The First Coins and the Birth of Coinage

My publish interests are general, with expertness in science, history, biographies, and “ how-to ” topics. I have written over seventy books .

A Time Before Coins

Since the click of record history men and women have traded goods with each other to get matter they needed or wanted : eggs for firewood, onions for a blanket… The list goes on and on. To make this trading process or barter easier people began introducing items that acted as units of value, and these were early examples of currentness. The beginning know examples of currency or money go bet on to the eight century BC in China where knives, hoes, and billhooks ( pruning tools ) with inscriptions designating the authority of the issuer were used as money. The durable and ductile properties of metals have constantly made them a natural option as the basis of any organization of money. The Ancient Egyptians, who did not develop a coinage system, used bars of gold of a set weight starting around the 4th millennium BC. In the Middle East, gold rings served both as jewelry and a form of currency along with gold and silver bars that could be cut to fixed weights. The type of metallic used in these units of rally depended largely on a local source of alloy. In towns and cities along the coast of the Aegean Sea, ingots of copper weighing up to 55 pounds became a whole of exchange. In Italy, lumps of bronze, known as aes natural, formed a currentness in early times, followed by bars of regular weight.

These early forms of “ big ” currencies derived from copper, iron, and bronze were utilitarian metals desirable for making tools, weapons, and implements. The presentation of cherished metals of gold and silver as a average of change made it imperative mood to standardize the slant and honor of the metallic bars and ingots. Once it became platitude for small quantities of gold and silver to be accepted as units of value for trade, the door was opened for a true neologism system to emerge .Spade money from China, c. 650-400 BC. Spade money from China, c. 650-400 BC .

The First Coins

Around 2700 years ago, the early Greeks began to make crude coins out of precious metals to facilitate barter at home and with cities around the Mediterranean Sea. The ancient greek historian Herodotus, writing in approximately 430 BC, reported the Lydians as “ the first people we know of to strike coins of silver and gold. ” The oldest know coins were unearthed in 1904 by British Museum archaeologists at the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. The synagogue was dedicated to Artemis, Greek goddess of the wilderness, wild animals, and the moonlight. The complicate temple is one of the seven wonders of the ancient earth. The ancient city of Ephesus is located on the western coastline of contemporary Turkey on the Aegean Sea. british archaeologists unearthed about 90 coins made of electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver, at the temple web site. The hoard of coins consisted of some that were unrefined lumps of electrum of uniform weight and others that were marked with a elementary punch, with the remainder of the coins bearing a combination of animal representations and punch marks. The coins were found in a level of land that predated King Croesus, who reigned over Lydia from 560 BC until his frustration by the Persian baron Cyrus the Great around 546 BC. This indicates the coins were credibly struck before the reign of Croesus, and the coins could date ampere early as the predominate of Gyges or one of his descendants in the early to mid-seventh hundred BC. The trope of a lion found on early lydian coins gives credenza to the conjecture since the lion was part of the coating of arms of Gyges and his dynasty .Map of Ancient Lydian Empire under King Croesus, c. 547 BC. Map of Ancient Lydian Empire under King Croesus, c. 547 BC .

Electrum Coins of Lydia

The prevailing denomination for the early lydian electrum coins is the 1/3 stater, or banal, which weighs approximately 4.7 grams. The design consists of a emphatic leo ’ s head facing correctly with an open mouth and a beaming sun above the frontal bone. The inverse design has a double incuse punch-mark. The relatively high respect of the full stater, a little over 14 grams of electrum, relegated it to higher value transactions, such as buying houses, cattle, and land. The coins of that period were struck by starting with a carefully measured measure of electrum and then striking the collocate or blank with a punch that drove the metallic into a cavity that contained the design. The straight punch was probably held by one man while another swing a heavy mallet to provide the necessity force to cause the metallic element to flow into the cavity. The larger lumps of electrum had to be heated before striking to allow the increased measure of metal to flow into the die cavity. The king ’ s control of the mining of aureate and silver resulted in the accumulation of bang-up wealth for the imperial treasury in the early sixth hundred BC. The last and most celebrated of the lydian kings, Croesus, abandoned the consumption of electrum in prefer of a dual neologism system of gold and argent. The bi-metallic coin system allowed for smaller denomination silver coins to be stuck that could be used in casual occupation transactions. The gold coins were valued at 13 times that of an equal weighted silver mint. Both the silver and gold coins featured the front of a ferocious lion attacking a bull. The reverse has the incused punch marks from the fall upon work. The purchasing power of the coins by nowadays ’ mho standards is hard to precisely determine ; however, it is estimated that the amber coins were approximately a month ’ south wage for a laborer .Early sixth century BC Lydian electrum 1/3 stater. early sixth hundred BC Lydian electrum 1/3 stater .

