What is the

What is a Obolus?

"Anyone who pays a small contribution can watch the circus performance!" You may have read something like this before. Perhaps you have also wondered what an obolus actually is.

To clarify that we have to go back a long way - to ancient Greece. It was customary there to exchange goods for other goods. For example, you could get a couple of onions for an iron skewer and a piece of meat for 6 skewers. At some point this was found to be impractical and smaller and more manageable means of payment were developed.

Instead of the heavy and large iron parts, silver pieces were now used, which roughly corresponded to the value of the iron parts. Since silver was much more valuable than iron, the pieces were correspondingly much smaller. The silver was minted with symbols on two sides - and the first precious metal coins in Greece were ready.

The piece of silver that corresponded to the value of 6 skewers was called drachma. This is derived from the Greek word "drax", which means "a handful".
The piece of silver that corresponded to the value of a skewer was much smaller and was called Obolós.

This is derived from the Greek word "obelós" and means "spit". These coins were so small that back then people kept them in their mouths - in their cheeks or under their tongues - and simply spit them out when needed.

The Latin translation made obolós the word Obolusthat we still use. It denotes a tiny amount of money and is now synonymous with a donation, a tip or a small fee. So if you donate a few cents, you can watch the circus performance. Ah!