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Greek Coinage Timeline

Greek Coinage Timeline


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  • 609 BCE - 560 BCE

    Reign of Alyattes of Lydia. Minting of first coins made from electrum.

  • 600 BCE - 300 BCE

    Dionysos appears on the coins of Naxos, Mende and various other Greek city states.

  • c. 550 BCE

    The silver drachma of Delos depicts a lyre - symbolic of Apollo - on its reverse side.

  • 470 BCE

    Gortyn on Crete begins to mint its own coinage.

  • c. 360 BCE

    Pan appears on the reverse of coins of the Arcadian League.


The History of U.S. Circulating Coins

The story of U.S. circulating coins began long before the opening of a national mint in 1792. Before national coinage, a mix of foreign and domestic coins circulated, both during the Colonial Period and in the years following the Revolutionary War. After Congress established the U.S. Mint in 1792, the Mint struggled for many years to produce enough coins. Finally, production numbers grew to meet the demands of a growing nation, providing some of the most beloved circulating coin designs.

The design of the 2019 San Antonio Missions Quarter reverse resembles the colonial Spanish milled dollar.

During the Colonial Period, a variety of coins circulated, including British pounds, German thalers, Spanish milled dollars, and even some coins produced by the colonies. Spanish milled dollars became a favorite because of the consistency of the silver content throughout the years. To make change for a dollar, people sometimes cut the coin into halves, quarters, eighths, and sixteenths to match the fractional denominations that were in short supply.

After the Revolutionary War, the Articles of Confederation governed the country. The Articles allowed each state to make their own coins and set values for them, in addition to the foreign coins already circulating. This created a confusing situation, with the same coin worth different amounts from state to state.

In 1787, after much debate about national coinage, Congress authorized the production of copper cents. Called Fugio cents, the coins featured a sundial on the obverse and a chain of 13 links on the reverse. However, the following year, a majority of states ratified the Constitution, establishing a new government and creating a new debate over national coinage.


Greek Coinage Timeline - History

Ancient Roman and Greek Coins : Educational pages
Table of Contents: (Click the images to go to the pages)


Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
Beginners, begin here with the FAQ page
This coin: A common silver denarius of the Roman emperor Septimus Severus, 193-211 AD
Associated pages about buying on eBay, about buying, about selling.
For beginners who ask "What should I collect?"

Pages which are especially important for those who have collected US coins:
The difference between grade and condition.
Commentary on a difference between collecting US and ancient coins.
Information about rarity and its (lack of) importance for cost (for intermediate collectors).
Coin collecting is a hobby of the mind.
Information about avoiding fakes.
About moving up from "beginner" to "intermediate" collector.
Ancient coins as an investment.

(These are educational pages and nothing here is for sale. If you are looking for ancient coins for sale, here is my site, Augustus Coins, and here are links to other sites.)

What's new? 2021, June 9: Byzantine coin legends. How to read Byzantine coins.
2021, May 18: Comments on recent high prices for high-grade ancient coins.
2021, May 11: DN for Dominus Noster, on Roman coins c. 305.
2021, Feb. 12: A complete AE type set for Honorius, illustrated.
2021, Jan. 30: Turkoman figural types. Coins of the "Foes of the Crusaders."

2021, Jan. 24: Maximian's name (a long version from his second reign, 307-308) Greatly revised, Feb. 19.
2020, Nov. 19: Coins of Persis (an ancient kingdom contemporary with the Parthians)
2020, Sept. 29: A collection of coins of the Kingdom of the Bosporus.
2020, Sept. 10:
Carus, Numerian, and Carinus, titles and dating
2020, July 29: A short page on Irene, Byzantine empress and ruler in her own name, 797-802.
2020, June 27: Barbarous radiates of the Gallo-Roman empire, mostly 271-274.
2020, May 9: Pronunciation.
2020, May 4: Coins of the Roman rulers, 306-324. Commemorative coins from 306 to 324.
Revised links to many pages on coins of the tetrarchies and later, 284-324.
2020, March 4: Type Sets for the emperors from 364-450: http://augustuscoins.com/ed/ricix/typesets.html

Feb. 28: Links to numerous pages on coins of the tetrarchies.
Feb 24: Coins of the Second Tetrarchy, 305-306. Post-reform radiates a.k.a radiate fractions. SACRA MONETA.
Feb. 9, 2020: Introduction to Roman coins of the First Tetrarchy, 294-305.
Feb. 9: Abdication Coins of Diocletian and Maximan, 305-307.
Feb. 9: Follis types of the First Tetrarchy, 293-305.
2019: Oct. 28: A type set of AE for Arcadius. Links to other type sets are here. These are part of the large site on late Roman AE, 364-450.
Oct. 17: The early triskeles symbol at Aspendos in Pamphylia (Turkey)
Oct. 14: A second page of interesting CoinTalk threads.
August 28: Introduction to Byzantine Coins. For those who know little or nothing about Byzantine coins.

Contents: Scroll down to see site titles in chronological order of the topic.
For beginners: FAQ, possible collecting themes, educational links, ancient-coin dealers, eBay fakesellers to avoid, grade and condition, links to interesting CoinTalk threads.
Major sites: Late Roman AE (364-450), E arly Christian Symbols on Roman coins, Ancient Imitations, Introduction to Byzantine coins, Byzantine coins of the Cherson mint.
Large sites: VOTA coins of the Roman empire, reverse types unique to a particular emperor, how dates are determined for coins of the Roman Republic, Coins of the tetrarchies, 284-305
Unusual denominations: The Republican and imperial quinarius, the late Roman silver argenteus, late Roman AE fractions (mostly from Trier), the quarter-follis (c. 305), the "radiate fraction" from Diocletian's coin reform.
Emperors: Trajan, Geta, Severus Alexander (year 5 at Alexandria), Maximinus I the giant, Volusian, the First Tetrarchy, Constantine as FIL AVG, Vetranio, Constantius Gallus, Jovian, Eudoxia (wife of Arcadius), type sets of emperors 364-450, Justinian at Antioch.
Byzantine: Introduction to Byzantine coins, Justinian at Antioch, anonymous folles (10th-11th centuries), the Dan Clark collection of early Byzantine coins with a cross above the head, a complete list of the Byzantine coins minted at the Cherson mint (7th-11th centuries).
Many other pages, more or less in chronological order, below. Skip down to the period of the Roman Republic, the third century, the tetrarchy, and Constantine. Contents of Sale Catalogs (by firm)(by collecting theme).

Click on the images to go to the pages.

Dates: All of ancient coinage

Possible Collecting Themes and reference works about them

This coin: A silver Roman provincial coin of Trajan with a camel on the reverse, celebrating his annexation of Arabia in AD 106 . It could be part of a collection of imperial portraits, a collection of coins of Trajan, a collection of Roman provincial coins, or part of a collection of animals on ancient coins.


Educational sites (chronological order):

Triskeles, a symbol of Aspendos, Pamphylia (Turkey)
A discussion of the three-legged type. [One page]

This coin: The first type from Aspendos, c. 465-435 BC, a silver stater with a triskeles.

Date: c. 324 BC.
Coins and archaeology work together to identify Seuthes III
This coin: Greek king Seuthes III

[A short page about one type]


Dates: Third to First Centuries BC
Roman Republican Coin Types and their Dating
Republican coins are not explicitly dated, so how can we know their dates?
A timeline page of examples plus a page of theory.

This coin: one of the first types of the silver "denarius" denomination

[A short page about one coin]

Dates: Roman Republic and Empire to AD 321
The Quinarius Denomination
An illustrated discussion of the five time periods with the "quinarius"
This coin: 16-15 mm. Issue of the moneyer C. Fundanius, 101 BC.



Date: First Century to Fourth Century

A collection of coins of the Kingdom of the Bosporus

This coin: King Mithradates III and his step-mother Gepaepyris, struck 39-41.

Date: First and second centuries

The Quadrans and Semis Denominations
of Roman Imperial Coins
An Introduction. [A long page]

This coin: an "anonymous" type with helmeted bust of Mars/cuirass


Date: 98-117
Trajan's historical types--especially those that refer to his Dacian Wars.
[One page]

This coin: A denarius which depicts Trajan's column, still standing in Rome.

This Coin: A denarius of Faustina Jr., wife of Marcus Aurelius.


Date: 198-212
Geta, his portraits, 198-212 AD .
Geta's portraits change as he ages from nine to twenty-two.
This coin: His first portrait style.

Severus Alexander (222-235) "year 5"
coins of Roman Alexandria

Year 5 (AD 225/6) is particularly interesting because there are Alexandrian year 5 coins from two different years and two different mints. See the page with the explanation. [One long page]

This coin: A "year 5" coin struck in Rome for the mint of Alexandria, Egypt.


Date: 235-238
Maximinus Thrax , the giant. Roman emperor 235-238. His portrait types.
Maximinus Thrax issued denarii with three distinct portrait types.

This coin: The early style portrait.


Date: 251-253
What was Volusian's name?
Volusian, Augustus, 251-253 AD.

