Greek currency before euro (Drachma): value and it’s exchange rate. Read all about former currency used in Greece.

Greek currency before euro (Drachma): value and it’s exchange rate. Read all about former currency used in Greece.

If you’re interested in the history and the economy of Greece especially how transactions were carried out, you may want to ask a question like; what was the earlier Greek currency before the euro that is currently being used. Well, the answer to this is not far-fetched.

Drachma is the name of the currency the Greeks were using before they started using the euro. Drachma is on record to be one of the oldest currencies in the world, and the official currency of Greece before they switched to euro. In the year 2002, the Republic of Greece started using the euro as a legal tender. Although the drachma originated from Greece, there was a time more than half of the world populations were using the Greek drachma as a legal tender.

This article will talk lengthy about the Greek drachma, the value of drachma and all other information about the legendary Greek currency.

When Drachma was used?

greek currency before the euro

The drachma was used through several periods in the history of Greece spanning over ten centuries, from the archaic period down to the Roman period. Through these periods, it has been changed three times; the last time was in 1832 before the euros eventually replaced it in 2001. After the euro was introduced, it was not in circulation until 2002. As of that time, one euro was equivalent to 340.75 drachma.

The history of Greek drachma starts from its name, the meaning of the name ‘drachma’ is grasp, the name was derived from a verb word which technically means handful or handle. The Greek drachma was initially just a handful of 6 metal sticks known as Oboloi or Oberoi in one case; this was used as a currency as early as 1100BC. The currency was in the form of bronze copper or iron ingots, and its weight determined the value of the currency as of that time. There is evidence to prove this, there are hoards of over 150 rod-shaped oboloi that was discovered at Heraion of Argos in Peloponnese, and about 6 of them are displayed at the Numismatic Museum of Athens.

The argument that the name drachma was derived from the word handful or fistful was recorded by Herakleides of Pontos (387–312 BC). Pontos during his time was a philosopher and astronomer, amidst his popular work, Pontos was popularly known for suggesting the earth was rotating around its axis from west to east once every 24 hours. The priest of Heraion informed Pontos that the king of Argos, Pheidon, has dedicated his rod-shaped obeloi to Heraion. This same information was recorded in the Parian Chronicle. The pariah Chronicle is a Greek chronology covering the period between 1582BC to 299BC.

In ancient Greece, the coins they used had different names that were distinctive.

For example:

  • the Athenian tetradrachm (which was equivalent to 4 drachma) was known as owl
  • while Aeginetic stater was known as Chelone.

Other coins were also given specific names. During this period, each city minted its coin, and they stamped their coins with a recognisable signature, which is known as badges in numismatics. The coins also had an inscription that may be in the form of the city’s name or an image depicting the city, quality and quantity of the metal used in minting the coin. The names of the cities that were using drachma as a currency as of that time includes:

Abdera, Abydos, Alexandria, Aetna, Antioch, Athens, Chios, Cyzicus, Corinth, Ephesus, Eretria, Gel, Catana, Kos, Maronia, Naxos, Pella, Pergamum, Rhegion, Salamis, Smyrni, Sparta,  Syracuse, Tarsus, Thasos, Tenedos, Troy and more.

As of the 5th century, the Athenian tetradrachm was probably the most widely used coin in the whole of Greek before the time of Alexandria the great, together with Corinthian stater. The Athenian tetradrachm was minted, featuring a profile bust of Athena with a helmet on the front while the back has an owl, hence, the name of the coin, ‘owl’. The weight of drachma was different depending on where it was minted, but the most common weight that was used by most cities was the weight of Athenian tetradrachm or Attic one, which was weighing 4.3 grams.

After successful conquests of Alexandria the great, the name drachma was used for the currency in many of the Hellenistic kingdoms in the Middle East. Dirham, which is the Arabic unit of the currency used by the Arabs since pre-Islamic time was derived from drachma. Dirham is still used as the official currency of countries like Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. The currency used in Armenia, the Armenian dram was also coined from the word drachma.

A few words about the denomination

Old generation Drachma

The denomination of old generation drachma is quite different from the new generation drachma. The worth of old generation drachma is based on weight.  However, the new generation drachma was not only based on weight but also the type of metal used to mint the coin. Because of the material such as and gold and silver that were used in minting the drachma coin which holds very high value, today, it is worth a fortune.

New generation Drachmas

When Greece joined the Latin monetary union 1868, the Greek drachma value was equal to that of French franc. The drachma bills were introduced by the National Bank of Greece in 1841 and were in use until 2002 when it was stopped when Greece joined the Europian Union. The drachma bills were in small denominations of 1,2, 3, 4 and 5 drachmae. Initially, when Greece obtained her independence in 1828, Greece changed its legal tender to Phoenix which was short-lived, before they reverted back to using drachma.

Due to the hyperinflation that occurred during the Nazis period in Greece during World War 2, the value of a drachma fell horribly as there were high denominations of the currency.

One of the major reasons why the former Greece currency was changed was because of the drachma exchange rate. During this period, high denominations of drachma were issued due to the looting of the Nazis that were occupying Greece at the time from 1941 to 1944.   After Greece was liberated from Germany in 1944, they tried to salvage the situation by printing new drachma bills. However, hyperinflation did not stop, and Greece decided to join the Bretton wood system in 1954.

As of 1954, the drachma was evaluated after the hyperinflation it experienced during the German invasion. The drachma bills were revalued, and as of that time, the value of a drachma was 30 drachma to 1 United States dollar. In 1973, the Bretton wood system was abolished, and the drachma exchange rate gradually declined until the value of drachma was at the rate of 400 drachma to 1 United States dollars.

what was the greek currency before the euro

Drachma coins were also minted in 1954. Different denominations of drachma coins were minted and the ones in circulation as of the time it was still in use were:

  • 50 lepta which was valued at the rate of €0.0015
  • 1 drachma was valued at the rate of €0.0029
  • 2 drachma which was valued at the rate of €0.0059
  • 5 drachma which was  valued at the rate of €0.0147
  • 10 drachma which was valued at the rate of €0.0293
  • 20 drachma which was valued at the rate of €0.0587
  • 50 drachma which was valued at the rate of €0.147
  • 100 drachma which was valued at the rate of €0.293
  • 500 drachma which was valued at the rate of €1.47

For over 20 years, 30 drachma was valued at 1 United States dollar, and as of 2002 when the drachma bills were changed, one drachma was equivalent to 340.75 euro.

One thing for sure is, old generation drachma coins still hold significant value in our modern world because of the type of materials that were used in minting them and also because they represent a very important history. Nowadays, you will hardly see a drachma bill or drachma coin, but remember, that was one of the oldest currencies to ever exist.

Perhaps your grandfather still has some dramcha stacked up in one corner of his room; you can help him sell them off in exchange for some US dollars at