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Saturday, 8 November 2014

157) Coinage of Greece: (Part IV) Modern Greek coins: i) Drachmas and leptas: ii) Commemorative Coins issued by the Bank of Greece:

157) Coinage of Greece: (Part IV) Modern Greek coins:

i) Drachmas and leptas: ii) Commemorative Coins issued by the Bank of Greece:

The Drachma was the national currency of Greece since 1833. It continued to be the national currency of Greece till 2001. On 28.01.2002, Drachma Banknotes and coins ceased to be legal tender, when they were replaced by Euro Banknotes and Euro coins. The last Drachma coins could be exchanged for the Euro before 01.03.2004 at the Bank of Greece branches as well as from the tax authorities.

Three modern Greek Drachma based currencies have been introduced in recent times - the first being circulated in 1832 and the last being replaced by the euro in 2001 at an exchange rate of 340.750 drachma to a Euro.

Historical Development of Greek Drachma coinage:

In 1821, a revolt triggered off the Nationalist movement against Turkish Rule which culminated in the creation of a Greek State by 1827.

The First Kingdom formed under the newly independent state revived the ancient coinage system of the Drachma consisting of 100 lepta.

In 1828, copper 1 and 5 lepta coins were minted depicting a cross across a phoenix, symbolising the rebirth of the country. Aptly, these coins were minted on the island of Aegina, where the temporary capital of the newly-founded state was established and where the first coinage system was introduced more than 2500 years ago. This symbolic coinage lasted only five years, when it was replaced by the traditional Drachma.

In 1833, Greece’s sovereignty was recognised by European nations and Prince Otto of Bavaria was chosen as its King. In the same year, other coins were minted with silver coins depicting King Otto I. This first coinage consisted of 1, 2, 5 and 10 lepta (all copper) and ¼, ½, 1 and 5 Drachmae (all silver) and a 20 Drachmae coin (gold).

In 1862, Otto was replaced by George I, son of King Christian of Denmark.

During King George I’s reign from 1862 to 1913, smaller coins including holed 5, 10 and 20 lepta were introduced including reviving the owl and other motifs associated with the goddess Athena from ancient coin images. The Drachma coins of George I were made as identical as possible in size and composition as the Ancient Greek coinage minted to the Attic Standard of Athens.(detailed in Part I of this Series – link given at the end of this Post).

In 1868, Greece joined the Latin Monetary Union and the Drachma became equal in weight and value to the French Franc. The new coinage consisted of 1, 2, 5 and 10 lepta coins (all copper), 20 and 50 lepta (both silver), 1, 2, 5, Drachmae (all silver) and 5, 10 and 20 Drachmae (all gold). A very small quantity of 50 and 100 Drachmae coins (both gold) were also issued The 5 lepta coins bore the name “obolos” and the 10 lepta coins bore the name “diobolon” (meaning “Two Obols”).

In 1894, 5, 10 and 20 lepta coins were minted in cupro-nickel, (the 1 and 2 lepta denominations were not minted after 1878 owing to inflationary pressures).

Thereafter, very few coins portraying the reigning monarch were issued until the overthrow of King Constantine I in 1922.

In 1924, George II the later King was overthrown by Eleftherios Venizelos leading to the creation of  the First Republic of Greece.

During this time, Greece replaced the royal symbolism with symbols of Ancient Greece on its coins for inspiration by adopting the helmeted Athena taken from ancient Athenian coins for the 1926 coin Series in the denominations from 20 and 50 lepta and 1 and 2 Drachmae (all in copper), 5 Drachmae (nickel), 10 and 20 Drachmae (silver).

In 1930, a nickel 5 Drachma coin showing the phoenix, was circulated. The 10 and 20 Drachmae coins were both minted in silver.

Interestingly, the 20 Drachma coin was a successful reproduction of the Macedonian Tetradrachm issued by King Antigonos Doson (227-221 BC) while, the 10 Drachma was a successful reproduction of the head of Demeter, the goddess of prosperity/agriculture, originating from a rare Stater of the Amphictyony of Delphi (336-334 BC) and the ear of wheat from a Stater . Also, an image of Poseidon, the God of the Oceans/Seas was depicted together with the prow of a galley in some of the coins.

Both the 10 and 20 Drachma coins were minted by the Royal Mint, UK and in Brussels, the distinguishing feature being the number of berries on the reverse.

 The only exception to this Series was the 5 Drachma coin which resembled Kapodistrias’ coins instead of Ancient Greek drachmas/Staters.

