Ancient Coins : Lydian Gold Considered the First Coins in the World

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The Lydians were justly famous for their coinage. Apart from this statement of Herodotus, an earlier Greek authority, Lydian electrum coins of Colophon, explicitly attributed the very invention of coinage to the Lydians, 1 and this is borne out by the evidence of the coins themselves.

Since a number of these earliest coins were inscribed with Lydian names in the Lydian alphabet, it is perfectly evident that they, too, were minted in Lydia by Lydians.

This historical linkage between Lydia, electrum, and the beginning of coinage is not hard to lydian electrum coins. But because it was a mixed lydian electrum coins whose gold-silver proportions varied in nature and could be artificially manipulated by adding refined silver to dilute the gold content, it was poorly suited as a dependable means of exchange.

When offered in a transaction, the quality of the metal first had to be tested visually from the color of streaks made on a touchstone No. Even if each small piece were separately tested, it would have been exceedingly difficult to determine with any accuracy the value of an entire bag of pieces, each with a different weight and fineness. Over time, as the complexities and unreliability of electrum bullion became widely recognized, Lydians and their Greek and Carian neighbors who had accumulated large stocks of this metal must have found it increasingly difficult to utilize it in payments that others would accept.

One way out of this dilemma would have been to avoid dealing in electrum bullion altogether and, if possible, separate it metallurgically into its pure gold and silver components, whose exchange use was straightforward. But, despite written evidence for gold-refining in second millennium Mesopotamia and Egypt, it is not certain whether a technique for fully parting silver and gold as opposed to removing base metal impurities from electrum had been developed before the sixth century.

By effectively transferring valuation from the metal itself to the issuing authority, this solution hugely simplified the use of electrum in exchange transactions. Instead of having to weigh out each piece of electrum and test it for fineness, stamped, pre-weighed, and guaranteed units of the metal could be exchanged instantaneously at sight.

Total sums could be determined quickly and exactly by the simple counting out of coins and by the fact lydian electrum coins these earliest electrum coins were issued in small, fractional denominations as well as in larger weight units. The most important lydian electrum coins of these early electrum coins come from excavations.

In the —5 excavations lydian electrum coins the great Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, archaeologists from the British Museum discovered ninety-three electrum coins that had been deposited as offerings during the latter part of the seventh century BCE.

The rest of the coins were stamped with over a dozen different symbols or coin types. At least one type, the profile head of a lion accompanied by a Lydian inscription, belongs to coins that are clearly Lydian in origin Nos. Other symbols identify coins that were minted at nearby Greek cities, like Phocaea head of a seal and, probably, Ephesus forepart of a stag. Indeed, the profusion of type symbols is a puzzling characteristic of the early lydian electrum coins coinage as a whole.

Dozens upon dozens of different coin types are known, 6 suggesting that in addition to the coins that were minted by Lydian monarchs and Greek city states, much early electrum may have been struck by local dynasts, large landholders, and other petty rulers in Lydia and neighboring regions—anyone, in short, with wealth in electrum and a need to spend it. Electrum twelfth-stater from Ephesus, lion head with wart on the nose, No.

The most numerous coins found in the Ephesus excavations were those stamped with the head of a lion in profile Nos. Because he lived much earlier than these coins, this cannot be the name of the famous king, but it could be the name of a treasury or other royal official with a responsibility for minting.

A large hoard of some forty-five of these royal lion-head coins, slightly later than the ones at Ephesus, was excavated at the Phrygian capital city of Gordion in Nos.

The lion-head coins were minted in graduated denominations, the largest weighing 4. Inasmuch as half of the electrum coins in the Ephesus deposit weighed less than 1. Because of their substantial component of gold, these small fractional electrum coins were nevertheless a good deal more valuable than their diminutive sizes might suggest.

Lydian electrum coins notable monetary aspect of the royal lion-head coins is that they were highly overvalued. Hoard of Lydian electrum coins from Gordion, No. Electrum twenty-fourth stater from Ephesus, with lion paw No.

