By inclination I prefer to transliterate rather than anglicize ancient Greek names and words, but even I write Aeschylus and Thucydides, not Aiskhulos and Thoukudides. Here I have deviated from strict transliteration in various, not always consistent ways—a truly British compromise (or muddle): thus, for example, Cnossos, not Knossos (transliteration), nor Cnossus (Latin). But one outstanding exception had to be made—for Byzantion (the city); this in order to avoid confusion with anglicized, Latinate Byzantium (either a civilization or an epoch—during which ‘Byzantion’, as the city-name, ‘got the works’ in favour of ‘Konstantinoupolis’—Constantinople). Where I place a circumflex over the ‘e’ or ’o’ of a transliterated ancient Greek word, that is to indicate, especially in cases where transliteration might lead to misunderstanding, that the vowel was long—or ‘big’ as the Greeks said: omicron = (literally) small ‘o’, ômega = big ‘o’. Greek short ‘e’, epsilon, meant ‘light “e” ’; the long version was called ‘êta’.



6 obols = 1 drachma

2 drachmas = 1 statêr (literally ‘balance’)

100 drachmas = 1 mina (or mna) [the word is of Babylonian origin]

60 minas = 1 talent [also of Babylonian origin]

Note, first, that the value of coins—struck in electrum, gold, silver, or bronze, from the later seventh century on—was a function of their weight, and that different cities operated different weight-standards, often those established by another city. Second, although it is not possible straightforwardly to translate ancient weights/values into modern currency equivalents, it may be helpful to bear in mind that the average rate of daily pay for a skilled craftsman varied during the fifth and fourth centuries BCE between 1 and 2.5 drachmas, and that rough parity was established between a daily craftsman’s wage-rate and the pay given by democratic Athens to citizens for attendance at the Assembly between the 390s and 320s. The daily cost of living for a family of four in Athens at the end of the fifth century is estimated at between 2.5 and 6 obols. Third, small change—fractions of silver obols—was in use by the end of the sixth century, struck by mints including those of Colophon, Aegina, Mende, and Abdera; it could be offered as payment for pots, legal fines, or fees for initiation into a religious cult. Much less valuable bronze coinage was not struck in quantity until the end of the fifth century, by which time an issue of gold coinage by a Greek city signified emergency—in sharp contrast to the Persian empire, where it constituted business as usual, and a powerful diplomatic as well as commercial instrument.


1 stadion = 600 ‘feet’ or roughly 200 metres (in practice, normally rather less; e.g. at Olympia about 192 metres).

Again, note that different cities calculated the basic ‘foot’ differently.

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