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History 101: The Role of Coins in Currency

When you pay for your morning coffee, you might pull crumpled bills from your wallet or swipe a plastic card. Coins, however, have remained consistent forms of payment throughout history, though ancient coins looked much different from our modern quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies.

The East Produced the First Coins

Archaeologists have determined the oldest ancient coins were struck in the Far East out of Gold and Silver. Later, the Persians used Copper and bronze to create ancient coins of different weights and values. Larger coins made of more Precious Metals held more value than smaller coins made from common metals.

Ancient Chinese coins are unique to each Chinese dynasty. The oldest surviving ancient Chinese coins date back to the year 610. Archaeologists often discover these coins in tombs as the deceased preserved their collections and were buried with them. Unlike the rounded shapes found in other cultures, ancient Chinese coins were commonly struck in unique shapes, such as seashells or spades.

Ancient Roman Coins Became Standardized

It can be difficult to set up a monetary system for coinage, but the Romans managed to standardize their currency earlier than other cultures. Ancient Roman coins, called didrachms, were cast from Silver in 280 B.C. The Romans also produced bronze coins that have become extremely valuable to collectors.

The Romans standardized their currency to make trading fair. Although they often bartered, as did many cultures, they shifted more quickly toward currency exchange for goods and services. Many ancient Roman coins have become extremely famous for their designs and their contributions to currency trading and commerce.

Ancient Greek Coins Featured Detailed Imagery

Many of the early ancient Greek coins were struck with geometric punches in various animal shapes. Later, the Greeks used human visages to decorate their ancient Gold coins, and they often struck their coins from bronze and other metals. Each unit of currency was based on the drachm; some coins carried more value than others, but the Greeks standardized those values to make trading easier. For instance, the Greeks knew how many drachms would buy a sheep or an ox, and they used similar standards to calculate wages.

Ancient Gold Coins Hail From All Over the World

Although Silver and bronze proved useful for coin-makers, ancient Gold coins proved the most valuable, and several countries became famous for their creations. A large portion of the world's Gold remained in the hands of the Persian Empire during the 7th century B.C., and North Africa also developed a reputation for its abundance of Gold and its ability to produce Gold coins.

Whether you are searching for ancient Greek coins or other coinage from ancient history, understanding how coins shaped commerce can help you better build your collection. While paper money might be ubiquitous today, it is still a fairly new concept, and coins remain far more durable, with archaeologists still discovering ancient artifacts thousands of years after they were struck.

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