Coinage

Definition

by
published on 28 April 2011
Commemorative coin of Euthydemos from Agathokles of Bactria (Wildwinds.com, courtesy of cngcoins.com. Republished with permission)

Coins were introduced as a method of payment around the 6th or 5th century BCE. The invention of coins is still shrouded in mystery: According to Herdotous (I, 94), coins were first minted by the Lydians, while Aristotle claims that the first coins were minted by Demodike of Kyrme, the wife of King Midas of Phrygia. Numismatists consider that the first coins were minted on the Greek island of Aegina, either by the local rulers or by king Pheidon of Argos.

Aegina, Samos, and Miletus all minted coins for the Egyptians, through the Greek trading post of Naucratis in the Nile Delta. It is certain that when Lydia was conquered by the Persians in 546 BCE, coins were introduced to Persia. The Phoenicians did not mint any coins until the middle of the fifth century BCE, which quickly spread to the Carthaginians who minted coins in Sicily. The Romans only started minting coins from 326 BCE.

Coins were brought to India through the Achaemenid Empire, as well as the successor kingdoms of Alexander the Great. Especially the Indo-Greek kingdoms minted (often bilingual) coins in the 2nd century BCE. The most beautiful coins of the classical age are said to have been minted by Samudragupta (335-376 CE), who portrayed himself as both conqueror and musician.

Miletos Electrum Stater

The first coins were made of electrum, an alloy of silver and gold. It appears that many early Lydian coins were minted by merchants as tokens to be used in trade transactions. The Lydian state also minted coins, most of the coins mentioning king Alyattes of Lydia. Some Lydian coins have a so-called legend, a sort of dedication. One famous example found in Caria reads "I am the badge of Phanes" - it is still unclear who Phanes was.

In China, gold coins were first standardized during the Qin dynasty (221-207 BCE). After the fall of the Qin dynasty, the Han emperors added two other legal tenders: silver coins and "deerskin notes", a predecessor of paper currency which was a Chinese invention.



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Timeline

Visual Timeline
  • 609 BCE - 560 BCE
    Reign of Alyattes of Lydia. Minting of first coins made from electrum.
  • 600 BCE - 550 BCE
    The silver stater coin of Calymna in Caria depicts a tortoise shell lyre on its reverse side.
  • 600 BCE - 300 BCE
    Dionysos appears on the coins of Naxos, Mende and various other Greek city states.
  • c. 560 BCE
    Croesus of Lydia first manufactures coins of solid gold.
  • 560 BCE - 547 BCE
    Reign of Croesus of Lydia.
  • c. 550 BCE
    The silver drachma of Delos depicts a lyre - symbolic of Apollo - on its reverse side.
  • c. 360 BCE
    Pan appears on the reverse of coins of the Arcadian League.
  • 326 BCE
    The first Roman coins are minted at Neapolis.
  • c. 211 BCE
    A new system of Roman coinage is introduced which includes the silver denarius.
  • c. 200 BCE
    Rome now dominates the production of coinage in Italy.
  • c. 157 BCE
    There is a boom in the production of Roman silver coinage, in part thanks to the acquisition of silver mines in Macedonia.
  • c. 141 BCE
    The Roman bronze as coin is devalued so that now 16 as equal one silver denarius.
  • c. 135 BCE
    The Roman magistrates responsible for coinage begin to stamp coins with images of landmarks, events and personalities.
  • c. 100 BCE
    Coins of Kos and Thespiai depict a lyre on their reverse side.
  • c. 46 BCE
    Julius Caesar mints the largest quantity of gold coins ever seen in Rome.
  • c. 23 BCE
    The brass orichalcum sestertius is first minted in Rome.
  • 16 BCE
    The Roman mint at Lugdunum is established.
  • 64 CE
    Nero reduces the weight and percentage of precious metal in Roman coins, a trend continued by several subsequent Roman emperors.
  • 188 CE
    Side begins to mint its own money.
  • 293 CE
    Diocletian reforms the Roman coinage system, guaranteeing the gold aurei at 60 to a pound and minting the nummus coin.
  • 301 CE
    Diocletian reasseses the values of Roman coins and limits minting rights to between 12 and 15 mints across the empire.

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