Athens Emergency Issue Plated Tetradrachm 406-404 BC
"Athens was the greatest power in the Greek world throughout most of the 5th century BC. Its famous 'owl' coinage, principally of silver tetradrachms, possibly commenced in 510 BC on the occasion of the downfall of the tyrant Hippias. On these celebrated coins the helmeted head of the goddess Athena was accompanied by her attendant owl and the first three letters of the ethnic 'AQE'. Later, a diadem of olive leaves was added to Athena's helmet and a cresent moon was placed in the reverse field, though the precise chronological significance of these changes remains uncertain. To the intense chagrin of the Spartans Athens became the leader of the Greek states, including those of Ionia, in the epic struggle against the expansionist policies of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. The victories at Salamis (480 BC) and the Eurymedon (circa 467) clearly established the Athenian supremacy in the Aegean world. Initially, the Delian League (founded in 477) was an alliance of independent states sharing a common cause under the leadership of Athens. It gradually developed into an Athenian maritime empire with the member cities obliged to pay an annual tribute into the League's treasury on Delos. In 454 this treasury, amounting to 5,000 talents of silver, was actually removed to Athens and the vast wealth was openly employed for the aggrandizement of the city, now under the leadership of the great statesman Pericles. Vast building projecdts, such as the monumental edifices on the Acropolis, were financed in this way. From 431, however, Athens became embroiled in the protracted Peloponnesian War and increasingly the wealth of the state was dissipated in this futile cause. This attractive tetradrachm belongs to the exceptionally large ouput of Athenian 'owls' made during the second half of the 5th century. In contrast to the artistic development taking place at mints in other parts of the Mediterranean world, the late archaic style of the earlier 5th century became 'frozen' on these issues which represent the first truly imperial coinage of the Greek world. As Athens restricted or forbade the issue of independent currency at many of the cities within her sphere of influence the 'owls' came to circulate over an increasingly wide area. But this all came to an end with the defeat of Athens by Sparta in 404 BC and during the period immediately preceding this catastrophe the Athenians were reduced to the desperate expedient of issuing bronze tetradrachms and drachms with a thin surface coating of silver. This specimen is an excellent example of this emergency coinage the production of which drew contemporary comment from Aristophanes who, in his play Frogs (717ff), compares the decline in the quality of the leading citizens with the recent debasement of the Athenian coinage."