Making money out of making money in Ancient Athens

Journal article


Davis, Gillan and Albarede, Francis. (2023). Making money out of making money in Ancient Athens. Archaeometry. pp. 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1111/ARCM.12926
AuthorsDavis, Gillan and Albarede, Francis
Abstract

The observed weights of ancient coins are usually less than the nominal “ideal” weights of the coin standards to which they belong because state authorities took a fee—“seigniorage”—for minting coins to cover costs and to make a profit. The basis for calculating the amount taken by the state and the way it administered manufacture are not well understood. Here we analyze the weights of 1344 of the earliest coins of Athens (c. 550–479 bce). We reveal a parabolic relationship between the cost of the silver and the weights of the coins whereby a progressively higher proportion was taken as the denomination decreased, meaning that the smaller the coin, the larger was the proportion of silver taken from it. There was tight control of the minting process and mathematical sophistication in precisely adjusting the silver content from the first introduction of coinage. It also made minting a profitable business. Changes in minting practice can be detected with the introduction of the Athenian “owl” coins, when the percentage of silver taken by the state increased and the spread of weights widened to include coins weighing more than the nominal weight. The latter indicates a significant shift toward monetization of the economy.

KeywordsAthens; coin standards; coin weights; coinage; owls; Peisistratos; seigniorage; Wappenmünzen
Year2023
JournalArchaeometry
Journal citationpp. 1-9
PublisherJohn Wiley & Sons Ltd
ISSN1475-4754
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1111/ARCM.12926
Scopus EID2-s2.0-85174293842
Open accessPublished as ‘gold’ (paid) open access
Page range1-9
FunderEuropean Research Council (ERC)
Australian Research Council (ARC)
Publisher's version
License
File Access Level
Open
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online03 Oct 2023
Publication process dates
Accepted30 Sep 2023
Deposited21 Nov 2023
Grant ID741454
DP120103519
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