Money History
Egypt, Mesopotamia And Greece

The most basic records of precious metals being used as a form of money known to man can be traced to Egypt and Mesopotamia around 3000 BC. Soon, the practice spread to Europe and then to the Middle East and South Asian regions where coins made of precious metals like gold and silver served as money for several hundred years. Later, the concept of using metal coins extended across the globe by virtue of the different conduits of Western settlements as well as the advancement of the new industrial civilization around the world. Nevertheless, let us not mix up what may be described as the importance of folklore regarding the history of money, with the derivation of money itself.

Egypt and Mesopotamia (presently Iraq)

If you look at the history of money, you will find that the ball started rolling in primeval Egypt and Mesopotamia. Later, around 250 BC, coins made from valuable metals such as gold, silver and bronze became popular and were extensively used in most parts of the Mediterranean, the Near East as well as countries located in Southwest Asia, especially in India. Although coins came into effect in the latter part of the seventh century, the practice of using precious metals, particularly silver, as a form of money dates back to the 24th century BC Mesopotamia, the region where Iraq exists now.

According to a record found in the Book of Genesis, during the period of Joseph, i.e. the second millennium BC, it was possible for a person to trade a certain amount of silver to acquire a slave. Although the mention of such a transaction in the Book of Genesis appears to be a reality, translators who transformed the text into English in the 17th century mistook the reference of silver in the Book of Genesis to be silver coins or pieces of silver. While discussing the history of using precious metals as money in Egypt or Mesopotamia, it is imperative to bear in mind that in those days, people did not use the precious metals in the coin form, but as bullion or a certain mass during transactions. As a result, the worth of the precious metal used in transactions was always evaluated by ascertaining weight of the metal on a weighing apparatus every time a payment had to be made. In addition, it is also crucial to position the evolution of the pecuniary event in the general milieu of the economic condition in primeval Near East (countries of Southwestern Asia lying between the Mediterranean and Iran) and Egypt. The economic condition or life in the region at that time has been characterized by a structure known as the 'centralized redistribution' that denotes a procedural expression that depicts the basic procedure by the means of which commodities were allocated among the people of the region. In fact, the 'centralized redistribution' system did not follow the prevailing market conditions, but all merchandise and agricultural products were possibly accumulated by the monarchs, temples and the powers that be and later re-allocated to the people depending on their social position and professions.

The supremacy of the central authority in formulating and influencing what may be called the fiscal system in the primordial societies in these regions notwithstanding, silver was noticeably used as the most common monetary form in a number of aspects. In fact, numerous primitive scriptures recording the philosophies of regulations and justice in ancient Mesopotamia are conserved on clay slabs and rock engravings acquired from the regal as well as temple documentations and tombstones of the urban areas in the area till this day. These clay tablets and rock inscriptions form an important source as well as proof of the societal structure where valuable metals were used as currency. The legal system or the 'law codes' of that period provide us with important information regarding the assortment of payments that were made in stipulations of preset quantity of weighed up silver.

It may be mentioned here that these 'law codes' were basically royal decrees issued by the king with a view to ascertain justice instead of a lawful set of instructions meant for actual practice. In some of the codes found in the clay tablets and rock inscriptions depict the king as the authority to institute the benchmark for the weights. Even to this day, you may find a few weights introduced by the Mesopotamian and Egyptian royals of those times and these bear the names of the concerned kings as a mark of recognition and respect. For historians, these are of immense value as they bear testimony to the rock inscriptions and texts found on clay slabs from those days. These rock inscriptions and clay tablet text also provide information that when any one hurt another or damaged other's property they were made to pay penalties in the form of weighed silver.

There are some interesting examples of how these fines were imposed and what the standard penalty for specific offences was. For instance, King of Eshnunna in northern Mesopotamia had established a legal code around the start of the second millennium BC that stipulated that if an individual was found guilty of nibbling another's nose, he/ she would have to pay a penalty of one mina of silver, which equivalent to 500 gm of the metal now. While the fine definitely involved paying a major quantity of the precious metal, the penalty for slapping a person on the face was set at 10 shekels of silver or one-sixth mina of the metal. The same legal code promulgated by the king also establishes the benchmark prices of some frequently used merchandises. As a mark of advantages of opulence generated by the imperial justice, the code itemized nine common commodities for which an individual would be required to pay one shekel of silver. These semi-official scriptures engraved on rocks or imprinted on clay slabs or tablets also mention about the interest rates on loans. The legal promulgations by the king of Eshnunna as well as the comparatively more prominent 'Code of Hammurabi', circulated two hundred years after the Eshnunna legal codes, state that the interest rate on loans to be 20% of the credit in the weight of silver. Interestingly, these codes also mention that in the event of the debtor not possessing any silver he or she may repay the interest amount in grains equal to the worth of the metal. In fact, these records show that in suitable conditions, grains were also used to make payments, especially to agricultural laborers, in the value equivalent to silver.

