Owl Derivations


The Owl type was imitated not only outside the ancient Greek world but also within it. Because of the popularity of these coins, many cities and rulers copied the obverse or reverse or both of the famous design while using their own legends. Though it's not always clear if the intention was to copy or to base the design on a similar concept, I'm calling these "derivations."

Included here, undoubtedly among others, are certain coin types of Aigai, Aigeira, Akanthos, Amastris, Amisos, Arkesine, Azetion, Gortyna, Halikarnassos, Herakleia ad Latmon, Ilion, Kalate, Kamarina, Kherei, Klazomenai, Komana, Kydonia, Kyzikos, Lebedos, Magnesia, Menander, Myrina, Mytilene, Naulokos, Neonteichos, Orthe, Patara, Pergamon, Pharsalos, Priene, Priansos, Sigeion, Sinope, Soloi, Taras/Tarentum, Tauremenion, Teate, Tegea, Thourioi, Thyrrheion, and Velia.

What follows is a sample of ancient Greek coin types that closely follow both the obverse and reverse designs of Athenian Owls. On the obverse Athena's head is depicted facing right and wearing an Attic helmet. Other coins depict Athena in other poses or wearing a Corinthian helmet, which is distinguished in part by visible slits for the eyes. On the reverse of ancient Greek coins closely copying Owls, the owl is standing with closed wings, its body positioned to the right and its head facing forward. Many other coins depict an owl in other poses. The coins below are from regions both east and west of the Greek mainland, illustrating the extent of Athenian influence.


Tarentum drachm (3.13g), Tarentum/Taras, Calabria, Magna Graecia (Italy), c. 302- 281 BC, Sear 367v., SNG ANS 1303, Vlasto 1047-1052, Historia Numorum Italy 975.

This silver coin depicts on the obverse the head Athena in an Attic helmet, like Athenian Owls. But instead of a laurel wreath the helmet is ornamented with an image of Skylla/Scylla, the female sea monster of Greek mythology who devours sailors, with Skylla throwing a rock. On the reverse is an owl with its body turned right and facing forward. But it's standing on an olive branch that continues into the right field. The legend in the left field is TAR, an abbreviation for "Of the Tarentines." On this variety the letters ZOP, the magistrate's initials, appear in the upper right field, but it's off the flan on this specimen. Other varieties of Tarentum drachms of this type include those depicting Athena facing left, an owl with open wings, an owl standing on an anchor, snake, thunderbolt, or bucranium, TAR spelled out or the magistrate's name spelled out, and other mint marks in the right field instead of an olive branch.

Though this coin of Tarentum copies Athens' famous coins, Tarentum was a colony of Sparta and supported the Peloponnesian side against Athens in the Peloponnesian War of a century earlier. This coin was issued during the time that Rome was beginning to assert its power in southern Italy. The two cities repeatedly waged war, which Rome would eventually win despite the aid Tarentum received from Pyrrhus of Epirus, with Rome conquering Tarentum in 272 BC, not long after this coin was minted.


Pergamon bronze (AE-18), Pergamon, Mysia, Western Asia Minor (Turkey), c. 200-133 BC, Sear 3964, SNG Turkey 4 231v. (has a control mark on field), SNG BMC 15 p. 132 no. 187-188, SNG Cop. -, SNG Delepierre -, Voegtli FvP -.

Athena on this coin wears an Attic helmet adorned with a star, and the owl on the reverse is perched on a large thunderbolt symbol, an attribute of Zeus. The reverse legend is AQH-NAS/NIKHFOROU for "Athena Nikephoros" or "Of Athena, bearer of Nike (victory)."

This is a scarce variety. Much more commonly seen Pergamon bronzes feature on the reverse an owl with open wings perched on a palm branch (Sear 3962-63). A smaller denomination, also more common than the above variety, features an owl with closed wings and a wreath around the reverse edge (Sear 3965).

Athena was considered the guardian of Pergamon. Pergamon at the time this coin was minted was the center of an independent kingdom ruled by the Attalid dynasty founded by Philetairos c. 281 BC and was one of the great cultural centers of the Greek world. During Hellenistic times the Attalids were allies of Rome, supporting it in against Philip V of Macedon during the First and Second Macedonian Wars and against Perseus of Macedon during the Third Macedonian War. Yet they were very much still Greeks, remodeling the Acropolis of Pergamon after the Acropolis in Athens. When the last Attalid king, Attalus III, died without an heir in 133 BC, he bequeathed the lands ruled by Pergamon to Rome to prevent a civil war.


Sigeion bronze (AE-12), Sigeion, Troas, Western Asia Minor (Turkey), c. 350 BC, Sear 4145, SNG Cop. 498.

The reverse legend on this coin reads SIGE, an abbreviation for "Of the Sigeionians." A more commonly variety of this coin, usually larger, has Athena not facing right but mostly forward with her head turned slightly right. Another variety has not one owl standing right but two owls conjoined. Yet another variety has a crescent on the reverse.

Sigeion was an Athenian colony. The city built a temple to Athena, and in the fifth century BC it was a member of the Delian League, an association of Greek city-states led by Athens to oppose the Persian Empire.


Neonteichos bronze (AE-10), Neonteichos, Aeolis, Western Asia Minor (Turkey), 2nd century BC, Sear 4223, SNG Cop. 244-245, SNG von Aulock 1669-1670, SNG München 598-600, Klein 341-342, BMC Troas 1.

Athena's helmet is unadorned on this coin, and the owl is standing on an NE monogram, for Neonteichos, though on this specimen encrustation has obstructed the E. A larger c. AE-17 denomination also exists (Sear 4222).

The Aeolians were among the first Greek colonists in Asia Minor, pushed there from Greece by the invading Dorians c. 1100 BC. In the eighth century BC, 12 cities in Aeolia, including Neontheichos, formed the Aeolian League.


Other glomworthy coins:

Oldest Coins

 Athenian Owls

Alexander the Great Coins

Medusa Coins

Thracian Tetradrachms

House of Constantine

Draped Bust Coins

Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles

Coin sites:
Coin Collecting: Consumer Protection Guide
Glomming: Coin Connoisseurship
Bogos: Counterfeit Coins

© 2014 Reid Goldsborough

Note: Any of the items illustrated on these pages that are in my possession are stored off site.