Saturday, May 17, 2014

Money Wisdom #267

"Coins may be defined with sufficient accuracy as pieces of metal stamped, usually on both sides, with devices which relate them to the monetary units named in verbal or written transactions, so that they represent these for all legal purposes. Such coins first came to be used in western Asia Minor some time before the reign of the Lydian king Croesus (561-546), though how long before is a matter of dispute. The most recent numismatic scholarship tends to place their introduction - their invention, one can fairly say - in the third quarter of the seventh century B.C., though some historians, with greater faith in the written sources, would place it half a century or more earlier. The first coins were of electrum, a natural alloy of gold and silver, and bore a design on one face only. In the mid sixth century B.C. coins of gold and silver began to replace those of electrum, and it was not long before the advantage of designs on both faces, which would help to protect them from maltreatment, became apparent. These coins were intended to represent 'money,' probably metal by weight but perhaps in some cases iron spits or other forms of primitive money, prescribed in legal contracts. It is generally assumed that they were first struck in the Greek coastal cities of Ionia and that the practice was adopted only subsequently by the kings of Lydia. It may well have been the other way about, for the Artemision deposit of Ephesus included coins from both sources and the priority commonly accorded to the cities is based on the tacit but scarcely warrantable assumption that Greeks are always cleverer than other people.* From Asia Minor the use of coined money spread south-eastwards to Persia, and westwards to the Aegian islands and mainland Greece, from where it reached Magna Graecia and the Greek colonies in the western Mediterranean. Outside the Greek world it was after some delay taken up by the Semitic peoples, the Celts, the Romans, and the peoples of India, till it became part of the common heritage of Christian, Muslim, and Hindu civilization and eventually worldwide in its scope.

*See Cook (1958). That coinage was invented by the Lydians is asserted by our earliest authority Xenophanes of Ephesus (In Pollux Onomasticon, ix.83; ed. E. Bethe, Lexicographi graeci, IX.2 [Leipzig, 1931], 171), and since he lived in Asia Minor in the late sixth or early fifth century B.C. he was in a position to know.

Philip Grierson The Origins of Money from Research in Economic Anthropology Vol1 pp. 1-35 (1978)

No comments:

Post a Comment