Silver Didrachm from Eretria, Euboea c. 500-465 BC

Cow standing right, scratching head with its right hind foot, E below / Octopus in incuse square.

Eretria counts among the first cities in Greece proper to strike their own silver coins along with Athens, Chalkis and Karystos. Analysis of several hoards has shown that the earliest coins struck in Eretria were contemporary with the first Athenian Owls. This Eretrian coinage is dated circa 520-510 BC, at the time of the fall of the Pisistratids and the end of the Athenian heraldic coins. On their obverse, Eretria’s coins bear an image of a standing cow, the head turned back, licking a rear hoof or scratching its nose; on the reverse there is an octopus in an incuse square.

The representation of a cow recalls the myth of Io. The young woman, after the birth of her son Epaphos by Zeus, was changed into a cow by Hera who wanted to take revenge on her unfaithful husband. According to one tradition, Epaphos was born in Euboea. As for the octopus, it probably alludes to the city’s maritime activities.