King Croesus and the Birth of a Coinage System

King Croesus was known for his capital wealth as recorded by the first hundred Greek writer Plutarch, who described the king as being, “ …decked out with everything in the way of cherished stones, dye array, and wrought gold that men deem noteworthy, or excessive, or enviable, in order that he might present a most august and gorgeous spectacle. ” however, Croesus ’ luck began to turn as he grew implicated about the aggression of the Persian Empire to the west, prompting him to launch a preemptive strike against the Persians. The Lydians turned out to be no match for the iranian army, resulting in the end of the reign of King Croesus over the lydian Empire. The Persians readily accepted the coinage system of the Lydians and adopted it to their own use. late in the one-sixth century BC, the Persians began to issue a parallel coinage of gold and argent known as darics and sigloi. These coins were of similar size and weight to those of the Lydians but depicted a standing king with respective weapons .

Aegina and the Turtle Coins

As the coins from Lydia and Persia began to spread throughout the towns and cites that dotted the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea, it was only natural that other cities adopted their own coins for trade. It didn ’ t take the merchants on the island of Aegina ( or Aigina ), located off the coast of Athens, long to grasp the utility of coinage and they began to produce their own silver coins. They first produced an electrum stater with a sea turtle on the obverse and a punch scratch on the turn back. The ocean capsize was significant to the Aeginetes because it represented their addiction on the sea and it was the hallowed animal of the goddess Aphrodite. Next, they began to produce silver stater coins of a similar design in larger quantities using silver from the nearby island of Siphnos. The coins are frequently artlessly struck with a crack in the metallic element being park. Improvements were made in the coins around the end of the one-sixth century BC when better-defined reversion punches were used. Over time the minters of the coins improved their skills, making the capsize bold and with better detail. In the center of the fifth hundred BC the city state of Athens rose in exponent, conquered Aegina, and put an end to their ocean turtle design, replacing it with a estate tortoise. The capsize coins became Europe ’ s first coins and their custom gap quickly throughout the Mediterranean world.

Silver stater of Aegina, c. 550 to 530 BC. The obverse features a sea turtle, and the reverse consists of an incused punch mark. Silver stater of Aegina, c. 550 to 530 BC. The obverse features a sea capsize, and the reversion consists of an incused punch mark .

Athenian Owl Silver Coin

During the fifth hundred BC the city state of Athens became one of the leading powers in the Mediterranean worldly concern, politically, militarily, and culturally. After the soldiers of Athens repealed the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, Athens began its transformation under the leadership of its leading citizen, Pericles, into the political, artistic, and intellectual center of the grecian world. It was during this period, which we now call the gold age of Athens, that majority rule took root, the Parthenon was built, and philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle roamed the streets. It was besides when the citizens of Athens produced a large silver mint called a tetradrachm, which featured the goddess Athena on the obverse and an owl with the inscription AΘE on the overrule. The owl was Athena ’ s favorite animal and the dedication AΘE was an abbreviation for AΘENAION, meaning “ of the Athenians. ” The clayey argent tetradrachm was minted in large quantities with silver medal from the mines at Laurium. The basic blueprint of the owl coin was produced for around 400 years and gradually improved in choice over the centuries. In 449 BC the designs were revised, and output was quickly increased to keep up with demands to fund big building projects and the Peloponnesian War that had started in 431 BC. The value of the thick silver coins, about the diameter of a U.S. quarter, was besides high for everyday daily purchases, relegating the mint to being used for larger transactions. To facilitate daily purchases, a series of smaller denomination coins were produced, down to the bantam hemitartemorion, which weighs less than a tenth of a gram. The coherent blueprint, purity, and weight made the coin a global standard for trade throughout the ancient universe .An Athenian “Owl” tetradrachm from after 499 BC, showing the head of Athena and the owl on the reverse. An athenian “ Owl ” tetradrachm from after 499 BC, showing the head of Athena and the owl on the change by reversal .

