CURRENCY IN THE CLASSICAL AGE

UNITS OF RECKONING 

1 Talent = 60 minae = 6,000 drachmae 

The talent and mina were measures of weight for large sums of money (coins or bullion) rather than coins.  The DRACHMA was the denomination upon which Greek currencies were based.  Each drachma was divided into six OBOLS.  Dennominations were struck either as multiples or fractions of the drachma and the obol: 
 

Decadrachma 
Tetradrachma 
Tridrachma 
Didrachma 
Drachma
10 drachmae 
  4 drachmae 
  3 drachmae 
  2 drachmae 
  1 drachma
tetrobol 
tribobol* 
diobol 
obol 
hemiobol
4 obols 
3 obols 
2 obols 
1 obol 
1/2 obol
 
*The triobol was also called a hemidrachma or half-drachma. 

WEIGHT STANDARDS AND DENOMINATIONS 

Cities premised their currency upon a drachma of varying weight so that coins were exchanged in the market according to their weight.  The four crucial standards were the AEGINETIC (employed by the island polis Aegina and cities of the Peloponnesus and Central Greece), the ATTIC or EUBOIC (employed by Athens, Corinth, Sicilian colonies, and cities in the Aegean), the PERSIC, the standard of the Lydian kings (employed by the Great King of Persia and the Asian Greeks), and the Phoenician standard used in the Levant.  Cities minted a STATER or principal trade coin for large scale transactions.  In Athens, the stater was a tetradrachma (17.2 g), while in Aegina the stater was a didrachma (12.2 g).  The Persian king minted a gold DARIC exchanged against 20 silver SIGLOI (and the equivalent of 25 Attic drachmae).  The kings of Lydia and Greek cities of Thrace and northern Asia Minor minted staters made of ELECTRUM (an ally of gold and silver) exchanged at 27 Attic drachmae. 

PRINCIPAL GREEK COINS 
 
Authority 
 
AEGINA 
 
ATHENS 
 
 
 
CORINTH 
CYZICUS 
LYDIA 
 
 
PERSIA 
 
PHOENICIA 
SYRACUSE 
 
 
Denomination 

didrachma 
drachma 
decadrachma 
tetradrachma 
drachma 
obol 
didrachma 
electrum stater 
electrum stater 
gold stater 
silver stater 
gold daric 
 Silver siglos 
shekel 
decadrachma 
tetradrachma 
drachma

Standard 

Aeginetic 
Aeginetic 
Attic 
Attic 
Attic 
Attic 
Attic 
Phocaic 
Persic 
Persic 
Persic 
Persic 
Persic 
Phoenician 
Attic 
Attic 
Attic

Weight 

12.20 g 
  6.10 g 
43.25 g 
17.20 g 
  4.30 g 
  0.72 g 
 8.60 g 
16.01 g 
14.20 g 
10.90 g 
  5.55 g 
  8.35 g 
  5.35 g 
  7.00 g 
43.25 g 
17.20 g 
  4.30 g

 

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ATHENIAN LAW ON SILVER COINAGE, 375/4 B.C.

Translation from P. Harding, FEPWBI (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 61-64, no. 45.  See text in R. S. Stroud, Hesperia 43 (1974), 157-61. 

