Attica, Athens. Decadrachm, circa 467-465, AR 41.98 g. Head of Athena r., wearing crested helmet, earring and necklace; bowl ornamented with spiral and three olive leaves. Rev. A – Θ – E Owl standing facing, with spread wings; in upper field l., olive-twig with two leaves and berry. The whole within incuse square. ACGC 188. Starr Group II C 61 (this obverse die). Svoronos pl. 8, 14 (this obverse die). Seltman pl. XXI, A 207 (this die). Kraay-Hirmer 358 (this obverse die). Fischer-Bossert The Athenian Decadrachm 28a (this coin).
Extremely rare and of the highest numismatic and historical interest, undoubtedly
one of the most prestigious Greek coins. Metal slightly porous and a die-break
on obverse, otherwise good very fine / about extremely fine
Ex Berk 109, 1999, 191 and NAC 39, 2007, 41 sales.
Athens decadrachms rank high among the prizes of ancient Greek coinage, with few examples existing in public or private collections. The purpose of these massive coins, and their dating, has long excited debate among scholars. In recent years a careful study of hoard evidence has shattered some enduring myths, and these coins are now attributed to a period of perhaps several years in the mid-460s B.C., making them contemporary with the 'Demareteion' decadrachms of Syracuse. According to Herodotus, this denomination was used to pay bonuses to Athenian citizens for surpluses from the nearby silver mines at Laurium. Had this been true, the decadrachms would have been struck in the years following the Greek victory over the Persians at Marathon in 490 B.C. It is interesting that both ancient literary accounts concerning decadrachms – Herodotus for Athens and Diodorus Siculus for the 'Demareteion' issue of Syracuse – are incorrect, and have caused a great deal of misunderstanding. The purpose of decadrachms has also been debated. Barclay Head, writing nearly a century ago, echoed the thoughts of his contemporaries when he said decadrachms were "...chiefly issued on special occasions or for the personal gratification of Tyrants or Kings, and not for common currency." In fact, we now know the decadrachms of Athens and the Syracusan issues in the style of Kimon and Euainetos had legitimate and enduring roles in the monetary system, though never a commonplace one. The large silver coins of Northern Greece (principally octadrachms and dodecadrachms) were purely commercial coins, quite often struck for export. The decadrachms of Acragas, and possibly the 'Demareteion Master' decadrachms of Syracuse, may be exceptional in this regard, as the latter may have a yet-unrecognized commemorative purpose, and the former almost certainly commemorates a charioteer's victory at the 92nd Olympiad in 412 B.C.