Coins are something we rarely think about. They are light, easy to carry around, and we know we can buy things with them. But actually, coins can indicate so much more than just the value imprinted on them. The values of a society can also be deduced from their coins and thus, they are an important artefact for historians.
How it started
Coins are circular metal pieces that hold monetary value and have been widely used for a long time (since 6th Century BCE). However, it is unclear who actually invented it. In his works, Herodotus wrote that it was the Lydians who first used silver and gold coins but we all know that he can be bias so it might not be true. Nonetheless, coins are a convenient invention that has saved us from lugging around random stuff like sheep to trade for things we need.
How it’s Made
To create images on a blank coin, people in ancient history used dies (they are like molds) that had the negative image of what they wanted on the coin and then they hit it with a hammer to get the positive image imprinted on the coin.
Use of coins
Now, I will be looking at the use of coins specifically in Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece.
Since 4th Century BCE, coins in Rome had started to become extensively used throughout the area and it eventually became a recognized form of payment. This made trading easy and large transactions could occur which helped to boost businesses. Initially, they were using bronze weights that weighed about 324 grams! (For comparison: Singapore’s $1 coin weighs only 6.30 grams)
Images on the coins were of a variety of rulers, deities, and things. These images conveyed messages to the people, like who the ruling class were. Julius Caesar jumped at the opportunity to use this as propaganda by having his own image imprinted on the coins. He then became the first person to do so. What a narcissist, amirite?
In 5th Century BCE, Greek city-states became competitive with how they made their coins. They wanted to create the best looking coin compared to the other cities. Hence, the images on the coins were unique to the cities.
I think the coin from Corinth is a definite winner. That Pegasus looks awesome (and Athena too).
Amidst all this competition, the city of Sparta did not join in the fun and decided to do things their own way. They thought that being concerned with money was not a value of a Spartan. So instead of using coins as a form of currency, they used iron spits.
I hope they didn't poke someone's eye out lol
Coins tell you something about the society they come from. For example, in Ancient Greece, the coins had their city’s emblem and the head of their deities on either sides of the coin. It tells us what or who they value. This is not different from the coins we have now. In Singapore, we have our country’s national flower (the newer coins have the Merlion) on one side and on the flip side we have the Singapore Arms with the word Singapore written in all 4 official languages. We don’t use deities on our coins to be inclusive of all religions. This also shows what we value as a country.
Hence, if you want to know more about a society, look at their coins.