In the decades following the Persian wars Greek coinage was entering a transitional stage which was to see the stiff and unrealistic style of the early (archaic) period gradually give way to the more elegant representations of the classical era. Silver was the primary metal used for coin production right down to the tiniest denominations which were inconveniently small to use.
Silver was to Athens what gold was to Persia, the backbone of the finance of the state, and, together of course with the tribute of the allies, the source whence came the plentiful wealth which Athens used for great building-works at home and for expeditions abroad.
The Athenian mint, with its plentiful supplies of silver from the mines of Laurion, had produced prodigious quantities of tetradrachms from circa 449 BCE. Much of this wealth was used to finance grandiose building schemes in the city such as the Parthenon, but after 431 BCE ever-increasing sums were required to defray the costs of war.
The ordinary silver coinage of Athens fromis almost unvaried. By the former date a head of Athena and an owl of fixed and conventional archaic type had been adopted for the coin. The olive-wreath which adorns the helmet of the goddess seems to have been adopted during the glow of triumph after Marathon.
At the end of the century there were certain issues of gold coins. But the great mass of the coinage was in silver. The Athenians obtained silver in abundance from the mines of Laurium and those of Thrace, and it was part of Athenian policy to circulate the coins as widely as possible, and to make them the standard currency of the Aegean.
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