Philip Mernick pointed out this BBC news article about the various images on euro currency. Thanks!
Amid all the macro-economic debate about the euro, which most of us, frankly, don't understand a word of, amid all the talk of bailouts and bonds, defaults and double-dips, no-one has had much to say about the hard cash itself. I mean, what you actually see on the euro banknotes, and in particular on the euro coins.
Take a closer look at those heads-and-tails and you'll find some rather disconcerting angles on European history and politics - and a story that goes back to the very first attempt at a European monetary union, 2,500 years ago.
Ironically, given what's been happening in the past few months, that prototype eurozone was masterminded by the Greeks, in ancient Athens, in the middle of the 5th Century BC.
Athens in the 5th Century BC was a democracy (the world's first, so the modern Greeks rather dubiously claim). It was also an exploitative empire, controlling many other states around the Mediterranean.
Some time about 440BC, the Athenians decided to make all these people get rid of their own currency, with their own national emblems, and use Athenian "owls" instead - in fact some of the public notices laying this down, still survive, inscribed on stone around what was the Athenian empire.
The rules, as we can read, were pretty stringent: it wasn't only money that was involved but Athenian weights and measures too (it was the ancient equivalent of imposing grams and metres as well as the euro); and the subject states had to bring their coins to be changed in Athens, with a substantial rake-off for the Athenian treasury. Non-compliance could result in the loss of citizenship; it might even lead to the death penalty.
Modern historians have puzzled endlessly about what was really going on here. Were the Athenians out simply to make a profit? Were the states of the empire actually keen to come into the Athenian-zone? If so, threats of the death penalty seem a bit unnecessary.
And did the legislation actually succeed in eradicating the other currencies and establishing the owls across the empire? We can't be sure.
But on any interpretation, it is hard to resist the conclusion that the Athenian imperialists were using monetary union to display their political muscle - and hard not to imagine that vengeance for that has finally come, 25 centuries later.
To read the complete article, see:
A Point of View: The euro's strange stories
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