This coin: Volusian, stuck at Antioch.

This coin: A imitation of Tetricus I



Date: 270-293
The Tripolis mint of late third century AD Rome
An illustrated list of all the coin types of the Tripolis mint.
An educational resource for collectors.
[One long page with links to additional examples]


This coin: Tacitus, 276 AD.

This coin: Carus with the title "PARTHICO" deified after his death.

Links to pages about
the coins of the First and Second Tetrarchies and later.
(all pages can be reached from the first, introductory, page):

"Coins of the First Tetrarchy: Pre-Reform Coins of Diocletian, Maximian, Constantius I, and Galerius"

"GENIO POPVLI ROMANI: a common late Roman coin type" by emperor
The same coins organized by mint.

"SACRA MONETA: Roman coins of the First Tetrarchy, 294-305"

Antoniniani from Siscia with coded officina numbers

Introduction to Roman coins of the First Tetrarchy, 284-305
Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius, and Constantius.

This coin: An aurelianus (antoninianus) of Diocletian.

This coin: A follis of Constantius as Augustus

This coin: Constantine as Caesar, 306-307

Follis types of the First Tetrarchy, 293-305 CE.
An illustrated list of the follis types issued during the First Tetrarchy

This Coin: A follis issued to celebrate Maximian's arrival to Carthage.

Abdication Coins of Roman Emperors
Diocletian and Maximian, 284-305 CE.
An illustrated list of all the types.

This coin: Diocletian as retired emperor. 25 mm.



Date: 289-290
Coded Officina Marks of the Roman emperors
Diocletian and Maximian at Siscia (289-290 AD)

The unique use of the Jovian and Herculian titles to indicate officina numbers. [One page]
This coin: Maximian with mintmark incorporating &LambdaI, part of a code.

GENIO POPVLI ROMANI, a common type under the tetrarchy (arranged by ruler). Portraits arranged by mint.

This coin: Diocletian from Aquileia

[Several pages for several emperors]


Distinguishing Maximian, Galerius, and Maximinus II

[One page with lots of examples]


Date: 293 - 300
Fortuna under the first tetrachy:
Diocletian, Maximian, Constantius, and Galerius (293-300 AD)

A rare follis type issued only at Trier.
This coin: Diocletian/FORTVNAE REDVCI AVGG NN
[One page]

Late Roman fractions from Trier under the tetrarchy
An introduction.

This coin: a small, 13 mm, fraction, struck for Diocletian, minted at Trier.
VOT/XX/AVGG, in celebration of his 20th anniversary

Dates: AD 294-310
The Argenteus Denomination
An illustrated discussion of the history and types of the denomination.
This coin: 20-19 mm. An argenteus of Diocletian, struck 96 (XCVI) to the pound of silver.

[A very long page with many illustations]

Dates: AD 287-297
Usurpers who wanted to join the club
Usurpers under the first tetrarchy (the time of Diocletian and Maximian)
This coin: The usurper Domitius Domitianus at Alexandria, Egypt.

[A single page about two usurpers]


Date: 305-306
The unusual "
quarter-follis " denomination
struck 305-306 AD under the tetrarchy

An illustrated list of all the varieties. An educational resource for collectors.
This coin: A quarter-follis of Maximinus II.

Dates: AD 310-311
Adfini, Cognat, Patri, Socero
under Maxentius at Rome
Some unusual words found on a commemorative series issued by Maxentius

This coin: 23 mm. IMP MAXENTIVS DIVO MAXIMIANO PATRI

[A single short page with four types illustrated]

Date: 312 AD
Anonymous civic issues under Maximinus II (AD 310-313)
also known as "pagan coinage of the Great Presecution of Christians" and as "Civic coinage."
[A single page with the types.]

This coin: 15 mm. Jupiter/Victory



Date: 306-310
Constantine as Caesar and as FIL AVG (A.D. 306-310)
An illustrated article on the the Roman rulers and their mints from 306-310
when Constantine was awarded the unusual title "Filius Augusti".

This coin: Constantine as "FIL AVG", minted at Antioch.

[A long article with 33 relevant coins illustrated]

Date: 330-340
CONSTANTINOPOLIS: Roman coins commemorating
the founding of Constantinople under Constantine.

A short article here (only about this one common type).
A complete list and longer article here. (The picture links to this one.)
This coin: CONSTANTINOPOLIS/Victory, 330-340 AD.


Date: 316-364
Christian Symbols on Roman Coins
A complete list of types from its beginning under Constantine to 364 AD.
A resource for collectors of late Roman AE coins.

This coin: Magnetius, AD 350-353, with a Christian chi-rho reverse type.

[A large, comprehensive, site]



Date: 217-363
Long Mintmarks on Roman Imperial coins.
A few of the longest mintmarks illustrated.

This coin: Julian II, "the Apostate", 361-363 AD.


Date: 350
Vetranio , Roman emperor in AD 350: His six AE coin types.
The Roman emperor Vetranio ruled in the Balkans for ten months in AD 350.
His AE coin types are listed and illustrated here.
This coin: Vetranio with the famous early Christian "HOC SIGNO VICTOR ERIS" reverse.

[A page with a second page of additional images]


Date: 351-354
Constantius Gallus, 351-354. His AE types.

This coin: FEL TEM REPARATIO, soldier-spearing-fallen-horseman. By far his most common type.

[One long page about his 10 AE types]


Date: 363-364
Jovian , Roman emperor from June 363 to Febuary 364:
[ One page about his four AE types]
The Roman emperor Jovian reigned only eight months.
His AE coin types are listed and illustrated here. [One page]
This coin: Jovian with reverse VOT/V/MVLT/X from Sirmium.

Date: 364-450
Guide to Late Roman AE Coin Types, AD 364-450

A complete list of types of emperors Valentinian I through Theodosius II and Valentinian III
A resource for collectors of Late Roman AE coins.
This coin: Valens/GLORIA ROMANORVM
[A very large reference site with many pages]
Type Sets for the emperors from 364-450
http://augustuscoins.com/ed/ricix/typesets.html



Dates: 364-375
Officina Numbers on Late Roman Coins
The unusual use of officina numbers spelled out on issues of Valentinian, Valens, and Gratian.

This coin: Valens, 364-378 AD, with officina PRIMA.


Eudoxia, wife of Arcadius, Augusta 400-404
Her two AE types. [One short page]

This coin: Her bust right, crowned by the Hand of God
/empress seated facing, crowned by the Hand of God.

This coin: A massive 42 mm reformed "follis" (of 40 nummi) struck by Justinian (527-565) year 13 at Nicomedia.

A site for beginners about the coins struck under the Byzantine Empire with a few stories that will interest more-advanced collectorss too. [Six substantial pages.]

The Dan Clark Collection of early
Byzantine copper coins with a cross above the head.

An extensive collection of unusual cross-above head coins.
[Several pages]

This Coin: Justin I (518-527), Sear 84, with a bold cross above his head.

Date: 527-565
The Byzantine emperor Justinian (527-565 AD)
and the earthquakes at Antioch.

Byzantine coins of Justinian from Antioch
[One very long page]

This coin: Justinian seated facing on a throne

Date: 425-1071
Byzantine Coins of Cherson (Kherson)
The unusual Byzantine types from the city of Cherson in the Crimea.
A resource for collectors.

This coin: The "H" (= 8) pentanummia denomination.

[A large, comprehensive, site with many pages]

Date: 10th - 11th centuries

Byzantine "anonymous folles" of the 10th - 11th centuries

This coin: A large 32-30 mm "Class A2" follis attributed to Basil II (the Bulgar Slayer) and Constantine VIII

Can you think of one emperor who issued coins from one mint with more than five distinctly different mintmarks?
Begin on pages here.




Date: 12th - 13th centuries

This coin: An early Turkoman type with obverse imitating a Byzantine coin with Christ enthroned.

Date: Entire Roman imperial period.
Some reverse types that are unique to a particular Roman emperor
in a quiz format (with immediate answers). Can you recognize them?
This type: Captive seated on a pile of arms. DAC CAP in exergue.

[A site with several pages and a hundred interesting types explained on linked pages]


Date: 116 CE.


Date: Second to fifth centuries

VOTA coins of the Roman Empire
Vows to reward the gods for granting a wish were are part of the Roman religion
A large site about vows recorded on Roman coins.

This coin: VOTA SVSCEPTA XX (vows taken for 20 years of reign)
Septimius Severus (193-211) sacrificing at the ceremony celebrating making it to 10 years, while renewing his vows to 20 years.

[A very long main page with a dozen pages linked to it]


Date: Late second century AD

MARTI CASTRORVM, Mother of the camps

This type was used on the coins of only two empresses.

This coin: A silver denarius struck for Faustina, Jr., wife of Marcus Aurelius.

ADVENTVS, arrival of the emperor
The Roman emperor arrives in Rome

This coin: Septimius Severus (193-211) returns to Rome in 202.
ADVENTVS AVGG

Date: During the Roman empire

PROFECTIO, and other travel types

This coin: Severus Alexander (222-235), lead by Victory, departs for war in the east.



