The story of the Greek Drachma becoming Euro


The Greek drachma was the currency of Greece till 2002, when Greece switched to using the Euro as their official currency.
So when I moved to Greece in 1993, there was no euro yet, but just the Drachma. Anybody visiting Greece, needed to change their currency into Drachmas.
Let’s get into some history of this Greek currency, and the relation with the euro.

Some history about the Greek currency

The Drachma was one of the oldest currencies in the world, since it was used from around 1100 BC. It was not only a form of currency, but also a weight measure and a unit of value in ancient Greece.
This multi-faceted functionality of the Drachma was a common aspect of currencies in ancient civilizations.

The Drachma underwent several periods of use and disuse, but I will spare you the many details of Greece’s long history.

However,  in “modern times”, the drachma was re-introduced in 1832, following the creation of the modern country of Greece (after the Greek independence from Turkey).

Of course, over time, there was always inflation, and the value, as well as the design of coins / banknotes regularly changed over time.
For example, after Greece was liberated from Nazi Germany in 1944, old drachmas were exchanged for new ones at a rate of 50 trillion to one.  f
In 1953, Greece joined the Bretton Woods system in an attempt to slow inflation. The following year, the drachma was revalued at a rate of 1000 to one, pegged at 30 drachmae to one U.S. dollar.

One drachma was divided into 100 lepta. (= cents)

At the time of the adoption of the euro in 2000, following coins were in circulation;

  • 50λ – 50 lepta (€0.0015)
  • ₯1 – 1 drachme (€0.0029)
  • ₯2  – 2 drachmas (€0.0059)
  • ₯5  – 5 drachmas (€0.0147)
  • ₯10 – drachmes – (€0.0293)
  • ₯20 – drachmas (€0.0587) – they were also called 20 lepta
  • ₯50 – drachmas (€0.147)  –  they were also called 50 lepta
  • ₯100 – drachmas  (€0.293)
  • ₯500 – drachmas  (€1.47)

At the time of the adoption of the euro in 2000, following coins were in circulation;

  • ₯100 (€0.2935), 100 drachmas – with picture of  Athena and Adamantios Korais  (related to the picture of the owl, now on the Greek 1 euro coin, see below)
  • ₯200 (€0.5869), 200 drachmas – with picture of  Rigas Feraios  (now on the Greek 10 euro cents coin, see below)
  • ₯500 (€1.47), 500 drachmas – with picture of Ioannis Kapodistrias  (now on the Greek 20 euro cents coin, see below)
  • ₯1,000 (€2.93), 100 drachmes – with picture of Apollo
  • ₯5,000 (€14.67), 5000 drachmas – with picture of  Theodoros Kolokotronis
  • ₯10,000 (€29.35), with picture of  George Papanicolaou (gynecologist and the inventor of the “pap-test ) and Asclepius
  • The highest denomination of the Greek Drachma was the 10,000-drachma note, but I can not recall ever have seen this banknote.

Finally, the three modern Greek drachmas were replaced by the euro in 2001 at the rate of 340.750 drachmae to one euro.




Adoption of the euro in 2002

Greece had been part of the EU since the 1980s and as all the countries moved to adopt one currency with the goal of benefiting from more efficient trade and financial markets, Greece moved with the process as well.

The euro banknotes and coins were introduced in Greece on 1 January 2002, after a transitional period of one year when the euro was the official currency but only existed as ‘book money’. The dual circulation period – when both the Greek drachma and the euro had legal tender status – ended on 28 February 2002.

This exchange rate was fixed in 2001, and the euro was introduced shortly thereafter in January of 2002.

Fixed conversion rate   €1 = 340.750 GRD

When Greece switched to using the euro it switched from a low-value currency to a high-value currency.
The switch to the euro has come with many advantages and disadvantages.

The transition proved challenging due to the fact that the exchange rate (340.75 to 1 euro) included lepta .
Also the fact that the 20 and 50 euro cent coins (also called “lepta” in Greek), were very similar in size and composition to the 20, 50 and 100 drachma coins, so Greeks  initially had the impression they were worthless (because they were used to the fact that the 20 and 50 drachma coins were nearly worth nothing).
This allowed vendors and businesses to take advantage of much higher pricing.
The most obvious example is the retail price of a 500ml bottle of water: from the time I moved to Greece in 1993 it was costing 50 drachmas and remained that price till 2002 (€0.147 in 2002)
When the euro was introduced, that bottle of water now became 50 euro cents, a  very high increase, driven by inflation.

The same happened with many other products, such at 1kg of oranges! in 2000 we could buy a kilo of oranges for 100 drachmas, In 2002 that same kg now became more or less 1 euro = 340 drachmas!


Where the name “euro” comes from?

