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Numismatics

From the beginning of coinage to 425 BC | From the end of the 5th c. to the end of the 4th c. BC | The 3rd century BC | Small bronze currency | Under Roman domination
 

From the beginning of coinage to 425 BC

Along with Athens, Chalkis and Karystos, Eretria counts among the first cities in Greece proper to strike their own silver coins. The analysis of several hoards has shown that the earliest coins struck in Eretria were contemporary with the first "owls" in Athens. This Eretrian coinage is dated ca. 520-510 BC, at the time of the fall of the Pisistratids and the end of the Athenian "Wappenmünzen" (heraldic coins). On their obverse, Eretria's coins bear an image of a standing cow, the head turned back, licking a rear hoof or scratching its nose; on the reverse there is an octopus in an incuse square. But we have good reason to think that this coinage was preceded by still earlier issues (ca. 525 BC) that had an undecorated incuse square on their reverse sides.

At this period, or slightly afterward, Eretria distinguished itself by promulgating a law which stipulated that, a coin had to be chremata dokima kai hygia -acceptable and good (i.e., genuine and not counterfeit). The stone carrying the inscription was part of the ancient city wall; it is now on exhibit at the entrance of the Museum.

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Archaic law attesting the early use of coinage.
Ca. 525 BC. Eretria, Museum

It is not easy to guess the meaning of the types used by the city for its coins. The representation of a cow recalls the myth of Io. The young woman, after the birth of her son Epaphos by Zeus, was changed into a cow by Hera who wanted to take revenge on her unfaithful husband. According to one tradition, Epaphos was born in Euboea. As for the octopus, it probably alludes to the city's maritime activities.

While the beginning of coinage in Eretria can be dated with fair certainty to the last quarter of the 6th century BC, the date when the city ceased to mint coins is more difficult to establish. Minting certainly did not stop when the city was taken by the Persians in 490 BC, as was long thought. It must have been suspended, of course, but did not end until the second half of the 5th century, either in 446 BC, following Athens's seizure of control over Euboea, or in 425 BC, when the Athenians, according to the view now regarded as most probable, promulgated the famous decree requiring the exclusive use of Athenian coins and measures throughout their Empire.

by Jeannette Kraese

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From the end of the 5th c. to the end of the 4th c. BC

Eretria did not resume the coinage of silver in the 2nd century BC. But as a member of the Euboean League, it was associated with the production of the coins issued by this alliance (koinon), which included the cities of Chalkis, Eretria, Karystos and Histiaea-Oreos. For this reason, Eretria's coinage was heavily dependent on that of the League. When the latter was active, coins were issued in the name of the Euboeans. On the other hand, when the League was in abeyance, the cities began striking their own coins again, at least as a general rule. It was by two federal issues, composed solely of didrachms based on the Aeginetic standard, that the League first manifested its existence. The Euboeans chose as the types of their coins a nymph's head and a cow, or more likely a heifer lying under a vine branch bearing a large bunch of grapes, as well as the legend ΕΥΒ, for "(coin of the) Euboeans." The heifer does not allude to the myth of Io, but rather to Euboea, Eu-boia, the land rich in cattle. These first didrachms were followed, a few years later, by a larger series of coins minted according to the Attic standard and including, this time, a broad range of denominations.

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Didrachm of Aiginetic standard. Euboean League, ca. 370 BC.

The dating of these two series is difficult to establish, for lack of precise evidence. The year 411 has been proposed as the beginning of the League's coinage, following Euboea's rebellion against Athens. But a more recent date is now regarded as more plausible: this coinage is supposed to have been produced between 371, the year of the Theban victory at Leuctra, and 357, when the Athenians seized control of Euboea.

Formerly dated to the 4th century BC, the second series, based on the Attic standard, should therefore be placed after 357. According to certain sources, the koinon could in fact have been reconstituted, under the influence of Kallias of Chalkis and his brother Taurosthenes, shortly after 346.