Date: Roman imperial period.
The real meaning of SECVRITAS on Roman coins.

This coin: Caracalla, 196-217 AD

[A short page with a few examples]



Date: The entire Roman period
Ancient Imitations of Roman Coins
An educational site about genuinely ancient coins that were imitations or counterfeits in their day.
This coin: An ancient counterfeit Roman Republican denarius.

[A very large site with one long main page and many pages linked to it]


This catalog: M&M 37, Basel, Switzerland.


Links to useful notes and printouts for a few good books, including the Seaby introductory series (Greek, Roman, Roman Provincial), SNG Copenhagen, BCD Peloponessos, Celator index, SAN index, Ras Suarez' rarity rankings, Latin pronunciation, list of Greek authorities, and a few legends of Roman Alexandria translated.

The end of the table of contents for the educational site.


The Invention of Coinage and the Monetization of Ancient Greece

David M. Schaps, The Invention of Coinage and the Monetization of Ancient Greece. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004. xvii + 293 pp. $75 (cloth), ISBN: 0-472-11333-X.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Morris Silver, Department of Economics (Emeritus), City College of the City University of New York.

Briefly stated, David Schaps’ central argument runs as follows:

Coinage = Money (in the Greek experience the two are equated) was invented in Greece or Asia Minor (Lydia) in the later seventh or earlier sixth century. The Greeks eagerly copied/adapted this innovation and it spread rapidly in their cities during the sixth century. The result was a profound transformation in Greek economy and society. Before the Greek adoption of coinage, the ancient Mediterranean world knew only primitive money, not money as we know it. Primitive money was incapable of generating the revolution that Greece experienced.

I begin with a number of quotations capturing the argument and then, in the main part of the review, move on to consider the details.

This book will tell the story… of the development of money both in the Near East and in Greece up to the invention of coinage and its widespread adoption by the Greek cities, the only communities that adopted it wholeheartedly at its first appearance. (17)

Something new happened with the invention of coinage, and it produced a new idea that persists to our day. (5)

I have tried throughout only to sketch the ways in which Greek thought and behavior were changed by the introduction of money. (vii)

From the Greeks onward, we find a new way of speaking and ofthinking. Now a person might state the entirety of a household’s possessions in terms of money, as no member of a premonetary society would ever do. (16)

One of the central propositions of this book is that when we speak historically, the invention of coinage was the invention of money: that is, the concept that we understand as “money” did not exist before the seventh century B.C.E., when coins were first minted. There surely had been many items before that we may recognize correctly, as money, there were even places…where a single item performed all the functions associated with money. Never before, however, had these items been conceptualized as money, for money to the Greeks, as to us, was the measure of all things, something different in nature from all the valuables that might represent it. (15 emphasis in original)

All ancient Near Eastern societies had a conventional standard of value, usually precious metals or a specified grain. The standard of payment was always “primitive money,” never coin, and it did not always perform all the functions that coin was later to perform…. If Greece was the cradle of coinage and Lydia its birthplace, the societies of the Near East were its ancestors. (34)

Schaps links the unprecedented Greek adoption of coinage with Greek backwardness. The Greeks… who had only very primitive forms of currency, thought of coins as they had never thought of those items in which they had once traded, evaluated and paid. An ideal that had grown up in the East at a time when Greece had no need for it suddenly dawned on the Greeks when coins appeared. It was a time when the Greeks were in a period of economic and intellectual expansion for which their relatively primitive economic concepts did not provide an adequate basis…. Precisely because of their economic backwardness, they had no sufficient preexisting conceptual structure to compete with or subordinate the idea of money. (16-17)

Why did the ancient Near East (ANE) not move from a very evident monetization to “money, as we know it”? Technology would not have raised a barrier to the transformation. Why were coins so exciting to the Greeks and so uninteresting to their neighbors? The answer is that they filled a need peculiar to Greek society…. It was Greece that was searching for new forms of government and administration to manage the new complexity of the poleis and new ways of organization to maintain its people, and coins made that administration and that organization simpler and more manageable than spits and cauldrons [primitive money] could have done. (108)

This is interesting, but not entirely convincing. An alternative line of explanation is that coinage (guaranteed money) is not nearly as important economically as Schaps supposes. The alleged special interest of the Greeks in coinage may then reflect an ideological dimension peculiar to the Greeks. Schaps mentions “the particular Greek appreciation of the universality of money” (196). There is also a real question, explored below, whether Greece was really so backward monetarily as Schaps suggests.

Schaps’ presentation is quite clear and, obviously, there is rich material here. The view that coinage was invented by the Lydians is one that is generally accepted by scholars. I do have some problems with the equation of money with coinage and the meaning of “primitive money.” There is also something of a problem with respect to whom, according to Schaps, invented coinage: On the one hand, the Lydians invented coins and then the Greeks eagerly used them. On the other hand, the time when the Greeks eagerly used coins is the time of invention. These are relatively minor issues and I put them aside. On to the details!

I. Did the Ancient Near East Know Coinage?

1. Schaps states that a “discussion of the factors that go into price determination does not form part of this book, for their importance arises in a money economy, and the point at which the Greeks achieved a money economy is the point at which this study ends” (30). I am not sure exactly what this means. Schaps is perhaps suggesting that the forces of supply and demand determine prices only in an economy with money, which he equates with coinage. This is, of course, completely false. Later Schaps adds “The Babylonian economy was still not, as it would become in the Hellenistic period, dominated by a market where prices changed each day but it was not immune to the law of supply and demand” (49). This is a heroic understatement! Although we do not have daily price data, there is ample evidence of price changes and of the operation of supply and demand. Indeed, the Old Babylonian period (earlier second millennium BCE) has been characterized by Hallo (1958: 98) as one in which “there was a price on everything from the skin of a gored ox to the privilege of a temple office.”

2. Silver was indeed used as a means of payment in the ANE. However, rather than spreading through the population, it remained in the hands of merchants. “It never became, as coins eventually would, synonymous with wealth itself. It could not have done so, if only because too few people owned it. For this reason, the Babylonians never thought of silver as we think of money” (51).

The surviving documents do not demonstrate that Mesopotamians thought of money in the same way the Greeks did. Caution is justified about the reason for this presumed difference. There is evidence for the dispersal of precious metals in the population. As early as the middle of the third millennium in Ebla (in Syria) silver was used to purchase ordinary goods including clothing and grain as well as wine and semi-precious stones (Archi 1993: 52). Mesopotamian texts of the middle of the second half of the third millennium already show us street vendors, and, according to Foster (1977: 35-36, nn. 47, 48), the use of silver to pay rents and purchase dates, oil, barley, animals, slaves, and real estate in addition, “silver was widely used in personal loans and was often in possession of private citizens and officials.”

3. Schaps asserts “The silver of the Near East had never been coined it was weighed at each transaction, and the scale was an essential accessory to every sale” (49). This statement may reflect general belief, but it goes beyond the evidence. It is not true that ANE texts invariably mention weighing and/or scales. Indeed, to my knowledge, the mention of scales is infrequent. Nevertheless, Schaps is on strong ground in stressing the centrality of weighing in transactions recorded in the Bible.[1]

Schaps maintains that “an examination of the various primitive items that have at one time or another been claimed to be coins fails to reveal any clear example, and it may be useful to clear the air of the various hypotheses, which by their very number can create the false impression that coinage was common in the eastern Mediterranean Basin long before the Lydians and the Greeks” (222-23). Elsewhere he maintains that “the verisimilitude of the preceding suggestion is not much above zero” (235). Schaps may well be correct in rejecting this hypothesis. However, his treatment of the evidence leaves something to be desired.

1. The evidence is reasonably clear that the ANE went a good part of the way toward coinage by circulating ingots of guaranteed quality. Assyrian loan contracts of the eighth to seventh centuries use various formulas to advance “silver of (the goddess) Ishtar (of the city) Arbela (or Nineveh or Bit Kidmuri).” Lipinski (1979) argued brilliantly against interpreting this phrase to mean “temple capital.” Expressions of this kind, he suggested, refer to the quality of the metal, and their inclusion in contracts makes no sense unless the metal is impressed with a stamp of guarantee. The practice of guaranteeing metal quality, it may be added, probably goes back to the second millennium. The expression “silver of the gods” is found in texts from Mari in Syria and Amarna in Egypt. For example, in a letter concerning the disposition of an inheritance the king of Mari refers to the deceased person’s “silver of the gods” (Malamat 1998: p. 185 cf. CAD s.v. ilu 1.e).

In discussing the ingots from the temple of Arbela Schaps concludes: There was nothing particularly important about this development as far as Assyria was concerned. The temple’s ingots, even if stamped, were no more than good quality silver…. It will have been the business of a merchant to recognize them and to know good silver from bad, but there was nothing revolutionary about them. They may have come in convenient sizes…, but they were hardly standardized, and it is hard to imagine that a merchant would have failed to put them on the scale before accepting them. (92)

A guarantee of metal quality surely reduced the transaction cost of using money and it is therefore puzzling that Schaps considers this a development little or no importance. Moreover, he goes beyond the evidence in saying that the ingots were not standardized in weight. The texts do not say that the ingots were weighed.

