Page images
[graphic][graphic][graphic][graphic][graphic][graphic][graphic][graphic][graphic][merged small]

were great bankers in these Ionian cities who had large stores of treasure; their gold and silver would be kept in bars or ingots of definite weight stamped with the device, in place of the written signature, of the banker; for in Greece from immemorial times the art of seal engraving had been practised, and in later days each man had a seal which was so peculiarly his own that one of Solon's laws forbad the engraver to keep an impression of a gem which he had sold. From thus marking large ingots with his own signature, it would be a short step for the banker to do the same with smaller denominations of the same weights, so producing a private coinage for his own convenience in calculation, which would come to have a limited acceptance in the quarters where his credit was good. Such pieces are probably to be recognised in the nondescript coins of which the electrum stater is an example (No. 19; fig. 7a); this is scored on one side with parallel scratches and stamped on the other with three deep punchmarks. There are many pieces in existence which have even less design than this, although their weights conform to definite coin-standards. It is not to be supposed that the Greeks of the time were unable to produce a better type for official purposes, but a private individual might have employed such a system for marking his own property. On the other hand, such pieces did not widely differ from the official coins of the seventh century, because they exactly resemble them in form. It is therefore reasonable to regard this example as a private coin, one of the last of its kind, which immediately preceded the adoption of coinage by the state. The invention of coinage by the Lydians lies really in this innovation, which, however simple it may seem to us now, was then of deep political significance. When once a state currency was instituted, the private coinages fell out of use, for no individual banker could compete with the guarantee of the state, and the state would not tolerate imitation of its own types. We may therefore take it that the successive stages in the “invention ” of coinage were somewhat as follows: first, the occasional practice of stamping certain weights of metal with marks by which they could be identified; this probably continued in private use for a long period before it was adopted by a state, perhaps first by Lydia ; and finally the adoption all over the Greek world of a series of state coinages. The convenience of the “invention ” was so obvious as to justify the statement of Herodotus that the Lydians were the first nation of shopkeepers.

Diog. Laert. i. $ 57.

The example, once set, was quickly followed by the more important Greek cities, until by the middle of the sixth century the art of coinage had travelled from Ionia across the mainland of Greece to the colonies in Italy and Sicily. Owing to the peculiar political conditions of Greece, where every town held a separate and independent sovereignty, each state was jealous to assert its autonomy on its coins, with the result that the Greek coinage presents an enormous variety of types, held together, however, as the money of one people by the uniformity of their general character and of the art in which they are expressed. A still greater complication arose from the fact that there was no regularity in the weight standards, so that the interchange of the money of different towns was often impossible without recurring to the primitive method of using the scales. In the earliest Greek coinage there were no less than four distinct systems of weight, between which an exact correspondence was impracticable; three were indeed derived from the same Babylonian original, but the fourth was apparently of independent origin. There were many minor derivatives of these, and the tendency was to increase the discrepancy rather than to mend it, until the time of Alexander the Great, when his extensive conquest brought about some sort of regularity in the coinage ; but no real uniformity prevailed until the complete domination of the Romans.

It will thus be seen that the Greek coinage was probably the earliest coinage of the world; and we may now proceed to consider those representative coins, which in the midst of innumerable local issues were important enough by their purity of weight and metal, or by their abundance, or by the commercial reputation of their issuing states, to predominate in the Greek world as a sort of international currency and standard of exchange.

