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.
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).
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:
*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
Translation from P. Harding, FEPWBI (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 61-64, no. 45. See text in R. S. Stroud, Hesperia 43 (1974), 157-61.
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
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.
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).
Dittenberger, SIG 218; translation from M. Austin and P. Vidal-Naquet, ESHAG (Berkeley, 1977), pp. 331-353. no. 103
"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
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.
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.
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.
In 310 B.C. Ptolemy I (323-283 B.C.) reduced the weight of his gold
and silver, which
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.
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.
SIG 525 = ICret IV, pp. 222-5, no. 162; translation from M. Austin,
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.
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.
Annual Tribute (in Silver Talents)
*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.
|Dr. Kenneth W. Harl
Office: History 211 (504)862-8621
Fax: (504) 862-8739