The Numismatic Museum of Athens is one of the oldest public museums in Greece. It was established in1834, the same year as the National Archaeological Museum. It is housed in an impressive building, built in 1878-1879 on Panepistimiou Street, and designed by the German architect Ernst Ziller, as the residence of the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann. Its name, Iliou Melathron, meaning the Palace of Troy, was associated with the discovery of the ancient city by Schliemann.
Watercolor of Iliou Melathron, the residence of Schliemann, now housing the Numismatic Museum.
It is a two-floor building impressively decorated. The decoration of the building conveys Schliemann’s great passion for antiquity and agrees with his attempt to portray himself as a man of arts and letters. The ceiling-paintings and wall-paintingsare the work of the Slovenian painter Jurij Subitz, well-known for his work in Vienna and Paris. The wall decoration is characterized by the reproduction of themes from the wall-paintings in residences in Pompey and the writing of selected excerpts from works of ancient Greek writers, such as Homer, Hesiod, Pindar and Lucian. Artifacts found during Schliemann’s excavations as well as motifs derived from them are depicted on the mosaic floors, made by Italian artisans. The metallic decorative motifs of the interior and exterior areas were manufactured in a Piraeus workshop. The mansion’s decoration was completed by terracotta copies of ancient statues, made in Vienna, three of which were placed in the garden and twenty-four on the perimeter of the roof.
The Numismatic Museum, Athens.
The Numismatic Museum is now one of the five most important numismatic museums in the world. It displays coins, “treasuries” (closed coin collections), standard weights, metals and precious stones, from the ancient Greek period, the Roman period, Byzantium, the western middle Ages, and modern history. One gallery is dedicated to Schliemann himself, exhibiting personal papers and collections. The Museum outdoor Cafe is one of the city's best kept secrets.
The Numismatic Museum owns 500,000 acquisitions –mostly coins as well as medals, lead bullae, gems, weights, obeloi and talents- dated from the 14th c. BC until today. The richest collections are those of the ancient coins dated from the 6th c. BC to the 5th c. AD. These are the coins of the city-states, the kings and rulers of the ancient Greek and Hellenistic world, the Roman Republic, the Roman emperors and the Roman Imperial provinces.
Of similar importance are the collections of the Byzantine and Medieval coins dated from the 6th c. to the 15th c. There is a large number of coins of the Byzantine empire and representative issues of all the emperors and mints, issues of states and monarchs of the Medieval West and East as well as issues of the Frankish kingdoms created in Greece since the 13th c. The period from the 15th to the 20th c. is covered through the coins of most of the Modern and contemporary era states. An emphasis is shown to coins circulated in Greece, such as issues of the Ottoman empire, coins of European states and empires and coins and banknotes of the Modern Greek state.
The remaining artifacts of miniature sculpture and art comprise exceptional collections. The ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Medieval weights for various products and coins are an essential source of information on the weight standards and the trade transactions in different periods. Gems were used as symbols of power, jewelry and as means of defining identity, authenticity or value. The rich collection of Byzantine lead bullae functions as a valuable tool for Byzantine Sigillography and Sphragistics. Medals preserve a great amount of information on historical personages and events, depictions of buildings, cities and entire regions expressing the art of each period from the Renaissance up to this day. In order for the Museum to manage its collections, it has a section of ancient coins, weights and miniature art, a section of Byzantine and Medieval coins and gems and a section of Modern coins and medals.
329 coins from the first Archaeological Museum set up in 1829 in Aegina –briefly capital of the newly established Greek state- comprise the core of the Collection. Since then, the Collection was gradually enriched with coins and other objects deposited at the Museum as donations, deliveries, purchases, confiscations and excavation finds. Hence, until the decade of the 1970s, more than 50,000 coins from the excavations in Argos, Olympia, Corinth, Delphi, Olynthus etc., had reached the Museum. More than 190,000 coins belong to 670 ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Medieval and Modern hoards from all over Greece. These close sets of coins are vital sources of information on coin circulation and economy in Greece from antiquity to the beginning of the 20th c.