Tracing Coin Usage and History


Jul 30, 2015 Europe/London
Tracing Coin Usage and History

Herodotus, the famed Greek historian, once said that it was the Lydians who first introduced the manufacture and use of silver and gold coins. This early account of coinage in the world is almost authentic, except for a few details about coinage and its history that should be clarified for modern readers and students of coinage. Historical excavations suggest that some of the early coins used for transactions were found in areas that the world know now as Turkey, and these items were traditionally made from a combination of silver and gold known as electrum. Produced in 7th century BC, these coins feature a design on one side, with only a few punches included at the other side.

Irregular-sized but strict in weight system

Early coinage are not perfectly round, rather the coins were irregularly sized and shaped. All coins follow a straight weight systems, where coins range from one stater weighing 14.1 grams, and available in other denominations including ½ staters, 1/3 staters, 1/24 staters, 1/48 staters and 1/96 staters. The latter weighs roughly 0.15 grams. It was impossible to tell one denomination from the other, so it’s safe to assume that early transactions called for weighing of coins instead of counting. Starting from Lydia, the use of the material for producing coins was soon adopted by other areas in Asia Minor, and was soon adopted by the Greeks. It was next to impossible to tell the origin of the coins since the coinage did not bear the names of places. Traders would often guess, but there was one coin that gave some clues as to its origin- this was the coin that carried a seal or ‘phoce’ and was thought to have been produced in Phocaea in Greece.

Naming standards for electrum coinage

It was also the Lydians that started the use of names in coinage. Two names that were inscribed in coins were that of Kalil and Walwel. No one can tell for sure if these were names of Lydian kings or names of influential men that helped produce the early coinage. Another Lydian coin was inscribed with the texts attributing to ‘Phanes’, but it was difficult to tell who or what is ‘Phanes’. What is clear from the inscription is that a badge is used together with the name to back up the coinage quality.

Early coins were also the subject of hoarding, and this was validated by an excavation that was initiated by the British Museum. The sanctioned excavations made and completed at the Temple of Artemis lasted for a year, which started in 1904. All 19 coins where found securely inside a small pot, together with 74 coins scattered near the temple’s foundations.