In fact, the texts and inscriptions bear testimony  that  the legal code also permitted people to reimburse the daily agricultural laborers both in silver as well as grains. The official rule mentioned that each daily agricultural laborer may be paid a wage of 12 se or half a gram of silver or grain in equivalent value of the metal. These texts are a proof of the fact that while grain was used to pay for food and groceries, silver was in use to make payments for a greater assortment of commodities, including metals, oils, edible fats and even clothing materials like wool. Some records, including so-called balance sheets of local traders, recovered from the Ur metropolitan area in Mesopotamia around the same period show that the legal codes basically permitted the use of grains as well as silver for fiscal use in daily life. In fact, many such evidences have been found from the region that prove silver used in specific weights was used as an average method of bookkeeping for the worth of various commodities. Moreover, silver along with barley was frequently used by the ancient Mesopotamians as a measure for making payments in commercial dealings.

Having some idea regarding how the metal silver came to be acknowledged as the benchmark for transactions, many would now be interested to know the manner in which it functioned as a form of money. It may be mentioned here that when silver was paid by one party to another for any purpose, the metal was weighed on a scale as per the quantity fixed by the prevailing rules pertaining to compensation of a penalty or the amount approved by the parties concerned in any business deal. Huge stockpiles of silver unearthed by archaeologists at different places in Mesopotamia and adjoining Iran led them to believe that the metal was first molded into large bars and then reduced into little pieces or transformed into wires with a view to make exact weighing of silver possible in the bullion manner. In fact, there is evidence of the fact that the wires made of silver were twisted to form rings of specific weights. This made transactions using silver by weight easier and faster.

As far as what may be termed as the monetary matters or circulation of money in the form of precious metals, the temples performed a crucial function in many cities and urban areas of Mesopotamia. Many historians are of the view that the temples acted as custodians of the certified weights and usually played an important role in setting up the guidelines related to transactions with silver. The temples were esteemed and imperative erudite institutions with huge stockpiles of silver and hence they also maintained and preserved records related to various payments and loans. During excavations in Mesopotamia, archaeologists unearthed a document dating back to 1823 BC that records a loan granted by God Shamash's temple in Sippar city.

From all these findings, it may safely be deduced that the use of silver was widespread as a form of money in primeval Mesopotamia. Normally the royals and the temple managements fixed the weight benchmark or criterion for silver and made them public by inscribing the proclamations regarding the worth of the metal for specific goods on rocks or imprinting them on clay slabs. Although it is difficult to say whether these inscriptions were synonymous with some kind of official price fixing, it has been found that the proclamations also included the quantity of the metal to be disbursed for an assortment of activities such as paying wages, penalties, interest on loans and many such things. However, neither the kings nor the temple authorities involved them in any way in matters relating to making silver available to the masses. Historians are of the opinion that the use of silver ingots as a form of money and its exchange was a social norm among the Mesopotamians that was somewhat controlled by the kings and temples, but they did not govern the system straightforwardly. It is believed that silver had to be brought or imported to Mesopotamia from the neighboring regions and much of the metal was hoarded by the kings, nobles, aristocracy and the temples through various means, including taxes, offerings, gifts and often even through pillage. By itself, silver was considered to be a valuable material primarily owing to the metal's representational involvement with monarchs, prosperity and authority. The surplus amount of silver obtained from imports that was not put out of action through deposits in treasuries was possibly accessible for use as money.

