Aegina is one of the Saronic Islands of Greece in the Saronic Gulf, 27 kilometres (17 miles) from Athens. Tradition derives the name from Aegina the mother of the hero Aeacus, who was born on the island and became its king. During ancient times Aegina was a rival of Athens, the great sea power of the era.
Aegina is roughly triangular in shape, approximately 15 km (9.3 mi) from east to west and 10 km (6.2 mi) from north to south, with an area of 87.41 km2 (33.75 sq mi).
An extinct volcano constitutes two thirds of Aegina. The northern and western sides consist of stony but fertile plains, which are well cultivated and produce luxuriant crops of grain, with some cotton, vines, almonds, olives and figs, but the most characteristic crop of Aegina today (2000s) is pistachio. Economically, the sponge fisheries are of notable importance. The southern volcanic part of the island is rugged and mountainous, and largely barren. Its highest rise is the conical Mount Oros (531 m) in the south, and the Panhellenian ridge stretches northward with narrow fertile valleys on either side.
The beaches are also a popular tourist attraction. Hydrofoil ferries from Piraeus take only forty minutes to reach Aegina; the regular ferry takes about an hour, with ticket prices for adults within the 4–15 euro range. There are regular bus services from Aegina town to destinations throughout the island such as Agia Marina. Portes is a fishing village on the east coast.
Aegina, according to Herodotus, was a colony of Epidaurus, to which state it was originally subject. Its placement between Attica and the Peloponnesus made it a site of trade even earlier, and its earliest inhabitants allegedly came from Asia Minor. Minoan ceramics have been found in contexts of ca. 2000 BC. The famous Aegina Treasure, now in the British Museum is estimated to date between 1700 and 1500 BC. The discovery on the island of a number of gold ornaments belonging to the last period of Mycenaean art suggests that Mycenaean culture existed in Aegina for some generations after the Dorian conquest of Argos and Lacedaemon. It is probable that the island was not doricised before the 9th century BC.
One of the earliest historical facts is its membership in the League of Calauria (Calaurian Amphictyony, ca. 8th century BC), which included, besides Aegina, Athens, the Minyan (Boeotian) Orchomenos, Troezen, Hermione, Nauplia and Prasiae, and was probably an organisation of city-states that were still Mycenaean, for the purpose of suppressing piracy in the Aegean that began as a result of the decay of the naval supremacy of the Mycenaean princes.
Aegina seems to have belonged to the Eretrian league during the Lelantine War; this, perhaps, may explain the war with Samos, a major member of the rival Chalcidian league during the reign of King Amphicrates (Herod. iii. 59), i.e. not later than the earlier half of the 7th century BC.
Coinage and sea power (7th–5th centuries BC)
Coins of Aegina
Silver stater of Aegina, 550–530 BC. Obv. Sea turtle with large pellets down centre. Rev. incuse square with eight sections.
Silver drachma of Aegina, 404–340 BC. Obverse: Land tortoise. Reverse: inscription ΑΙΓ(INA) "Aegina" and dolphin.
Its early history reveals that the maritime importance of the island dates back to pre-Dorian times. It is usually stated on the authority of Ephorus, that Pheidon of Argos established a mint in Aegina, the first city-state to issue coins in Europe, the Aeginetic stater. One stamped stater (having the mark of some authority in the form of a picture or words) can be seen in the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris. It is an electrum stater of a turtle, an animal sacred to Aphrodite, struck at Aegina that dates from 700 BC. Therefore, it is thought that the Aeginetes, within 30 or 40 years of the invention of coinage in Asia Minor by the Ionian Greeks or the Lydians (c. 630 BC), might have been the ones to introduce coinage to the Western world. The fact that the Aeginetic standard of weights and measures (developed during the mid-7th century) was one of the two standards in general use in the Greek world (the other being the Euboic-Attic) is sufficient evidence of the early commercial importance of the island. The Aeginetic weight standard of about 12.3 grams was widely adopted in the Greek world during the 7th century BC. The Aeginetic stater was divided into three drachmae of 4.1 grams of silver. Staters depicting a sea-turtle were struck up to the end of the 5th century BC. Following the end of the Peloponnesian War, 404 BC, it was replaced by the land tortoise.
During the naval expansion of Aegina during the Archaic Period, Kydonia was an ideal maritime stop for Aegina's fleet on its way to other Mediterranean ports controlled by the emerging sea-power Aegina. During the next century Aegina was one of the three principal states trading at the emporium of Naucratis in Egypt, and it was the only Greek state near Europe that had a share in this factory. At the beginning of the 5th century BC it seems to have been an entrepôt of the Pontic grain trade, which, at a later date, became an Athenian monopoly.
Unlike the other commercial states of the 7th and 6th centuries BC, such as Corinth, Chalcis, Eretria and Miletus, Aegina did not found any colonies. The settlements to which Strabo refers (viii. 376) cannot be regarded as any real exceptions.