These new coins scrapped the royal insignia and remained in circulation even after the restoration of the monarchy in 1935.

The second monarchy:

In 1935, discontent with the Republic led to a plebiscite on 03.11.1935 which led to George II being restored to the monarchy.

In 1940, his return was celebrated with the issue of gold and silver 20 and 100 Drachma coins portraying the King together with the date of his ascension.

In 1941, during World War II, Germany occupied Greece and George II went into exile, returning for a third time in 1946. The Republican coins however stayed in general circulation together with the commemorative coins as no new coins were issued until 1954 owing to inflationary pressures.

In 1947, Paul succeeded George II to the throne.

In 1954, a new Series of Coins was issued by removing the last three zeros from the Drachma denominations (as a result 1 new Drachma now equalled 1000 old Drachmas). These were the first Greek coins minted in Paris after World War II and were in the denominations of 50 lepta, 1, 2 and 5 Drachma all bearing the portrait of King Paul. In the same year, 5, 10 and 20 lepta coins were minted in Berne.

In 1960, a 20 Drachma silver coin which bore an image of the moon goddess Selene was minted in the Royal Mint, UK.

In 1963, a silver 30 drachma circulating commemorative coin was minted in Paris to commemorate the Centenary of the Greek Royal Dynasty. It depicted the portraits of the five kings since 1863 in a circle and is interesting, in the sense, that it shows the portrait of King Alexander (1917-1920) for the first time on a coin.

Between 1954 to 1965 these coins circulated even though in 1964, King Constantine II ascended the throne.

 In 1964, during King Constantine II’s reign, the same type of coins as those of his predecessor were minted i.e. bearing the King’s portrait on one face and the Royal Coat of Arms on the other face.

A commemorative 30 Drachma silver coin was minted in the same year,  showing on the occasion of the wedding of King Constantine II to Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark. This was the first time that a queen’s portrait was depicted on a coin. The circulating series however bore Greece’s Coat of Arms and portrait of the King.

The Second Republic:

In 1967, a military junta seized power which deposed the King and abolished the monarchy in 1973. Strangely, however, new coins were circulated in 1971, bearing the King’s effigy on the obverse and the phoenix emblem on the reverse.

In 1973, a new Series of coins was minted, which was put into circulation in 1975. These coins were circulated in the denominations of 10, 20 lepta (both Aluminium), 50 lepta, 1 and 2 Drachma (all Bronze) and 5, 10 and 20 Drachma (all Cupronickel). The obverse on these coins depicts the Coat of Arms of Greece carried in the 1967 coins and on the reverse they carry varied designs - with the figure of a Phoenix and motifs taken from ancient coins, including a decorative palmette, the owl (symbol of the Goddess Athena), head of Athena of Piraeus and the mythical winged horse Pegasus. The 20 Drachma coin depicted the moon Goddess Selene on horseback riding on the Sea.

The 1 and 2 Drachma coins bore the portraits of Konstantinos Kanaris and George Karaiskakis inspired by the War of Independence on the obverse and symbolic motifs of that period on the reverse. The images of Democritus, Pericles, Solon and Homer appeared on the higher denominations on the obverse and pictorial images on the reverse.

In 1976, a new series of coins was again issued which included denominations of 10 lepta coins (raging bull originating from Thourii coins – an ancient Greek colony in Southern Italy), 20 lepta coins (Bust of a horse), 50 lepta coins (Marcos Botsaris), 1 Drachma coins (Konstantinos Kanaris), 5 Drachma coins (Aristotle), 10 Drachma coins (Demokritos) and 20 Drachma coins (Pericles).

The mintmark of the Central Bank of Greece, a “palmette” appeared for the first time in the 1976 Series and has been carried in Greek coins thereafter.
 In 1980, a 50 Drachma was minted depicting the head of Solon.

In 1986, a 50 Drachma coin was minted, depicting the head of Homer on the front and an ancient Greek ship, the Trireme, on the back. This coin won the first prize as the best coin in the world in an international contest held in the USA in 1988.

Also, in 1986, new 1 and 2 Drachma coins (both copper) depicting Bouboulina and Manto Mavrogenous, respectively were issued.

In 1990, a 100 Drachma coin was issued for the first time depicting the head of Alexander the Great on the obverse and the star of Vergina on the Reverse. In the same year, the 20 Drachma coin showing the head of Pericles was replaced by a smaller one depicting the head of Dionysios Solomos.

