Greek drachma

The drachma (Greek: δραχμή Modern: [ðraxˈmi], Ancient: [drakʰmέː];[n 1] pl. drachmae or drachmas) was the currency used in Greece during several periods in its history:

  1. An ancient Greek currency unit issued by many Greek city states during a period of ten centuries, from the Archaic period throughout the Classical period, the Hellenistic period up to the Roman period under Greek Imperial Coinage.
  2. Three modern Greek currencies, the first introduced in 1832 by the Greek King Otto (Όθων) and the last replaced by the euro in 2001 (at the rate of 340.75 drachmae to the euro). The euro did not begin circulating until 2001 but the exchange rate was fixed on 19 June 2000, with legal introduction of the euro taking place in January 2002.

It was also a small unit of weight.[1]

Ancient drachma

Drachma in the Greek world
Above: Six rod-shaped obeloi (oboloi) displayed at the Numismatic Museum of Athens, discovered at Heraion of Argos. Below: grasp[n 2] of six oboloi forming one drachma.
Athenian silver didrachm of "heraldic type" from the time of Peisistratos, 545–510 BC. Obverse: Four-spoked wheel. Reverse: Incuse square, divided diagonally.
Greek drachma of Aegina. Obverse: Land Chelone / Reverse: ΑΙΓ(INA) and dolphin. The oldest Aegina chelone coins depicted sea turtles and were minted ca. 700–550 BC.
Silver tetrobol (4/6 of drachma) from Massalia. Obverse: Artemis wearing stephane. Reverse: ΜΑΣΣΑ[ΛΙΗΤΩΝ] (of Massalians), lion standing right.
Tetradrachm from Olympia. 105th Olympiad, 360 BC. Obverse: Head of Zeus. Reverse: The nymph Olympia, inscription: ΟΛΥΜΠΙΑ.
Silver Drachma of Philip III Arrhidaios, minted at Babylon. Obverse: Head of Herakles. Reverse: Zeus Aëtophoros.

The name drachma is derived from the verb δράσσομαι (drássomai, "(I) grasp").[n 3] It is believed that the same word with the meaning of "handful" or "handle" is found in Linear B tablets of the Mycenean Pylos.[3][n 4] Initially a drachma was a fistful (a "grasp") of six oboloí or obeloí (metal sticks, literally "spits") used as a form of currency as early as 1100 BC and being a form of "bullion": bronze, copper, or iron ingots denominated by weight. A hoard of over 150 rod-shaped obeloi was uncovered at Heraion of Argos in Peloponnese. Six of them are displayed at the Numismatic Museum of Athens.

It was the standard unit of silver coinage at most ancient Greek mints, and the name obol was used to describe a coin that was one-sixth of a drachma. The notion that drachma derived from the word for fistful was recorded by Herakleides of Pontos (387–312 BC) who was informed by the priests of Heraion that Pheidon, king of Argos, dedicated rod-shaped obeloi to Heraion. Similar information about Pheidon's obeloi was also recorded at the Parian Chronicle.

Ancient Greek coins normally had distinctive names in daily use. The Athenian tetradrachm was called owl,[6] the Aeginetic stater was called chelone, the Corinthian stater was called hippos (horse) and so on. Each city would mint its own and have them stamped with recognizable symbols of the city, known as badge in numismatics, along with suitable inscriptions, and they would often be referred to either by the name of the city or of the image depicted. The exact exchange value of each was determined by the quantity and quality of the metal, which reflected on the reputation of each mint.

Among the Greek cities that used the drachma were: Abdera, Abydos, Alexandria, Aetna, Antioch, Athens, Chios, Cyzicus, Corinth, Ephesus, Eretria, Gela, Catana, Kos, Maronia, Naxos, Pella, Pergamum, Rhegion, Salamis, Smyrni, Sparta, Syracuse, Tarsus, Thasos, Tenedos, Troy and more.

The 5th century BC Athenian tetradrachm ("four drachmae") coin was perhaps the most widely used coin in the Greek world prior to the time of Alexander the Great (along with the Corinthian stater). It featured the helmeted profile bust of Athena on the obverse (front) and an owl on the reverse (back). In daily use they were called γλαῦκες glaukes (owls),[7] hence the proverb Γλαῦκ' Ἀθήναζε, 'an owl to Athens', referring to something that was in plentiful supply, like 'coals to Newcastle'. The reverse is featured on the national side of the modern Greek 1 euro coin.

