Ruben Post is a PhD candidate in Ancient History at the University of Pennsylvania. Ruben’s area of interest is the economic and environmental of Hellenistic Greece, with a particular focus on federal states. His dissertation examines the relationship between the exploitation of natural resources, land tenure patterns, federal institutions, and economic networks in the Hellenistic Achaean League.
Following the conquests of Alexander the Great (334–324 BCE), the many civic mints of the Greek world continued to produce silver coinage on several different weight standards. In southern Greece, the principal standard was the so-called Aiginetan (based on a drachm of c. 6 g). In the course of the 3rd c. BCE, however, most of these mints ceased to operate, and city after city joined increasingly powerful federal states, until in the early 2nd c. BCE only three such states—the Aitolian, Boiotian, and Achaian Leagues—came to dominate much of mainland Greece. At this same time, federal coinages unsurprisingly replaced local coinages; these federal issues were struck predominantly on a new standard, referred to commonly as the Reduced Aiginetan (based on a drachm of c. 5 g). My project for the graduate seminar has been to examine how this new standard emerged and why so many states came to adopt it.
While the main outlines of this process have been known for some time, little attention has been focused on the chronology and initial stages of the spread of the Reduced Aiginetan standard. In my research I found that, while much attention has been paid to the adoption of this standard by federal states, it has gone unnoticed that the first evidence we have for its adoption in southern Greece comes from the coinages associated with two famous Peloponnesian sanctuaries: Olympia and Epidauros. These sanctuaries seem to have required all foreigners to use their coinages exclusively, and administrators thus realized that by lowering the weight of silver used to strike their coins they could make a considerable profit through moneychanging. This monetary reform can be dated fairly securely based on hoard evidence to right around 250 BCE in both cases, though it is unclear who was following whom. When we turn to the federal states of Greece, however, our evidence is less clear. The Boiotian League appears to have been the first to adopt this new standard around 250 BCE, though there is ambiguous evidence suggesting that it may have been adopted some decades earlier. In the case of the Aitolian League, it is clear that the new standard was only adopted in the 230s BCE, and the Achaian League does not appear to have issued Reduced Aiginetan coinage until the beginning of the 2nd c. BCE.
Why did these states opt to reduce the weight standard of their coinage? There are two likely factors. The first is that older, well-used Aiginetan coins continued to circulate as legal tender at this time; hoard evidence demonstrates that as a result a significant proportion of small silver coinage circulating in central and southern Greece in the mid-3rd c. BCE weighed c. 2.5 g (the weight of new Reduced Aiginetan hemidrachms). As such, states that derived revenue from circulating coinage were losing out if they struck full-weight issues. The second is that within a couple of decades this standard became the norm for military pay throughout much of Greece. In later 3rd c. BCE inscriptions, this Reduced Aiginetan coinage is referred to as “alliance silver”; it has been plausibly suggested that this name derives from the Hellenic Alliance of 224/3 BCE, a coalition of several federal states including the Achaians and Boiotians. The need to pay troops of different origins serving together thus probably provided the ultimate impulse leading to the widespread adoption of this standard by c. 200 BCE.