Gold coin of Croesus

Lydian, around 550 BC, from modern Turkey

Gold coin of Croesus

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Is this a coin of the fabulously rich Croesus? King of the Lydian people (reigned about 560-547 BC), Croesus was renowned for his great wealth. The expression 'as rich as Croesus' is used today to mean fabulously rich.


His royal capital was at the city of Sardis in what is now central Turkey. It stood on  the River Pactolus, which may have been partly responsible for his legendary wealth.

Electrum, an alloy of gold and silver, occurs naturally in the sands of the river bed and was extracted from the river in antiquity. Gold and silver were also found nearby and it is these metals which came to be used widely in coinage. Coins made from electrum had been struck since the seventh century BC in western Asia Minor, but this practice was superseded by currencies made from gold and silver. The most famous of these early coinages was that attributed to the Lydian kingdom.

Because of his legendary wealth, the earliest coins to be issued in gold have often been attributed to King Croesus.

In fabric and design these were not unlike the earliest electrum coins. The forepart of a lion was shown facing the forepart of a bull on the obverse (front), while the reverse (back) consisted of simple punches produced by a hammer blow. The coins were issued in several denominations and also in silver.

The ancient Greek author Herodotus mentions a gold coin minted by the Lydians, and it may well be this coin to which he refers (Herodotus 1.54 and 1.94). There are also references in the accounts of the treasury at the Parthenon in Athens, which kept a record of the types of coins stored there to gold ‘croesids’ (IG I3 458, line 29).

However, study of the hoard evidence for these coins now suggests that if they were issued by Croesus,  production must have begun late in his reign , and they continued to be produced long after his death by rulers of the Persian Empire, which had conquered Lydia.

The Persians began to mint their own bimetallic currency (gold ‘darics’ and silver ‘sigloi’), and the practice of minting silver coins in particular also spread rapidly throughout the Mediterranean in the last part of the sixth century BC. By the fifth century BC most major Greek cities minted coins in silver and these were widely used in trade in the Mediterranean world and far beyond.

Gold coin of Croesus

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Gold coin of Croesus

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Object details

Height: 1 cm
Width: 2 cm
Weight: 8 g

 

CM BMC Lydia 32

Room 13: Greece 1050-520 BC

     

    Bequeathed by Richard Payne Knight

    References

    G.K. Jenkins, Ancient Greek coins (London, Seaby, 1990)

    C.M. Kraay, Archaic and Classical Greek co (London, Methuen, 1976)

    I.A. Carradice, Greek coins (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)

    I.A. Carradice and M.J. Price, Coinage in the Greek world (London, Seaby, 1988)

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further Reading

    C. Kraay, Archaic and Classical Greek Coins (London, 1976)

    A. Ramage, and P. Craddock, King Croesus’ Gold, Excavations at Sardis and the History of Gold Refining (Cambridge, 2000)

    R. Seaford, Money and the Early Greek Mind: Homer, Tragedy, and Philosophy (Cambridge ,2004)

    D. Schaps, The Invention of Coinage and the Monetization of Ancient Greece (Michigan, 2004)

    R.W. Wallace, ‘The Origin of Electrum Coinage’, American Journal of Archaeology, 91 (1987), 385–397

    R.W. Wallace, ‘Remarks on the Value and Standards of Early Electrum Coins’, in M.S. Balmuth, Hacksilber to Coinage: New Insights into the Monetary History of the Near East and Greece (New York, 2001) pp 363–371