6. Agio

The iron objects of the Heraion were set up to spread the use of weighed iron as a medium of exchange. They represent the application to iron currency of a concept which was originally foreign to it, that of currency accepted at a certain value because of its worth as a commodity.

While the Greeks of the Dark Ages were using as a medium of exchange utensil-money of bronze and later of iron, their contemporaries of the kingdom of Egypt and of the Assyrian empire were using weigned silver and gold, and had been doing so for centuries, Both in the countries of Egyptian culture and in those of Babylonian-Assyrian culture the unit used to weigh these metals was the mina. There were many varieties of mina; however, they were not greatly different in weight from an Egyptian mina, which from the beginning of the First Egyptian Empire (fifteenth century B.C.) to the kingdom of the Ptolemies had the constant and precise weight of 486 grams.[94] The great difference lay in the fact that in the countries under Babylonian-Assyrian influence the mina had multiples and submultiples according to a decimal system: the double mina was divided into ten deben,  and the deben into ten kedet.

When the Greeks imported the idea of weighed metals as a medium of exchange, they also adopted the mina as a unit of weight. All the systems of units of weight and value in Greece are based on the silver mina; the barbarian name of which has been Hellenized into mna'. All over Greece the silver mina has a value of ca. 430 grams.[95] All over Greece we find also the use of the sexagesimal multiple of the mina which the Greeks called talent. The sexagesimal submultiple, the shekel, the Semitic name of which has been Hellenized into sivglo", was used as the basic unit in the early coinage of Lydia, Ionia and the islands of Rhodes and Melos.[96]

The findings of the Heraion prove that this sexagesimal submultiple was once used also in Greece proper. Seltman[97] has pointed out that, since the bundle of the Heraion is composed of 180 ojbelivskoi, it must have been decided that a silver mina was equal to 60 drachmae, that is, 360 ojbelivskoi. The bundle and the solid lingot of the Heraion represent the value of half a mina each; if it is true that they were exhibited on a scale, then the value of a mina was on the scale. In other words, when weighed silver came in contact with the already accepted currency of ojbelivskoi, there was felt the need of establishing a relation (mevtra) between the two. It was decided that it would take 360 ojbelivskoi to make a silver mina or that it would take 6 ojbelivskoi to make a shekel. It is possible that the unit called drachma, the handful of ojbelivskoi, came into existence at this time as the equivalent in iron of the silver shekel.

Having made the revealing statement that the bundle of the Heraion embodies a division of the mina by 60, Seltman was confronted with the fact that the earliest coins of Greece proper, those of Aigina and Athens, embody a system in which the mina is divided into 70 drachmae. He must have thought that this circumstance added an unpleasant difficulty to the problem, because he tried to gloss over it by stating on one page[98] that the drachma of the Heraion was 1/60 of a mina and a few pages later[99] that it was 1/70 of a mina. In this way he impaired the value of the piece of information he had himself brought ot light.

It is true, as Seltman assumes, that the earliest coins of Aigina and of Athens must have been struck on the basis of the system of weights of the Heraion, but there is also a perfectly good reason why the drachma of the Heraion should be 1/60 of the mina and the drachma of these coins 1/70 of a mina. In those coins which are based on a division of the mina by 60, the unit is called shekel, whereas in those coins which are based on a division of the mina by 70, the unit is called drachma; the name drachma shows that the change from 60 to 70 is due to the influence of iron currency. The objects of the Heraion embody a relation between iron drachma and silver mina, whereas those of Aigina and Athens before Solon embody a relation between silver drachma and silver mina. An iron drachma is 1/60 of a silver mina, but a silver drachma is 1/70 of a silver mina; the difference is due to the economic factor of agio.

In a paper[100] which he considered epoch-making, Carl Friedrich Lehmann-Haupt called attention to the fact that many weights of the ancient world exist in two varieties: one lighter, which he called Gewicht gemeiner Norm and the other heavier, which he called Gewicht erhöhter Norm. This was the starting point of a polemic on the reasons for this phenomenon between Lehmann-Haupt, who was followed by the metrologists of the jüngere Schule,[101] and Oskar Viedebannt, who was followed by the metrologists of the ältere Schule.[102] Writings stuffed with impressive arrays of figures were published and sharp words were exchanged, but no final scientific result was achieved. Furthermore, the field of Greek metrology became such an esoteric one that very little has been written on it for the last score of years.

Both sides failed to consider that the existence of a heavier and a lighter variety of the same unit of weight can be explained by the economic factor of agio. If a relation of value is established between two currencies, it follows that a given amount of one can be interchanged with a given amount of the other; however, it may happen that one currency is practically less desirable than the other, so that the public prefers to have a given amount of one rather than the corresponding amount of the other. When such a situation arises, the party who owns the more desirable currency is not willing to exchange it unless it receives a premium, agio, for the advantage which he is willing to trade. For instance, in those countries where prior to the First World War gold and silver used to circulate as currency, gold pieces were at agio over the corresponding amount of silver, because less bulky. In a similar way, bills of exchange that enjoy full confidence are at agio over gold.

