Life in Ancient Greece Reflected in the Coinage of Corinth

Corinth, situated in the northeast corner of the Peloponnesus on the Isthmus of Corinth, was one of the largest cities in ancient Greece and a rival of Athens. The city controlled overland access to the Peloponnesus and to continental Greece, as well as the maritime ways to the East and West of the Mediterranean. In time, Corinth started to create a string of daughter cities, colonies such as Leukas, Ambrakia (Arta), Anactorium, Dyrrhachium (Durazzo) and even Terina in southern Italy and Syracuse in Sicily. All these cities followed Corinth's monetary system.

Coinage was essential to Corinth as an important commercial center. After Aegina, Corinth was one of the earliest cities in Greece to strike and use coins--in the 7th century B.C. Her silver staters, the "colts" or "poloi" (in Greek), issued from the earliest times, carried on their obverse the winged Pegasus, wondrous horse of Greek mythology, connected with Poseidon, god of the sea, and with Athena, goddess of wisdom. Her helmeted head graced the reverse of the Corinthian staters from the late 6th century B.C. onwards.

One century later, about 415 B.C., small letters and symbols were added to the reverses of these staters. The purpose of these little symbols, in a great variety of shapes and figures, has long been inconclusively debated. Nevertheless, their forms are clear enough to be identified, and thus we can admire a long series of items, such as weapons, a club, a shield, or birds and animals, such as an eagle, a dog, a rooster, a boar, and, of course, dolphins, the most popular inhabitants of the surrounding seas.

These figures might only indicate common animals or objects, but they could also have a more mythological significance, such as animals or objects connected with certain divinities or cults. Some symbols are more direct in their meaning, such as Demeter with a torch. Demeter was revered as the earth-goddess of corn and the harvest; bearing a torch she is certainly in search of her daughter Persephone, carried away by Hades, ruler of the underworld.

The Images

  1. Wheel
  2. Gorythos, container for bows
  3. Eagle
  4. Dog
  5. Herme, border stone with head of Hermes on a pillar
  6. Demeter with torch
  7. Cornucopiae
  8. Head of Hippocampus, mythical sea monster
  9. Shield
  10. Amphora and grapes
  11. Dolphin and Rooster
  12. Statue of Dionysos with cantharus
  13. Nike with vase for incense
  14. Plough
  15. Boar
  16. Head of sun god Helios
  17. Head of griffin & dolphin
  18. Thyrsos, staff of Dionysos ending in a pine cone
  19. Astragalos, knucklebone used for games or as religious symbol
  20. Corinthian helmet
  21. Club and Dolphin

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