Thereafter, the Coin Series minted in 1976 and 1990 changed the year of issue every two years until 2000 which was the last year of Drachma coin issues.
 On the obverse of the 1 Drachma coins, the portrait of Laskarina Bouboulina, one of the heroines of the Greek War of Independence (1821-1830) is shown.
 On the reverse of the 1 Drachma coins is shown a vessel of 1821, “Corvette”. (A Corvette is a brig-rigged ship having one tier of guns, usually a small naval escort ship).Notice the "palmette" mint mark of the Bank of Greece engraved in the numeral "1" on the bottom of the coin.

The specifications of this coin are:

Diameter: 18.0 mm; Thickness: 1.30 mm; Weight: 2.75 gms.; Metal Composition: Copper-99.9%; Phosphorus:0.02%; Edge: plain.

Laskarina Bouboulina: When her husband D. Bouboulis was killed during a battle with Algerian pirate ships in 1811, she took over his trading operations and began preparations for the Greek War of Independence. She became a member of “Filiki Etaireia” a secret organisation which was preparing for the War of Independence all over Europe. She dominated the Greek naval operations during the War of Independence and owned a fleet of four warships, with her Flagship named the “Agamemnon” after the legendary King of Greek mythology who led the Spartan Allies against Troy described by Homer in his epic – The Iliad. Her fleet took part in many naval battles and dominated the Aegean, inflicting severe damage upon the far superior Turkish fleet.
 On the obverse of the 2 Drachma coins, the portrait of Manto Mavrogenous, one of the heroines of the Greek War of Independence (1821-1830) is shown.

On the reverse of the 2 drachma coins is shown the maritime symbol of 1821.

The specifications of this coin are:

Diameter: 21.0 mm; Thickness: 1.48 mm; Weight: 3.75 gms.; Metal Composition: Copper-99.9%; Phosphorus:0.02%; Edge: plain.
 On the obverse of the 5 Drachma coins, the portrait of Aristotle (384 BC – 332 BC) is shown.
 On the reverse of the 5 Drachma coins  is mentioned the “Hellenic Republic”.

The specifications of this coin are:

Diameter: 22.5 mm; Thickness: 1.85 mm; Weight: 5.5 gms.; Metal Composition: Copper-75%; Nickel: 25%; Edge: plain; Engraver: Th Papagiannis.

Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC): He was a Greek Philosopher and scientist, who shares the distinction of being one of the most famous of the ancient philosophers with Plato and Socrates. Born at Stagira in Macedonia at the age of 17 he went to Athens to study at Plato’s Academy.         He remained there for about 20 years, first as a student and then as a teacher, before moving to Pella, the Macedonian capital, where he became a tutor to the King’s young son Alexander, who is known as Alexander the Great.      

The best example of the way in which modern Greece identifies with its ancient past is seen in the 10 Drachma coins issued since 1976.
  On the obverse of the 10 Drachma coins, the portrait of the philosopher Democritus (460-370 BC) who devised the atomic system is shown and a symbolic representation of the atom is shown on the reverse. On the upper periphery the inscription “EAAHNIKH ^HMOKPATIA” is mentioned meaning “Hellenic Republic”.
 The specifications of this coin are:

Diameter: 26 mm; Thickness: 1.95 mm; Weight: 7.5 gms.; Metal Composition: Copper-75%; Nickel: 25%; Edge: plain; Engravers: Th Papagiannis, L. Orfanos.

Democritus (460-370 BC): was a Greek philosopher, who developed the atomic theory of the Universe which had been originated by his mentor, the philosopher Leucippus. Democritus wrote extensively on his concepts/researches, but very little of his original works remain. According to his exposition of the atomic theory of matter, all things are composed of minute, invisible, indestructible particles of pure matter (atoma – meaning “indivisibles”) which move about eternally in infinite empty space (kenon – meaning “the void”).

 Democritus once said “The wise man belongs to all countries, for the home of a great soul is the whole world”.
 On the obverse of the 20 Drachma coins, the portrait of Dionisios Solomos is depicted.
 On the reverse of the 20 Drachma coin is shown an Olive tree Branch. Notice the palmette mintmark of the Bank of Greece just before the letter "E" on the left periphery.

The specifications of this coin are:

Diameter: 24.5 mm; Thickness: 1.80 mm; Weight: 7.00 gms; Metal Composition: Copper: 92%, Aluminium: 6%, Nickel: 2%. Edge: milled.

