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Panhellenic Sanctuaries and Monetary Reform: The Spread of the Reduced Aiginetan Standard Reconsidered

Ruben Post

University of Pennsylvania

One of the most important monetary systems of Classical Greece was so-called Aiginetan standard silver coinage, struck by numerous states, especially in central and southern Greece, on a unique weight system. By the early 2nd c. BC, however, in the same regions in which Aiginetan coinage had predominated we find in use almost exclusively silver denominations that are similar in type but about 20% lighter. This paper addresses the role of Panhellenic sanctuaries, in particular Olympia and Epidauros, in the transition from full-weight Aiginetan coinage to this new reduced-weight standard, referred to as the reduced Aiginetan standard. While the topic of the nature and spread of the reduced Aiginetan standard has been addressed in scholarship, no work has systematically analyzed this monetary change in order to understand how or why it occurred.

In my paper I first carry out a metrological analysis of the silver coinages of central and southern Greece in the 3rd c. BC, concluding that the earliest mints to produce reduced Aiginetan coinage were those of Elis and Epidauros around 250 BC. These cities also happened to control some of the most prominent sanctuaries in the Greek world (the sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia and that of Asklepios at Epidauros, respectively), which attracted visitors from all over the Greek world. Like all such large Greek religious centres, Olympia and Epidauros were major foci of economic activity for pilgrims and merchants travelling from far and wide. As such, these Panhellenic sanctuaries could exert considerable monetary influence beyond their bounds, a fact demonstrated clearly by two pieces of epigraphical evidence from Delphi. Firstly, a dossier relating to the introduction of so-called Amphiktionic coinage in 337/6-336/5 BC shows a deliberate effort to modify the older Aiginetan weight standard that ultimately proved short lived. Secondly, an inscription of the late 2nd c. BC relates that the Delphic Amphiktiony attempted to fix exchange rates between different monetary standards throughout Greece. Both of these episodes illustrate attempts by a Panhellenic sanctuary to utilize its authority to manipulate the values of currencies across the Greek world.

I argue that, in light of this evidence, Elis and Epidauros recognized c. 250 BC the profit that could be gained from forcing visitors to exchange their heavier foreign currency for lighter local coinage at a 1:1 exchange rate. In the decades that followed, the Achaian and Boiotian Leagues themselves adopted this new standard, making it by c. 200 BC one of the most important currency systems in the Aegean. Thus, these sanctuaries were on the cutting edge of numismatic developments, and were likely looked to by neighbouring states when deciding their own numismatic policy. Epidaurian and Elean coins are rarely found far from Elis or Epidauros, however, indicating that such mechanisms of monetary influence might not necessarily be noticeable in circulation patterns. This study highlights the importance of studying metrology in addition to circulation patterns in order to understand the interplay between different currency systems in relation to nodes of economic activity like major sanctuaries.

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Coins and Trade

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