Uses of money

During its history, money has been put to a wide range of uses, not all of which are familiar to us today. Once a group of people agree on something to use as money, and on the value it carries, then a whole range of possibilities open up. Some uses are obvious, and were perhaps among the reasons why money was created. Others are less obvious, and reveal how different societies approach money in different ways. The British Museum has many examples of the different and important uses of money throughout history.


Warfare rarely occurs without the involvement of money. Troops have to be paid, weapons and provisions bought. The effects of war also have their costs, both in repairs to physical damage, and in damage Silver siege money of the English Civil Warsto the economy caused by the instability of war. War also affects the way we use money. People may save their money rather than spend it, prices may rise and unusual types of money have to be created to provide for temporary emergencies. Paying for warfare is one of the ways in which money is used to retain power, but there are less brutal ways of doing this. Gift giving has often been a way for governments to retain good relations with neighbours and allies.


Money and politics have always been closely linked. The United Kingdom's Labour Party spent over twelve million pounds during its election campaign of 1997, proving that this continues up the present day.

In many political systems, power has been restricted to the wealthy. Equally, political authority has allowed people to get rich personally, while working for the state. Those in power have often fiercely guarded their control over the production of money and a large part of government is concerned with money. Taxes or tribute are paid to a government, which then pays out money on defence, health, and other services. Public support can often be won through public spending.


Much of the aBrass sestertius of Titus showing the Colosseum in Romettraction of money comes from the way it can be used to acquire power, material comfort or social status. Many people, both rulers and individuals, have felt that the display of wealth can improve their position.

In many societies people have been reluctant to show off personal wealth, because of moral objections to moneymaking. For this reason, instead of flaunting money, wealth is often displayed indirectly, for example by erecting magnificent buildings.

Money continues to be used for private displays of wealth and status, reaffirming the individual’s place in society.

Ritual payments

Money and religious or philosophical beliefs are central toChinese money sword, 18th century AD how some societies work and can affect our behaviour. Money and belief do not necessarily conflict.

The giving of money plays an important part in a variety of rituals, and the power of many religions has been built in part on their wealth. However, most religions have been concerned about the moral implications of the use of money.

Protection has been sought throughout history by using money as an amulet or lucky charm. In many cultures, money is linked to luck, perhaps as money is thought to Money headdress from Samu'ah, southern Hebron hills, modern Palestinian Authority, AD 1840'smake life easier.

Also, money has been, and still is, important for making a variety of social payments. These include money forming part of many funerary and wedding ceremonies, and payments being made as compensation for wrong-doing. Although some of these rituals may appear unfamiliar to us today, many still exist. Examples include receiving money in return for milk teeth, or throwing coins into ‘wishing’ wells.

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The history of late Roman coins, £60.00

The history of late Roman coins, £60.00