Drachmae were minted on different weight standards at different Greek mints. The standard that came to be most commonly used was the Athenian or Attic one, which weighed a little over 4.3 grams.

After Alexander's conquests, the name drachma was used in many of the Hellenistic kingdoms in the Middle East, including the Ptolemaic kingdom in Alexandria and the Parthian Empire based in what is modern-day Iran. The Arabic unit of currency known as dirham (Arabic: درهم), known from pre-Islamic times and afterwards, inherited its name from the drachma or didrachm (δίδραχμον, 2 drachmae); the dirham is still the name of the official currencies of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. The Armenian dram (Armenian: Դրամ) also derives its name from the drachma.


It is difficult to estimate comparative exchange rates with modern currency because the range of products produced by economies of centuries gone by were different from today, which makes purchasing power parity (PPP) calculations very difficult; however, some historians and economists have estimated that in the 5th century BC a drachma had a rough value of 25 U.S. dollars (in the year 1990 – equivalent to US$46.50 in 2015[8]), whereas classical historians regularly say that in the heyday of ancient Greece (the fifth and fourth centuries) the daily wage for a skilled worker or a hoplite[9] was one drachma, and for a heliast (juror) half a drachma since 425 BC.[10]

Modern commentators derived from Xenophon[11] that half a drachma per day (360 days per year) would provide "a comfortable subsistence" for "the poor citizens" (for the head of a household in 355 BC). Earlier in 422 BC, we also see in Aristophanes (Wasps, line 300–302) that the daily half-drachma of a juror is just enough for the daily subsistence of a family of three.

A modern person might think of one drachma as the rough equivalent of a skilled worker's daily pay in the place where they live, which could be as low as US$1, or as high as $100, depending on the country.

Fractions and multiples of the drachma were minted by many states, most notably in Ptolemaic Egypt, which minted large coins in gold, silver and bronze.

Notable Ptolemaic coins included the gold pentadrachm and octadrachm, and silver tetradrachm, decadrachm and pentakaidecadrachm. This was especially noteworthy as it would not be until the introduction of the Guldengroschen in 1486 that coins of substantial size (particularly in silver) would be minted in significant quantities.

For the Roman successors of the drachma, see Roman provincial coins.

Denominations of ancient Greek drachma

The weight of the silver drachma was approximately 4.3 grams or 0.15 ounces,[12] although weights varied significantly from one city-state to another. It was divided into six obols of 0.72 grams, which were subdivided into four tetartemoria of 0.18 grams, one of the smallest coins ever struck, approximately 5–7 mm in diameter.[13]

Denominations of Greek silver
Dekadrachm 10 drachmae 43 grams Δεκάδραχμον
Tetradrachm 4 drachmae 17.2 grams Τετράδραχμον
Didrachm 2 drachmae 8.6 grams Δίδραχμον
Drachma 6 obols 4.3 grams Δραχμή
Tetrobol 4 obols 2.85 grams Τετρώβολον
3 obols
(12 drachma)
2.15 grams Τριώβολον[n 5]
Diobol 2 obols 1.43 grams Διώβολον
Obol 4 tetartemoria
(16 drachma)
0.72 grams Ὀβολός
Tritartemorion 3 tetartemoria 0.54 grams Τριταρτημόριον
Hemiobol 2 tetartemoria
(12 obol)
0.36 grams Ἡμιωβέλιον
[n 6]
Trihemitetartemorion 1+12 tetartemorion 0.27 grams Τριημιτεταρτημόριον
Tetartemorion 14 obol 0.18 grams Τεταρτημόριον
Hemitetartemorion 12 tetartemorion 0.09 grams Ἡμιτεταρτημόριον

Historic currency divisions

12 chalkoi = 1 obolus
6 oboloi = 1 drachma
70 drachmae = 1 mina (or mna), later 100 drachmae = 1 mina [14]
60 minae = 1 Athenian Talent (Athenian standard) [15]

Minae and talents were never actually minted: they represented weight measures used for commodities (e.g. grain) as well as metals like silver or gold. The New Testament mentions both didrachma and, by implication, tetradrachma in context of the Temple tax. Luke's Gospel includes a parable told by Jesus of a woman with 10 drachmae, who lost one and searched her home until she found it.[16]

