The Athenian Owl
One of the ancient world’s greatest coins - offered now in exceptional AU condition
About Uncirculated (AU) is a grade designation immediately below full Mint State, indicating specimens with only minor imperfections. Secure your share while this special allocation lasts. Satisfaction guaranteed!
• Why are Ancient Greek and Athenian Tetradrachms (pronounced “tetradrams”) considered important works of art?
The Owl Tetradrachm from this time period represents the classical period in Greek art. In the early 5th century BC Greek artists began to consciously attempt to render human and animal forms realistically, and these coins provide a beautiful example of that emerging aesthetic. Athens was the source of much Greek art of the era, accounting for many relics and sculptures now preserved in the world’s top museums.
• What symbols are portrayed on the coin?
The owl coin provided the original inspiration for the phrase “heads or tails,” as it was the earliest coin to feature a human head and a bird with a tail on opposite sides, a theme still common today. The head on the obverse presents a glorious figure of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and warfare. She is shown with piercing almond eyes, wearing a crested war helmet. Greek gods were typically shown with an accompanying spirit animal, and Athena’s owl is shown on the reverse of the coin. The inscription 𝚨𝚹𝚬 is an abbreviation of 𝚨𝚹𝚬𝚴𝚨𝚰𝚶𝚴, meaning “of the Athenians.” Also on the reverse, an olive sprig references Athens’ status as a major producer of olive oil. As a symbol of peace the sprig is ironic, as the coins were often used in funding wars. A crescent shape is seen, likely a waning moon.
• Why was the Athenian Owl made and why is Athens important?
The coin played an essential role in Athen’s rise to greatness. They were used to pay for construction of the city’s “wooden walls” - a fleet of ships that repelled a Persian invasion of 480-479 BC, and proceeded to project Athenian power throughout the Agean and eastern Mediterranean seas. Later, in the fifth century, Athenian Owls helped finance a cultural flowering under Pericles - The construction of the Parthenon with its magnificent sculptures; the regular celebration of the festival of Dionysus, with its tragedies and comedies; and the rise of a community of philosophers, rhetoricians, and artists of every type. Few cities have contributed so much to human civilization in such a short time, and the Owl was used as payment in each advancement.
• Why do collectors love the Athenian Owl coin?
The silver tetradrachm is arguably the most important of all ancient coins. In 2007 a panel of international experts placed the coin among the top ten ancient coins ever produced. It is featured on the cover of the book, “Money of the Bible” by Ken Bressett, and on pages 28 and 29 of “100 Greatest Ancient Coins” by Harlan Berk. Each coin is a piece of history, a 2,400 year old relic of a critical period in human history. How many people can say that they possess something so old in their collections? Specimens are available in AU, Choice AU and full Mint State - the idea that they’ve survived so much history in such good condition is truly miraculous.