In Greece the euro is called  “Evro”. Please note that the accent goes to the last syllable. ευρώ
This word comes from the Greek word “europe”, = “ευρώπη”

Nowadays, this lovely fable of Europe (see below) is depicted in the 2-euro coin of the European Union to pay attribute to the Godmother of Europe.
The story of Europa is interesting and the end is surprisingly good, in contrast to the usual tragic endings of the Greek myths.

ΝΟΤΕ΄eu-, prefix. eu- comes from Greek, where it has the meaning “good, well”.
This meaning is found in such words as: eulogy, euphemism, euphoria, euthanasia.

The symbol € is based on the Greek letter epsilon (Є),
with the first letter in the word “Europe” and with 2 parallel lines signifying stability. The ISO code for the euro is EUR.

There are 8 different euro coins  1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent, €1 and €2.
Every euro coin has a common side and a national side. The national side indicates the issuing country. The common sides of the coins were designed by the Royl Belgian Mint, and show images of the European Union or of Europe and symbolize the unity of the EU.

Greek euro coins feature a unique design for each of the eight coins.
They were all designed by Georgios Stamatopoulos with the minor coins depicting Greek ships, the middle ones portraying famous Greeks and the two large denominations showing images of Greek history and mythology.


The Greek euro-coins

Greece 2 euros – Europa abducted by Zeus

Portrays a scene from a mosaic in Sparta (third century AD), showing Europa being abducted by Zeus, who has taken the form of a bull.
In Greek mythology Europa was a beautiful Phoenician princess, daughter of Agenor and Telephassa.

Greece 1 euro – Owl

€1. The image of the owl featured in this design was copied from an ancient Athenian 4-drachma coin (fifth century BC).
The owl, symbol of goddess Athena, as it was depicted on an ancient Greek tetradrachm (5th century b.C.).
Athena was patron of the crafts, wisdom and battle. She became the patron goddess of the city of Athens, in a competition with Poseidon.

Greece 50 euro cents – Eleytherios Venizelos

Eleytherios Venizelos (1864-1936), one of the most prominent political figures in Hellas.
He was a pioneer in social reform, a renowned diplomat and played a key role in modernising the Greek state and the victorious military campaigns of 1912-1920, liberating

Greece 20 euro cents – Ioannis Kapodistrias

Ioannis Kapodistrias (1776-1831), a distinguished national and European politician and diplomat, who became the first Governor of Hellas following the Greek War of Independence (1821-27).
The first Greek state was founded in 1828 under the name “Hellenic State” and consisted of the Peloponnese and part of Central Greece.
After he became The first governor of Greece (1830-31) , he cut Greek coins, founded schools and orphanages and generally tried to help in the development of economy and education.

Greece 10 euro cents – Rigas-Fereos 

Rigas-Fereos (Velestinlis) (1757-1798) was a forerunner and leading figure of the Greek enlightenment and confederation. He was the first to visualize the liberation of the Balkans from the Ottoman Empire and was executed by the Ottomans in 1798 after


The Myth of Europa

This myth is about a beautiful girl that was abducted and then seduced by Zeus, the chief of the Greek Gods. This concept is very usual in the Greek mythology.
The amazing thing is that this girl gave her name to the whole continent of Europe. Her story has been very popular since the ancient times and has been depicted in many ancient pieces of ceramics and coins. 

Nowadays, this lovely fable is depicted in the 2-euro coin of the European Union to pay attribute to the Godmother of Europe.
The story of Europa is interesting and the end is surprisingly good, in contrast to the usual tragic endings of the Greek myths.


The abduction from Zeus

The most popular myth about Europa says that she was the daughter of Agenor, a Phoenician king, and later became a wife of Zeus, the King of Gods.

According to the legend, Europa was the example of feminine beauty on Earth. Zeus once saw her on the seashore of Phoenicia playing with her friends. He was so captivated by her beauty that he fell in love with her and developed a strong desire to possess her. Immediately, he took the form of a white bull and approached her. The bull looked wonderful with its snow-white body and gem-like horns.
Europa looked at the extraordinary animal curiously and dared to touch  him because he appeared so calm to her. Later, she was somehow motivated to climb on his back.

As soon as she did so, Zeus ran to the sea and carried her all the way from Phoenicia to the island of Crete. There he regained his human form and mated with her under an evergreen tree.
This was the abduction of Europa, who later gave birth to three sons of Zeus, Minos, Rhadamanthys and Sarpedon. These men were known for their fairness and became the three judges of the Underworld, when they died.

The ancient Greek goddess Europa features on a five-euro note unveiled by the European Central Bank.
It appears as both a watermark and hologram on the note, which otherwise largely resembles its predecessor.





Apart from the Greek Myths, there are also real Greek stories!

Click here to read and/or listen to a Greek Podcast Story; Where in Greece there are still drachmas?
An Easy Greek Podcast Story for the intermediate levels.

However, the Podcast Notebook also provides the English translation, as well as grammar exercises, vocab list, and a lot of extra information related to Greece

Greek podcast story  Greek podcast story


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