2. Schaps writes of the Egyptian shaty “piece”: “It is regularly used as an item of account, not a medium of trade: that is, not ‘pieces’ but other items changed hands, bartered for each other and evaluated in terms of ‘pieces'” (224-25). In fact, there is evidence for the circulation of shaty‘s in texts of the Ramesside era (second half of the second millennium). In the Eighteenth Dynasty, a text (Papyrus Brooklyn 35.1453A) records the delivery of silver shaty‘s to a woman at the meryet “quay, marketplace” (Condon 1984: 63-65). In Papyrus Boulaq 11 merchants pay for quantities of meat and wine with shaty‘s (Castle 1992: 253, 257 Peet 1934). The texts do not say that the shaty‘s were weighed or tested for quality.

3. Schaps discusses the Egyptian Hekanakht letters of about 2000 BCE, but he does not refer to the following significant detail. Copper coins may be indicated when Hekanakht sends to his agent 󈬈 copper debens” for renting land. James (1984: 245) explains that “the letter says quite clearly 󈧜 copper debens,’ not 󈧜 debens of copper,’ which ought to signify 24 pieces of copper each weighing, one deben.”

4. Schaps does not mention texts from the Assyrian trading station in Anatolia (earlier second millennium BCE) in which we sometimes find prices being expressed in terms of copper ingots, patallu and sad?lu. Thus, one Dakuku “owes 12 copper sad?lus as the price of donkey.” Dercksen (1996. 60, n. 179) notes that “quantity is expressed by simply giving the number of ingots instead of their weight [which] points to a more or less customary weight and size for this type” (emphasis added). I would add that use of the number of ingots also points to a standard quality.

5. Schaps defines “coin” as follows: “[A] coin is an object, usually but not necessarily of metal, which circulates as a medium of trade, and whose value is guaranteed by the stamp of the issuing authority” (223). He adds: “We may thus ignore without further discussions such items as spits, rings, and sealed bags of silver, which although they served many of the purposes that coins later served were not by themselves coins at all. They belong to the history of ‘primitive money’… (223).

Schaps’ dismissal of sealed bags of silver is most puzzling and instead of ignoring these, he offers a brief discussion of their significance. He concludes that “When silver was to be reused, a certain amount was given to the assayer in advance. Whatever the assayer did not use was sealed with a royal seal, obviating the need for weighing and assaying it again. The ‘sealed silver,’ then, is ordinary silver sealed in a sack, not a coin” (223-24).

In my view, sealed bags provide evidence for widespread use of “coinage” in the ANE. The background is as follows. Cuneiform sources of the first half of the second millennium refer to sealed bags of silver (e.g. kaspum kankum). We hear of “(silver) in lumps-sealed in a bag” (CAD s.v. kankua) and “x silver which is placed in its sealed bag” (CAD s.v. kan?ku 2). There is also mention of silver “marked” (udd?) with its weight (CAD s.v. id? 4.a). Copper might also be packed into purses called (c)hurshianu (CAD s.v. Dercksen 1996: 66)

The sealed bags might be transferred: “I needed (and asked you for in writing) ten shekels of silver under seal.” x silver which PN gave to PN2 , and which is marked with the name of the merchant. (CAD s.v. s(umu 1.e) “you have sent me silver which is not fit for business transactions… send me silver, (in) a sealed bag” (CAD s.v. kaniktu 2). Oppenheim (1969) makes brief mention of cuneiform sources of the first half of the second millennium that refer to sealed bags of silver deposited with persons who used the silver in various transactions. Most directly, the practice of transacting with sealed bags of silver is reflected in the call, in eighteenth-century contracts from Mesopotamia (the city of Larsa), for merchants to pay for palace-owned goods with “sealed silver” (Stol 1982: 150-51). The transactional use of sacks is ignored by S.[2]

Some years ago, in reflecting on these references, it occurred to me that in eleventh-century-CE Egypt and elsewhere in North Africa, in Talmudic times (400-500 CE) and earlier in Carthage and in Rome (the tesserae nummulariae), various coins and (probably) metal fragments were kept in purses labeled on the outside with the contents and sealed by governments or private merchants. In addition to keeping the coins “fresh” — that is, preserving their full weight — Udovitch (1979: 267), who studied the usage in medieval Islam, explains: “these packaged and labeled purses made settlement of accounts much more convenient… by obviating the need to weigh, array, and evaluate coins for every individual transaction. Significantly, most payments and transfers of funds were executed by the actual physical transfer of the purses.” We may assume that these purses circulated among the wealthier classes.

Schaps responds as follows: “[Morris] Silver (126-27) obfuscates this point, going so far as to say that (medieval Islamic!) sealed purses ‘in short… were large denomination coins.’ This is surely to broaden the definition of a coin far beyond reason” (224, n. 9). Schaps obtained this quote from my 1985 edition. In 1995 I wrote: “In short, the sealed purses functioned as large-denomination ‘coins'” (161). The reason for the change in formulation is that numismatic specialists and antiquarians insisted that coins had to be made of metal. I was hammered on this, to an economist, unimportant detail. Schaps? properly broadened definition of “coin” makes my original formulation perfectly appropriate. Under his definition a “nickel,” as he says, can be wooden and “a dollar bill would also count as a ‘coin’ (223, n. 3). The important point is that there is evidence to suggest that the kaspum kankum functioned as/were coins!

6. Schaps does not mention evidence provided by Joann’s (1989). Hammurabi (1792-1750) paid/rewarded Mari’s soldiers with (mysterious) shamsh?tum “sun discs,” gold rings, silver of 5 or 10 shekels, and with small pieces of silver impressed with a seal. Joann?s bases himself on ARMT 25, 815 and a letter (A-486+) to Zimri-Lim, the king of Mari. The key word here is kaniktum from kan?kum “to mark a seal” (see CAD s.vv.). In the absence of (additional?) evidence for the use of kaniktum to make payments, Joann?s suggests that these sealed metal objects may have been “medals.” Perhaps. On the other hand, perhaps they were coins. Indeed, as far as I am aware, the evidence for coinage is more ample than the evidence for “medals”! The text is silent about whether and how Mari’s soldiers spent the small pieces of sealed silver.

7. Several bread-shaped ingots of the eighth century inscribed with the name of a king preceded by the Aramaic letter lamed have actually been found in the palace of Zinjirli, a north Syrian state located on the only good crossing of the Amanus mountains from east to west. The meaning of the possessive l is debated. One possibility is that it means “belonging to” in the sense of personal possession. Balmuth (1971: 3), however, suggests that it means “on behalf of” or “in the name of” (its meaning on coins of later times) and, therefore, that the inscription represents a royal guarantee of the metal. Any such guarantee might refer only to the quality of the metal or to both quality and weight. Schaps responds as follows: “But there is no indication that this disk… was ever meant to be currency at all, and coins did not become current in this area until centuries later” (91, n.52). Thus, Schaps comes close to saying that the ingot could not be a coin because they had not been invented yet! Schaps believes that the disks were designed for storage of wealth, not for making payments. Perhaps he has guessed right. The fact is, however, that there is simply no evidence beyond the inscribed ingots themselves.

As I will show next, Schaps requires much more from the Near Eastern coinage evidence than from the Greek.

II. Greek Coinage Evidence

1. There is clear evidence of a double standard in Schaps’ consideration of the Lydian evidence (93-6). The “Lydian” coins excavated in the Artemision at Ephesus are mostly dated to the seventh and earlier sixth centuries BCE. However, the dating remains controversial. Two of the pieces were dumps not coins. The significance of their inscriptions is still being debated. All but two of the ninety-three pieces conformed to the Milesian weight standard. There is no evidence that merchants would not have had to weigh them. There is no direct evidence that the coins circulated. The coins are made of the wrong metal, electrum instead of silver, gold, or copper. (Variation in the ratio of gold to silver, would seem to call for quality testing.) In short, despite numerous opportunities for raising objections, Schaps does not hesitate to call the finds in the Artemision, the “earliest datable coins” (93 emphasis added).

Schaps explains further: “The motivation behind the ‘cutting’… of such coins must have been quite different from the motivation of the temple of Arbela in casting its ingots. Ingots of a pound or so are a convenient way in which to store silver, and they were probably made for that purpose. Small and minutely subdivided weights of electrum [as in the Ephesus hoard], however, were undoubtedly made for payment not storage” (100). Possibly. However, there is evidence for the circulation of the Arbela ingots. A contract in which neither the temple nor its commercial agent is a party shows the silver being loaned out. The document originates some 50 miles from Arbela. On the other hand, no direct evidence is presented that the Ephesus coins circulated.

