Athenian Tetradrachm

This Athenian Tetradrachm coin is part of our Trade and Economy Collection.

The tetradrachm is an ancient Greek silver coin equivalent to four drachmae. It was in wide circulation from around 510 to around 38 BC.

The Athenian tetradrachm was stamped with the head of the goddess Athena on the obverse. The reverse was stamped with the image of the owl of Athena, the symbol of the Athenian polis, with a sprig of olive and a crescent for the moon. It was known as glaux (γλαύξ, little owl) throughout the ancient world. This gave rise to the proverb 'an owl to Athens', referring to something that was in plentiful supply, like 'coals to Newcastle'. The reverse is featured on the national side of the modern Greek euro coin.

The drachma was the currency unit used in Ancient Greece over several centuries. Some economists have estimated that in the 5th century BC a drachma had a rough value of 37 pounds (as of 2015). Historians say that in the heyday of ancient Greece (the fifth and fourth centuries BC) the daily wage for a skilled worker or a soldier was one drachma.

This tells us that a tetradrachm was worth about four times a skilled worker’s daily wage, and could buy luxuries such as jewelry and horses.