A silver coin from Athens

A bigger picture

Coinage was a means of self-representation and self-promotion for ancient Greek city-states. This selection of coins demonstrates some of the ways in which the design of the coin represented the city-state from which it originated. The designs might refer to an associated god or myth as in the cases of Corinth, Sikyon and the Athenian tetradrachm. The tetradrachm and the coins from Kyrene and Pantikapaion illustrate distinctive products. The symbols on the coins from Rhodes, Leontini and Phokaia are puns on the name of the city-state.

Corinth; 300 – 250 BC


The hero Bellerophon was born in Corinth and captured the winged horse Pegasos drinking from a spring on a hill near the city. Corinth was a great rival of a neighbouring city called Sikyon – see the next coin.

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After capturing Pegasos, Bellerophon killed the Chimaira, a fire-breathing monster with the body and head of a lion, a snake tail and a goat head sticking out of its back. A version of the story locates the fight near the city of Sikyon and tells how Bellerophon succeeded because he was helped by the city’s god Apollo.

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Leontini was a Greek colony in Sicily from the late 700s BC. Its name is connected with the Greek word for ‘lion’.

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The rose shown on coins of Rhodes is the result of a play on the name of the island and the Greek word for a rose.

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Phokaia, 600-550 BC


The seal on this coin from a Greek city on the west coast of modern Turkey is a play on the name of the city and the Greek word for a seal.

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Kyrene; late sixth to early 5th century BC


This coin from a Greek city on the north coast of Africa shows an important product of the city, a plant named silphium which is now extinct. It was used as a spice in cooking and for medical purposes.

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The Crimea, near the Black Sea, was an important grain-producing area and also a source of gold. This coin from a Greek city in the Crimea shows a griffin, the mythical guardian of gold, and an ear of corn.

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A silver coin from Athens