Contrast Schaps’ evaluation of the Artemision coins with his view of the Cappadocian lead disks, which may date to the mid-second millennium (225-26). The “ornamentation” on (one side) of the disks is similar but not identical. The disks “vary irregularly in weight.” They are made of the “wrong metal.” There is no evidence of “circulation from place to place.” Scholars have expressed doubts that “such small bits of lead could have had much monetary value” (225). “Nothing suggests that they are coins except their size and shape and the fact that they are made of metal…” (225). It would seem that ANE candidates for designation as early coins are always too large or too small or whatever.

2. Schaps does not demonstrate that the Greece took its inspiration from Lydian coins. Schaps explains: “The Greek coins were silver, not electrum…. The change to silver indicates that coins, even if they had begun as a solution to the problem of the variability of electrum, had come to be appreciated as what they now were: a countable unit of value” (104 emphasis added). Clearly, this terminology simply assumes an imitation and modification of Lydian coinage practices.

3. There are hints that the Greeks had long been familiar with “primitive money” or even coinage. Greek traditions and legends place coinage much earlier than the sixth century. Thus, Plutarch (Theseus 25.3) wrote in the first century CE that Theseus, the legendary unifier and king of Attica, issued coins. In the second century CE, the scholar Pollux (9.83), claimed that coinage was invented by the even more shadowy Athenian figure Erichthonius, an early king. We find reports in ancient literary sources that Pheidon, king of Argos, introduced a silver coinage possibly as early as the eighth century (see S 101-4).

Hacksilber “cut-silver” hoards have not been found inside Greece. However, an eighth century hoard was excavated in Eretria in Euboea. (The Taranto 1911 hoard is dated to c. 600.) Balmuth (1975: 296) suggests that “although many of these have been called silversmith’s hoards, the practicability of exchange by weight suggests that Hacksilber could simultaneously be both material for a jeweler and material for exchange.” Schaps does not “believe there was ever an internal bullion economy in Greece” (195).[3] However, Kim (2001) has presented evidence that money of weighed silver bullion was employed in the Greek world well before the introduction of coinage. There are references to the use of silver to pay fines in Solon’s time.

More importantly, Schaps provides evidence consistent with bullion usage. In the eighth century, at Gortyn in Crete, the leb?s “cauldron” was used to make payments. Schaps explains that “it is hard to escape the impression that cauldrons, as inconvenient as they may seem to be, were functioning as a means of payment… in which fines could be assessed and deposits demanded” (83, cf. 195). Actually, it is preposterous that physical cauldrons were used as means of payment. More reasonably, “cauldrons” might be the name for an ingot, perhaps stamped with the image of a cauldron. Mysterious monetary units are, after all, commonplace in the historical documents. Thus, a text from the ANE (Isin) records the purchase of an orchard for copper “hoes” ((c)haputu) inscribed with the name of the goddess Ninisina. Payments are also made in “sickles” and “axes” (CAD niggallu 1.b).

III. Alleged Revolutionary Effect of Coinage/Money

Schaps’ central proposition is not documented in a credible manner. In this endeavor, he receives only limited mileage from his strained identification of coinage with money. Sometimes he claims for money/coin the effects of Greek economic growth. In other instances, he admits that no revolution occurred. The quotations cited below illustrate his difficulties.

1. “The conceptual revolution that identified coins with wealth turned money into an item of which one could never have too much, or, indeed, enough” (175). What then of the Assyrian merchants of the early second millennium BCE whose wives scolded them “You love only money, and you hate your own life!” (Larsen 1982: 42)? More to the point, what of Solon (Fragment 13.43-45. 47-48, 71-73 West):

One hastens after one thing, another after something else one man, desiring to bring home profit, wanders over the fishy sea in ships … another, whose concern is the curved plow, cleaves the thickly wooded land and slaves away for a year… but no limit of wealth [ploutou d’ouden terma] is clearly laid down for men for those of us who now have the greatest livelihood [pleiston…bion] have twice the eagerness [diplasion specdousi] who can satisfy [koreseien] all? (Balot 2001: 90)Presumably, this view originates in the late archaic period — i.e. before the Greeks adopted coinage. In any event, Solon does not link human acquisitiveness with coinage or money.

2. “To the extent, then, that Homeric society had distinguished prestige goods from nonprestige goods, money subverted the distinction: money could buy anything and could be gotten in exchange for anything. It follows that even a peasant or a shopkeeper could amass enough money to buy the most prestigious goods and it followed from this that the possession of those goods, which is now open to everybody, no longer distinguished the best from the worst” (117).

3. “The history of the late archaic age in Greece is the story of the crumbling of oligarchies. This development was already underway before coinage had been invented…. Nevertheless, it is more than probable that money and the market had their share in continuing the process and in changing the entire concept of oligarchy” (120).

4. An (alleged) trend from socially embedded transactions to impersonal economics should not be attributed to the adoption of coinage. There is no doubt that economic transactions tended, as Greek society developed from the archaic age to the classical and the Hellenistic, to be more a matter of immediate mutual economic benefit and less a form of discharging social obligations. The invention of coinage certainly facilitated this change, which may, however, have been propelled more by simple population growth than by any technological or cultural development. (33)

5. “The agora grew up in the Kerameikos, the potters quarter, and excavations have found evidence of potters’ waste as far back as 1000 B.C.E., but there are not other signs of commercial or industrial activity before the growth of the agora itself [in the sixth century]” (113). “We cannot… prove that there was no retail trade before coins were invented but what we have seen suggests that if there was any, there was not much” (115). The latter suggestion, however, does not depend so much on “what we have seen” as on what we have not, namely the archaic agora! “The place in which Athenians had previously congregated was hardly remembered by the Athenians and has not been securely identified to this day” (113).

In the end, Schaps offers a more balanced appraisal. The various participants “were all making a profit, and they were doing it in a way that would have been a good deal more difficult before the invention of coinage” (115). “Money, we may reiterate, did not create trade, but it marked the beginning of a new age of commerce in Greece” (122). “An expansion of retail trade was the first visible concomitant of coins. At this distance, we cannot tell which is cause and which is effect, but we can say at least that the marketplace and coinage grew up together” (196).

6. “Without money, the great temples, the dramatic festivals of Athens, its navy, and its democracy would have taken a very different form, if they had come to exist at all” (197). This is simply a reach.

7. “Merkelbach’s observation that a bordello was hardly conceivable before the invention of money is a plausible one, though the ‘money’ involved need not have been coins: the weighed silver of the Levant would also have been sufficient” (160). “Merkelbach’s observation” is “plausible” only because he does not identify money with coinage. How did Greeks pay for sexual services before the (alleged) “invention” of coinage/money in the sixth century? Schaps does not tell us.

8. “The ancient Greeks, even when money had become the universal medium of exchange, still considered the exchange of labor for money to be the exceptional case” (162). No revolution in the labor market.

9. “In sum, it appears that money never truly transformed Greek agriculture” (172).

Schaps, however, underestimates the market orientation of Greek agriculture in the later archaic period. Citing Hesiod (Works and Days 618-94), he (89, cf. 119) suggests that “Peasants might try to change an agricultural surplus into a more lasting form of wealth by sailing abroad during the seasons when the farm could be left alone.” What exactly was the “more lasting form of wealth” in these days (allegedly) before money/coin? With respect to Schaps? “agricultural surplus,” Redfield 2003: 168) points out that Hesiod advises “peasants” to “leave the greater part, and load as cargo the lesser” (Works and Days 690). Hesiod it seems can actually imagine farming entirely for export, although he is against it.” Moreover, Hesiod’s comment that “wealth means life to poor mortals” indicates an appreciation of production for the market.

IV. Peripheral Contributions

Apart from his central argument, Schaps makes a number of rather interesting and useful observations. Some examples follow.

“When the [Mycenaean] palaces had been burned and their far-flung bureaucracy dispersed, there will have been more need for exchange. The Homeric heroes did indeed have to weigh the value of a slave against the value of a tripod if this seems to us a step toward the concept of money, it is not for that reason a sign of an expanding economy” (71). Thus, as I would see this, the Homeric era can be viewed and an “Intermediate Period” of a type familiar in Egyptian economic history.

Speaking of the marketplace in Athens, Schaps notes: These merchandises were not mixed: not only was there no one ‘general store’ that sold them all, but there was not even a single place where one could ‘do the shopping.’ Each merchandise had its own part of the agora, and a person would speak of being ‘among the fish’ or ‘among the banks.’ (167)

Or even, citing Aristophanes, “among the tragedies” (S 167, n. 19)!

Schaps (123) cites Aristophanes’ joke that a politician could win public support by lowering the price of sardines.

Schaps takes up private enterprise in the coinage business: It might, in theory, have happened that coining would have become a form of business, in which private individuals turned silver into coins that would have been accepted by the reputation of the coiner…. It did not happen in Greece. Once coinage was generally adopted in Greek cities, the coining of money was normally a state monopoly. (179)

By contrast, I would suggest, some of the inscriptions on the coins from the Artemision coins seem to be personal names, which leaves open the possibility that the issuers were private individuals.

Large business loans were made at Athens. “It is true, however, that large loans at Athens were, as far we can tell, never designed to be paid off in drips and drabs out of one’s regular income” (245).

