History of Coins: Foundational Economics of Our World
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History of Coins: Foundational Economics of Our World

Money does not always have worth, whether it is represented by a metal coin, a shell, or a piece of paper. Its worth is determined by how much people regard it as a medium of exchange, a unit of measurement, and a repository of wealth. Money enables people to trade goods and services in an indirect manner, it aids in communicating the price of goods (prices written in dollars and cents correspond to a numerical amount in your possession, i.e. in your pocket, purse, or wallet), and it provides individuals with a long-term means of storing their wealth. Let’s dive into the history of coins and how the foundational economics of the world makes it happen.

The Origins of Civilization and the Barter System

Money has existed since the dawn of humankind. Anatolia, the origin of human civilization, was the site of the first “money.” That money was obsidian, and it was incredibly expensive since it was used to make high-quality tools.

Early civilizations employed a variety of precious commodities as early kinds of money between 12,000 and 9,000 B.C. Early civilizations, like obsidian, were known to employ livestock as a bargaining instrument.

Trading obsidian and livestock are, of course, more of a bartering mechanism than real money. However, money is a broad word that refers to anything that is accepted as payment for products and services. Today, the majority of our money is in the form of currency. However, if you paid the pizza delivery man with seashells, those seashells would also be considered money (and the delivery guy would probably be really sad).

The primary distinction between early money and modern money is that early money had various purposes. Cattle and obsidian might be used as a kind of wealth storage as well as a means of payment. Cattle and obsidian might also be used for more realistic uses. For example, If you required tools, you could make them out of obsidian. Today’s money is completely inedible and cannot be fashioned into many useful tools.

As you may have guessed, these forms of financial transactions are severely constrained by one main flaw: there must be a “coincidence of demands.” What if a person doesn’t need livestock or obsidian? How are you going to compensate that person? This is not a perfect method.

Ultimately, the things with the greatest usefulness were acknowledged as the finest types of money in ancient times. Most individuals in early civilizations, for example, could find a beneficial use for a cow, which is why they were willing to take a cow as payment.

7 Oldest Coins that Ever Existed

Although contemporary culture is moving away from the usage of physical currency to digital money, crypto coins, humans have been utilizing coinage for thousands of years. Around the 7th century, the first coins were created in Iron Age Anatolia (particularly Lydia), China, India, and Ancient Greece.

Several specimens of these early coins have survived and are now in the hands of individual collectors or museums across the globe. They were often made of silver, gold, or other precious metals and were imprinted with a unique pattern, such as a lion’s head or a sea turtle. As these early civilizations traded with one another, the use of coinage as currency expanded.

Ionian Hemiobols | History of Coins

History of Coins

Cyme was a city in ancient Ionia (modern-day Turkey’s central coast) that was geographically close to Lydia (the birthplace of coins). The two towns were also politically nearby, and Cyme was inspired by the Lydian’s “nobleman’s tax tokens” to begin minting their own money for their populace.

Cyme’s earliest coins, known as Hemiobols, were imprinted with a horse’s head and made of a fraction of silver. These coins are said to be the second oldest in the world, having initially circulated between 600 and 500 BCE. The Ionian Greeks were the first to employ currency (the Hemiobols) for large-scale retailing, spreading the concept of Market Economics to the rest of the world.

The Lydian Lion

History of Coins

The Lydian Lion is commonly regarded as the world’s oldest currency. These coins predate Greek money and were made in the ancient Kingdom of Lydia, which was situated in modern-day western Turkey. While the dates of these coins are debatable (some dates go back as far as 700 BCE), it is most usually assumed that they appeared during the reign of King Alyattes, who governed Lydia from 610 to 550 BCE. People sometimes reference writings by Herodotus, a Greek historian, to support the assertion that the Lydians originated currency. He claimed that the Lydians were the first to utilize silver and gold money, as well as the first to build permanent retail establishments.

Karshapana | History of Coins

History of Coins

While historians disagree on the beginnings of coinage in India, it is widely assumed that the first coins were coined in India about the 6th century BCE. The Mahajanapadas of the Indo-Gangetic Plain learned how to make these early coins from West Asia. The coins were punched and referred to as Karshpanas, Puranas, or Panas. Unlike West Asian coins, early Indian coinage was not round. They were metal bars with various patterns imprinted on them. Some coins had a single symbol, while others had many symbols punched into them (often five). To make the coins, silver plates were cut into acceptable proportions and at least one of their corners was frequently chopped off.

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Ying Yuan

ying yuan

The earliest Chinese coins were made in the same period as the first Western ones. Chinese currency is said to have evolved independently of Western-style coinage, which inspired practically all of the world’s early coins. The Chinese may have begun utilizing currency as early as 700 BCE by exchanging cowrie shells.

During the Warring States era, the State of Chu minted the first gold coins of this period. The oldest instances of these coins, known as Ying Yuan, date back to roughly 600 or 500 BCE. They were fashioned of rough squares of gold that were embossed with inscriptions that indicated the coin’s monetary unit or weight, which is read as yuan.

Aegina Sea Turtle | History of Coins

History of Coins

Ancient Aegina’s inhabitants traveled frequently and traded with Ionia and Lydia. They saw the birth of the first coins and understood that they might be used to store wealth and optimize trade via the use of a worldwide currency. Aegina was the first Greek city-state to mint currency about the mid-6th century BCE.

The Aegina coins were the first to be used as international trade money, and their constant designs made them readily identifiable. Their coins were larger and thicker, with a high relief carved sea turtle on one side and a punched square design on the reverse. The Aegina coins eventually spread across the known globe at the time.

Persian Daric

History of Coins

Cyrus the Great, the first Persian Emperor, introduced coins to the Persian Empire sometime after 546 BCE. Darius I, the third Persian Emperor, introduced a modified financial system between 520 and 480 BCE. In this history of coins, he issued thick gold coins weighing a standard of 8.4 grams. The coins were known as daric, and they ultimately became the Achaemenid Persian Empire’s monetary standard.

Daric was of exceptionally high grade, with a gold purity of around 95.83 percent. The coins were melted down and rebuilt into Alexander the Great coins when Alexander the Great successfully conquered Persia in 330 BCE. This is most likely why, despite their widespread usage, daric are exceedingly uncommon.

Hallaton Silver Coin | History of Coins

Ken Wallace, a Hallaton Fieldwork Group volunteer, unearthed around 130 silver coins in 2000. Following this first find, a group of local archaeologists recovered the Hallaton Treasure, the greatest collection of British Iron Age coins ever found. Over 5,000 silver and gold coins, jewelry, a silver-gilt Roman parade helmet, and other relics were discovered by the researchers.

A silver Roman coin dating from about 211 BCE was discovered among the treasure — it is the earliest Roman coin ever discovered in Britain. The Goddess Roma is shown on one side of the coin, while the fabled twins Castor and Pollux ride a horse on the other. According to some archaeologists, the coin demonstrates that Britain dealt with Rome prior to the Roman invasion in 43 CE.


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