In this article we understand the treatment of the ancient coins minted by the cities of Greece proper and the Hellenic East, and by the Greek colonies, from the beginnings of coinage up to the overlap of Roman rule, referring to the appropriate item the treatment of the coins of Magna Graecia (see.).
The first beginnings of Greek coinage, which are also the first beginnings of coinage in the ancient world, date back to the century. VII a. C. The question about the invention and inventor of money has long been debated, both in antiquity and by modern scholars; Today, however, it is known to science that by invention of money one must only understand that innovation by which the state monopolizes the issue of money, gives it a fixed type, alloy, weight and fiat; and it can be definitively admitted that this reform took place in the 12th century. VII, in Lydia, where the kings inaugurated the state coinage, and that almost immediately, if not simultaneously, it appeared in the main cities bathed by the Aegean sea: Lesbos, in fact, Cyzicus, Phocaea, Ephesus, Miletus, Samos, Naxos, Aegina and other large centers of commerce already possess an official coin in electro, gold or silver at the end of the century. VII a. C.
Once adopted, this state-guaranteed intermediary of exchanges, which supplanted all the other means devised previously by trade for bargaining on the markets, spread rapidly throughout the Greek colonies of the Mediterranean coast, in the West and in the East, and in the beginning of the century VI no Hellenic center of any importance lacked its autonomous state currency.
The highest expression of the public life of the Greeks being the city-state, the subdivision into an almost infinite number of small independent states is reflected in the coinage in the most evident way; each city has its own currency, of a given weight and with special types, in the issue of which it acts with absolute independence, regardless of what other cities more or less nearby do, for the sole purpose of its material and moral interest. Thus, until almost the time of Alexander, the result was a number of systems, of nominals, of types, of series, which constitutes the most evident characteristic of Greek money; Suffice it to note that more than 600 kings and dynasts are known, and more than 1450 cities that have minted money; some of which present very rich series that go from the most ancient times to the Roman age;
The most important series are due to centers that had management positions in trade or politics, so to speak, world-wide: metropolises, maritime emporiums, industrial production centers or ports of forced transit, international markets, capitals of large Asian and European states, renowned religious centers; are series of international value and course, which have dominated the markets of the whole ancient world for centuries, and are the creseids of Croesus, the Persian darics, the turtles of Aegina, the owls of Athens, the pegasi of Corinth, the Philippians of Philip of Macedon, the Alexandrians of his great successor; and for the Hellenistic age the Seleucid and Ptolemaic series, the cystophores of the major Asian mints.
Alongside these major series, those of the minor mints have had a local course only, or limited to the area of influence of the center itself, an area that has varied in subsequent historical periods: hence the fluctuation of the circulation of certain series, the irregularity of the emissions, their various extent, etc.
The first coinage metal was electro, a various alloy of gold and silver that is found in nature, but which can also be prepared by the hand of man. However, soon after the inevitable drawbacks arising from the use of a material whose intrinsic value varied according to the fineness of the alloy, not sufficiently controllable or determinable, were found, pure gold and silver were preferred. Last in order of time was bronze, which in the Greek world usually constituted the currency of account, of nominal value, whereas the gold and silver coin constituted the currency of real, intrinsic value. Commercial, economic and political needs contributed to the preference for this or that metal for coinage. The sands of the rivers and the mines supplied so much gold and silver to the kings of Lydia as to make their riches fabulous, hence the very rich series of darics, chriseids and shekels, which inundated the whole eastern and Greek world; the silver mines of Laurio provided Athens with the metal for its “owls”, which brought it such economic prosperity as to lead it to the first place among the other cities of the Greek peninsula; with the silver imported from the Phoenician-Carthaginian trade, which exploited the mines of Spain, the very rich series of the pegasi of Corinth and its colonies were minted, and the series of the many Greek mints that fueled the trade of antiquity. The discovery of the Macedonian mines made an era and gave the opportunity to the richest issue of gold coins of antiquity,