There are also some rather unfortunate observations. “Behind the [Greek] prejudice [against merchants] though hardly ever explicitly expressed, lies a real paradox, namely, the syllogism that: (a) a trade should be fair (b) if a trade is fair, both sides should remain with the same value whence it follows that (c) if a person can increase his capital by trade, he is cheating someone” (177). It should be needless to say that there is no “real paradox.” An uncoerced exchange benefits both parties. Unless each contractor views his postexchange position to be superior to his preexchange position, exchange will not take place. Contrary to the Marxist perspective, exchange is productive. Specifically, trade rearranges an existing stock of goods in a way that enables each participant to become better off as measured relative to his own values at the time of deciding to trade. The creative nature of trade is little appreciated by scholars untrained in basic economic principles. Schaps (177, n. 7) compounds the problem by minimizing the contribution of the middleman in “making a market.” Later, he redeems himself by crediting the obolostat?s “obol weigher” for smoothing the function of the marketplace by “redistributing — for a fee — the coins that circulated in the market so that any seller could count on finding enough coins to start a day’s business” (186).

Not surprisingly, Schaps fails to demonstrate his thesis that coin=money revolutionized Greek economy and society. In my judgment, it is not nearly enough to cite the obvious advantages of coins in retail trade and to note that a Greek household might now express the entirety of its possessions in terms of money. With respect to the invention of coinage, the communis opinio has long been that it first appeared in the Greek world, not in the Near East. Schaps, to his credit, does explore the evidence for coinage in the Near East. However, he omits or misrepresents much and treats the remainder in an unbalanced manner. He has a tendency to make definitive statements not supported by evidence. Outside his central argument, he has many worthwhile things to say. The latter insights are sufficient to justify a favorable evaluation of the book.

1. In Genesis 23.16, Abraham “weighed” for Ephron’s field the sum of 400 shekels of silver kesep ‘?ber lass?cher. The latter phrase is usually translated “current money of the merchant,” but the literal meaning is “silver passing for the merchant.” The expression makes us focus on the kind of silver that would be employed in commerce. Hurowitz (1986: 290, n.3), taking note of the Old Assyrian usage kaspum asshumi PN (personal name) equlam ittiq — “silver will travel overland to the name of PN” — concludes that the silver “must have been of a standard, recognized quality.” There is no mention in Genesis of a test of the quality of the metal. Hence, it seems reasonable that a merchant’s stamp or seal guaranteed the silver. Schaps (91, n. 50) rejects this interpretation. He (228, n. 37) is correct in insisting that the silver was weighed

2. Despite the dangers, some biblical evidence should be noted. In 2 Kings 12.10-12 we read that in the ninth century under King Jehoash: a box with a hole bored in it was set up in the temple for the collection of silver [presumably silver pieces] for a repairs fund at a certain point the Temple officers removed the silver from the box and “tied it up”/”bagged it” [warrasuru] then the silver was counted [wayyimnu] and then the “measured”/”regulated” [metukkan] silver was given to contractors who delivered it to various workers at the Temple who used it to purchase timber and stone. The text does not say that the sacks were opened in order to make payments. Thus, expressing all due caution, the most direct understanding is that the sacks circulated outside the Temple.

3. There is some reason to believe that terms originally meaning “weigh” came to have the meaning “pay” (compare S 228, n. 37) The Greek material provides a possible example of this kind of development in meaning. A law of Solon states: “Silver is to be stasimon at however much the lender may choose” (Kroll 2001: 78 Schaps 2001: 97). The orator Lysias (later fifth-earlier fourth century BCE) explains “This stasimon, my good man, is not a matter of placing in a balance but of exacting interest at whatever rate one may choose” (10.18). Schaps (2001: 98) concedes that stasis may refer to weighing but he opposes Kroll’s interpretation of Lysias as referring to an obsolete procedure, the weighing of silver on a scale: “The claim hinges on the presumption that stasimon ‘properly’ should mean ‘weighable’ but there are no parallels for such a meaning.” What then does stastimon mean in Solon’s law? According to Schaps (2001: 98) the word means “nothing more than ‘is to be paid’.”

In fact, there are no other examples of the use of stasimos in the meanings “weighing” (Kroll) or “paying” (Schaps). What is clear is that “There is an absolute connection between the adjective stasimos and the noun stasis, both derived from the verb hist?mi ‘to stand up, to cause to stand up” (David Tandy personal correspondence dated March 2, 2004 LSJ s.v. hist?mi). The verb hist?mi is well attested in the meaning “to weigh.”

In classical Athens, long after the introduction of coins, we find the term obolostate? “weigh obols” in the meaning “making small loans” (LSJ s.v.). There is evidence here of an evolution from “weighing” to “paying.”

CAD: Gelb et al., The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute (University of Chicago)

LSJ: Lidell, Scott, Jones, Greek-English Lexicon References

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Balmuth, Miriam S. (1975). “The Critical Moment: The Transition from Currency to Coinage in the Eastern Mediterranean.” World Archaeology, 6, 293-98.

Balmuth, Miriam S. (ed.) (2001). Hacksilber to Coinage: New Insights into the Monetary History of the Near East and Greece. New York: American Numismatic Society.

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A Brief History of the Nickel

The nickel wasn't always worth five cents. In 1865, the U.S. nickel was a three-cent coin. Before that, “nickel cents” referred to alloy pennies.

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It turns out that even the name “nickel” is misleading. “Actually, nickels should be called 'coppers,'” says coin expert Q. David Bowers. Today's so-called nickels are 75 percent copper.

Those aren't the only surprises hidden in the history of the nickel. The story of America's five-cent coin is, strangely enough, a war story. And 150 years since it was first minted in 1866, the modest nickel serves as a window into the symbolic and practical importance of coinage itself.

To understand how the nickel got its name, you have to go back to an era when precious metals reigned supreme. In the 1850s, coins of any real value were made of gold and silver. In the event of a financial crisis—or worse, the collapse of a government—precious metal coins could always be melted down. They had intrinsic value.

But in the spring of 1861, southern states began to secede, and Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as President. Soon shells were falling on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. America was in crisis, and so was its currency. “The outcome of the Civil War was uncertain,” says Bowers, an author of several books on coin history. Widespread anxiety led to an important side-effect of war. “People started hoarding hard money, especially silver and gold.”

Coins seemed to vanish overnight, and the U.S. Mint couldn't keep up with demand. “The United States literally did not have the resources in gold and silver to produce enough money to meet the needs of the country,” says Douglas Mudd, the director of the American Numismatic Association. “Even the cent was disappearing.” In the South, this problem was even worse. The limited supply of gold and silver was needed to purchase supplies from abroad, which meant the Confederacy relied almost exclusively on paper currency.

Minting new coins might not seem like a priority in a time of war. But without coinage, transactions of everyday life—buying bread, selling wares, sending mail—become almost impossible. One Philadelphia newspaper reported that the local economy had slowed to a crawl in 1863, citing that some storekeepers had to cut their prices “one to four cents on each transaction” or refuse to sell products outright because they were unable to get a hold of money.

Mudd puts the problem in more familiar terms. “It's like, all of a sudden, not being able to go to 7-Eleven because [the cashier] can't make change,” he says. “And if [they] can't make change, the economy stops.”

It was in this economic vacuum that the United States tried a series of monetary experiments. In 1861, the government began paying Union soldiers with “Demand Notes”—also known as “greenbacks.” Meanwhile, stamps were declared legal tender for small purchases a round metal case was developed to keep them intact. “It looked like a coin with a window on it,” says Mudd. 

Demand Notes, Series 1861, were issued by the United States in $5, $10, and $20 denominations. (National Museum of American History via Wikicommons) The term "Greenback" originated with these note, the earliest issue of the U.S. Government. (National Museum of American History via Wikicommons) The United States Demand Note was authorized by Congress on 17 July 1861 and issued on 10 August 1861. (National Museum of American History via Wikicommons)

For the duration of the war, the American economy puttered along with all kinds of competing currency. Even private banks and businesses were releasing their own notes and coins. Shopkeepers could give coins, stamps or bills as change. The war finally ended in 1865, but it took many months for precious metals to trickle back into circulation. “It's not until after the Civil War that coin production resumes at full capacity,” says Mudd.

As the United States turned its attention to rebuilding, not all metals were scarce. War production had expanded America's industrial capacity, and nickel was available in huge quantities. The advantage of nickel lay in what it wasn't. It wasn't scarce, which meant the government could print millions of coins without creating new shortages. And it wasn't a precious metal, so people wouldn't hoard it.

In fact, some cent coins had already been minted using nickel—and as one Pennsylvania newspaper pointed out, “the hoarding of them is unwise and injudicious.” There's no sense in hoarding a coin whose value comes from a government guarantee.

Only after a bizarre 1866 controversy about paper money, however, did nickel coins finally conquer everyday life. At the time, the National Currency Bureau (later called the Bureau of Engraving and Printing) was led by a man named Spencer Clark. He was tasked with finding a suitable portrait for the five-cent note. Clark's selection was a proud-looking man with dark eyes and a thick white beard. The public was not amused.

