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Numismatics: Silver turtles from Aegina

Starting this week each week a specific coin will be put into the spotlight. This way you can learn more about the beautiful and diverse coins of the Greek world. I have been doing this on the Instagram account, so check out some of the pictures there or use the #NumismaticThursdays


The Silver Coin hoard from Myrina

The very first coin of the week is a silver stater from the island polis of Aegina. It was found as part of a coin hoard in the Greek city of Myrina in 1970. The hoard was probably buried around 440 BC and consisted of 149 of these Aeginetan silver staters. All of which were collected in a black-glaze olpe. An olpe was normally used to drink wine from, but here the owner used it to bury his coins.

A silver stater from Aegina

The island polis of Aegina was the first Greek polis to strike their own coinage as the earliest coins from the city were struck not long after 650 BC. Due to their extensive sea trade with the rest of the Mediterranean  and outside, the city realized pretty early on that adopting the monetary system was far better than other systems of bartering. 

The coins from Aegina are easily recognizable due to the presence of the turtle (sea as well as land) on the obverse of the coin. These remained the main symbol on Aeginetan coinage throughout their history. The stamps on the reverse have changed: while on this coin you can see an incused cross, there are other examples of an incused square which divided the coin in five or an incused square with a dolphin, etc. The fact that the sea trading polis chose to depict a turtle on their coinage is not a coincidence. As well as being a sea trading community, the turtles were chosen because Aegina traded silver before they used coins and the early silver ingots had a shape that looked like the shells of the turtles. 

Aegrinatan weigth standard

Throughout the Greek World there were different weight standards and measurements, including the Aeginetan one which was one of two that was used all over Greece. This weight standard included a didrachm or stater weighing 12.2 grams, a drachma 6.1 grams, a hemidrachm or triobol of about three grams and an obol that was one gram. The silver staters have been found most frequently,  for example in hoards such as the one our coin is from.  These coins can sometimes be heavily worn from circulation or slashed with test cuts or banker’s marks which were small punches on a coin that validated it as good on a local market.

Here are some other examples of coins from Aegina: 

Did you enjoy this coin of the week? Tell us why in the comments. If you want to find out more about Numismatics, check out the post about the basics of the discipline.

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