Modern drachma

Δραχμή (Greek)
Modern drachma coins; Top row, left to right: 10λ coin, 20λ coin, 50λ coin, ₯1 coin, ₯2 coin. Middle row, left to right: ₯5 coin, ₯10 coin, ₯20 coin, ₯50 coin. Bottom row, left to right: ₯100 coin, ₯500 coin.
ISO 4217
Symbol also Δρχ. or Δρ.
1100leptοn (λ)
Freq. used₯200, ₯1,000, ₯5,000, ₯10,000
Rarely used₯50, ₯100, ₯500
Freq. used₯5, ₯10, ₯20, ₯50, ₯100, ₯500
Rarely used10λ, 20λ, 50λ, ₯1 and ₯2
Replaced byEuro
User(s)None, previously:
Central bankBank of Greece and Greek mint
Inflation3.1% (2000)
EU Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM)
SinceMarch 1998
Fixed rate since19 June 2000
Replaced by euro, non cash1 January 2001
Replaced by euro, cash1 January 2002
1  =₯340.75
This infobox shows the latest status before this currency was rendered obsolete.
₯ drachma sign

First modern drachma

The drachma was reintroduced in May 1832, shortly before the establishment of the Kingdom of Greece.[17] It replaced the phoenix at par. The drachma was subdivided into 100 lepta.[n 7]


The first coinage consisted of copper denominations of 1λ, 2λ, 5λ and 10λ, silver denominations of ₯14, ₯12, ₯1 and ₯5 and a gold coin of ₯20. The drachma coin weighed 4.5 g and contained 90% silver, with the ₯20 coin containing 5.8 g of gold.

In 1868, Greece joined the Latin Monetary Union and the drachma became equal in weight and value to the French franc. The new coinage issued consisted of copper coins of 1λ, 2λ, 5λ and 10λ, with the 5λ and 10λ coins bearing the names obolos (ὀβολός) and diobolon (διώβολον), respectively; silver coins of 20λ and 50λ, ₯1, ₯2 and ₯5 and gold coins of ₯5, ₯10 and ₯20. (Very small numbers of ₯50 and ₯100 coins in gold were also issued.)

In 1894, cupro-nickel 5λ, 10λ and 20λ coins were introduced. No 1λ or 2λ coin had been issued since the late 1870s. Silver coins of ₯1 and ₯2 were last issued in 1911, and no coins were issued between 1912 and 1922, during which time the Latin Monetary Union collapsed due to World War I.

Between 1926 and 1930, a new coinage was introduced for the new Hellenic Republic, consisting of cupro-nickel coins in denominations of 20λ, 50λ, ₯1, and ₯2; nickel coins of ₯5; and silver coins of ₯10 and ₯20. These were the last coins issued for the first modern drachma, none were issued for the second.


Banknote of 1912 issued by the NBG

Notes were issued by the National Bank of Greece from 1841 until 1928. The Bank of Greece issued notes from 1928 until 2001, when Greece joined the Euro. Early denominations ranged from ₯10 to ₯500. Smaller denominations (₯1, ₯2, ₯3 and ₯5) were issued from 1885, with the first ₯5 notes being made by cutting ₯10 notes in half.

When Greece finally achieved its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1828, the phoenix was introduced as the monetary unit; its use was short-lived, however, and in 1832 the phoenix was replaced by the drachma, adorned with the image of King Otto of Greece, who reigned as modern Greece's first king from 1832 to 1862. The drachma was divided into 100 lepta. In 2002 the drachma ceased to be legal tender after the euro, the monetary unit of the European Union, became Greece's sole currency.

From 1917 to 1920, the Greek government took control of issuing small change notes under Law 991/1917. During that time, the government issued denominations of 10 & 50 lepta, and ₯1, ₯2 & ₯5. The National Bank of Greece introduced ₯1,000 notes in 1901, and the Bank of Greece introduced ₯5,000 notes in 1928. The economic depression of the 1920s affected many nations around the globe, including Greece. In 1922, the Greek government issued a forced loan in order to finance their growing budget deficit. On 1 April 1922, the government decreed that half of all bank notes had to be surrendered and exchanged for 6.5% bonds. The notes were then cut in half, with the portion bearing the Greek crown standing in for the bonds while the other half was exchanged for a new issue of central bank notes at half the original value.[18] The Greek government again issued notes between 1940 and 1944, in denominations ranging from 50 lepta to 20.

₯5 note that has been cut in half by government for the purpose of issuing bonds

During the GermanItalian occupation of Greece from 1941 to 1944, catastrophic hyperinflation caused much higher denominations to be issued, culminating in ₯100,000,000,000 notes in 1944.[19] The Italian occupation authorities in the Ionian Islands printed their own currency, the Ionian drachma.