Although this rule goes beyond the field of Greek metrology, for the purposes of the present paper it is sufficient to state that whenever in Greece the same weight appears in two varieties, one heavier and one lighter, this is due to the phenomenon of agio. The agio is called by the Greeks ejpikatallaghv, because it is taken into account by asking the party who trades the practically less desirable commodity to throw into the bargain an extra amount. This extra amount is calculated by adding, on the pan of the scales which carries the weights, an exra weight called rJophv. Sometimes this rJophv is one of the weights readily available, so that, in a case I shall examine later, a rJphv of a mina (20%) is added to 5 minae, whereas the rJophv of a pentavmnoun (12%) is added to a talent. At other times, to make the operation of weighing simpler, the rJophv is consolidated into the weight to which it is usually added, so that there follows the creation of a system of weights slightly heavier (Gewicht erhöhter Norm) than a similar system of weights. The lighter variety was always used to weigh a commodity which was practically less desirable.

In the specific case in question, it is easy to see that it makes a great deal of difference whether one receives payment in silver drachmae or in iron drachmae; the half mina of the Heraion weights 73 kg. and, according to Plutarch[103] ten minae of iron would fill a large storeroom and require a yoke of oxen for transportation. As a result, the party who was paying with iron drachmae instead of silver shekels had to add, as agio, something extra which proves to be an ojbelivsko" for each drachma of six ojbelivskoi; hence, it took 70 and not 60 iron drachmae to make a silver mina. Thereby the equivalent in silver of the iron drachma of six obols came to be not 1/60 but 1/70 of the silver mina; this brought about the creation of a new unit for weighing silver which was called drachma, because it is the silver equivalent of the iron drachma.

Since the drachma of six obols was the established unit of value in Greece proper, the silver drachma completely supplanted the silver shekel, which continued to bve used only by the Greeks of Ionia and of some of the Aegean islands.

The stage of development in which were used a drachma of six obols and a drachma with something more added, is reflected in the Locrian code of laws ascribed to Zaleukos:

Hesychios, s.v. lepta;" kai; paceiva"

lepta;" kai; paceiva" ejn Novmoi" ta;" dracma;", lepta;" me;n ta;" eJxwbovlou", paceiva" de; ta;" plevon ejcouvsa".

This passage reveals that Zeleukos’ legislation was passed in a period in which weighed iron was used together with silver currency, on the basis of mevtra of six ojbelivskoi a shekel, but the problem of the agio of silver over iron had not yet been definitely settled. This legislation has therefore to be dated in a period which extends from the dedication of the Heraion to the adoption of feidwvneia mevtra. There were in use two iron drachmae: one, the normal one of six ojbelivskoi, and the other, a drachma to which something had been added (ejpikatallagh) to take agio into account.

Unluckily, there is no reliable information on the exact date of the Locrian legislation, since the information according to which it was the oldest body of written laws of Greece, and the date of 663/2 B.C., reported by Eusebios,[104] are the product of speculation.[105] It can only be said that Zaleukos’ laws belong to the same general period as those of Drakon.


[94]Segrè, Metrologia, 14.

[95]The first requirement for a clear understanding of Greek metrology is to recognize the existence of a pan-Hellenic mina. This fact began to be accepted in vague terms by Oskar Viedebannt, Antike Gewichtenormen und Münzfüße (Berlin, 1923), 41, and by Seltman, Athens, 123, in more outspoken terms. The first to speak openly of a “pan-Hellenic mina” was Théodore Reinach, “À propos de la loi delphique de Cadys sur le prêt à interêt,” BCH, LI (1927), 172. The idea is opposed by Regling, “Mina,” Wörterbuch der Münzkunde, edited by Friedrich von Schrötter (Berlin, 1930), 391, who believes in the existence of “many local minae.”

[96]Seltman, Greek Coins, 42 et passim.

[97]Athens, 119.

[98]Greek Coins, 35.

[99]Op. cit., 42.

[100]“Die Herleitung der herrschenden Gewichts- und Münzsysteme des Altertums aus dem altbabylonischen Gewichts- und Doppelwährungssystem,” Sitzung-Berichte Berliner Archäologische Gesellschaft, Anzeiger, Nov. 1888.

[101]The case for the jüngere Schule is summed up by Lehmann-Haupt in “Gewicht,” R.E. Suppl. III, 587.

1<>02The case for the ältere Schule was summed up by Viedebannt, op. cit.

[103]Lycurgus IX.

[104]Anno Abrami 1363 Schoene II 86; this date is arrived at by counting forty years, that is, a generation, from the supposed date of Drakon’s legislation.

[105]Eduard Meyer, Geschichte des Altertums, vol. II (Stuttgart, 1937), III, 522 n. 2; Gaetano de Sanctis, “Zaleuco,” E.I. XXXV, 871; Emanuele Ciaceri, Storia della Magna Grecia (Milano, 1927), II, 24.