Nonetheless, excavations at the site of Olynthos, in Chalkidike, suggest an earlier date. This city was destroyed in 348 by King Philip II of Macedonia. But a few specimens of bronze coins accompanying the minting of coins of Attic weight were found in Olynthos. Thus they are necessarily earlier than 348.

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The 3rd century BC

After these issues, the League suspended its activity, and was reconstituted only ca. 300 BC, probably at the instigation of Demetrios Poliorketes, King of Macedonia from 296. The mint's activity is shown by six issues of drachms, identifiable by symbols, and a few fractional silver coins. The weight of these coins is slightly less than the standard. The recourse to a reduced weight is a trick of financial policy -used, moreover, by other Greek cities as well- that provided the issuing state with additional income, particularly because of the change imposed on visitors. But this practice obviously harmed the issue's international reputation.

We find proof of this in Eretria itself, thanks to an inscription dating to the period of Demetrios Poliorketes. This law of the Euboean federation governs the recruiting of participants in the festivities of the Dionysia and Demetria. It states in particular that the salaries (misthoi) of the actors, musicians and other Dionysian technites are to be paid in "coins of Demetrios." The artists, who came from all over Greece, were thereby assured that their salaries would be paid in an internationally accepted silver currency.

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Drachm of reduced Attic standard. Euboean League, early 3rd c. BC

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Small bronze currency

The production of silver coins in the name of the Euboeans ceased with the drachms with symbols. But the striking of bronze coins, indispensable for everyday life, continued until the 1st century BC. After the small coins of the 4th and the first half of the 3rd centuries, the koinon issued a fine series of bronze coins of three different modules. This series should no doubt be placed in the 3rd century, but here again precise data regarding the history of the Euboean League after the death of Poliorketes is lacking. It is not likely that the League existed during the time that Antigonos Gonatas held dominion over Euboea.

In addition, the excavations in Eretria have uncovered a large number of bronze coins issued by the king of Macedonia. These coins are often countermarked, a practice used by a city or a federal state in order to con- firm the value of a foreign or discredited currency. It therefore seems that they were considered legal tender in the city.

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Under Roman domination

In 196 BC, the Roman consul T. Quinctius Flamininus declared the Greeks free, and two years later reconstituted the Euboean League. The koinon immediately began to strike a series of bronze coins in two denominations, resuming, with variants, the preceding types. But a few years later, following the intervention of Antiochos III in Chalkis, the League was once again dissolved. Eretria then began striking its own coins again.

Ca. 170, the city reconnected with its past by issuing -practically alone among the cities of Greece proper, except for Chalkis and especially Athens- wide-flan silver tetradrachm alsos known as "stephanophores." These coins, named after their wreathed reverse, bear on the obverse the bust of Artemis and on the reverse a heifer in a wreath. They were signed by magistrates who can be identified from contemporary inscriptions.

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Tetradrachm of Eretria. 170-150 BC.

According to the most recent research, Eretria also struck so-called "pseudo-Rhodian" drachms. These coins imitated Rhodian coins and were used to pay mercenaries, especially from Crete. They give some indication of Eretria's participation in the third Macedonian War, which ended with the final defeat of the Macedonians at Pydna, in 168 BC.

After the issues of the Artemis type, Eretria did not strike coins until the period of the Emperor Commodus. The koinon, on the other hand, issued two further series of bronze coins, which differ from the earlier ones by the choice of new types.

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Bronze coin struck in Eretria. 180-192 AD.
Head of Commodus / bust of a three-headed divinity.


Denominations of silver coins
Unities

Aiginetic

Attic

Red. Attic

Tetradrachm (4 drachms)

-

 17.20g

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Didrachm (2 drachms)

12.60g

-

-

Drachm

6.30g

4.30g

ca. 3.80g

Obol (1/6 drachm)

1.05g

0.70g

ca. 0.60g

 

The standard (unit of weight) of Euboean coins is called Euboic-Attic. There are six obols per drachm and 100 drachms per mina. But the mina is only an accounting unit, like the talent (6,000 drachms).


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Tetradrachm of Eretria.
525-500 BC

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