Second modern drachma

Banknote of 1944 issued by the NBG

On 11 November 1944, following the liberation of Greece from Nazi Germany, old drachma were exchanged for new ones at the rate of ₯50,000,000,000 to ₯1.[20] Only paper money was issued for the second drachma. The government issued notes of ₯1, ₯5, ₯10 and ₯20, with the Bank of Greece issuing ₯50, ₯100, ₯500, ₯1,000, ₯5,000, and ₯10,000 notes. This drachma also suffered from high inflation. The government later issued ₯100, ₯500, and ₯1,000-drachma notes, and the Bank of Greece issued ₯20,000 and ₯50,000 notes.

Third modern drachma

On 9 April 1953, in an effort to halt inflation, Greece joined the Bretton Woods system. On 1 May 1954, the drachma was revalued at a rate of ₯1,000 to ₯1, and small change notes were abolished for the last time.[20] The third drachma assumed a fixed exchange rate of ₯30 per dollar until 20 October 1973: over the next 25 years, the official exchange rate gradually declined, reaching 400 drachmae per dollar.[20] On 1 January 2002, the Greek drachma was officially replaced as the circulating currency by the euro, and it has not been legal tender since 1 March 2002.

Third modern drachma coins

The first issue of coins minted in 1954 consisted of holed aluminium 5-, 10- and 20-lepton pieces, with 50-lepton, ₯1, ₯2 and ₯5 pieces in cupro-nickel. ₯10 coins of a brighter alloy were issued in 1959 and a silver ₯20 piece was issued in 1960, replacing the corresponding banknotes. Coins in denominations from 50 lepta to ₯20 carried a portrait of King Paul (1947–1964). New coins were introduced in 1966, ranging from 50 lepta to ₯10, depicting King Constantine II (1964–1974). A silver ₯30 coin for the centennial of Greece's royal dynasty was minted in 1963. The following year a non-circulating coin of this value was produced to commemorate the royal wedding. The reverse of all coins was altered in 1971 to reflect the military junta which was in power from 1967 to 1974. This design included a soldier standing in front of the flames of the rising phoenix and the date of the coup d'état, April 21, 1967.

A ₯20 coin in cupro-nickel with an image of Europa on the obverse was issued in 1973. In late 1973, several new coin types were introduced: unholed aluminium (10λ and 20λ), nickel-brass (50 lepta, ₯1, and ₯2) and cupro-nickel (₯5, ₯10, and ₯20). These provisional coins carried the design of the phoenix rising from the flame on the obverse, and used the country's new designation as the "Hellenic Republic", replacing the coins also issued in 1973 as the Kingdom of Greece with King Constantine II's portrait. A new series of all 8 denominations was introduced in 1976 carrying images of early national heroes on the smaller values.

Cupro-nickel ₯50 coins were introduced in 1980. In 1986, aluminium-bronze ₯50 coins were introduced, followed by copper ₯1 and ₯2 pieces in 1988 and aluminium-bronze coins of ₯20 and ₯100 in 1990. In 2000, a set of 6 themed ₯500 coins were issued to commemorate the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.[21]

Coins in circulation at the time of the adoption of the euro[22] were

  • 50λ (€0.0015)[n 8]
  • ₯1 (€0.0029)[n 9]
  • ₯2 (€0.0059)[n 9]
  • ₯5 (€0.0147)
  • ₯10 (€0.0293)
  • ₯20 (€0.0587)
  • ₯50 (€0.147)
  • ₯100 (€0.293)
  • ₯500 (€1.47)


The first issues of banknotes were in denominations of ₯10, ₯20 and ₯50, soon followed by ₯100, ₯500 and ₯1,000 by 1956. ₯5,000 notes were introduced in 1984, followed by ₯10,000 notes in 1995 and ₯200 notes in 1997.

