Africa's first coins

Silver coin of Cyrene

Weight: 12.870 g

CM BMC Cyrene 73 (RPK p024F.1)

In ancient times merchants and travellers developed trade routes from the North African coast to Europe and Asia. As a result, rich and powerful states grew, particularly the Phoenician city of Carthage (modern Tunisia) and Cyrene (modern Libya), a Greek colony. By the fifth century BC, coins were in circulation in these areas.

This silver coin from Cyrene depicts the now-extinct plant silphium on its reverse. The city flourished thanks to the exportation of silphium, which was highly desired by the Greeks from the seventh century BC to the first century AD. It was used as a medicine to treat symptoms including nausea, colds and headaches and was thought to be a gift from the god Apollo.

On the obverse of the coin is a deity known as 'the lord of good counsel' that the Cyrenaicans referred to as 'Zeus Ammon'. Ammon was an oracle god worshipped by the ancient peoples of Libya.