Aegina is a rocky and mountainous island in the Saronic Gulf located about twenty-five miles southeast of Athens. It was settled by the Dorians around 900 BC and was named after the daughter of the Greek river god Asopos.
Because of its limited availability of cultivable land, the inhabitants needed to leverage the sea for their livelihood. They became expert merchants and tradesmen, dominating the shipping industry early in the 6th century BC. Their success and near-monopoly brought the island great wealth and power. They built a lavish temple to their local goddess, Aphaia, decorating it with numerous sculptures of beautiful artistic quality.
During their travels, the merchants encountered the developing early electrum coinage in Ionia and Lydia. They recognized the potential to not only store their considerable wealth in the form of portable coins, but also to optimize trade through a global currency. Aegina therefore became the first of the Greek city-states to issue coined money, starting in the mid-6th century BC.
In addition to the silver they received in trade, Aegina worked the mines of the silver-rich island of Siphnos, which were at the height of their production as Aegina was flourishing.
The earliest emissions from Aegina were immense, resulting in their weight standard becoming dominant throughout much of Greece in the 6th and 5th centuries. The Athenians called the Aeginetan drachm the “thick drachm” as it was heavier than that of Athens, with their common didrachm “stater” coinage weighing about 12.6 grams.
Their status as the first international trade currency was aided by the consistency of their designs, and their coins spread far throughout the known world. The earliest types depicted a sea turtle engraved in high relief with an incuse pattern on the reverse. The choice of a turtle is likely due to their influence as a sea power but perhaps also because the pre-coinage ingots in use in the region were convex in shape and may have been colloquially known as “turtles”.
After 480 BC, production began steadily decreasing as the Athens “owl” tetradrachms increased in popularity. Athens conquered Aegina in 457 BC and, in 431 BC, pushed out the inhabitants entirely, putting an abrupt halt to the turtle coinage.
After Athens lost the Peloponnesian War in 404 BC, the Aeginetans were able to return to their island, but they had lost their supremacy as a sea power and much of their influence. Their coinage of the 4th century BC changed from sea turtles to land tortoises, likely to reflect the shift in the prevailing industry of Aegina. This new coinage was minted in far smaller quantities and was not used as broadly as their previous international trade currency, making them much rarer today.
This coin is of the land tortoise type, specifically the species testudo graeca, and it was minted between 380 and 360 BC. It is engraved in a stunning high relief on an atypically immense flan, perhaps indicating its use as a presentation piece or trial coinage of a new die.
These images show the relief and iridescence of this stater, much of which is lost when taking a "top down" image.
Aegina. Aegina, c. 380-360 BC. AR Stater (12.01 g). Top view of tortoise with segmented shell. Reverse: Large "refined" skew pattern incuse with five segments. Pozzi 3666; cf. Dewing 1686; cf. SNG Cop. Suppl. 264; SNG Delepierre 1545 ff. The tortoise is of remarkable high relief, sharply struck, and perfectly centered on a flan of extraordinary size. Toned, with residual luster of lighter color. Rare in this quality. Previously in an NGC AU holder.