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AFORTI Exchange on the origins of money

7 March 2022


Especially for lovers of history and financial history, we have prepared a series of articles on the history of money. We encourage you to read the first article to find out what the initial model of trade and the first coins looked like, what forms money took in the past and where it comes from.


So... what was in the beginning?


Human beings were trading long before they invented money. The oldest way of acquiring valuable products was barter, in short, the exchange of one good for another. The development of society led to the division of labour and the emergence of specialists (craftsmen), who exchanged the goods they produced for foodstuffs, for example. Such a substitute for money was called wages. Among them were goods of full utilitarian value, e.g. hatchets, leather, furs, salt, iron rods, but also those which had practically no utilitarian value, such as shells or various precious metals.

  •  In Poland the popular means of payment were marten and squirrel skins, amber, linen and iron rods. Payments were common here until the early Middle Ages. These were usually quite durable goods that did not cause problems in storage or transport.
  •  In China they were typically paid with silk. In India, Japan and some parts of Asia and Oceania, shells were popular money and in Central America, cocoa beans or tea.


In these circumstances, metals and their alloys took over as money. In the beginning, mainly iron, copper, nickel and bronze were in use. Of course also precious metals such as gold or silver. Initially these were irregularly shaped lumps, which later began to be formed into bars or flattened balls, which bore stamps indicating their weight and quality or the seals of rulers.


Historians have established that the first coins probably appeared in the 7th century BC in Lydia (now Turkey) in Asia Minor. They were oval and made of electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver. On one side they had images of a bull and a lion, and on the other side a square-shaped indentation, which was created during their minting.


Etymology and origin of money

The word "coin" originated in ancient Rome. It was a term used to describe the goddess Juno and the mint located in her temple on the Capitoline Hill. With time, the word was transferred to money itself. Rome had been producing coins since the 4th century BC. Over time, as the city's role grew, its coins became the first pan-European currency. To manifest their power, emperors put their own images on them. 

In this way, even in the most remote parts of the empire, it was clear who was to be obeyed.


For the curious ...

The expression "money doesn't smell" comes from this ancient city. The Emperor Vespasian said this to his son Titus when Titus considered that collecting taxes from public toilets offended the imperial majesty.


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