The beginnings of coinage

For over 2000 years cities and empires traded without using coins and there is no definitive theory as to why they were first produced.

The earliest coins were made in ancient kingdoms such as Lydia (in modern Turkey) and then spread to city states in the ancient Greek world. At a similar time coins were being made in China but they took on quite a different form...

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	Electrum 1/6 stater
  • 1

    Electrum 1/6 stater, Lydian, about 650-600 BC  

    The first coins...

    The first coins produced in the western world originate from Lydia, a kingdom which is now to be found in modern Turkey. Coins came in different sizes and weights, each controlled to ensure their purity. There were no inscriptions on these coins, instead the use of a stamped image indicated their weight and subsequent value which in turn acted as a state sanctioned guarantee of quality.

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    Bronze hollow handle spade money, Eastern Zhou dynasty, 5th century BC 

    All shapes and sizes...

    The first coins in China do not resemble our modern idea of coins at all. Instead they take the form of everyday objects which have been cast in bronze. Created in the late seventh century BC these coins took the form of common, agricultural implements but replicated on a smaller scale and bearing inscriptions making reference to a geographical area, group or weight.

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    Silver karshapana of the Mauryan Empire, northern India, 3rd century BC  

    The mystery of punch marks...

    It is suggested the very first coins in India were produced during the fourth century BC, although this by no means a certainty. The coins are unusually shaped and marked only with symbols. This, when combined with a lack of historical records, make them very difficult to date and attribute to any one particular group of people or ruler.

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    Silver tetradrachm of Athens, Greek, around 480 BC  

    Puns, produce and identity

    The adoption of coinage throughout the ancient Greek world allowed city states to issue coinage which represented the places in which they were made. By using different coin designs they could draw attention to the produce which created their wealth, use puns relating to their name or depict a mythical creature or god with whom they were associated.