The Spread of Coins Throughout Europe and Asia

Around the Aegean Sea area many of the city-states began to strike their own coins as a matter of civil pride and to facilitate trade. By around 500 BC, neologism of respective sizes and designs had spread throughout much of the Greek and persian Empires. As minting techniques improved so did the quality and beauty of the coins. gradually the crude punch marks of the reverses were replaced with detail designs. The Greeks preferred simple motifs for their coins, frequently featuring animals and their diverse gods. Images of bulls, birds, lions, goats, chickens, and some vegetables are much seen on their coins. The city state of Corinth developed beautiful coins featuring the fabulous winged horse Pegasus while Syracuse minted the very artistic decadrachm. The coin depicts a profile of Arethusa, a nymph of springs and water, wearing a crown of leaves. The goddess has a triple-pendant earring and necklace with her portrayal surrounded by four naiant dolphins. The invert features four horses pulling a chariot while the god Nike flies above. As a leave of the Peloponnesian War that pitted Sparta and her allies against Athens and the city-states in her world, the ash grey from the mines at Laurium was cut off to Athenians by the Spartans. By 407 BC the deficit of precious metals had become acuate, forcing Athenians to melt golden statues from the Parthenon to make coins. This dearth of ash grey coins brought about the introduction of bronze coins, which turned out to be unpopular substitutes for the small fractional silver coins. As it became apparent that Athens was losing the war with Sparta, city after city began to abandon Athens, sparking a flurry of mugwump neologism being struck in these cities. During the period of the conquests of Alexander the Great, huge quantities of coins were struck at diverse mints from Macedonia to Babylon with undifferentiated types and weights. After Alexander ’ s death in 323 BC, his generals parceled off his kingdom and write out coins of their own design. Alexander ’ s gap of the Hellenic culture was discernible with the issue of greek style coins by the Arsacid kings of Parthia and the Bactrian kings that ruled the lands that are character of contemporary Turkey and Pakistan. As the function of coins became widely adopted, they spread throughout the greek domain into the far reaches of Europe, Persia, and much of Asia. By the open of the inaugural hundred of the Common Era, neologism had spread throughout much of Europe and Asia. The continents of Africa, North America, and South America relied heavily on imported coins from Europe and Asia to support their economies. It was not until relatively modern times that any significant quantities of coins were produced on these three continents .Syracuse silver decadrachm coin, c. 404 – 390 BC. Syracuse ash grey decadrachm mint, c. 404 – 390 BC .

What Does It Cost to Own One of These Early Coins?

A surprising number of the early on lydian coins placid exist ; though not bum, they are actively collected. The smaller denomination coins in silver, such as the 1/12 stater issued under King Croesus, can be purchased in the stove of $ 400 to $ 500. Unless you are buying from a coin dealer with a notice expertness in ancient coins, it is always wise to purchase coins graded by one of the master marking services–NGC, PCGS, ANACS, or ICG. A full stater eloquent coin from that period in VF condition will cost around $ 3,000. Prices go up from there. Take, for example, the silver medal “ grave stater ” in top stipulate ; it is worth around $ 8,000. The earlier gold and electrum coins in acme condition become very expensive and out of the range of the average collector. The ash grey dram turtle coins from Aegina, c. 480 to 457 BC, sell in the $ 1,000 to $ 2,000 image, while the athenian “ Owl ” tetradrachm can be had for less than a $ 1,000 in well circulated condition .


  • Bressett, Kenneth. Milestone Coins: A Pageant of the World’s Most Significant and Popular Monies. Atlanta: Whitman Publishing, LLC, 2007.
  • Morris, Ian and Barry B. Powell. The Greeks: History, Culture, and Society. Second Edition. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2010.
  • Sayles, Wayne G. Ancient Coin Collecting II: Numismatic Art of the Greek World. Iola: Krause Publications, 2007.
  • The New Encyclopedia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1994.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the generator ’ sulfur cognition and is not meant to substitute for dinner dress and personalize advice from a stipulate professional. © 2021 Doug West Doug West (author) from Missouri on April 03, 2021 : Glad you liked it. Coins and money are things we take for granted, but they had to be invented.

fran rooks from Toledo, Ohio on April 03, 2021 : Doug, a most concern and informative article with capital photos. Thank you for this capital piece of history .

reference :

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.