The earliest electrum stater, of Ionia or Lydia, is interesting on account of its fabric, for it has no type. It is a bean-shaped lump of metal, one side of which has been stamped with a flat die marked with parallel scratches, the other with three punches, which have left deep impressions (No. 19; fig. 7a). It is this peculiar fabric which marks the otherwise meaningless piece of metal as a coin of definite date and locality. The pieces which immediately followed, such as the silver money of Aegina (No. 20; fig. 7d), have a real type on the obverse, while the punch mark on the reverse is more regular, and is often ornamented with some design of a special character, though it does not contain a type until later. The types which the Greek states selected to stamp on their coins were of the same nature as the seals which men took for their private marks before the use of writing : devices adopted for various reasons as signatures of the different towns, and tinged, as is usual in a simple age, with a strong sentiment of religion. So it is that Greek coin-types were religious, not because coins were placed under the protection of the gods, but because the badge which was used to distinguish the coins of the state had already been associated with religion in other relations. The earliest piece with a type here illustrated, and probably the first silver coin that is known, is the stater of Aegina, which bears a tortoise, an attribute of the goddess Aphrodite. The plainness and constancy of the coin-types of the most important Greek cities are due to the fact that their moneys circulated over large districts, among uncultivated and even uncivilised peoples ; it was therefore held wise in later times not to alter the early types, which were already well known in distant parts, lest a change in the appearance of the coin should hinder its ready acceptance. So the familiar “owls” of Athens, the “ colts” of Corinth and “tortoises ” of Aegina remained unchanged for centuries, while neighbouring cities of less importance produced elaborate series with great variety of type.

With the introduction of coinage into European Greece, a change was made in the metal of the currency, for gold and electrum, which were plentiful in Asia, were not common in Greece proper, and a silver coinage was there the rule until Philip of Macedon took possession of the Thracian gold mines. The few gold issues before his time were due to exceptional circumstances ; thus the gold coinage of Athens for example (No. 21) was occasioned by great financial stress, when treasure was melted down to supply the currency. There was, however, no lack of gold money in Greece, for after the first Lydian issues came the fine gold staters of Croesus, in the early sixth century (No. 22; fig. 76), and, on his overthrow by Cyrus, an international gold coinage was still available in the enormous issues of the Persian darics (No. 23; fig. 7c), which were in common use all over the ancient world until the Macedonian gold replaced them. A few subsidiary electrum coinages survived in Asia, the most famous being the Kyzikene staters (No. 24; fig. 7m), which were a standard of exchange in the Aegean and Black Sea regions. A peculiarity of this coinage is that the distinctive type of the town, the tunny. is relegated to a secondary place, while the main type is a

constantly changing design. In the piece illustrated the subject is taken from a group of the Athenian tyrannicides, Harmodios and Aristogeiton, which stood on the acropolis of their native city.

Another important currency, used especially in western Greece, the “colts” of Corinth, took its type from the local myth that the winged horse Pegasos was captured by Bellerophon at the fountain Peirene, which flowed from the acropolis of the town (No. 25; tig. Te). The original punch-mark on the reverse was soon charged with the helmeted head of Athena, who also had a part in the Pegasos myth, and these two types were constant as long as the Corinthian state existed. The money which enjoyed the fairest reputation was that of Athens, which, at the time of the Athenian empire, superseded the issues of the subject cities and became the standard currency in the Aegean Sea. It penetrated into the far East, and there are extant examples of native imitations from India and Arabia. The wide circulation of these staters among barbarous peoples was the cause of their peculiar style ; for not only were the types of Athena's head and her owl and olive-branch unaltered from the first sixth-century design, but the execution was an imitation of the primitive manner, the stiffness of archaic art being reproduced in an affected archaism. As the money of Athens was the foremost in the Greek world, it is useful to note the extraordinary number of denominations which were struck in silver at its most flourishing period, the fifth century B.C. A large, but still not complete, series is exhibited here (No. 26). It consists of the Decadrachm (10 drachmae, fig. 7f), an early and rare coin, the Tetradrachm (4 drachmae, fig. 79), which was the famous Athenian stater or standard piece, the Didrachm (2 drachmae), the Drachm (fig. 7h), the unit of weight, which contained six obols, the Triobol (3 obols), the Diobol (2 obols), the Obol (fig. 71), the Tritemorion (obol), the Hemiobol (obol), the Trihemitetartemorion (obol), and the Tetartemorion (i obol, fig. 7k), the half of the last piece being equivalent to the largest bronze coin, the Chalkous (No. 27). No other Greek coinage possessed so many denominations as the Athenian, and the list is significant of the vigorous commercial activity which called for a currency so elaborate.

With the Athenian series is the bronze core of an ancient imitation of a silver stater, of which the silver plating has perished (No. 28). Forgery was punished with extreme penalties even in those days : in an extant decree of Mytilene, of the fourth century,

« PreviousContinue »