Herodotus mentions that the first coins were minted in Lydia in Asia Minor in the 7th century BC and were made of a mixture of gold and silver. About a century later, the drachma as a word, a coin and a value was imposed in Greece, as a replacement of the obol, by Pheidon, the king of Argos.
The word “drachma” comes from the verb “drattomai”, meaning “to grasp what fits in one’s palm”. A bundle of six oboloi (copper or iron rods) could be held in the palm of the hand, so one drachma was equivalent to six obols.
Greek coins of the time depict symbols of the various city-states. Aegina chose the marine turtle, Corinth its foals, while Athens honoured its protectress: the drachma of the 5th century BC bore the head of the goddess Athena on one side and her sacred owl on the other.
In ancient Greece, the weight of a silver drachma varied from place to place. The Aeginean or Pheidonian coin weighed 6.06 grams, the Phoenician-Rhodian coin ranged between 3.64 and 7.28, while the Euboean-Attic drachma varied from 4.366 to 8.73 grams. Checking for counterfeit coins was widespread.
Athenian drachmas, known as silver “owls”, dominated the ancient world for about 600 years. In 456 BC, Athens even forced the defeated Aegina to stop minting its own “turtles” and use Athenian owls, while in 449 BC the powerful city-state demanded that all foreign coins be surrendered to the authorities.
However, the Athenian attempt to impose their own coin was unsuccessful, as the other city-states began to mint their own coins again, while in 407 BC a decisive Spartan victory in the Peloponnesian War deprived Athens of the precious silver mines.
Over the course of centuries, the Athenian drachma gave way to hundreds of different types of coinage, established by various rulers, kings, emperors and conquerors. With the passage of time, human mastery of the world and self-confidence was confirmed and stamped on coins, culminating in Hellenistic coins on which the Gods of Olympus were replaced by Alexander the Great, followed by his crowned generals.
During Byzantine and medieval times, the Crusades, and the Renaissance, Greeks used various foreign coins or even bartered in kind, while during the Turkish occupation transactions were carried out using the Turkish gurush or piastres.