Glossary of ancient Greek coinage

Written on December 16, 2018

Ancient greek coin glossary

The purpose of this glossary is to provide a definition or explanation of the greek terms that are used in the catalogue of ancient Greece. Many of the terms used are in greek in order to keep in line with the terminology used in all the major catalogues and auctions.

As a disclaimer, the definitions given here are a generalization produced by several sources, so that it as understandable and consise for all readers. Thus, it does not give the whole picture of each mythological person, creature or object.

Major gods and godesses

Aphrodite - Αφροδιτη: Godess of love, beauty, and desire. She is believed to be born on the island of Cyprus after Kronos castrated his father Uranus.

Apollo - Ἀπόλλων: Son of Zeus and Leto and god of music, poetry, and medicine, but also bringer of plague and divine retribution. He is often symbolised by a silver bow or a Kithara made by Hermes out of a tortoise shell. He is represented on coins as a youthful and beautiful man, often adorned with a laurel.

Ares - Ἄρης: The god of war and the war`s brutality. He was the son of Zeus and Hera and occasional lover of Aphrodite. He is identified by his quadriga, the dog or a vulture.

Artemis - Ἄρτεμις: The daughter of Zeus and Leto and twin sister of Apollo. She was goddess of chastity, hunting, wild animals, forests, childbirth, and fertility, despite been sworn to chastity herself. She is usually portraied with a bow and arrows.

Athena - Αθηνά: One of the twelve gods of Olympus and daughter of Zeus and Metis. She was the godess of wisdom, strategy and war and her most prevalent symbol was the owl.

Demeter - Δημήτηρ: The goddess of grain, agriculture, harvest, growth and fertility of the earth. She is perceived as a mother-goddess, as her name says.

Dionysos - Διόνυσος: The god of the grape-harvest, wine, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, and theatre. He is usually portaited as a bearded mature man in his earliest depictions, but during the hellenistic years he was portaited as a beardless youthfull man, with woman-like characteristics.

Hephaistos - Ἥφαιστος: The god a smithing, metallurgy, fire, volcanoes and craftsmen. His symbols is the smith´s hammer and the ancvil. He was the husband of Aphrodite.

Hera - Ἥρᾱ: The "mother" of gods and wife of Zeus, she is considered the goddess of women, marriage, family, and childbirth. She was really jealous of the lovers of Zeus and is known for being vindictive on them. She is commonly represented by a pomegranate or a peacock feather.

Hermes - Ἑρμῆς: The messenger of gods, he is considered the god of trade, manufacturing and sports.He was the son of Zeus and Maia. He is also known from several myths as a trickster.

Poseidon - Ποσειδῶν: Brother of Zeus, he was the god of the seas and waters and earthquakes. He was also the protector of seafarers and was the protector god of many ancient greek cities.

Zeus - Ζεύς: The king of Gods, god of the sky and the thunder, he had his throne on mount Olympus with the rest of the twelve gods. He is often symbolised on coins by an eagle, a thunder or even a bull and his portrait adornes several coins.

Minor gods, nymphs and satyrs

Acheloos - Ἀχελῷος: The god of all waters and rivers in the world.

Arsinoe - Ἀρσινόη: Nurse of young Dionysos and one of the Nysiades.

Askleipios - Ἀσκληπιός: A hero and the god of medicine and was worshiped in the "askleipieia" which were temples of healing dedicated to the god of medicine.

Attis - Ἄττις: The companion of the Prhygian and greek godess Cybele. He was worshiped in Prhygia mainly as a god of vegetation.

Bacchus - Βάκχος: See Dionysos.

Ennodia - Ἐννοδία: A greek goddess that is usually identified by either Artemis, Hecate or Persephone.

Epione - Ἠπιόνη: The goddess of soothing pain.

Eros - Ἔρως: God of sensual love and desire. He is the son of Aphrodite and is usually depicted with the godess.

