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Greece and Egypt: How a Single Coin Reflects an Ancient and Enduring Relationship

A tiny object can rewrite history.  In this case, the small electrum coin featuring the head of an African pictured here reveals a fascinating link between Africa and Greece from antiquity to the present.  Unfortunately we know very little about the coin itself except that it is from the early classical period and is now in a private collection.

Its very existence, however, indicates that the link between Northeast Africa and Southeastern Europe began millennia ago. The earliest finds of human ancestors come from Africa.  Stone tools discovered in Ethiopia have been dated to about 2.6 million years ago when survival depended on success in managing wild animals either by hunting or taming, identifying wild edible foods, and mastering the physical conditions of the environment. Success brought increasing control of the environment as well as evolutionary advance in the human brain.  While few environments of the African continent were more conducive to agriculture, creating a huge garden along the Nile River was difficult:  it demanded a high level of technology and the cooperation of large numbers of people to control the annual flooding along both sides of the river’s 600 miles.

Herodotus, the father of history, in his researches to understand the cause of the conflict between Persia and Greece, somewhat surprisingly began his inquiries in Egypt.  He learned that Min, the first king of Egypt, exercised control from the city of Memphis and had been succeeded by 330 rulers.  By 3000 BCE, 4,000 square miles of cultivated land was the core of a unified Egyptian state. 

Location on the southern coast of the Mediterranean was another advantage contributing to the wider importance of Egypt. The sea’s name means “the middle of the lands;” it is the point of juncture of several of the largest land masses on the globe. While the Mediterranean is expansive, conditions encourage navigation:  even in the more sizeable eastern waters, sailors are rarely out of sight of land, either a portion of the coastal ring or one of