Ancient Greek coin denominations

Written on July 2, 2018

Obol, Drachm or Litrai?

It can be really daunting to tell the difference between the denominations of the city states of the ancient greek world. This article has the purpose to give a guideline of coin denominations of the ancient greek city-states.

Ancient coin denominations derive from the weight the merchants used to trade goods with precious metals such as gold and silver. The transformation of the bits of precious metal pieces that were used in trading goods came about by city-state leaders putting a stamp of authenticity on these pieces of metal.

In the following paragraphs, there are presented the most common of the coin weight standards. The weights can vary from city to city and from era to era, so the following weight values serve as a guide but not exact value at all point in time.

Attic standard

The Attic standard was the most widespread weight standard in the ancient greek world. This was due to the influence and power of the city of Athens. This standard is based on the silver drachm of 4.33 grams and is divided by obols, with a sixth of the value.
Denomination Weight (gr) Ratio
Dekadrachm 43.0 10
Tetradrachm 17.3 4
Drachm 4.33 1
Tetrobol 2.85 2/3
Triobol/Hemidrachm 2.15 1/2
Diobol 1.43 1/3
Trihemiobol 1.07 1/4
Obol 0.86 1/6
Tritartemorion 0.54 1/8
Hemiobol 0.36 1/12
Trihemitartemorion 0.27 1/16
Tetartemorion 0.18 1/24

Rhodian standard

Another common weight standard was the Rhodian standard with silver drachms of 3.9 grams. The reason this standard was used was the sea and merchant power of the island of Rhodes, which helped spreading this standard on the eastern parts of the greek world.
Denomination Weight (gr) Ratio
Tetradrachm 15.6 4
Didrachm 7.8 2
Drachm 3.9 1
Tetrobol 2.6 2/3
Obol 0.65 1/6

Cypriot standard

The coinage of the ancient kingdoms of Cyprus had a distinct weight standard in respect to both the greek world and the Pesian empire that they were part of. The main denomination is the silver Siglos which takes the name of its persian equivalent, but it was a lot heavier than the Daric one. The Siglos weighed 11.16 grams and was divided in thirds, sixths and so on until ninety-sixths. Cypriot kingdoms were not allowed to mint gold coins, but powerful kings such as Evagoras I defied that and minted golden Staters of 8.0 grams. These staters were divided quite irregularly, both in halves and thirds, depending on the kingdom.

Silver standard
Denomination Weight (gr) Ratio
Siglos 11.16 1
1/3 Siglos 3.72 1/3
1/6 Siglos 1.76 1/6
1/12 Siglos 0.93 1/12
1/24 Siglos 0.46 1/24
1/48 Siglos 0.23 1/48
1/96 Siglos 0.14 1/96

Gold standard
Denomination Weight (gr) Ratio
Stater 8.0 20
Hemistater 4.15 10
1/3 Stater 2.75 20/3
1/4 Stater 2.0 20/4
1/5 Stater 1.7 20/5
1/10 Stater 0.8 20/10
1/12 Stater 0.7 20/12
1/20 Stater 0.4 1

Sicilian standard

The Sicilian standard is based on the silver Litra, which weighed 0.86 grams and is equal to the obol of the Attic standard. Sicilian denominations were one of the first to be substituted from silver to bronze issues.
Denomination Weight (gr) Ratio
10 Litrai 8.66 10
5 Litrai 4.33 5
Trilitron 2.58 3
Dilitron 1.72 2
Litra 0.86 1
Hemilitron 0.43 1/2
Pentonkion 0.36 5/12
Trias 0.29 1/3
Tetras 0.22 1/4
Hexas 0.14 1/6
Onkia 0.07 1/12