Dionisios Solomos: He encouraged Greece which was emerging from Turkish rule and his wrote the Hymn to Liberty which became the National anthem of Greece. In the late 19th century, Greek scholars & writers were involved in systematization of their vernacular language called “Demotike” for the purposes of education and communication, in a widespread movement called “Demotikists”, of which Solomos was a leading personality. 
 On the obverse of the 50 Drachma coins, the portrait of Homer is shown.

On the reverse of the 50 Drachma coins, is shown an ancient Greek vessel, the Trireme .

The specifications of this coin are:

Diameter: 27.5 mm; Thickness: 2.25 mm; Weight: 9.00 gms; Metal Composition: Copper: 92%, Aluminium: 6%, Nickel: 2%. Edge: milled.

Homer: Homer was the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, the two major epics of Greek Antiquity. It is believed that his poems were composed in the Greek settlements on the west coast of Asia Minor around the 8th century BC.
 The Trireme: The early civilisations of the Mediterranean settled their disputes at sea by means of long, fast graceful wooden ships called the galleys which were moved by scores of rowers and carried marines and a ship-sinking weapon “the ram” (a menacing, metal tipped extension of the keel). The first galleys had single banks of oars, but the navies of Egypt, Greece and Phoenicia progressed to two-banked galleys and later the three-banked trireme, which was dubbed the first Battleship – fast moving with an awesome striking power and manoeuvrability. The largest Greek trireme like this one was 125 feet long, 20 feet wide and carried 170 oarsmen, 30 sailors, 14 spear bearers and four archers in addition to the intimidating “ram”.  At the naval battle of Salamis (380 BC), where both sides used Triremes, a small Greek fleet routed a Persian fleet of about 800 ships as they entered the narrow confines of a bay near Athens, with the Greeks taking advantage of a favourable wind, ramming several Persian ships leading to the Persian rear ranks piling into their retreating advance. The Greek triremes moved back, after attacking the Persian ships, with such efficiency that the Persians could not take advantage of their numerical superiority.
 On the obverse of the 100 Drachma coins, the portrait of  Alexander the Great  is depicted. This coin portrayed Alexander as King of the Macedonians.
 On the reverse of the 100 Drachma coins is shown a “Virginia Palmette”. On the upper periphery the inscription “EAAHNIKH ^HMOKPATIA” is mentioned meaning “Hellenic Republic”. Also, notice the “palmette” mint mark of the Bank of Greece mentioned before the year of issue “1992) on this coin.

The specifications of this coin are:

Diameter: 29.5 mm; Thickness: 2.22 mm; Weight: 10.00 gms; Metal Composition: Copper: 92%, Aluminium: 6%, Nickel: 2%. Edge: Smooth & milled. Engraver: V. Sampatakos.

Alexander  III (Alexander the Great (356-323 BC): He was the King of Macedonia (Greece), conqueror of the Persian Empire and a skilful military strategist. He was the son of Philip II, King of Macedonia. Aristotle was his tutor who trained Alexander in rhetoric, philosophy, medicine, science and literature.

Commemorative Drachma Coins:

From 1975 onwards, several commemorative coins have been issued from 50 Drachma to 1000 Drachma (silver) and 2500 to 20000 Drachma (gold). These coins have portrayed many sporting events from from Pan-European Games in 1981 to Chess Olympiad in 1988.

 In 1994, two 50 drachma coins of the Greek Parliament commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Constitution featuring Dimitrios Kallergis and Ioannis Makrygiannis were issued.

In 1997, a 100 Drachma coin for the 6th IAAF World Championship in Atheletics was issued, while in 1998 two 50 Drachma coins were issued commemorating the Rigas Pheraios year and the Dionysios Solomos year.

In 1999, two 100 Drachma coins were issued commemorating the 45th World Greco-Roman Wrestling Championship and the other commemorating  the 70th Men’s and 13th Women’s World Weightlifting Championships.

In 2000, the Central Bank of Greece issued a prolific series of six 500 Drachma circulation coins showing Athenian landmarks and Olympic sports going back to the Ancient Games to commemorate the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.

The six coin Series included the themes of – the entrance to the stadium in ancient Olympia, the Olympic winner Diagoras, the Olympic winner Spyros Louis, the Olympic Torch Lighting Ceremony, the Olympic Medal and a 500 Drachma coin portraying Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympic Games together with Demetrios Vikelas who organised the first modern Olympics at Athens in 1896.

The common side depicted the logo of the “Athens 2004” Olympics Organising Committee
 The specifications of this and the other five coins in this series are as under:

Diameter: 28.5 mm; Thickness: 1.98 mm; Weight: 9.54 gms; Metal Composition: Copper: 75%, Nickel: 25%. Edge: Smooth; Engraver: Nikiforos Lytras. Nos: 4000000 pieces (each).
 The 500 Drachma Commemorative Coin depicting the entrance to the Stadium at the ancient Olympia venue of the Ancient Olympics Games.

