OLYMPIC Coins

The coinage for the games served several purposes.

No foreign money was accepted in Elis during the games, and the mandatory exchange offered means of funding the games and for the upkeep of the sanctuary at Olympia.

The most talented artists were commissioned to engrave the dies for these coins, showing off the artistry of Greece and resulting in the beautiful coins being treated as prestigious objects. While their primary use was for normal commerce during the games (paying for food, lodging, and entry to see the spectacles), they became popular souvenirs for visitors who wanted to bring a part of the games home with them.

These coins celebrated the god Zeus and his wife Hera,

The Olympic coinage is represented by a small range of imagery, focusing heavily on Zeus and his eagle, sometimes featuring snakes, thunderbolts, Ionic column capitals, or Nike, representing victory at the games.

Zeus’ portrait was used on some coins, modeled after the Statue of Zeus, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was also sufficient to use just an eagle or thunderbolt to refer to the god, as Zeus’ symbols were well known. Hera, one of the Twelve Olympians, ruling over Mount Olympus as queen of the gods. Wearing stephaneornamented inscribed FΑΛΕΙΩΝ ( ‘of the people of Elis and with palmettes and tendrils or sometimes shown as wearing triple-pendant earring and necklace.

Eagles have always been a symbol for power

Force, and guardianship because of their size, strong claws, and penetrating eyes. They were considered the kings of the air and certainly a fitting animal for Zeus, who presided over the sky and thunder. The reverse depicts a thunderbolt, in the usual stylized Greek fashion.

A thunderbolt is a symbolic representation of Zeus 'Sky Father'

According to legend, the altar of Zeus stood on a spot struck by a thunderbolt, which had been hurled by the god from his throne high atop Mount Olympus, where the gods assembled. Some coins from Elis had a thunderbolt design on the reverse, in honor of this legend.

The olive wreath

Also known as kotinos, was the prize for the winner at the ancient Olympic Games. It was a branch of the wild olive tree that grew at Olympia. The branches of the sacred wild-olive tree near the temple of Zeus were cut by a “paisamfithalis” (a boy whose parents were both alive) with a pair of golden scissors. Then he took them to the temple of Hera and placed them on a gold-ivory table. From there, the Hellanodikai(the judges of the Olympic Games) would take them, make the wreaths and crown the winners of the Games.

The countermark or banker’s mark

A countermark is a impression adding elements of design to a coin after it was originally struck.

Only the latest coins were allowed as legal tender in Olympia. Old coins could only remain in circulation when they had been revaluated, which was indicated with the countermark.

Periodically, mints would need to re-tariff existing coins, or accept foreign currency as official or emergency issues. This was accomplished through the application of countermarks. Countermarks could be either letters, combinations of letters, monograms, or images of various sorts, punched into the obverse or reverse. Other marks found on coins are banker’s marks. Banker’s marks first appear on some of the earliest electrum coins.

They are usually tiny incuse punch marks of varying type, usually a simple symbol such as a crescent, serving as assayer’s marks. It is sometimes difficult, or impossible, to discern whether a particular mark is a countermark or banker’s mark.

A scattering of countermarks present on the obverse, most of them in the field and so not marring the eagle.

Exceptional centering, a nice example with lovely details in the eagle’s eye and feathers.