Ancient Greek Money & Coins Lesson for Kids

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

Some of the first coins in all of human history come from ancient Greece, where markets depended on coins made of gold, silver, and copper to function. Learn about coins and money in ancient Greece in this lesson.

Payday

Have you ever searched through your couch or beneath car seats to find some change? A few coins don't buy much today; but thousands of years ago, a few coins could make someone truly rich. Before the invention of paper money, precious metals like gold or silver were used to make money, or currency. Some of the earliest coins in human history come from ancient Greece, which influenced the development of coins and money for centuries to come.

Coin from ancient Greek city of Syracuse
Syracuse coin

First Coins

If you had to buy lunch but didn't have any money, what would you do? You'd need to come up with an alternative, or else you'd be hungry! If you have something to trade, you might be in luck. Before coins became popular, the ancient Greeks traded goods one-for-one, such as trading clothing for food. Around three thousand years ago, Greeks traded with metal bars made of gold, silver, copper, or bronze (a combination of copper and tin). These metal bars were called obelos, which would later inspire the name of the Greek obol coin.

2700 years ago, the first true coins appear on the scene in ancient Greece. Historians believe these first coins came from a place called Lydia. Using a metal stamp called a die, both sides of a coin were marked, so that everyone knew where the coin came from and how much it was worth. Think about why that's important: what if your money had no numbers or words on it? You might pay way too much for something, or you might get away with buying a very expensive item for cheap.

The first coins became popular and spread across most of Greece within about 100 years. The base denominations were the obol and the silver drachma (pronounced drack-mah), like dollars and cents in modern American currency. Six obols equaled one drachma. Other coins of different weights represented smaller and larger denominations, such as the tetartemorion (1/4 the value of an obol) up to the decadrachm (ten times the value of one drachma). With the expansion of Greek culture and the conquests of Alexander the Great, Greek coinage spread across the Mediterranean and Middle East.

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