Drachma, pl. drachmas or drachmae (δραχμή, pl. δραχμές or δραχμαί (until 1982)) is the name of the currency used in Greece during several periods in its history:Ancient drachma
1. An ancient Greek currency unit found in many Greek city states from Classical times on, as well as in many of Alexander’s successor states and South-West Asian kingdoms during the Hellenistic era.
2. Three modern Greek currencies, the first introduced in 1832 and the last replaced by the euro in 2001 (at the rate of 340.750 drachma to the euro). The euro did not begin circulating until 2002 but the exchange rate was fixed on 19 June 2000, with legal introduction of the euro taking place in January 2002.
The name drachma is derived from the verb “δράσσομαι” (drássomai, “to grasp”). Initially a drachma was a fistful (a “grasp”) of six oboloi (metal sticks), which were used as a form of currency as early as 1100 BC. It was the standard unit of silver coinage at most ancient Greek and Roman 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 apparently dates at least to Herakleides of Pontos (387-312 BCE) but the metrologist Livio C. Stecchini argued that drachma was instead a word of semitic origin. Stecchini was often out of the mainstream. His argument seems plausible (see www.metrum.org) but remains obscure.
The 5th century BC Athenian tetradrachmon (“four drachma”) coin was the most widely used coin in the Greek world prior to the time of Alexander the Great. 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 γλαῦκαι glaukai (owls), hence the phrase 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.
Drachmas 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 the Great’s conquests, the name drachma was used in many of the Hellenistic kingdoms in the Middle East, including the Ptolemaic kingdom in Alexandria. The Arabic unit of currency known as dirham (in the Arabic language, درهم), known from pre-Islamic times and afterwards, inherited its name from the drachma; the dirham is still the name of the official currencies of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. The Armenian dram also derives its name from the drachma.Value
It is generally considered very hard or even meaningless to come up with comparative exchange rates with modern currency due to the fact that the range of products produced by economies of centuries gone by were very different from today, which makes Purchasing power parity (PPP) calculations very difficult. However, some historians and economists have estimated that in the 5th century BCE a drachma had a rough value of 25 U.S. dollars (in the year 1990 – equivalent to 38 USD in 2006), 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 was one drachma, and for a heliast (juror) half a drachma since 425 BC. Modern commentators derived from Xenophon 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.
As a rule of thumb, 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 $1 USD, or as high as $100 USD, depending on the country). Perhaps the most appropriate comparison is that with modern-day Athens, where a skilled worker without a university degree earns approximately €40 per day, net of taxes.
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.Historic currency divisions
8 chalkoi = 1 obolus
6 oboloi = 1 drachma
100 drachmas = 1 mina (or mna)
60 minae = 1 Athenian Talent (Athenian standard)
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.First modern drachma
The drachma was reintroduced in 1832, soon after the establishment of the modern state of Greece. It replaced the phoenix at par. The drachma was subdivided into 100 lepta (λεπτά, singular lepton, λεπτόν).Coins
The first coinage consisted of copper denominations of 1, 2, 5 and 10 lepta, silver denominations of ¼, ½, 1 and 5 drachmae and a gold coin of 20 drachmae. The drachma coin weighed 4.5 g and contained 90% silver, with the 20-drachma 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 1, 2, 5 and 10 lepta, with the 5- and 10-lepta coins bearing the names obolos (οβολός) and diobolon (διώβολον), respectively; silver coins of 20 and 50 lepta, 1, 2 and 5 drachmae and gold coins of 5, 10 and 20 drachmae. (Very small numbers of 50- and 100-drachma coins in gold were also issued.)
In 1894, cupro-nickel 5-, 10- and 20-lepta coins were introduced. No 1-lepton or 2-lepta coin had been issued since the late 1870s. Silver coins of 1 and 2 drachmae 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 20 lepta, 50 lepta, 1 drachma, and 2 drachmae; nickel coins of 5 drachmae; and silver coins of 10 and 20 drachmae. These were the last coins issued for the first modern drachma, and none were issued for the second.Second modern drachma
In November 1944, after Greece was liberated from Germany, old drachmae were exchanged for new ones at the rate of 50,000,000,000 to 1. Only paper money was issued. The government issued notes of 1, 5, 10 and 20 drachmae, with the Bank of Greece issuing 50-, 100-, 500-, 1000-, 5000-, and 10,000-drachma notes. This drachma also suffered from high inflation. The government later issued 100-, 500-, and 1000-drachma notes, and the Bank of Greece issued 20,000-and 50,000-drachma notes.Third modern drachma
In 1953, in an effort to halt inflation, Greece joined the Bretton Woods system. In 1954 the drachma was revalued at a rate of 1000 to 1. The new currency was pegged at 30 drachmae = 1 United States dollar. In 1973, the Bretton Woods System was abolished; over the next 25 years the official exchange rate gradually declined, reaching 400 drachmae to 1 U. S. dollar. On January 1, 2002, the Greek drachma was officially replaced as the circulating currency by the euro, and it has not been legal tender since March 1, 2002.Third modern drachma coins
The first issue of coins minted in 1954 consisted of holed aluminium 5-, 10- and 20-lepta pieces, with 50-lepta, 1-, 2-, 5- and 10-drachma pieces in cupro-nickel. A silver 20-drachma piece was issued in 1960, replacing the 20-drachma banknote. Coins in denominations from 50 lepta to 20 drachmae carried a portrait of King Paul (reigned 1947-1964). New coins were introduced in 1966, ranging from 50 lepta to 10 drachmae, depicting King Constantine II (reigned 1964-1974). 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. A 20-drachma coin in cupro-nickel with an image of Europa on the obverse was issued in 1973. In the latter part of 1973, several new coin types were introduced: unholed aluminium (10 and 20 lepta), nickel-brass (50 lepta, 1 drachma, and 2 drachmae) and cupro-nickel (5, 10, and 20 drachmae). 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-drachma coins were introduced in 1980. In 1982, the spelling of the plural of drachma was changed from drachmae (δραχμαί) to drachmas (δραχμές). In 1986, nickel-brass 50-drachma coins were introduced, followed by copper 1- and 2-drachma pieces in 1988 and nickel-brass coins of 20 and 100 drachmas in 1990. In 2000, a set of 6 themed 500-drachma coins was issued to commemorate the Olympic Games.
Coins in circulation at the time of the adoption of the euro were
1 drachma (€0.0029)1
2 drachmas (€0.0059)1
5 drachmas (€0.0147)
10 drachmas (€0.0293)
20 drachmas (€0.0587)
50 drachmas (€0.147)
100 drachmas (€0.293)
500 drachmas (€1.47)