Erymanthos - Ἑρύμανθος: A river god that gave his name to a river at Psophis

Gelas - Γέλας: River god of the river Gela in Sicily, which the city Gela has taken its name from.

Helle - Ἕλλη: She has given her name to the strait of Hellespont or the modern Dardanelles, in a myth that describes that she fell off the golden ram and drowned in the strait.

Helios - Ἥλιος: The personification of the sun as a god. He was worshiped on the island of Rhodes, thus he is depicted on its coinage.

Histaia - Ἱστίαια: A nymph that gave her name to the Euboian city Histiaia.

Iris - Ἶρις: She is the personification and goddess of the rainbow and the messenger of the gods

Kore - Κόρη: Also known as Persephone, she is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter and is married to the god of the underworld, Hades. As she is supposed to spend six months in the underworld and six months with her mother on earth, se is the personification of the change of seasons from winter to summer and the cycle of vegetation, were plants are shooting in the spring and are dying in the autumn.

Lamia - Λάμια: Was a woman who became a child-eating monster after her children were destroyed by Hera

Nike - Νίκη: A goddess that personifies victory.

Pan - Πάν: The god of the shepherds and flocks, nature of mountain wilds, rustic music and companion of the nymphs. He is formed as a man with the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat.

Silenus (Silenos) - Σειληνός: A satyr renowned for being drunk. He was a turor of the god of wine drinking Dionysus and was pictures as as a huge bellied man with horses ears and horses tail.

Trikke - Τρίκκη: A nymph that gave her name to the city of Trikke, now Trikala.

Triptolemos - Τριπτολεμος: He is a demi-god who presided over the sowing of grain-seed and the milling of wheat in the Eleusinian mysteries.

Tyche - Τύχη: The goddess who governed the fortune and prosperity of a city, its destiny. She was the daughter of Aphrodite and Zeus or Hermes.

Heroes of the greek world

Arkas - Ἀρκάς: A hero hunter that became the king of Arcadia. His parents were Kallisto and Zeus.

Amazones - Ἀμαζόνες: A tribe of women warriors that was considered brutal and aggressive. They are seen taking part in the Trojan war.

Bellorophon - Βελλεροφῶν: He was one of the greatest heroes before Herakles and was a slayer of monsters, such as Chimera.

Diomedes - Διομήδης: A hero and the king of Argos, that participated in the Trojan war.

Europa - Εὐρώπη: With a Phoenician high lineage, she was the mother of Minos of Crete and was abducted by Zeus, after he turned himself into a bull.

Hercules (Herakles) - Ἡρακλῆς: One of the most recognised hero of the ancient greek world, son of Amphitryon (or Zeus according to the myths) and Alkemene. His life started by strangling the snakes Hera sent to kill him, while still in his crib. Hercules was mostly known though for his 12 hard and gruelling labours he had to go through, in order to get free from his cousin Eurystheus.

Kallisto - Καλλιστώ: The daughter of King Lycaon that was seduced by Zeus and mother of the hero Arkas. Hera, in her anger for the seduction, turned her into a bear and then turned into the constellation of Ursa Major.

Kepheos - Κηφεύς: One of the argonauts and later the king of Tegea in Arkadia.

Perseus - Περσεύς: The greatest hero and slayer of monsters before Herakles. He beheaded Gorgon Medusa and saved Andromeda from the sea monster Keto.

Mythological creatures

Chimera - Χίμαιρα: A monster that breathed fire with the body of a lion, a snake for a tail and the head of a goat sprouting from its back. It was killed by the hero Bellorophon.

Griffin - Γρύπων: A creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. A symbol of great power, Griffins were known for guarding treasure and priceless possessions.

Gryphon - Γρύφων: A mythological creature with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion, the head and wings of an eagle and an eagle's talons as its front feet.

Gorgon - Γοργών/Γοργώ: Three sisters that had the hair of snakes and turned those who looked at them to stone. It is depicted usually as the form of a Gorgoneion, a protective amulet or pendant, which is a symbol of divine birth.

