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Attica, Athens, circa 455-431 BC

Attica, Athens, circa 455-431 BC

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Tetradrachm (Silver, 17.10 g. 26,4 mm) circa 455-431 BC. Helmeted head of Athena right, wearing crested Athenian helmet, necklace and disc earring; bowl decorated with spiral and olive-leaves. Rev. AΘΕ Owl, with closed wings, standing right with head facing; in upper field left, crescent and olive-twig with two leaves and berry; all within incuse square. Starr Group V.B; HGC 4, 1596. Lustrous, minor metal fault on obverse and some deposits, otherwise, Extremely Fine. A coin of the best artistic style of Athens coinage.


In classical times, the owl was the symbol of the city of Athens. A sacred bird of the goddess Athena, patroness of the city, it was an element of the Acropolis and the city of Athens for centuries.

At the entrance to the Acropolis Museum is a one-metre marble statue created at the beginning of the 5th century BC.


Athena, besides being a powerful protector of the city, was the goddess of wisdom and the owl represented the embodiment of her powers. Reflection dominating the darkness.

In ancient Greece, the twelve gods of Olympus each had a sacred animal. It was believed that the attributes of animals overlapped with those of a god and therefore that animal was sacred to that deity. For example, Zeus was associated with the eagle, which symbolised the strength and power of the king of Olympus.

Athena was a virgin and warrior goddess, widely worshipped in the Greek world. The goddess was also the embodiment of strategy, wisdom, war and technical skills. Athena played an important role in Homer's works and is often depicted as the patroness of heroes such as Odysseus.

The sight of an owl was believed to be a sign of favour from Athena. At the naval battle of Salamis in 480 BC, the appearance of owls was seen as a blessing from the goddess. 
Because of their association with the daughter of Zeus, owls had a very high status in Greece. According to the myth, the owl sat on the blind side of the goddess and allowed her to see everything and understand all truth.


At the top of the Acropolis of Athens stands an olive tree. The tree was an important foundation myth for Athens, as it established the primacy of the goddess Athena within the city that would be named after her.

Legend has it that Zeus proposed a contest between Athena and Poseidon for the possession of Athens. Poseidon shattered his trident on the rock of the Acropolis and a salty spring sprang from it. Athena, on the other hand, produced an olive tree with many fruits. This dramatic scene between the two gods was immortalised in stone, in the sculptures of the Parthenon's western pediment.

The Athenians chose Athena's gift and the olive tree has remained a vital element of the Greeks for its qualities ever since. The leaves have been used to crown the heads of victorious kings, generals and athletes, the wood to build houses and boats, the oil to fuel lamps, smeared on the bodies of athletes, added to all dishes and the olives themselves.

But the olive tree on the Acropolis was more important than all the others because of its divine origin. Around 525 BC, a temple was built to Athena Polias ('of the city') with an olive wood statue inside, and an enclosure created for Athena's sacred olive tree. When King Xerxes with his Persian troops invaded Greece and sacked Athens in 480 BC, the buildings of the Acropolis were set on fire and destroyed. Herodotus relates that the olive tree "sprouted on the same day until it reached a height of two cubits" (3 feet). Seeds from the remains of this tree were replanted throughout Attica and in this way all the olive groves surrounding Athens have a touch of the original Athena tree.


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