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Attica, Athens Owl


ATTICA: Athens. After 449 BC. AR tetradrachm (17.07 gm). Head of Athena right, wearing helmet ornamented with vine scroll and laurel leaves / Owl standing right, head facing, AQE to right, olive sprig and crescent to left, all within incuse square. Starr pl. xxii, 6’. SNG Copenhagen 33. EF ex Freeman and Sear Oct 2006 The coinage of Athens, one of the most renowned in Antiquity, enjoyed a widespread distribution due to a huge production, based on the exploitation of the silver mines of Laurion (Attica), and due to the emergence of this city state as an important regional power. The distinctive ‘owl’ coinage of Athens (introduced c. 530-510 BC) established a long-lived iconographic tradition, which was maintained almost invariably on several series for more than two centuries. After the end of the Persian Wars (479 BC), Athens came forth victorious and formed an alliance (the Delian or First Athenian League) against the always menacing Persian Empire. With the help of her powerful navy and through the taxation of her allies Athens accomplished to gain pre-eminance in Hellas and achieved a celebrated prosperity. The Athenian tetradrachms were well-accepted all over the Mediterranean world, while several imitations modelled on them were issued within the Persian state both by officials and subject cities in the late 5th cent. BC (Tissaphernes, Egypt, the Levant). The impact of the Athenian ‘owls’ was extended through trade to Arabia and some imitative series of tetradrachms were struck there during the 4th cent. BC. The Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) exhausted the silver resourses of Athens and eventually destroyed irreparably the Athenian supremacy. During the 4th-3rd cent. BC the well-known Athenian types were maintained and only stylistic changes can be observed in the rendering of the designs. Athenian coinage was relaunched c. 185-180 BC with the so-called ‘New Style’ tetradrachms, a series which displayed a considerable circulation until its end c. 45-40 BC. This Athenian tetradrachma (an Ancient Greek coin worth four drachmas) bears the helmeted head of Athena on one side and two symbols of the goddess, an owl and an olive-branch, on the other. In Greek mythology Athena, the goddess of wisdom and just warfare, rivalled Zeus himself in power and wisdom. It was Athena who gave the people of Attica the olive-tree. The name of this beloved goddess was given to the chief city of Attica - Athens. The snake and the owl were reckoned to be symbols of her wisdom. The great Greek poet Homer describes Athena as being "owl-eyed". It has been suggested that the eye's of the owl were associated with a very ancient symbol for heaven in the form of a double circle (perhaps from the constellation Gemini that served as a guide to travellers by night). The Athenians were one of the first to commemorate a military victory on their coins. Following victory over the Persians at Marathon in 490 B.C., the Athenians modified their tetradrachma to include a cresent moon between the owl and olive branches. The moon reminded Athenians that Darius, king of Persia, withdrew his forces under a waning moon Informative read on Athenian Owls. http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/catalogue/adsdata/cbaresrep/pdf/038/03801001.pdf

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