The monetary conditions were very much same in Egypt where again precious metals were used as a form of money. Although silver was in short supply in Egypt, the country had rich gold deposits in Nubia and affluent in agricultural produce obtained from the annual inundation of the areas along the bank of Nile. Archaeologists have recovered a letter from King Amenhotep III, presently adorning the British Museum, to the King of Mitanni, Tushatta, who reigned between 1390 BC and 1352 BC, stating that 'gold was more common than dust' in Egypt. Scriptures belonging to the New Kingdom era extending from 1295 BC to 1069 BC contains numerous references to the benchmark of weights - 91 grams of a metal was considered to be one 'deben', while one-tenth of a 'deben' was known as the 'kite'. Much like in Mesopotamia, metals were used as money as per these fixed standards while making any direct payment or obtaining any commodity in exchange of the metals. Archaeologists recovered another text belonging to the New Kingdom era documents the purchase of an ox by a policeman named Amunmes for 50 'deben' of copper or precisely 4.55 kg of the metal from a laborer called Penamun. While the policeman actually paid only five 'deben' in copper, the remaining amount was paid by giving a number of goods whose worth was also worked out in 'deben' of copper. For instance, apart from the five 'deben' of copper, the policeman compensated the worker by giving him fat worth 30 'deben', oil valued at five 'deben' and clothing costing 10 'deben' totaling up to the balance 45 'deben' of copper.

Archaeologists unearthed this document from Deir el-Medina village close to the city of Thebes in Egypt that was primarily populated by craftsmen employed for constructing royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Several such documents were recovered from this erudite neighborhood and preserved in different museums. These texts form a valuable source to learn about the life prevailing in those times and especially depict that using metals as a form of money to purchase or sell commodities was a common aspect of this society. They also reveal that silver was the most common metal used to state the elementary value while making any payments. In Egyptian, silver is known as 'hedj' and this aspect appears to have assumed an extensive connotation to the methodology of using the metal as money in that region.

Interestingly enough, although the amounts are mentioned in expressions of copper 'deben', people were allowed to make payments by giving an assortment of commodities. Nevertheless, silver was the most acceptable metal for payments and when the metal was available people preferred it to any other commodity. In fact, huge stockpiles of gold and silver ingots were unearthed by archaeologists in various parts of Egypt and these go on to prove that use of precious metals like gold and silver were common in ancient times there as forms of money. Archaeologists recovered one such stockpile during excavations in el-Amarna city where King Akhenaten ruled between 1352 BC and 1336 BC. A fraction of this hoard is now stored in the British Museum and it contains bullions of gold, silver, small chunks of scratched silver, silver rings and petite silver models. When these gold and silver ingots were weighed, some of them were found to be in fairly accurate multiples or fractions of the 'deben'. When one considers the stockpile as a whole, it becomes evident how precious metals like gold and silver were weighed in scales and circulated in a financial system that usually used the worth of these valuable metals while making any payments either directly or acquire any commodity in ancient Egypt.


Although the ancient societies in Egypt and Mesopotamia distinctly different, they had some fundamental resemblances, especially when it came to the financial life. So far we have observed that both the societies espoused a benchmark of values whereby grains by quantity and precious metals by weight were commonly used as forms of currency either to make payments or buy and sell commodities and services. However, compared to Egypt, the standard weights used by the Mesopotamians - the 'shekel' and the 'mina' - became very popular all through the Mediterranean region and extensively used. Later, the Greeks also implemented these weight systems in their society around the beginning part of the first millennium BC. Historians believe that long-distance trades or export and import of commodities perhaps performed a crucial function in the exploitation of precious metals as a form of money. This view gains ground from the fact that traders from different parts of the world had to sell their commodities throughout the expanse of the Mediterranean and a common mode for money proved to be useful both for them as well as the buyers. It is believed that most of the commodities were possibly traded through barter system; precious metals like gold and silver too were in circulation to buy and sell items. Historians also are of the view that the traders preferred metals to grains or other commodities during transactions perhaps because unlike grains or other items, metals were not liable to decompose after a specific period or be in short supply depending on annual productions owing to climatic conditions. In addition, precious metals like gold and silver were themselves valuable and could be easily exchanged for any goods anywhere. Hence, owing to their universal acceptability, even small quantities of gold or silver were effective for use as money while making any payment of any kind - business, official or societal.