 Text 

Resolved by the nomothetai, when Hippodamas was archon. Nikophon made the motion:  Attic silver coinage shall be accepted as legal tender [when it is shown to be] silver and has the public stamp.  The public certifier, sitting among the tables [i.e. of moneychangers], is to test the coins according to these criteria ever day except when there is a public payment of cash, then he 
is to test in the councilhall (bouleuterion).  If anyone brings forward [foreign silver coin] having the same type (karachter) as the Attic, [if it is good], the public certifier is to   give it back to the one who brought it forward.  But if it is bronze beneath the silver or lead beneath or base, he is to cut  it across [i.e. the face of the coin] and it is to be dedicated to the Mother of the gods and he is to deposit it with  the boule.  If the certifier does not sit or does not test according to the law, let him be beaten by the syllogeis of the people fifty strokes with the whip.  If anyone does not 
accepit whatever silver coinage the certifier tests and approves, let him be deprived of whatever he is selling on that day.  Denunciations shall be made for offences in the grain market before the sitophylakes (guardians of the public grain supply); for offences in the agora and in the rest of the city, before syllogeis of the people; for the market and the Peiraeus before the epimeletai (wardens) of the market, with the exception of offences in the grain market; for offences in the grain market before the sitophylakes.  Of these denunciations, all those that are below tend drachmae are to be brought by the magistrates before the lawcourt.  The thesmothetai are to provide a court for them, assigning it by lot, whenever they request one, or are to be liable for a fine of [---] drachmae.  The one who made the denunciation is to have half of value of the merchandise as his share,  if he secures a conviction [---].  If the seller is a slave, male or female, let him be beaten fifty strokes with the whip  by the magistrates to whom the various denunciations have been assigned.  If one of the magistrate does not act in accordance with what has been written, let him be brought before the boule by anyone of the Athenians who wishes, from those who are permitted.  If he is found guilty, let him be removed from office and let him  be fined in addition by the boule up to 500 drachmae. In order that there may be in the Peiraeus also a certifier for the shipowners and merchants and all the others, let one be appointed by the boule from the public slaves, if [there is one] or let one be bought; as for the cost of purchasing a certifier, the apodektai are to disburse it.  The epimeletai of the market are to see to it that he sits beside the stele of Poseidon and let them apply the law in his case just as has in the case of the city-certifier been stated, according to the same criteria.  Let there be inscribed on a stele of  marble the text of this  law and let one copy be placed in the city among the bankers' tables, another in the Peiraeus beside the stele of Poseidon.  The secretary of the boule is to report the costs to the poletai ("sellers").  The poletai are to bring the cost before the boule.  Payment shall  be made to the certifier in the market in the archonship of Hippodamas from the  time when he is appointed; let the apodektai make the disbursement, the amont being the same as the certifer in the city.  But for the future, his payment shall come from the same source as for the mintworkers.  If there is any decree that has been inscribed anywhere on a stele that is contrary to this law, let be destroyed by the secretary of the boule. 

Commentary 

Athenian tetradrachmae, bearing the obverse head of Athena and the reverse type of the owl   (hence their nickname "owls") were the internationally accepted silver coins because of their consistent weight     (17.5 grs.) and purity, and large size.  Many Greek and foreign states thus struck "imitative" tetradrachmae or silver coins bearing the designs and even city ethnic (or name) of Athens so these coins would pass in international transactions.  The law of 375/4 B.C. 
stipulates regulation of both these imitative pieces as well as counterfeits  (usually manufactured from lead or a copper core with silver coating).  The imitative pieces were returned to the owner, but presumably they were not accepted as legal tender in Athens whereas counterfeits were cancelled by a slash across the obverse (called a "test cut") and withdrawn from circulation. 

Severe penalties were imposed on officials and public slaves who failed to perform proper testing, because the circulation of imitative or counterfeit coins deprived the city of revenue.  For full discussion, see O. Morkholm, "Some Reflections on the Production and Use of Coinage in Ancient Greece," Historia 31 (1982), 290-305, and the forthcoming article by T. R. Martin,  “Silver Coins and Public Slaves in the Athenian Law of 375/4 B.C.," AJN 3 (1991). 

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DECREE OF OLBIA REGULATING COINAGE, c. 350 B.C.

Dittenberger, SIG 218; translation from M. Austin and P. Vidal-Naquet, ESHAG (Berkeley, 1977), pp. 331-353. no. 103 

 Text 

"Let anyone who wishes have access to Borysthenes on the following condition.  It is resolved by the council and the people; Kanobos, son of Thrasydamas put fortward the motion.  The import and export of any amount of coined gold and silver are free.  Whoever wishes to sell 
or buy coined gold or silver, let him sell and buy  at the stone in the assembly's meeting place.  Anyone who sells or buys elsewhere shall be fined a sum equal to the silver sold in the case of a sale or sum equal to the price paid in the case of a purchase; let all sales and purchases be carried out with the currency of the city, with bronze and silver of the Obliopolitans; whoever sells or buys with another currency shall be deprived, in the case of the sale of the value of the sale, in the case of a purchase of the  price he will have paid; let the payment of fineness on those who have transgressed the decree in any way be exacted by the contractors for the collection of fines from transgressors, once they have secured a conviction in court; let   gold be sold and bought at the following price.  One [electrum] Cyzicene stater against ten and half [silver] staters, neither more nor less, and let all other coined gold and silver be sold and bought by mutual agreement; let no tax be levied on coined gold and silver whether it is bought or sold [----]." 

