ANCIENT WEIGHTS STANDARDS & DENOMINATIONS

The earliest coins, issued by the Ionians or the Lydians in western Asia Minor in the latter part of the 7th Century B.C., were produced in only one metal, electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver. They were based on a stater weighing a little over 14 grammes, and although various fractional denominations were struck from an early date (half, third, sixth, etc.) the relatively high intrinsic value of the metal precludes the possibility that these coins enjoyed a wide everyday circulation. The truth of the matter would seem to be that the earliest coins provided a convenient means of paying quite large sums (possibly to mercenary soldiers) rather than to facilitate the day to day commerce of the ordinary citizens. The electrum stater, in fact, probably represented a month’s pay for a soldier.

Silver half-stater of Kroisos of Lydia (.561-546 B.C.) 

This state of affairs continued until the Lydian King Kroisos (Croesus), who reigned 561-546 B.C., introduced a new monetary system based on coins of gold and silver instead of electrum. The gold stater, although still of the same value as its electrum predecessor was necessarily of lighter weight (a little over 8 grammes) and fractional denominations down to one-twelfth (hemihekton) were produced in the same metal. Silver denominations, now issued for the first time, bore the same design as the gold and provided a much greater range of values at the lower end of the scale. In these times the ratio of silver to gold was 13,’: l and the weight of the silver stater was fixed so as to make it the equivalent of one-tenth of the gold stater (almost 11 grammes).

The smallest coin in this series, the silver hemihekton, was 1/120th of the gold stater, which gives some idea of the wide range of values obtainable under this new bimetallic system. The main disadvantage was the inconvenience of handling such tiny coins in everyday transactions the silver hemihekton was less than half the diameter of our modern £ New Penny. This was a problem which was not finally solved until the 4th Century B.C., when token bronze coinage largely replaced the smallest silver denominations.

The Lydian Kingdom ceased to exist in 546 B.C. when Kroisos was defeated by the Persians under King Cyrus. But coinage, on the same standard and with the same types, continued to be issued from Sardis under the new regime. Towards the end of the 6th Century the old Lydian type (foreparts of lion and bull) was replaced by a Persian type showing an archer (sometimes described as the King) in a kneeling-running pose.

The gold stater, now called a ‘daric’ (after Darius), was initially the same weight as Kroisos’ coin, whilst the’silver ‘siglos’ was the equivalent of the old half-stater and worth one-twentieth of the ‘daric’. Subsequently, slight adjustments had to be made in their weights to maintain the correct ratio when there were changes in the relative values of the precious metals. These coins continued in issue with only minor modifications, for almost two centuries, until the Persian Empire was overthrown by Alexander.

This state of affairs continued until the Lydian King Kroisos (Croesus), who reigned 561-546 B.C., introduced a new monetary system based on coins of gold and silver instead of electrum. The gold stater, although still of the same value as its electrum predecessor was necessarily of lighter weight (a little over 8 grammes) and fractional denominations down to one-twelfth (hemihekton) were produced in the same metal. Silver denominations, now issued for the first time, bore the same design as the gold and provided a much greater range of values at the lower end of the scale. In these times the ratio of silver to gold was 13,’: l and the weight of the silver stater was fixed so as to make it the equivalent of one-tenth of the gold stater (almost 11 grammes).

The smallest coin in this series, the silver hemihekton, was 1/120th of the gold stater, which gives some idea of the wide range of values obtainable under this new bimetallic system. The main disadvantage was the inconvenience of handling such tiny coins in everyday transactions the silver hemihekton was less than half the diameter of our modern £ New Penny. This was a problem which was not finally solved until the 4th Century B.C., when token bronze coinage largely replaced the smallest silver denominations.

The Lydian Kingdom ceased to exist in 546 B.C. when Kroisos was defeated by the Persians under King Cyrus. But coinage, on the same standard and with the same types, continued to be issued from Sardis under the new regime. Towards the end of the 6th Century the old Lydian type (foreparts of lion and bull) was replaced by a Persian type showing an archer (sometimes described as the King) in a kneeling-running pose.

The gold stater, now called a ‘daric’ (after Darius), was initially the same weight as Kroisos’ coin, whilst the’silver ‘siglos’ was the equivalent of the old half-stater and worth one-twentieth of the ‘daric’. Subsequently, slight adjustments had to be made in their weights to maintain the correct ratio when there were changes in the relative values of the precious metals. These coins continued in issue with only minor modifications, for almost two centuries, until the Persian Empire was overthrown by Alexander.

Around the middle of the 6th Century the practice of issuing coined money spread to Greece itself and a number of mints commenced operations in the decade following 550 B.C. Electrum was foreign to the European Greeks who never adopted this metal for their coinage. In its place silver was employed right from the start. The first issues of Aigina, Athens, Corinth, and the Euboian cities of Chalkis, Eretria and Karystos all belong to this time. Important weight standards, which were destined to play a leading role in the development of Greek coinage, now appeared for the first time.

The Attic standard, based initially on a didrachm of 8.6 gm. but later on a tetradrachm of 17.2 gm., was adopted at Athens and later spread to Sicily and the northern Aegean area. The great prosperity and political importance of Athens in the 5th Century contributed to the widespread popularity of this weight standard and it was later adopted by Alexander the Great for his vast imperial coinage.

The table below shows the large number of denominations which were produced under the Attic weight system. Not all of these denominations would have been in regular issue the dekadrachm, for example, was only struck on special occasions and some mints never produced the tiny fractions of the obol. The weights given are approximate, and reflect the figures actually achieved rather than the ideal.

001-athens-dekadrachm-1.jpg
Dekadrachm10 drachmae43 grams
Kyme-01.jpg
Tetradrachm4 drachmae17.2 grams
AR Didrachm 90001284.jpg
Didrachm2 drachmae 8.6 grams
Naxos-02.jpg
Drachma 6 obols 4.3 grams
001-Massalia-tetrobol-02.jpg
Tetrobol 4 obols 2.85 grams
Metapontum Triobol 868740.jpg
Triobol (hemidrachm) 3 obols 2.15 grams
Tarentum AR Diobol 851470.jpg
Diobol 2 obols 1.43 grams
SNGCop 053.jpg
Obol 4 tetartemorions 0.72 grams
Thasitischer Tritartemorion 630264 C.jpg
Tritartemorion 3 tetartemorions 0.54 grams
Hemiobol Corinth.jpg
Hemiobol 2 tetartemorions 0.36 grams
Triihemitartemorion Cilicia, 4th century BC.jpg
Trihemitartemorion 3/2 tetartemorions 0.27 grams
001-Tetartemorion-3.jpg
Tetartemorion 1/4 obol 0.18 grams
001-Hemitartemorion-02.jpg
Hemitartemorion ½ tetartemorion 0.09 grams

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