What We Can Learn From Ancient Coins

Coins are found at nearly every archaeology excavation site throughout the world. Naturally in very ancient archaeology sites there are no coins discovered as the introduction of coinage, as a standardised form of value, did not occur until the late 8th century BC.

What Did We Do Before Coins?

Prior to coins, the means of exchange of goods and services in commercial or private transactions was more or less a modification of the barter system. Across the ancient East staple food commodities such as barley, wheat, and dates served alongside the non-perishable items of honey, timber, and metals as barter-ready goods. Archaeologically discovered texts show that from the earliest times, wealth was measured by possession of cattle or gold.

What Is The Authority Of The Coin

Coins are small pieces of a precious metal, usually round, that have been struck with a die that makes a permanent impression on its faces. The die is manufactured by the governing power and is the seal of authenticity of title and weight.

The first known ancient coins, minted in the East, were struck in electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver. King Darius I likely introduced coinage to Persia around 500 BC. The King’s name was used to denote a thick gold coin called a daric that portrays the monarch with bow and arrow.

Ancient coins were struck on copper, bronze, silver, and gold. The value of the coin was usually dependant upon its metal type and weight. Obviously, large gold coins were of far more value and carried a greater purchasing power than very small copper or bronze coins.

What Is The Lepton?

Known in the 1st century as a lepton, from the Greek word leptos meaning small or very fine, comes the smallest imaginable ancient coin in the East. Of only a few millimetres in diameter, they were tiny bronze coins that were usually poorly struck but lasted in circulation for hundreds of years. Thousands of these Jewish coins have been excavated from archaeology sites all over Israel. One lepton was equal to one half of a Roman quadrans. Sixty-four quadrans made a denarius, and archaeology has told us that one denarius was the regular pay for a labourer’s daily wage in the 1st century.

The Glossary Of Greek Coins

The basic Greek coin was the silver drachm. In 300 BC one drachm could buy a sheep and an ox cost five drachmai.

As archaeology excavations have shown, the Greeks excelled in coin minting. They honoured their leaders and their gods by stamping their images on coins of all values and on all metals. In fact, the most common way that archaeologists are able to gain a true visual likeness of an historical leader is from the many impressions remaining on ancient coin faces. The profiles of Greek and Roman Emperors usually adorn the obverse side of the coin although when a god is also depicted on the coin the ruler is commonly demoted to the reverse side.

The Details On Roman Coins

Ancient Roman coins are possibly the most common coinage located in archaeology excavations and clearly depict the scope to which the Roman Empire extended and developed standardised trade values.

In Holland, Dutch archaeology discovered a horde of 200 silver Roman coins near a city south of Amsterdam. The ancient coins were discovered during rescue archaeology excavations in an area to be used for housing. The first coin cleaned from the excavation showed to be from the mad Roman Emperor, Elagabalus, who had a short four-year reign until AD 222. The coins were contained in a ceramic pot and this was first x-rayed before opening it.

What We Know About Chinese Coins

Archaeology at an ancient tomb site in China’s Shaanxi Province have discovered more than 150 coins from different Chinese dynasties in excavations. The ancient coins span a time period of about 600 years from the Tang dynasty of 610 to the Jin dynasty ending 1234. Archaeologists speculate that the range of coinage may imply that the owner was a coin collector. Dozens of other ceramic items such as pottery servants and livestock were found in the tomb reminding archaeologists of the more famous Terracotta Army also found in China.

Coins are a great spokesperson of history to the archaeology and history. Not only do they provide a real life portrait of famous historical personalities but also the reverse side often reveals daily life at that time. Many ancient coins are stamped with impressions of men ploughing, warriors fighting, temple facades, slaves and captives working or bound, and various other activities that provide us with insights into ancient life that otherwise would be lost forever.

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