From the above mentioned facts it is evident that the regions that had rich deposits of precious metals like gold and silver enjoyed several advantages including wealth and political supremacy. One instance of such privileged region was the monarchy of Lydia situated in western Asia Minor, also known as Anatolia that currently forms the larger part of Turkey. In fact, the power and wealth of the last monarch of Lydia, Croesus, whose reign came to an end in 547 BC when the Persians triumphed over his kingdom, was well-known in ancient times. Records retrieved from the era state that the Lydian monarchs not only amassed huge amount of money from their citizens in the form of taxes, offerings and even booty, but also obtained their assets from a neighboring river called Pactolus as well as from mines. Both these means endowed Lydian monarchs with a substance known as electrum, an amalgam of gold and silver. The electrum was used to manufacture articles. While the Westerners' deemed these objects made from electrum to be the primary coins, bronze items fashioned in the shape of arrows in the region around the Black Sea some time during 600 BC were also believed to be one of the first models of coins. It may be mentioned here that archaeological findings from China also suggest that the Chinese were also creating coins with copper around the same time. Electrum objects retrieved from the Lydian regime are rough and oval in nature much like gold nuggets or chunks, but they actually match up to the standard weight systems. These objects have been found in a variety of large coins weighing 17.2 grams, 16.1 grams and 14.1 grams as well as petite bits that weigh up to one ninety-sixth fraction of the larger objects.

These early models of coins unearthed by the archaeologists bear one or multiple stamps on one face; on the other side they bear designs of figures most commonly of animals like lions, stags or male sheep. However, many of the objects or 'coins' are simply blank on the reverse side or have parallel lines. In fact, historians as well as archaeologists are yet to completely comprehend the meaning of the punches on this wide range of coins making it tricky for the mining authorities to relate the figures and lines on the coins to anything in particular or their origin. While the head and the paws of the lions punched on the coins are usually linked to Lydia as they very much similar to the designs on the coins manufactured in the region in the later stages. Although no names are emblazoned on these coins, some designs are also often related to the two prominent ancient cities in Asia Minor - Miletus and Phocaea. Nevertheless, a few coins made with electrum do bear some inscriptions, but they seem to suggest names of individuals, instead of provinces or cities of their origin. In fact, a number of seals and rings made with electrum during this era also bear designs that symbolize personal logos and emblems that make one speculate whether some individuals were also involved in the development of the early electrum coins. Many questions related to these early electrum coins, such as 'who made them', 'whether they were rich individuals, local rulers or the authorities of the Lydian monarchy' or 'the reason for their manufacture' still remain unanswered. Although answers to these questions are crucial to comprehend the progression of the coinage or currency system, it is better to leave the question as to who made these early electrum coins open at present juncture of our comprehension.

According to the documentation done by Herodotus, the last Lydian monarch Croesus had gifted two staters (ancient coins made of electrum, gold or silver) to two citizens of Delphi, the Greek city renowned for the site of oracle of god Apollo. Croesus is learnt to have made these gifts to express his gratefulness for what he deemed to be an approving response or blessings from god Apollo. According to historians, this incident might have taken place soon after the inception of the first electrum coins.  It is possible that later these essentially priceless gold objects may have moved from one person to another through trade of items such as jewelry and ivory, but it may be safely deduced that they were not made keeping the trade aspects in view or to expedite trade.

The silver era

Although the origin of the coinage system is believed to have been based on electrum, the alloy was no longer used to mint coins from the period around the middle of the sixth century BC. Since then, many regions substituted electrum with gold and silver in minting coins. While silver was used more commonly for making coins, on special occasions gold coins were manufactured too. Though a few cities like Cyzicus, Phocaea, Lesbos and Lampsacus continued to use electrum to mint coins, they were considered to be exceptions. And during the late sixth century BC and early part of the fifth century BC, silver was the predominant metal for minting coins in most regions. Many may wonder why electrum was no longer used to mint coins after the sixth century BC, but the fact remains that silver has always been the favorite and the key metal for use as currency right from the days of ancient Near East. Hence, the replacement of electrum with silver as the prime metal for minting coins in the later periods was not surprising at all. Another important reason for abandoning electrum for use as coins was the fact that this amalgam of gold and silver also contained some percentage of lead and hence it became difficult to ascertain the metallic value of the coins. Possibly, the reduction in gold content in the coins made electrum less valuable as a metal for use as currency. And hence, the silver emerged as the main metal in the history of coinage.

