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520 to 510 BC

Minting of the first Athenian owls

Athenian coins, bearing the helmeted head of Athena on the obverse and an owl on the reverse, became extremely popular throughout the ancient Greek world. Their success was due in part to quality of the silver used, from the Athenian mines at Laurion, and to Athens' mil­itary and political supremacy throughout much of the 5th century BC. The coins, known as « owls », were widely used in the 5th century and were copied by other regions, such as Egypt and southern Italy.

The motifs on the coins are dir­ectly related to Athens: Athena, goddess of both warfare and wisdom, was the pro­tector of the city, while the owl on the reverse is one of the attributes of Athena - the goddess was said to have the eyes of an owl due to her ability to see what is obscure (wisdom), as the owl can see in the dark.

Note: when Greece joined the euro, it chose an owl for the national side of its €1 coin, in ref­erence to the ancient Athenian coins.

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