From the origins to the appearance of currency

From barter to primitive currencies

In the past, in primitive societies, property and goods were exchanged only through barter. A growing number of exchanges involving an increasing number of foreign countries gradually showed the need for more appropriate exchange instruments. However, pure metals, such as gold and silver, which were relatively more available, had the advantage of being easy to shape, to transport and to store. Furthermore, their value was not dependent on the seasonal fluctuations undergone by cereals or cattle. Thus, metals have gradually replaced the barter system.

These metal pieces, called "pre-currencies", had different forms depending on places: nuggets, powder, ingots, wires or utensils such as spades, axes, knives or rings.

Celtes, bronze round piece,from the period between the fifth and first centuries BC

The appearance of currency

In the 7th century BC, the kings of Lydia greatly contributed to the emergence of the currency in its current shape.

They came up with the idea of marking their currency in order to allow its identification, to guarantee its value and to prevent its falsification. They were, thus, the first to control the production of precious metals and their coinage. The entry into monetary circulation was under the control of the Royal Treasury, which used to guarantee its value and weight.

In 670 BC, King Gyges issued, for example, egg-shaped coins, called staters. The last king of Lydia, Croesus (561-546 BC.), established the first bimetallic monetary system by separating gold from silver, with a fixed ratio between the two precious metals: the creseide.

All these currencies had no inscription on them.

Lydia, Croesus, gold Stater Coined in Sardes, 561-546 BC

The Greek coinage

It is thanks to Greece, which was dominating trade exchanges in the fifth century BC, that the use of coins spread throughout the Mediterranean basin. About 1,400 cities and 500 heads of state were coining money in that era, but the silver owls of Athens were dominating the money market.
In the fourth century BC, Alexander the Great standardized the circulation of money. The first portrait–coins appeared, with gold Stater, bearing the effigy of Athena and the Tetradrachma, which used to feature Hercules. Thanks to these portraits, money became a vehicle of political power as well.


Greece, Tetradrachma,Coined in Athens in 431 BC,silver
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