Such an overvalued currency, of course, could not last. Eventually people would have caught on and refused to accept it in payments. Thus, around the middle of the sixth century, by which time the cementation process for parting electrum into silver and gold had certainly become available, the reigning Lydian king Croesus reformed the currency by calling in the electrum coins of the realm and exchanging them with a bimetallic coinage of pure gold and pure silver.

A third specimen had been found in in the destruction debris itself, with the skeleton of a young manprobably a casualty of the battle with the Persians. The fighter had probably been carrying the coin in his mouth—a common custom at the time—for the lydian electrum coins was found lying just in front of his skull.

The gold Croeseid staters No. Like the electrum coins that preceded them, the gold and silver coins of Croesus are relatively lydian electrum coins and globular in shape and very simply designed. The device stamped on them—the confronted heads and extended single legs of a fierce lion and a bull in combat—is a traditional Near Eastern motif, and it may have been adopted by Croesus as his royal personal badge or signet.

Or were the two animals here intended to symbolize the two complementary metals in which the coins were struck? Since the device itself identified the coins, the coins did not need an accompanying inscription. Gold coin from under a lydian electrum coins of the Lydian fortification at Sardis No. Silver coin from under a pavement of the Lydian fortification at Sardis No. Silver 24th stater found with a casualty of the Persian sack of Sardis No. Gold croeseid stater from hoard of 30, found at Sardis in No.

Because of their success, these influential coins of Croesus lydian electrum coins a much longer life than Croesus himself. When the Persian king, Cyrus the Great, defeated Lydian electrum coins in the mids and added the Lydian kingdom to the Persian Empire, Cyrus not lydian electrum coins retained Sardis lydian electrum coins a major administrative center by making it the seat of the local Persian satrap or governor, but he also saw to it that the minting of the established lion-and-bull coinage was continued.

Thus, for a period of about thirty years, from the death of Croesus down to near the end of the sixth century, the coinage remained the coinage of Croesus in name only. In terms of its actual production and official use, it had become the money of Persian rule in western Asia Minor.

While the coins remained physically lydian electrum coins over this extended period, the artistic style of the lion-and-bull design went into decline. In contrast to the subtle, naturalistic rendering lydian electrum coins the animals in the initial, Croesus phase of lydian electrum coins coinage, the animals took lydian electrum coins a hardened, more mechanical or stylized appearance during the mass production of the coins under the Persians Figs.

Under the Persians, lydian electrum coins, the smaller fractional denominations were abandoned, and the coinage became essentially a coinage of two large denominations: They were struck with the same weights and lydian electrum coins generally in the same orbits. Doubtless minted at Sardis, the silver pieces served the as the primary coinage of the Persian administrative and military system in western Asia Minor, where the use of coinage was an established convention.

They did not circulate in the rest of the Persian Empire, where coinage was not commonly employed. Four such Persian silver sigloi No. The gold Darics seem to have functioned mainly as a high-value international currency used for Persian payments to Greek and other foreign governments lydian electrum coins agents.

Privately, they were highly prized throughout the Aegean world for storing wealth in savings accumulations. Even at this juncture, however, Sardis did not cease to be a major mint.

In particular, it served as one of the westernmost mints of the vast Seleucid Empire. Even under the Roman Empire, Sardis, like the other great urban centers of Asia Minor, produced a rich series of bronze coins that celebrated the gods and festivals of the city.

Still, the most important centuries were lydian electrum coins earlier ones of the Lydian and Persian empires: Late croeseid half-stater from hoard found at Old Smyrna No. Silver siglos from hoard found at Old Smyrna No.

Testing Coins for Metal Content. King Croesus and Coinage Reforms. Croeseid Coins and Their Persian Lydian electrum coins. Another, altogether different, series of earlier electrum coins is inscribed with Lydian letters. See Spier—34, pl. For relative chronology, see Spier— At that time, silver was far less plentiful and hence more valuable than it became later after the mining of silver intensified throughout the Aegean. If the exchange ratio of an Athenian silver drachma 4.

Kraay Johnston in Buttrey, Johnston, et al.

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