 Commentary 

The city of Olbia, a Milesian colony between the rivers Borysthenes (Dnepr) and Hypanis (Bug), controlled the export of grain from Scythia (southern Russia) to the Greek cities of the Euxine and Aegean worlds.  Merchants employed the electrum stater of Cyzicus for bulk purchases of grain, salted fish, and slaves in the market of Olbia, but the electrum stater (equivalent to 27 Attic silver drachmae) was exchanged against 10-1/2 Olbian silver staters. The rate of exchange favored the Olbian stater, a didrachma minted on the Aeginetic standard (12.0 grs.).  Rates for other foreign gold and silver coins were determined by negotiation with moneychangers, who leased the contract from the city, so that all foreign merchants had to use Olbian silver and fractional bronze coins.  The moneychangers and city shared the profits from  the exchange of currency.  See discussion in T. R. Martin, Sovereignty and Coinage in Classical Greece (Princeton, 1985), pp. 196-218. 

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PTOLEMAIC REGULATION OF IMPORTED COINS
 
 Letter of Demetrius, October 24, 258 B.C. 

P. Cario Zeno 59.021 = Select Papyri II, no. 409; translation from M. Austin, The Hellenistic World (Cambridge, 1981), pp. 410-12, no. 238.  See discussion in R. Bagnall, The Administration of the Ptolemaic Possessions outside of Egypt (Leiden, 1976), p. 176. 

 Text 

Demetrius to Apollonius, greetings.  It is well if you are in good health and everything is  as you wish.  As for me, I am devoting myself to what you wrote me to do.  I have received  57,000 drachmae of gold     which I minted and returned.  We would have received many times as much, but, as I have written to you before,    the foreigners who come here by sea, the merchants, forwarding agents (ekdocheis), and others, bring their own fine local coins and the trichyrsa (i.e. the gold pentadrachma of Ptolemy I), to get them back as new coins, in accordance with the ordinance which instructs us to take and mint them, but as Philaretus does not allow me to accept them, we have no one to refer to on this matter, and we are compelled not to accept them.  The men are furious since we   refuse the coins at the banks and at the [---] and they cannot send their agents into the country to purchase merchandise, but they say their gold lies idle and that they are suffering great loss, since they brought it from abroad and cannot easily dispose of it to others even at a lower price.  As for the people in the city (i.e. Alexandria) they are all reluctant to use  the worn gold coins.  For none of them knows to whom he can refer and after adding a little get back fine gold or silver in exchange.  In the present circumstances, I see that the king's revenues are suffering no small loss.  I have therefore written to inform you, and if you think fit, write to  the king about it and tell me to    whom I can refer on these matters.  For I believe it is advantageous that as much gold as possible should be    imported from abroad and that the royal coinage should always be fine and new, at no expense to the king.  It is no proper for me to say in writing how some people are treating me, but as soon as you will hear [---]. Write to me on these matters that I may follow your instructions. Fare well.  Year 28, Gorpiaeus 15. 

 Commentary 

In 310 B.C. Ptolemy I (323-283 B.C.) reduced the weight of his gold and silver, which 
had been minted on the Attic standard, by 20%.  The currency was based on a gold pentadrachma or trichryson (17.85 grs.)  that equaled 60 silver drachmae (3.56 grs.).  By edict, the Ptolemaic kings kept a monopoly over coinage in the Nile valley, because they required that silver or gold (imported as coins or ingots) be reminted, at a profit, into royal    coins by the mint at Alexandria.  Ptolemaic regulations were usually strict, because the kings depended on imported specie and 
they could easily enforce the prohibition on the use of foreign coins in Egypt. 

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USE OF EMERGENCY BRONZE COINS, 364 B.C.

Aristotle, Oeconomica II. 2. 23; translation from M. Austin and P. Vidal-Naquet, ESHAG (Berkeley, 1977), pp. 304-05, no. 51B.  Cf. Polyaenus, Strategms X. 1.  For coins, see E. S. G. Robinson and M. J. Price, "An Emergency Coinage of Timotheus," NC (1967), 1-6. 