Harpy - Aρπυια: It was a half-human and half-bird personification of storm winds.

Hydra - Ὕδρα: A serpentine water monster that was killed by Herakles.

Keto (Ceto) - Κητώ: Keto is a sea godess in ancient greek mythology representing the dangers of the open sea, more specifically of sea monsters, hvales and large sharks. She was the daughter of Pontos(Sea) and Gaia(Earth). She is the mother of the Gorgons, that are a usual depiction on greek archaic coinage.

Minotaur - Μῑνώταυρος: A mythological creature with the head and tail of a bull and the body of a man. He lived in the Labirynth of Minos and was killed by Theseas.

Pegasus - Πήγασος: A winged horse that was born from the severed head of Medusa. It helped the hero Bellorophon in his quest to kill the Chimera.

Spinx - Σφίγξ: A winged lion with the head of a woman. It is usually associated with egyptian influenced cities of the greek world.

Objects depicted on coins

Amphora - ἀμφορεύς: A vessel with a distinct oblong shape that was used for storing both liquid and dried products. Found mainly containing wine or olive oil.

Amphyx - Ἄμπυξ: A headband, often made of metal

Ankh: The egyptian symbol of life common in cypriot coinage.

Aphlaston - Άφλαστον: The upward curving stern of an ancient warship

Astragalos - Aστράγαλος: Knuckle-bones used to forsee the future.

Bukranion - Bουκράνιον: Skull of a bull

Caduceus- κηρύκειον: The staff carried by Hermes. it is entwined by two snakes that face each other.

Chelys - χέλυς: Stringed musical instrument.

Cornucopia: Horn of plenty and a symbol of abundance and nourishment.

Chlamys - χλαμύς: A cloak used in ancient Greece.

Kantharos - κάνθαρος: A type of ancient cup that was used for drinking wine. It has usually two high handles, one on each side and was usually painted with different pattern according to it area of origin.

Kerykeion - : See Caduceus.

Kilyx - Κήλυξ: Ceremonial pottery bowl.

Kithara - Kιθάρα: A stringed musical instrument, resembling a lyre or a guitar.

Omphalos - ὀμφαλός: Translated as navel, it is the symbol of Delphi´s position as the centre of the world

Petasos - πέτασος: Sun hat of Thessalian origin. Usually worn by farmers or travellers.

Polos - πόλος: Cylindrical crowns

Sakkos - σάκκος: A soft woven cap with a loosely piece of material hanging from the center. It often covered all the hair.

Sphendone - Σφενδόνη: Similar to a Sakkos, but smaller in size.

Tainia - ταινία: A traditional headband that was worn at festivals.

Thyrsos - θύρσος: A staff of giant fennel covered with ivy vines and leaves.

Other definitions

Hoplite - ὁπλίτης: Citizen-soldiers of the ancient greek city-states that bore a spear and round shield.

Piloi of the Dioskouroi - Πήλοι Διόσκουρων: Piloi are the pointed caps the two borthers, the Dioskouroi are depicted wearing. Dioskouroi were the hero brothers, Kastor and Polideukes, which were sons of Zeus. They were worshipped as saviours and protectors of travellers

The Palladion - Παλλάδιο: A statue of Athena Pallas. It was believed that the city that had this statue in its possession was protected by the godess Athena.

Triskelion - τρισκέλιον: A pattern consisting of a triple spiral, representing a symmetry. On coins it is usually a spiral of three bent legs.


  1. Sear, David. "Greek coins and their values, Volume 1: Europe." London, England (1978).
  2. Sear, David. "Greek Coins and Their Values (Volume II Asia and Africa)." London, England (1978).
  3. Metcalf, William E., ed. The Oxford handbook of Greek and Roman coinage. Oxford University Press, 2016.
  4. Westlake, H. D., and S. Hornblower. "The Greek World 479-323 BC." (1985).
  5. Ancient History Encyclopedia,
  6. Encyclopedia Britannica, ©2018 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.