Millions of silver coins may have been stored in Parthenon attic
Some of the fantastic riches of the ancient city-state of Athens may have been stored in the form of millions of silver coins in the attic of the Parthenon, a temple to Goddess Athena in the Acropolis. The fact that it was a temple to Athena may have been enough security because theft from it would have constituted a crime against a goddess. The gods, Athena in particular, were believed to mete out terrible punishments to people who transgressed against them.
Much of Athens' wealth was in silver coins because the precious metal was mined locally. Aeschylus called the area a fountain of silver. Another source of Athen's riches was tribute from other Greek cities that Athens then provided naval protection to. The coins were likely stored in the Parthenon's attic around the 5 th century BC.
Live Science reports new research by Canadian professor Spencer Pope and his team.
“Ancient writers say the Athenians kept vast coin reserves on the Acropolis , but don't say exactly where,” says Live Science in an article about new research on the attic of the Parthenon. “For instance, one decree dated to around 433 B.C. refers to 3,000 talents being transferred to the Acropolis for safekeeping, a colossal sum of money, researchers say.”
Researchers told Live Science that some of the coins may have been gold. Ancients considered gold worth 14 times as much as silver, so there may have been fewer coins in the attic if some of the coinage was in gold. The silver tetradrachm was the coin with the highest denomination in Athens.
A tetradrachm with the head of Athena and her symbol the owl on the reverse. (Photo by Classical Numismatic Group/ Wikimedia Commons )
The floor size of the Parthenon's attic is calculated to have been 50 meters (164 feet) long by 19 meters (62 feet) wide. The attic's ceiling would have been about 3 meters (10 feet) tall in the center.
Pope and his team believe for several reasons that the attic of the Parthenon was used to store coins even though ancient records don't say where on the Acropolis coins were kept. Records also do not say what the attic's purpose was.
However, a staircase still there in the ruins that led to the attic, appears to have had a utilitarian purpose as opposed to ceremonial. It may have been used to transport coins. The huge size of the attic floor—more than three tennis courts—would have spread the weight of the coins over a large area, making it less likely to collapse. The size plus sturdy flooring such as cypress wood beams could have supported the immense weight of the coins, Live Science reports. Also, the Parthenon's central location gave easy access to citizens.
"The attic of the Parthenon is the only suitable space large enough to hold all of the coins in the treasury," Pope told Live Science. "While we cannot rule out the possibility that coins were distributed across numerous buildings, we should recall that the attic is the most secure space."
Athena was famous for her wrath against people who transgressed against her, and thus she would have been seen as a protector over the riches kept within the Parthenon. When Arachne did a better job at weaving than Athena, Athena's retribution was terrible.
Athena and Poseidon on an ancient krater (jar). (Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen/ Wikimedia Commons )
From Ovid's Metamorphoses:
In all that work of hers Pallas could find, envy could find, no fault. Incensed at such success the warrior goddess, golden-haired, tore up the tapestry, those crimes of heaven, and with the boxwood shuttle in her hand (box of citrus) three times, four times, struck Arachne on her forehead… And as she turned to go, she sprinkled her with drugs of Hecate, and in a trice, touched by the bitter lotion, all her hair falls off and with it go her nose and ears. Her head shrinks tiny; her whole body's small; instead of legs slim fingers line her sides. The rest is belly; yet from that she sends a fine-spun thread and, as a spider, still weaving her web, pursues her former skill. All Lydia rang; the story raced abroad through Phrygia’s towns and filled the world with talk.
Theoi.com has a long list of curses Athena, also known as Pallas, laid on people and regions whom she perceived as doing wrong to her. Her punishments including blinding people, driving them mad, destroying fleets with storms, turning people to stone, transforming them into hideous monsters and sending plagues against regions. Perhaps thieves would have thought twice about stealing from such an angry goddess.