The enchanting setting of ancient Olympia was chosen by the ancient Greeks as the place where the most popular pan-Hellenic Games in Antiquity were held even before 776 BC. One of the most important monuments of Olympia is the crypt, which is a long and narrow vaulted passage through which the athletes and judges entered the stadium.
 The 500 Drachma Commemorative coin depicting the boxer Diagoras of Rhodes (464 BC) being carried by his sons who too were Olympic winners – one in boxing and the other in the panfratium.

After their achievements, the two sons crowned their father’s head with olive branches and carried him on their shoulders on a “family victory lap”. The whole stadium cheered and congratulated them. It is said that someone at the Stadium mentioned to Diagoras that as this was the happiest moment in his life, it would be a fitting finale to his mortal life, if he died at that moment with this happy feeling of accomplishment. Prompted by either this suggestion (or the fact that he may have suffered a heart attack with all the excitement), Diagoras let his head drop and died instantly on the shoulders of his sons.

Diagoras belonged to a noble family and was known as the best example of an athlete in the whole of Greece.
 The 500 Drachma Commemorative Coin depicting Louis Spyros standing between two rows of trees with the tomb of Marathon in the background and the words “Olympic Champion Spyros Louis” (mentioned in Greek).

Louis Spyros (1873-1940): was a Greek shepherd and water-seller who became a national hero in the First modern Olympic games held in Athens in 1896, when he won the marathon (40 km event) in 2 hours 58 minutes and 50 seconds. After this achievement he returned to his village of Maroussi and did not run competitively again.
 The 500 Drachma Commemorative Coin depicting the Olympic Torch Lighting Ceremony held on the site of Ancient Olympia, with the high priestess handing the Olympic Torch to the first runner of the torch relay, which had the symbolic importance which signified the opening of the Olympic Games. The words “Olympic Flame Lighting” also appear on the coin in Greek.

To symbolise the link between the Ancient and Modern Olympic Games, each year officials rekindle the flame from the rays of the sun in Olympia, Greece, the site of the original Olympic Games. A relay of runners then carries the flame to the site of the new Games. The lighting of the Olympic cauldron is one of the most hallowed moments of the Olympic Games.
 The 500 Drachma Commemorative Coin depicting the Commemorative medal of the 1896 Olympics showing the Goddess of victory Nike. On the upper periphery is the inscription “Athens 1986” and on the lower periphery are the words “The Medal” (both inscriptions in Greek).

Nike: is the personification of victory as the goddess was depicted in a Greek statue from around 200 BC. Nike of Samothrace (also known as “Winged Victory”) is one of the most famous Greek sculptures from the Hellenistic period. This statue is now a part of the collection at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. 
 The 500 Drachma Commemorative coin depicting Baron de Pierre Coubertin and Dimitri Vikelas.

Baron de Pierre Coubertin (1863-1937): He was a French educator and thinker, who was the principal organiser of the modern Olympic Games. In the late 1880s, Coubertin was commissioned by the French government to form a universal sports association. After conducting the preliminary work, in 1894, he invited representatives from several countries to Paris where he discussed the modalities for conducting the modern Olympic Games.

Dimitrios Vikelas: He was a permanent resident of Paris at the time the meeting took place in Sorbonne and his proposal to organise the first modern Olympic Games was accepted by the delegates.

It is interesting to note that the Athens Olympic 2004 Drachma Coin Series was issued in 2000 itself, as Greece was in the running to be included to the Euro Monetary Union soon.


  1. Rajpal Heerwani has commented:
    "Very informative, I wish I had this hobby to appreciate to the full the amount of research you put in this rare thing."

    1. Thank you so much for your very encouraging comment. This hobby keeps me busy & informed about the cultures, histories and people of many countries across the World. Also helps me connect with several persons across cultures. The interesting part is that no currency note or coin which comes to me through grocery stores/malls etc. goes back into circulation without a thorough examination. Sometimes, I even forget to pick up the items which I have purchased when I come across an interesting coin/note & have to go back again!

  2. Ramchandra Lalingkar has commented:
    "Beautifully 'minted' colourful coins indeed !!"

    1. Thank you. I got interested in them, when a friend gave me some of these coins to research upon. Till now, the coinage of Greece was simply "Latin & Greek" to me.