If the artifacts unearthed by archaeologists in Lydia are of any significance, it may be said that the first gold and silver coins were developed during the Lydian monarchy, especially during the regime of Croesus ranging from 560 BC to 547 BC. Interestingly, these coins that were by and large discovered in western Asia Minor portray the facades of a lion and a bull. According to archaeological findings, silver coins were also minted in Caria and other regions of Asia Minor more or less the same period as the inception of the first silver coins in mainland Greece. In fact, Athens, Corinth and Aegina, an island off the coast of Attica, were the first cities and provinces of Greece to mint and possess their individual coins. While it has been noticed that in the earliest phases of their minting, the silver coins resembled the electrum coins in the minting technique as well as designs, they also distinctly differed from the electrum coins in a number of ways. The most important dissimilarity between the two groups of coinages is that compared to the electrum coins, silver coins were minted in a vast geographical expanse that included places like central Greece, especially Macedonia, and Italy, Cyprus, Sicily, the Aegean islands, Cyrenaica in North Africa, southern regions of France as well as in Asia Minor. Another difference between the coins made of electrum and silver is that the silver coins were minted on a much larger scale and was circulated to various regions across the Mediterranean. In addition, unlike in the case of the electrum coins that tell us very little about their origin, manufacturers of silver coins made it a routine to stamp some design or message on either sides of the coins to enable people to recognize the society that minted them.

All said and done it was quite difficult to comprehend why the system of coinage was espoused by the people of ancient times. It is essential to understand the reason behind some provinces deciding to use silver in the coin form at some stage. In fact, this question was a topic of discussion even during the ancient times. In his legal dissertation, the famous fourth century Greek philosopher Aristotle advocated the use of silver coins saying that instead of using silver pieces having specific weights, the espousal of stamped coins saved people of the inconvenience of measuring the metal on a balance every time it was used in any transaction. He further suggested that the designs or inscriptions on the silver coins symbolized their value as well as identified the people who minted them. Even though the Aristotle's account appears to be largely credible, still it does not provide an answer to the main query that if the transformation from the bullion form to coinage was very much unavoidable, why no one came up with this solution or idea much earlier.

While people continue to search for a plausible answer to this key query, some people have come out with individual explanations related to this topic. According to many, one palpable elucidation for minting silver coins was its cost-effectiveness. This view was first expressed by Herodotus in the fifth century BC who put forward a link between coins and buying and selling within neighborhoods. While trying to get a credible answer to this question, one must also consider the aspects of conducting trades outside the communities. That the silver coins were also used for long distance trade or export-import purpose if evident from the fact that many coins minted in Greece have been retrieved by archaeologists during excavations in far away places such as Egypt, the Near East and even in the area around the Black Sea. As one may often come across silver coins minted in Athens and northern Greece in the regions mentioned above, historians believe that it is likely that silver ingots were exported from Greece to these places in the form of coins. In fact, records maintained during those periods show that merchants visiting Athens during the fourth century BC were allowed to export silver in coinage form provided they did not have any cargo to take back home. Several stockpiles of sliced coins, ingot or portions of scrap silver originating from Greece, but unearthed from places like Egypt, the Near East and areas around the Black Sea, bear testimony to the fact that the traders carrying them home did so for the worth of silver as a precious metal and not for the preset value of the metal as coins. It is certainly difficult to believe that only long distance trade fostered the progression of the coinage system and there is need to go through other probable accounts offered by different people on this topic at different times.

According to some antique accounts from the region, numerous Greek cities or sovereigns minted coins with the sole purpose of fulfilling their different payment requirements. In fact, ancient records show that the state remunerated the citizens of Athens for several activities, including their services as jury or even attending the Assembly. A large amount of the coins minted by these cities or rulers were spent on meeting the military expenses. For instance, the oarsmen engaged in the fleet or soldiers too were also paid in coins for their services. Hence, it is very natural that the states should attach special importance to minting coins and that the coinage system gradually assumed greater significant in matters related to the administration of the state and upholding the legal system in the ancient Greek political and social life. On the other hand, it is also possible that the states made substantial profits by minting coins and hence the development of the coinage system was also in the interest of the states. Records retrieved from the Hellenistic period (the era that begins with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and ends with the battle of Actio in 31 BC) hints that normally coins possessed a greater value than the worth of the metal it is made from in the region where they were issued. As this is also true in the present day, this offers a credible explanation regarding why such a large number of Greek cities minted coins in such huge amounts. The Hellenistic records also explain the reason behind the rapid spread of silver coinage during the late sixth century BC and the early part of the fifth century BC.

