|Athenians struck their first coins around 560 BCE with the first tetradrachms appearing in 515 BCE. The obverse of the first Athenian tetradrachm depicts the head of a Gorgon, which Athena created. Athena’s uncle Poseidon raped the priestess Medusa in Athena’s temple; Athena was outraged over the desecration, but she had no power over the god of the sea so she instead punished Medusa, turning her into a Gorgon, a monster with snakes for hair.|
|Athenians struck the first of their iconic “Owl” Tetradrachms around 510 BCE. The obverse portrays the helmeted head of Athena while the reverse depicts Athena’s owl and a sprig of olive, with the inscription AΘE (an abbreviation of AΘENAION, meaning “of the Athenians”). The owl is closely associated with Athena as the goddess of wisdom.|
Early Tetradrachm. c. 475-465 BCE.
|Athens became extremely wealthy due to the vast veins of silver ore found in the mines of Laurion in 483 BCE. This led to the Athenian mint churning out huge numbers of tetradrachms, which became the world's first true trade currency. Athens entered a period where it was the principal city of the Greek world.|
|The Athenian Owl tetradrachm was minted for over 400 years. The Athenian Owl gained widespread use due to it's high silver content and high production. The Athenian government minted coins at a profit, building state coffers. |
The Athenian Owl tetradrachm would remain the dominant currency in the ancient world until Roman coinage replaced it in the 1st century B.C.
Despite the coin’s many revisions, the general design remained the same. The obverse depicts the Greek goddess Athena, who represents wisdom and warfare. The ideals are portrayed in Athena’s large eyes, representing wisdom, and her crested war helmet, representing war. The Owl appears with two-leaf olive sprig, representing olives and olive oil, the primary exports of Athens.