5 Basics To Understand As You Start Collecting Greek Coins

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Collecting ancient Greek coins can be a very enjoyable hobby. You do not have to be an expert to get started. In fact, that is part of the appeal; you will learn more and more as you go. It is helpful, however, to know the basics about Greek coins as you begin collecting. Here are five basics to understand.

1. Coinage was made throughout all Greek periods.

Most scholars who study the Greeks divide ancient Greek history into four periods. These are:

  • Archaic (about 700 - 480 BC)
  • Classical (480 - 323 BC)
  • Hellenistic (323 - 30 BC)
  • Roman (30 BC - approximately 500 AD)

Coins were produced during all of these periods. As such, you will often see Greek coins labeled as "Archaic" or "Hellenistic." Coins produced during this last era are sometimes called Roman coins, not Greek coins. You might think that coins produced in the earlier periods are worth more simply because they are older, but that is not necessarily the case. A newer coin in better shape is often worth more than an older one in worse shape. Greek coins are pretty common, so even the older ones are not terribly rare.

2. Greek coins came in various denominations.

Just like coins today come in various denominations, like quarters and dimes, Greek coins came in different denominations. But there were many more denominations back then than there are now. The value of coins was based on their weight. The Dekadrachm, for example, weighs 43 grams, and the Diobol weighs 1.43 grams. There are about 10 other common denominations. The larger the coin, the greater its worth.

3. Most Greek coins are unearthed in large collections.

You will often see people selling Greek coins in large collections. This is because the coins are often unearthed in large collections; what they are selling is likely what was dug up or discovered in one area. Greeks would often bury their coins before they went off to war, hoping that this would keep others from stealing their wealth when they were gone. If you have studied Greek history at all, then you know there were a lot of wars and battles throughout Greek history, so many of those soldiers never came home and reclaimed their coins. They're still being discovered today.

4. Coins are often worth more somewhat dirty than when they are clean.

When you buy a dirty old Greek coin, your first instinct might be to polish it all up as nicely as possible. But that is not actually a great idea. These coins are a little delicate, and polishing them can remove some of the detail. Removing the tarnish can also reduce the contrast around the lettering, making the coin harder to read. A coin that you cannot read is not worth as much as one that is a little dirty but readable. Feel free to wipe the coins off with a damp cloth and then let them air dry, but don't do any intensive cleaning or scrubbing.

5. What was imprinted on coins changed throughout history.

What you see on the coin is a good indication of what era it is from. In the Archaic period, coins were often stamped with an item from nature, such as a flower or a turtle. In the Classical period, coins were stamped with images of the gods. And in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, coins were stamped with images of rulers. There are some exceptions, but this is a good way to start aging a coin.

Now that you know a little more about ancient Greek coins, start collecting. A whole new world awaits.

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