In fact, the states would have substantial benefits and accumulate profits by taking over the entire silver production and often its imports and levying an overrated or puffed up coinage that was controlled by the states themselves. In order to make the coinage system function effectually, it required meeting two stipulations. Primarily, the system needed to be controlled by an official agency so that the implementation of the overrated silver would be acceptable to all when it is used as a coinage. The role of the state in this matter makes clear the selection of the motifs or designs on the coins as they denote the function of the state in upholding the value of the coin. Secondly, the coinage system enforced by the state should offer a resilient marketable appeal to the traders irrespective of whether they are dealing in silver in its normal metallic form or in any other article of trade. Unless the coinage system imposed by the state is commercially attractive to the traders, they would be disgusted with the losses incurred by accepting the overprized silver coins during any transaction. This singular aspect possibly elucidates why states like Athens or Aegina with a powerful 'trade balance' in their favor produced coins in such huge amounts. In actual fact, over the years, the silver coins minted by these two Greek states were recognized as international coinages or currency and have been found in different regions of the Mediterranean.

The facts and examples mentioned above clearly shows that there are various types of accounts regarding the beginning and spread of the silver coinage system. Nevertheless, it is also clear from the above discussion that having spread to different cities in the Greek society, the silver coinage system promptly became a major form of precious metal currency in those regions as well as in the neighborhood. Literature dating back to Athens in the fifth century BC offers us valuable information and evidence regarding how silver coins were extensively used by the people of the region for different transactions.

Although the origin and spread of the coinage system is only a fragment of the story of money in the Greek world, it is certainly the most important part of the account. Records from the primeval periods show that although the use of coins was widespread in numerous ancient cities of the region, for several reasons, many of them actually did not produce any coin during the Archaic and Classical periods ranging from 600 BC to 320 BC. It is believed that one of the reasons for this could be the unavailability of silver in these regions, while the other could be attributed to their prevalent political system. Going by the ancient records, Sparta was perhaps the most prominent city that did not produce any coins till the third century BC. It is believed that instead of coins, the Spartans may have used iron spikes. Possessing gold and silver was considered to be against the philosophy and traits of the Spartan warriors, who had a squalid and commercial frame of mind. Although it may appear strange, the manly Spartans were pretentious in despising gold and silver objects. On the other hand, ironically enough, the Spartans were forced to accept financial support from the Persian king in the form of coins to defeat the affluent Athenians in the Peloponnesian War. The coins were used to fund a huge fleet that was engaged to confront the superior maritime influence of the Athenians.

Money and credit

As time passed Sparta was confronted with new problems. International wars saw Sparta faced with new requirement that could only be fulfilled independently, but with support from outside. On the other hand, Greek provinces like Athens were better off as they possessed an advanced coinage and currency system, including the presence of banks. Although banks seem to have come into existence way back in the fifth century BC, most ancient records from the region establish that they functioned from the latter part of the fourth century BC. However, when we talk of banks here one should not confuse them for the state-of-the-art monetary establishments that we have in the modern times, but they were actually something between a bureau de change (a place for exchanging currency) and a money lender. Moreover, these early banks functioned in a private manner and the state did not have any control over them or neither did were they bound to follow any guideline promulgated by the state. In fact, the primary function of these banks was to exchange money and they served people who visited Athens with foreign currency. In fact, some records from the past state that these banks or money exchangers mainly conducted business from behind tables established in the Agora, as their market place was known. Interestingly enough, even today the contemporary Greek term 'trapeza' denotes 'table' as well as 'bank'.

Documents retrieved from that era also show that the banks accepted money as deposits, but did not pay any interest or fee for the same. In effect, by accepting money as deposits, the banks offered their clients security of their currency and this service was mostly availed by foreign traders in Athens who usually had no safe to keep their money in an alien land. Some other documents from the era also state that even the affluent Athenians utilized the money depository services offered by the local banks probably because they wanted to keep their wealth in a safe deposit or they wanted to hide their riches from the inquisitive eyes of taxmen. In addition, these banks or pawnbrokers also lent out money, both that belonged to them as well as those deposited by others, to private citizens and traders normally at an annual interest rate of 12%.  As the interest rates were very high, normally people in need of some extra money borrowed it from relatives or friends and in such events either they did not have to pay any interest on the loan or the rate of interest was very reasonable. Hence, people considered the bankers as the only remaining option while borrowing money.