Text 

Timotheus of Athens, while at war against the Olynthians and being short of silver, struck bronze coinage which he distributed to his soldiers.  Whey the protested, he told them that traders and retailers would be selling to them all their goods in the usual way. He also instructed the traders to use any bronze coinage they received to purchase the commodities of teh country which were for sale as well as anything else which was brought in from booty. Should there be any bronze coins left to them, they should bring it to him and they would get silver in exchange. 

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DECREE ON USE OF BRONZE COINS IN CITY MARKETS
 GORTYN, CRETE, c. 250-200 B.C.

SIG 525 = ICret IV, pp. 222-5, no. 162; translation from M. Austin, The Hellenistic 
World (Cambridge, 1981), pp. 185, no. 105. 

Gods.  The following decision was taken by the city after a vote with three hundred men present; one must use the bronze coinage which the city has issued; one must not accept the silver obols.  If anyone accepts silver obols or refused to accept bronze coinage or sells anything in exchange for grain, he shall be fined five silver staters.  Information about such cases is to be laid before the neotas (the body of young men) and from neotas the Seven chosen by lot shall give  their verdict on oath in the agora.  Whichever party wins a majority of votes shall   win, and the Seven shall exact the fine from the losing party, give one half to the winning party and the other half to the city. 

Commentary 

The monetization of Greek commercial life from the mid-fifth century B.C. forced cities to issue token bronze coins as fractions to the silver drachma for daily transactions.  The Sicelots  (the Greek settlers of   Sicily) issued the first bronze coins based on a native litra (pound; Latin libra.  In the Aegean world, cities such    as Athens struck bronze fractional coins during emergencies when silver was in short supply.  Such coins were later redeemed for silver, as in the case of Timotheus in 364 B.C.  By the mid-fourth century B.C. most Greek cities regularly coined bronze fractions based on the obol (one-sixth of a drachma) and chalcus (one-eight of the obol).  Cities passed ordinances, as the one from Gortyn, that required vendors and customers in the marketplace to use fractional bronze coins, which they obtained from moneychangers who leased the right from the city to exchange silver drachmae into bronze coins. 

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REVENUES OF THE GREAT KING OF PERSIA, c. 480 B.C.
 
Annual Tribute (in Silver Talents)
 
Satrapy 
Ionia (Yauna) 
Lydia (Sparda) 
Phrygia-Cappadocia (Katpatuka) 
Cilicia (Kilikes) 
Syria (Abar-Nahara) 
Egypt (Mudraya) 
Sattagydia-Gandhara 
Susiana (Uvja) 
Babylonia & Assyria 
Media (Mada) 
Caspia 
Bactria 
Armenia 
Sagartia-Drangiana 
Sacae 
Parthia (Parthava) 
Paricania 
Alordia 
Tibarene 
India (Hindush) 

Total:

Babylonian Weight 
400 
500 
360 
360* 
350 
700** 
170 
300 
1,000 
450 
200 
360 
400 
600 
250 
300 
400 
200 
300 
4,680*** 

12,280

Attic Weight 
520 
650 
468 
468 
455 
910 
221 
390 
1,300 
585 
260 
468 
520 
780 
325 
390 
520 
260 
390 
6,084 

15,964

 
*Additional 140 Babylonian talents (= 182 Attic talents) paid to the garrison of the Cilician Gates. 
**Persian garrison in the White Tower at Memphis was provided with provisions, including 120,000 medimnoi, which were the annual grain rations for 20,000 men.  In Athenian money of 450 B.C. this represented a market value of 600,000 drachmae or 100 Attic talents (= 70 Babylonian talents). 
***Paid in gold dust of 360 Babylonian talents (= 468 Attic talents).  At a gold:silver ratio of 1:13 this yields an equivalent in silver of 4,680 Babylonian talents. 

Source:  Herodotus III. 90-96 and cf. A. R. Burn, Persia & the Greeks (New York, 1962), pp. 123-126. 

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Dr. Kenneth W. Harl 
Office: History 211 (504)862-8621 
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 Tulane University
Last updated 03/19/98
by Annette Lindblom