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Federalism and Ancient Greek Coins

Eliza Gettel

Harvard University

This paper examines the potential of coins for teaching about federalism in undergraduate ancient Greek history courses. The koinon, or ‘federal state,’ was a ubiquitous state structure of Greek history, which has received much scholarly attention recently (e.g., Beck and Funke; Mackil). However, despite the ubiquity of Greek federal states, they play a small or nonexistent role in most ancient Greek history courses at the undergraduate level. Much of the scholarship on the koinon is aimed at a specialist audience and requires knowledge of Greek history outside of Athens and Sparta. Coins, however, offer approachable opportunities for introducing students to questions and debates about Greek federalism.

Students, especially in American and European contexts, are used to handling federal coinages in their own life. Therefore, instructors can draw parallels between coins of ancient federal states, especially those of the Achaean League or Arcadian League, and US state quarters or euro coins to introduce the concept of federalism in ancient Greek worlds. For instance, looking at a coin of the Achaean League with a federal monogram as well as symbols related to a member polis (e.g., a dolphin for Patras) prompts students to raise questions about the balance of power between federal institutions and member states. Through such coins, therefore, students can engage in a debate that has concerned scholars of koina without having to know ancient Greek or having detailed knowledge about a specific region of the Greek mainland.

In addition to outlining some of the debates revolving around Greek federalism that coins can raise, the paper will introduce attendees to some concrete strategies and resources for teaching with ancient federal coins. It is not always possible to teach with physical coins, and so this paper will conclude with suggestions for interactive activities that bring these coins into the classroom virtually.

Session/Panel Title

Teaching with Coins: Coins as Tools for Thinking about the Ancient World

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