The Olive: A Common Theme in Greek Coinage from Ancient Times to the Present

Coins are a major source of knowledge and offer information on many aspects of the state that issues them. They throw light on history, society, religious tradition and even the natural environment.
In ancient times, one of the most common sources of inspiration for coin engravings was the olive tree, probably the most characteristic plant of the Greek landscape, and connected with the natural environment, religion, daily life and artistic creation. The image of the olive tree in the coinage of several cities of the ancient world may be related to the worship of the goddess Athena – as is quite often the case – or the highly developed cultivation of the tree in the wider region of the issuing authority.
The olive tree, besides being a symbol of victory and wisdom, was also a symbol of peace and conciliation. It is the gift that the goddess Athena made to Athens, the city named after her. Athenians honored their patron deity in a multitude of ways, including representing her on their coins. The renowned Athenian tetradrachm, which became, as it were, the international currency of the ancient world, featured an obverse depicting the goddess’ head in an Attic helmet ornamented with olive leaves, while the reverse bore the image of the owl –the goddess’ main symbol – along with that of an olive branch. The olive branch on the reverse, added after 479 B.C. and the end of the Persian Wars signifies the Athenian contribution to the victory against the Persians. 

•Hellenic Folklore  Research Center (Academy Of Athens)ODE TO THE OLIVE TREEISBN: 960-404-054-5

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