Banknotes in circulation at the time of the adoption of the euro[23] were

Banknotes of the Greek drachma (circa AD 2000)
ImageValueEquivalent in Euro (€)Main ColorObverseReverseWatermark
₯50 €0.1467 Blue Head of Poseidon Laskarina Bouboulina directing cannon fire at two Ottoman ships at Palamidi during the Greek War of Independence Head of the Charioteer of Delphi
₯100 €0.2935 Brown and violet (obverse); Maroon, green and orange (reverse) Head of Piraeus Athena; Christian Hansen's National and Kapodistrian University of Athens building Adamantios Korais; Arkadi Monastery, Crete Head of the Charioteer of Delphi
₯200 €0.5869 Deep orange Rigas Feraios; Feraios singing his patriotic song at lower right Nikolaos Gyzis's Krifo scholio ("secret school") Bust of Philip of Macedonia
₯500 €1.47 Deep green Ioannis Kapodistrias; Capodistrias's home on Corfu Old Fortress, Corfu City Head of the Charioteer of Delphi
₯1,000 €2.93 Brown Bust of Apollon of Olympia Myron's Discobolus; Temple of Hera, Olympia Head of the Charioteer of Delphi
₯5,000 €14.67 Deep Blue or Purple and yellow-green Theodoros Kolokotronis; Church of the Holy Apostles, Kalamata Karytaina, Arcadia Bust of Philip of Macedonia
₯10,000 €29.35 Deep purple Georgios Papanikolaou; microscope Asclepius Bust of Philip of Macedonia


In Unicode, the currency symbol is U+20AF DRACHMA SIGN. There is a special Attic numeral, U+10142 𐅂 GREEK ACROPHONIC ATTIC ONE DRACHMA, for the value of one drachma but it fails to render in most browsers.[24]


The Drachmi Greek Democratic Movement Five Stars, which was founded in 2013,[25] aims to restore the Drachma as Greece's currency.

In culture

See also

Notes and references

  1. [draːkʰmέː] is also attested.[1]
  2. δράσσομαι, drassomai, "grasp"; cf.: δράξ, drax, and drachma itself, i.e. "grasp with the hand".[1][2]
  3. "As much as one can hold in the hand".[1][2]
  4. The word, whose meaning and translation is still uncertain, is 𐀈𐀏𐀔, do-ka-ma or 𐀈𐀏𐀔𐀂, do-ka-ma-i, found on the PY An 1282 and PY Wr 1480 tablets.[4][5]
  5. Τριόβολον spelling variant is also attested.
  6. Ἡμιοβόλιον spelling variant is also attested.
  7. Greek: λεπτά; plural of λεπτόν, lepton.
  8. Minted but rarely used. Usually, prices were rounded up to the next multiple of 10 drachmae.
  9. Not minted but remained legal tender (not in actual use in 2002).
  1. δραχμή. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  2. δράσσομαι in Liddell and Scott.
  3. Shelmerdine, Cynthia W.; Bennet, John (1 January 1995). "Two Linear B documents from Bronze Age Pylos". Kadmos. 34 (2). doi:10.1515/kadm.1995.34.2.123. S2CID 161844846.
  4. "PY 1282 An (Ciii)"."PY 1480 Wr (unknown)", DĀMOS: Database of Mycenaean at Oslo, University of Oslo.
  5. Raymoure, K.A. "do-ka-ma-i". Minoan Linear A & Mycenaean Linear B. Deaditerranean.
  6. Philochorus: Scholion to Aristophanes, Birds 1106
  7. γλαύξ in Liddell and Scott.
  8. "The Inflation Calculator". Archived from the original on 1 July 2007.
  9. Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War 3.17.4.
  10. It was originally set at 1/6 drachma by Pericles, until Cleon raised it in 425 BC; see also Aristophanes, Knights (line 255) and Wasps (line 609, 684, 690, 788–790, 1121).
  11. Cf. footnote 18 of H. G. Dakyns's translation of Ways and Means: A Pamphlet on Revenues alias On Revenues (The Works of Xenophon, Macmillan, 1897). This footnote is quoting George Grote (Plato, and the Other Companions of Sokrates, vol. 3, J. Murray, 1865, p.597).
  12. British Museum Catalogue 11 – Attica Megaris Aegina
  13. Photo gallery of Tetartemoria and other small Greek coins
  14. Aristotle, Athenian Constitution, 10.2
  15. Drachma, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume V. Published 1909. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, 1 May 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York
  16. Luke 15:8–10
  17. "The first modern drachma coins catalog". Retrieved 22 June 2013.
  18. "The Greek Financial Crises: Getting by with the Half-Drachmai | PMG".
  19. "Banknote Index". Retrieved 1 February 2019.
  20. "Chronology (1928–2003)". Bank of Greece (in Greek). Athens. Archived from the original on 15 February 2005. Retrieved 9 May 2020.
  22. "Bank of Greece - Coins in circulation". Archived from the original on 4 February 2005. Retrieved 12 January 2005.
  23. "History of Greek Banknotes". Retrieved 17 November 2013.
  24. Entry for (U+10142)
  25. "Political Party Drachma 5 Launched". 9 May 2013.
  26. "JULIUS CAESAR, Act 3, Scene 2".
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