Since the entire banking system was outside the state regulation, there was nothing like a state bank anywhere in the Greek society. Hence, all wealth in excess in Athens was put in the safekeeping of Athena on the Acropolis and in a way the riches were considered to belong to the goddess. This was done primarily with the objective of preventing thefts as stealing anything belonging to the goddess would generally generate a fear of committing blasphemy. It is, therefore, interesting to note that whenever the Athenians required additional money for some purpose, for instance funding military maneuvers, they would 'borrow' the sum from goddess Athena with a pledge to 'return' the amount at whatever time they were able to do so. More surprisingly, in the event of any acute financial crisis, Athenians even melted the gold sect statutes of the goddess to meet their requirements with the money obtained from bartering the precious metal. There are some documents from that era that say that some temples also lent money to individuals from the reserves of the goddess.

It may be mentioned here that all monetary dealings in the Greek society was conducted only in coins, and there were no cheques or redeemable bills. Hence, it was essential that they had enough coins in store as well as in circulation all the time to ensure the smooth functioning of their economy. Ancient records retrieved from the region show that Athens not only produced coins on a regular basis, but even their magnitude kept on increasing with time. Plays written by Greek dramatist Aristophanes bear evidence of the fact that since late fifth century BC, coins were extensively used by people in their routine transactions. In one of Aristophanes' plays the characters talk of purchasing fish and farm implements like sickles and conserving coins in their mouths. Again short essays written by the fourth century BC Greek satirist Theophrastus has several quotations related to coins, such as making purchases, selling as well as pawn broking. All these go on to prove the importance of coins in the Greeks' everyday life as well as the society's economy.

While silver coins were still very much popular in the Greek world, by this period they had begun to mint bronze coins that had a lower value. These bronze coins were meant for use in daily as well as smaller transactions. During excavations at the Athenian Agora, archaeologists have unearthed as many as 16,000 such coins, mostly made of bronze, from that period. It is believed that these coins had become obsolete and hence dumped there by the ancient Athenians. The vast number of coins dug up during the excavations bear testimony to the fact that use of coinage had become widespread in Athens during that moment in time. In the same way, most stockpiles dating back to the end of the Classical period (500 BC to 323 BC) that have been unearthed during archaeological excavations comprise of coins and not metal ingots, as has been the case in earlier periods. Over the years, it became a major responsibility of the societies where money had become a crucial part of the economy and primarily used coins for transactions within their members or long distance trades to uphold the status as well as the worth of their coinage in different methods. For instance, Athens had strictly banned the use of counterfeit coins. In 375 BC, the state promulgated a law whereby public slaves regularly checked the coins in circulation to authenticate their originality.

Wrapping up

When you take a glance through the ancient history of the Mediterranean region, you will observe that that the vast resources of gold and silver at their disposal was the actual reason behind the amazing accomplishments of the Macedonians during the successive reigns of Philip II, who ruled from 359 BC to 336 BC, and his able son Alexander the Great who ruled briefly from 336 BC and 323 BC. Their access to these precious metals enabled the Macedonians not only to triumph over Greece, but also crush the power of the prosperous Persian Empire. The capture of the mines at Thrace enabled Philip II to produce an enormous amount of gold, silver and bronze coins to sustain his huge army. Similarly, following the subjugation of Asia, Alexander was able to be in command of the massive riches amassed by the Persian king. It is said that the cumulative wealth of the Persian king was worth a whopping 180,000 'talents' and the entire assets were later disseminated among Alexander's noblemen and soldiers either as coins or in the form of ill-gotten gains. The figures relating to the Macedonians' wealth mentioned here are entirely different from what we have come across up until now, and very much predict the majestic prosperity of the Roman Empire after it subjugated and occupied the regions around the Mediterranean. Although the Hellenistic period (323 BC to 31 BC) witnessed manufacture of coins on a larger scale and covering a far more extensive region, the fundamental fiscal traditions essentially remained unaffected.

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