The drachma, it worked once - it can work again
Briefing: Calls are growing for Greece to leave the euro. Here’s a reminder of the currency they’d be returning to
Could the drachma, which survived on and off for 2,600 years, be about to make a stunning comeback? Greece initially prospered in the euro, which it joined in 2002, but since the financial crisis, it has been forced to impose austerity measures in order to pay off its huge national debt.
Many economists see a return to the old currency as the only way Greece can hope to return to prosperity. Here's a reminder of what the Greeks have been missing.
• The drachma is at least 2,600 years old, which made it easily the oldest European currency. Originating in Aegina around 670BC, it first came into wide circulation in the fifth century BC, when the city state of Athens issued the four drachma tetradrachm, which featured the goddess Athene on the front and an owl on the reverse.
• The name drachma derives from the Greek verb drassesthai, 'to grasp with the hand. This is because a drachma was equal to six obols, an even earlier currency which took the form of metal rods. It was apparently possible to grasp six obols at a time in your hand.
• The dirham, a currency used in Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, is said to originate from the drachma, which was taken as far east as India by Alexander the Great's conquering army in the fourth century BC.
• Should Greece decide to resurrect the drachma, it will not be the first time. The ancient drachma fell out of use around the Roman invasion of 146BC and was replaced by their denarius. The drachma was only restored after Greece declared independence from the Ottoman empire in 1832 as the fledgling state looked back on its former glories.
• Greece's governing elite was keen to ditch the modern drachma in 2002. Not all ordinary Greeks agreed, however. Here's what some of them had to say at the time:
"The Greek drachma has, since independence, been revalued several times, at one point after WWII it was declared worthless, and my parents tell me it was tossed in the street as confetti. Hopefully the Euro will not suffer that fate, nor the US dollar, but time will tell." Leonidas, a commenter on BBC News.
"I still don't get it. Why must we give up the drachma within Greece? She means more to us than just money. She is a mirror of who we are. She's in our maths books, our history books, our folk tales, our daily parlance. She's everywhere." Nota Phillipides, a 27-year-old elementary school teacher, New York Times. ·
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