“He put his own image on there,” says Mudd. “There was a major scandal.”

Fractional Currency was introduced by the United States Federal Government following the Civil War, and were issued in 3, 5, 10, 15, 25, and 50 cent denominations. (National Museum of American History via Wikicommons)

“Clark put his own head on the currency without any authority whatever,” declared an angry letter to the New York Times. Reporting by the Times depicted Clark's bearded portrait as an assault on the dignity of American money. Another letter-writer chimed in: “It shows the form of impudence in a way seldom attempted before. It is not the first time, however, that men have made a strike for fame, and only achieved notoriety.”

While legislators were making speeches in Congress denouncing Clark's portrait, an industrialist named Joseph Wharton was busy prodding legislators to find an alternative to paper money. In the early years of the war, Wharton had bought up nickel mines in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, so his suggestion should come as no surprise. He wanted coins to be made out of nickel.

Two months later, five-cent notes were quietly retired. And as Philadelphia's Daily Evening Bulletin reported in May of 1866, a new coin was to immediately take its place. “The President [Andrew Johnson] has approved a bill to authorize the coinage of five cent pieces, composed of nickel and copper,” said the article. “There are to be no more issues of fractional notes of a less denomination than ten cents.”

The new coin was decorated with a shield, the words “In God We Trust,” and a large 𔄝,” surrounded by a star and ray design. That year, the government minted a whopping 15 million five-cent nickels—more than 100 times the number of silver half-dimes minted the year before.

As far as the future of the nickel was concerned, the timing was perfect. The postwar economy began to gather steam again. “The supply was there, and the demand was there,” says Mudd. “People wanted coins.”

The nickel caught on for a few reasons. First of all, after years of coin shortages, nickels flooded the economy. Nearly 30 million were printed in 1867 and 1868. “The nickel was the coin from 1866 to 1876,” says Bowers. Even after that, as dimes and quarters rose in prominence, nickels were the coin of convenience. Bottles of Coca-Cola, which entered the marketplace in 1886, cost a nickel for 73 years.

The shield nickel was produced until 1883, when it was replaced due to manufacturing issues by the “Liberty Head” nickel. The decades that followed saw a succession of new designs, starting in 1913 with the Buffalo nickel and followed in 1938 by the initial Jefferson nickel. (Ironically, during World War II, nickel was so essential for war production that nickels were produced without any nickel.) The most recent update, in 2006, revised Jefferson's image from a profile to a frontal portrait.

In the 20 th century, one other shift cemented the nickel as an indispensable coin of the realm: the rise of coin-operated machines. Nickels were the ideal denomination for vending machines, jukeboxes, and slot machines. It also cost five cents to attend a “nickelodeon”—that is, a nickel theater. (Odeon comes from the Greek word for theater.) “Nickels went into the mainstream,” says Bowers.

Nickels have come full-circle since their roots in the gold and silver shortages of the Civil War. One hundred and fifty years ago, coins made of nickel seemed convenient because they were made of cheap metals. These days, nickel and copper prices are high, and our beloved 5-cent coin costs around 8 cents to produce. Maybe it's time to bring back the five-cent note.

About Daniel A. Gross

Daniel A. Gross is a freelance journalist and public radio producer based in Boston.


Coins:

Ancient Turkey: About 2,700 years ago, somebody came up with the idea of using metal coins as money. The first coins appeared in ancient Turkey. Everybody loved this new idea. The amount that each coin was worth was stamped right on it. The coins were round and flat and made of gold and silver. They were small and easy to carry. They could be decorated with pictures and designs. The use of coins made trade simple.

The clever people who invented the first coins from the kingdom of Lydia, which was a little coastal kingdom on the Aegean Sea, in ancient Turkey. Like most coastal civilizations, these early people needed something to use to trade with visiting merchants who came by sea. Coins were the answer.

Ancient Greece: The idea of metal coinage spread on rapidly. By 2,500 years ago, each Greek city-state had developed its own coinage. Each Greek city-state had banks where visiting traders could exchange their coins for Greek coins, coins they would then use to buy and sell in the great Greek marketplaces.

Coins were not only used as money. In ancient Greece, coins were also believed to have magical powers. The Greeks designed their coins with pictures of their gods and goddesses. The Greeks were the first civilization to use pictures of real people on their coins. The first was Alexander the Great, back around 325 BCE. As time went on, the Greeks created bigger coins, each designed to commemorate a special event.

Ancient Rome: The ancient Romans thought the use of coins was really clever. They copied it. At first, the Romans put pictures of gods and goddesses on their coins, an idea they borrowed from the ancient Greeks. Pretty soon, they began to put pictures of buildings on their coins. They were the first to add symbols like stars and eagles on their coins. Some of their coins pictured current emperors. These coins were supposed to help make an emperor popular.

Ancient India: In ancient India, people used money trees to store their coins. A money tree was a flat piece of metal, shaped like a tree, with metal branches. At the end of each branch was a round disk with a hole in the center. Each of these disks was an ancient Indian coin. When you needed money, you simply broke off a coin from your money tree. The ancient Indians often used pictures of dragons and other make-believe animals on their coins.

Ancient China: Ancient Chinese coins also had holes in the center. To keep their safe, and to be able to carry their wealth easily, coins were strung together on a string or rope. This was called a string of cash. Like the ancient Indians, the ancient Chinese also decorated their coins with pictures of mythical and magical creatures as well as designs. They believed coins were lucky. Coins were a popular present because they provided two gifts - the gift of wealth and the gift of luck.

Ancient Counterfeit Coins: In ancient times, there were crooks who chipped away at the edges of coins to get extra metal. If you were caught "chipping" coins in ancient times, the punishment was usually death. In spite of the risks, one gang who lived in ancient England distributed over 1600 fake coins to the Roman legionnaires who invaded their country!

When coins began to made by machines, counterfeiting dropped off considerably. It was much more difficult to copy the machine made coins. Besides, paper money had started to be an important form of money.

Paper Money: The ancient Chinese invented paper. Once paper was invented, the invention of paper money was predicable. It was light in weight, and could be colorfully decorated.


Years: c. 300 BCE - c. 200 BCE Subject: History, Ancient history (non-classical to 500 CE)
Publisher: HistoryWorld Online Publication Date: 2012
Current online version: 2012 eISBN: 9780191735417

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2000 and Beyond

2000: The “Web Phone” combines a traditional telephone with an LCD touch-screen and a retractable keyboard to let customers surf the Internet, check e-mail, make phone calls and check voice mail from a single device
2000: The “Thin Phone” integrates wireless Internet access with local wireless phone service, allowing Internat customers to stay connected with everything from Web pages to voice and e-mail, all while on the move
2000 and beyond: “Information Appliances” make Internet mobile, wirless “Web to Go,” voice-activated dialing, phone numbers for life, phone calls and Internet on your TV, TV via wireless phones, and much more


Greek Coinage Timeline - History

In order to understand the coinage of Alexander the Great, it is necessary first to explain the ancient Greek world. There were no specific nations and no specific country called Greece in the ancient world. Greek-speaking people had settled all over the Mediterranean. They established cities from Spain to the Black Sea in southern Russia.

Alexander’s Life
Alexander became ruler of Macedonia in 336 BC after the murder of his father Philip II. Ancient Macedonia was situated in the northeastern area of modern day Greece. Macedonia had grown strong under Philip II. Even though Alexander was only 20, he launched a massive military expedition against the Persian Empire. The area of contention between the Persians and the Greeks was Asia Minor (modern day Turkey – the Turks had not arrived yet). Most of the coastal cites of Asia Minor were inhabitated by Greek-speaking people, but they were ruled by the Persian Empire. Alexander invaded Asia Minor to liberate the Greeks and drive out the Persians. Alexander’s armies swept down into Egypt and then circled back, taking territory the whole way to borders of India. Alexander’s armies defeated every army for 13 years. While traveling back home through Babylon, Alexander died at the age of 33 in 323 BC. The coins minted under his name from 336 to 323 BC are referred to as lifetime issues and command a high price today.


Alexander’s Death
After Alexander's death, the newly established Empire was divided up among Alexander’s generals and his family. There were many kingdoms formed out this Alexandrian Empire but the three principal kingdoms were the Macedonian Kingdom, Seleucid Kingdom, and Ptolemy Kingdom. The Macedonian Kingdom covered mainland Greece, the Seleucid Kingdom was Syria to Afghanistan including parts of Asia Minor. The Ptolemy Kingdom consisted of Egypt, Israel and Lebanon. The famous Cleopatra (VII), lover of Mark Antony and Julius Caesar, came from the Ptolemy royal family. She was the last Ptolemaic ruler of Egypt. The borders of all these kingdoms changed frequently. The cities throughout this fractured empire continued to mint coins using Alexander’s name for the next 250 years. These coins are posthumous issues and naturally make up the bulk of the Alexander coins found today.


