Money is : 1) a medium of exchange 2) a measure of account 3) a store of value
It is impossible to say exactly when people first started using money. We appear to have been using it when we first learned how to write. Primitive currencies most likely came into use in the Neolithic Age which started about 12,000 years ago. Agriculture and the domestication of animals for food took place during the period 10,000-5000 BCE. It was during this period that the use of commodity money most likely began.
There is some evidence to suggest that pieces of flint may have been used in the stone age as a form of currency. Large caches of rough flint have been excavated that had been roughly shaped into two sizes, large for making axes,and small for making scrapers,knives,and spear points. They were probably used for trade and maybe as primitive money. More intriguing is an excavation which uncovered a large cache of finished flint axes that were too small and thin to be of any practical use. What's interesting about this is the fact that miniature axe heads have also been found at bronze and iron age dig sites. In one site thousands of bronze axe heads were found that were only 2 inches long. What were they used for? Money? Flint was very valuable to stone age people. If flint was used as money then obsidian most likely was too.
The first currencies were commodities. Animal skins have been used as money in many places. Buckskin was used as currency in North America in the 18th and 19th centuries. They were called bucks and were equal to one dollar. This is why we still call a dollar a buck. Many things have been used for currency over the years. Some of them are bowls,arrowheads,fishhooks,cloth,slaves,bread,salt,pepper,olive oil,candy,gum,postage stamps,alcohol,tobacco,and firearms. Whether an item could be considered money or just a trade item that everyone would accept is fuzzy in many cases.
Colorful stones polished by water and sand may also have been for currency in the stone age.
Along with fossils.
shrimp and fish fossil
The first thing that we know for certain was used as currency was livestock. Cattle, sheep,goats,pigs,camels,buffalo,horses,reindeer,oxen,and others. The Latin word for money,pecunia,derives from the word pecus,the word for cattle. The ancient Greeks used oxen. Eggs and grain were also used as currency in many places for small transactions. Eggs are still used as money in rural Guatemala. Barley began to be used as money in Babylon around 2000 BCE and the code of Hammurabi fixed its value to silver. It was declared legal tender and the penalty for merchants refusing to accept it was death. Corn,oats,wheat,rice,and most anything that could be grown or raised were used in different places and times. When a commonly needed or desired item began to be measured in units or standard weights and other things were given values in those standards,then we can consider that item as currency. When the ancient Romans were using cattle as currency 1 cow=10 sheep. Trade items were given values compared to the value of a cow.
man plowing with oxen
As people began trading over longer distances something more portable and permanent was needed. Something that wouldn't die or spoil. How many cows and eggs can you put in your wallet when you go on a trip to the big city.
Cowrie shells such as these were used as currency the world over. When people first starting using them as currency is anyone's guess. They were used in China from the 16th to the 8th century BCE and possibly as early as 2500 BCE. Some scholars believe that bronze imitations of cowrie shells found in a tomb dating to 900 BCE were used as currency. The Dagaaba people of Ghana in east Africa still use them to this day.
Ghanan coin depicting cowrie shell. Currency on currency.
Ghanan coin depicting cowrie shell 1984
In the early Bronze Age
people started using lumps of metal for currency,although natural nuggets could have been used much earlier.
copper nuggets from Michigan
By 2400 BCE in the kingdom of Ur in Mesopotamia, accounts were being kept using weights of silver. Different commodities were given values in various weights of silver. This is the first known instance of currency being used as a measure of account. If sliver was being used in this manner it was most likely being used as a store of value also.
natural silver nugget
Gold has been considered valuable since at least 4000 BCE. In about 1500 BCE in Egypt, gold became the recognized standard medium of exchange for international trade. During the early days of the California gold rush gold nuggets and dust were practically the only form of currency in use. They were used in North America as currency up until the early 20th century.
gold nuggets from Alaska
Coins don't have to be round. If they are cast in standard weights and stamped with the issuing authority they are considered coins.
Roman bronze money 450 BCE
silver ingots from ancient Rome
Copper ingots from Cyprus shaped like ox hides were used as a form of currency throughout the Mediterranean from about 1400-1150 BCE. They weighed about 60 pounds.
Cypress ox hide copper ignot
The first known coins were minted in Lydia around 560 BCE.
coin of Lydia 6th century BCE
Some scholars believe the first coins came from India.
ancient coin of India
Greece began minting coins in the late 6th century BCE. Greek coins are valued for their fine craftsmanship and high relief. The first Greek coins depicted animals, not people or gods. Most of the engravers of Roman coins were Greek, not Roman.
Drachma of Aegina, 6th century BC
Obverse: Land tortoise
Reverse: ΑΙΓ[INAΤΟΝ] ("[of the] Aeg[inetans]") and dolphin within a geometrical drawing
The Romans may have begun minting bronze coins as early as 289 BCE.
Roman bronze as 40-25 BCE,two faced head of Janus,prow of galley
was used very early.
bronze coin from the Han dynasty 74-48 BCE
bronze money of Wang Mang of the Xin dynasty 9-23 CE
bronze Chinese money from the reign of Wang Mang in the shape of daggers, a spade, and a standard rounded coin with a square hole to loop a string through
Chinese knife money
Juno Moneta, an epithet
of the Roman god Juno, was the protector of funds. This is where the English word money derives from. Most coins of the Roman republic were minted in or near her temple in Rome.
Coins below are from my collection.
Roman silver denarius depicting the goddess Juno Moneta 46 BCE
Below is a silver denarius. The denarius is thought to have been started being minted during the 2nd Punic War against Hannibal in order to finance the war. They were pure silver (97%, as pure as they could get in those times). The coin below depicts Roma goddess of Rome. Looks more like a man to me but you can tell that it is Roma because she was always shown with wings on her helmet.
silver denarius of ancient Rome 211-206 BCE
Below is a coin minted by Julius Caesar
. It was struck in 47 BCE when he was in Egypt playing with Cleopatra
. Although this coin depicts Pietas
, the Roman god of virtue, he was the first to put his own face on a coin. It was the first time a living Roman had been depicted on a coin. Before only a handful of the greatest dead ones were so honored. Most coins showed only the gods. Many Romans were shocked by this and pointed to it as a sign of arrogance. Caesar had a mobile mint that traveled with him. Never know when you will need a few extra bucks.
silver denarius of Julius Caesar 47 BCE
As long as there has been money there have been counterfeiters. Below is an ancient counterfeit of one of Marc Antony's
denarii. The counterfeiter would strike the coin in copper and then dip it in silver. If you look closely you can see the silver coating has partially worn away exposing the copper core. These coins were struck in 32-31 BCE when Antony and Cleopatra were locked in a life and death struggle with Octavian. All of Antony's legions had their own mint. The one below is a counterfeit of the XVIII legion. These are the coins Antony paid his legionnaires with. So anyone caught counterfeiting them probably wouldn't get probation. This coin is so worn it is you can't tell what it looks like. Here is picture of a nice one. http://www.wildwinds.com/...
ancient counterfeit silver denarius of Marc Antony 32-31 BCE
Well,that brings us up until around the birth of Christ which is a good place for a break. In the next chapter we'll look at the coins of Imperial Rome.
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