British Museum collections, £12.99
Weight: 2.880 g
Length: 35.000 mm
CM SNG Black Sea 360
Coins and Medals
Bronze dolphin money
Greek, late 6th century
From Olbia, on the Black Sea coast of Ukraine
Early Greek 'coinage' spreads to the northern colonies
The Black Sea was an area of foremost importance to the Greek cities of the Aegean Sea. Unlike much of Greece, its climate and geography made it an ideal place for growing grain. From the eighth century BC onwards Greek cities began establishing colonies around the coast of the Black Sea. Nevertheless, there was a strong native non-Greek population in the area, which flourished alongside the colonists. This mixture of cultures resulted in a curious variety of monetary forms.
Around the city of Olbia on the north coast of the Black Sea large numbers of tiny, cast bronze dolphins have been discovered. They are sometimes found in groups, and in several instances have been discovered in tombs in the hands or mouths of the dead. These facts, together with the appearance of the dolphin on later coins of the city, make it clear that the bronze dolphins had a monetary use. In general they are approximately 35 mm in length and weigh between one and three grams, although larger examples are known.