Coin Types
The two dominant coins of Alexander were the drachm (drachma) and the tetradrachm (tetra = 4). The drachm is about 18 mm wide and weighs about 4.2 grams of silver (size of a penny). The tetradrachm size varies according to when and where it was minted but ranges from 25-40 mm wide and weighs 17.2 grams of silver (larger than a quarter). Alexander coins were considered sound money as the receiver knew that the coin was of a certain weight of silver. The value of the coin principally came from what it was made of, not who issued the coin. The weights of the coins were regulated by city officials called magistrates. It is often their official symbols and monograms that we find on the coins. Ancient forgers used to coat copper coins with silver and try to pass them off as pure silver coins. It is not uncommon to find an ancient banker’s mark or a test cut in ancient coins. By piercing the coin, the person could tell if the silver ran through the coin. The Alexander coinage was principally used to pay soldiers, tribute (levies & taxes), and later protection money to the barbarians. It was not for the purpose of establishing the free flow of commerce. Coins were also made of gold and bronze, but we will principally deal with the silver issues here. When Alexander was alive, there were about 26 mints producing his coinage. After his death, Greek rulers and cities throughout the former Alexandrian Empire produced Alexander coinage at 52 mints at its peak. In all about 91 different mints produced Alexander coinage over the 250 years. The last Alexanders were minted at Mesembria around 65 B.C.


Coin Design
The Alexander coin has Herakles (or Hercules as the Romans called him) on the front (obverse). On the back (reverse) was the supreme god, Zeus, who was the father of Herakles. Zeus sits on his throne holding a scepter and eagle. Although some people have argued the image of Herakles was Alexander himself, there is no convincing evidence of this and the face of Herakles is different in different regions. Herakles was the greatest hero of the Greeks. Born of the Greek god Zeus and made mortal, Herakles attained divine status by accomplishing 12 great tasks on Earth known as the 12 Labors of Herakles. The idea of a man becoming a god obviously was an attractive image for Alexander. The headdress that appears on the head of Herakles is the lion skin of the fierce Nemean lion that was killed by Herakles during his first labor.


This is a lifetime issue - 325-323 B.C - The legs of Zeus are side by side)

There are two main styles on the back (reverse). One has Zeus with his legs side by side and another style has one leg behind the other. While most lifetime issues have Zeus with his legs side by side and most posthumous issues have one leg behind the other, it is best to consult a reference book to be sure as there are exceptions.


This is a posthumous issue. One leg of Zeus is behind the other) © Gorny Mosch.

Coin Inscriptions.
There are two types of inscriptions found on the reverse of Alexander coins. The primary inscription is ALEXANDROU (of Alexander) and ALEXANDROU BASILEWS (of Alexander the King). The "of" refers to the "coin of Alexander". The title "King" found on certain coins varied according to region and time period. The Greek speaking people were not partial to the idea of being ruled by any king and therefore the title is not generally found on Alexander coins of mainland Greece.


Coin Dating
Today, our world timeline is based upon the traditional birth date of Jesus Christ. B.C. is Before Christ and A.D. is Latin for Anno Domino which means year of our lord. Sometimes this dating system is documented as B.C.E (Before the Common Era) and C.E (Common Era) to remove the religious terminology but the origin is the still the same. There was no uniform dating system for the ancient world. Some kingdoms later dated their coins according to when a ruler came to power (Ptolemy, Seleucid Kingdoms). Therefore, by knowing when a ruler was in power, we can date some coins. Most ancient coins, unfortunately, had no such archaic dating system on them. The Greeks, however, did place a mind numbing variety of symbols and monograms on many coins. Some monograms were abbreviations of cities or names of officals, and some still remain a mystery. Through scholarly investigation of common coin styles and a little Indiana Jones deciphering, most coins can be placed into a specific date range and assigned to a particular city or region.


Books and References

The Coinage In The Name Of Alexander The Great and Philip Arrhidaeus by Martin Jessop Price. This is most detailed book to date on Alexander coins. This book was published by the British Museum and the Swiss Numismatic Society in 1991. It costs between $275 to $400, if you can find a copy. I know of only two sources. The Swiss Numismatic Society and WWW.VANDERDUSSEN.COM in the Netherlands. The book documents about 4,000 Alexander coins and their variations. It should be noted that as of 2005, Martin's Price work is 14 years old and he was not infallible in his interpretations. New evidence has come to light about Alexander coins since his work was published that would indicate he was possibly incorrect on some of his conclusions about certains mints and certain coins.

Studies in the Macedonian Coinage of Alexander the Great by Hyla A. Troxell published by The American Numismatic Society, New York 1997 is the most recent Alexander coin book. Troxell follows up on the work done by Martin Price, but focusing mostly on the large Alexander Coinage issued in Alexander's homeland of Macedonia. She presents corrections to Price's work, revised dating of some coinages based upon her studies and coin hoards that were discovered after Martin Price's book was published. This book should be seen as an update of Martin Price's work with Troxell giving her own conclusions. This book is worthwhile buying and some used copies can be bought for around $40.

Coin Prices
Alexander tetradrachms range from $50 to $3,000 depending on condition, rarity and desirability. Alexander drachms range from $40 to $400. It is best to research and attribute the coin before you buy it as sellers can make mistakes in cataloging coins. The cost difference between a quality Alexander coin that is a lifetime issue versus a posthumous one can be substantial. If you don’t have the reference book, try visiting WWW.COINARCHIVES.COM. If a seller references a coin, use that reference in the search box and see what comes up.

It is important to remember there are Alexanders that are genuine but may look different from the coin referenced. Martin Price in his Alexander book was not trying to document every Alexander coin but a representation mostly of coins in the British Museum. For example, for the mint of Perga, Martin Price documented 26 Alexanders in photographs and 33 Alexanders in descriptions. Hans Colin in his die study of Perga* documented 361 Alexander varieties made up of 73 different obverses and 217 reverses. If the coin is a slight variation of the referenced coin, a seller will often indicate that by using “var” after the reference.

Coin Sources
Alexander coins principally come on the market from existing collections or from newly discovered hoards. In the ancient world, there were no banks. If you had money and needed to keep it safe, you buried it. Sometimes the owner could not come back to claim it and then it sat in the ground 2,000 years until some farmer’s plough ran into it. Hoard coins go to auction houses and are mostly bought by dealers.

* Die Munzen von Perge in Pamphylien aus hellenistishcer Zeit : Hans Colin 1996 Tyll Kroha


The Profound History of Coins

More than 1.4 billion $1 coins featuring the likenesses of U.S. presidents from George Washington to James Garfield sit in a warehouse in Washington, D.C. Few people even know they exist.

The coins are part of a series the United States Mint started in 2007. The program was discontinued in 2011 because nobody was apparently interested. Coins featuring other presidents have been minted for collectors, but most of them have not been circulated.

Americans are attached to their paper bills, and prefer using them instead even if it costs the government more money.

It's a far cry from the social and political upheaval caused by the introduction of the first coins more than 2,500 years ago, said Tom Figueira, professor of Classics at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

"Mental changes with the introduction of coins were profound," Figueira said. "It was a whole new way of thinking about value."

The first coins

The world's first coins appeared around 600 B.C., jingling around in the pockets of the Lydians, a kingdom tied to ancient Greece and located in modern-day Turkey. They featured the stylized head of a lion and were made of electrum, an alloy of gold and silver.

The concept of money had been around awhile. Shells were used as currency in ancient China and, about 5,000 years ago, Mesopotamians had even developed a banking system where people could "deposit" grains, livestock and other valuables for safekeeping or trade.

But it wasn't until the actual coins appeared&mdashmoney for money's sake&mdashthat the social effects of having a currency really started to take hold, Figueira explains. Keeping things tidy in a society that had gradually become very complex was the catalyst for minting those first pieces, he thinks.

"Coins allowed the processes of city-states to be organized in a way that was elegant and just," Figueira told LiveScience. "They made people feel that things like war subsidies were orderly and transparent."

Shiny new coins began sprouting up throughout the Mediterranean just a few decades later, as the Lydian experiment appeared to be going well.

"It's pretty clear that it worked," Figueira said, "and Greek city-states were a laboratory for all kinds of social experiments like this."

Athens, Aegina and Corinth and Persia all developed their own coins by the 6th-century B.C, expanding trade networks with a newfound ease. Gold and silver replaced electrum as the material of choice, with coin values reflecting the actual value of the metal and not an arbitrary amount imposed on the coin, as in the case with modern currencies. Roman and then Celtic coins later followed the same traditions.

Coins provided social mobility to those who didn't have it, everywhere they appeared. People could move around with something to show for it, aside from just the clothes on their backs, Figueira said.

There were some early kinks to iron out, said Figueira, mostly to do with the sheer variety of coins around Europe. The majority of cities had their own design to reflect local pride.

"The pictures were a way to communicate social solidarity," he said, "letting people know who we are, who our heroes are." Romans commemorated their emperors, while the Celts engraved their money with runes, animals and important kings.


Watch the video: Μέρος 02 - Βίντεο - Γλαύκος Κληρίδης - Χρονολόγιο (May 2022).


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