In the previous three blogs I have spoken about the history of gold and its use for different purposes. Of course one of the key and most fundamental uses of currency in addition to being used for jewellery is money.
Now what I want to focus on who first used gold for monetary purposes.
Nobody knows for sure.
It has traditionally been said a group of people known as the Lydians around 2,600 years ago. In particular the name of one King Croesus has frequently been mentioned and a “coin” during his reign.
“Coin” during the time of King Croesus.
The Lydians were a people that lived in a part of what is now the modern day republic of Turkey. Being an Indo-European race they were distant cousins of the ancient Greeks and of course most other Europeans.
The capital of this kingdom was Sardis now in western Turkey where even today you can go to see the ruins of this once powerful civilization and race.
Ruins on the site of what was once the city of Sardis in the Manisa district of Turkey, in addition to Lydian ruins there are Roman ruins in the area too.
Anyway it is said that when the Lydian ruler, King Croesus, was defeated by the Persians and captured by them the Persians, a regional superpower at that time decided to use gold for their coins.
An Athenian vase showing an image of King Croesus.
Howevers some dispute whether the Lydian “coins” were in fact coins for monetary purposes rather than being coins for commemorative and ceremonial purposes. None of these Lydian “coins” contain any writing or any symbol to signify the Lydian state, but in fact contain images of animals, a brooch belonging to King Croesus was also carved in the shape of an animal, a sea horse.
A brooch in the form of a sea horse belonging to the Lydian monarch, King Croesus.
However no one can say for sure that the “coins” found in what was one the kingdom of Lydia are indeed gold coins used as money. In addition to the Lydians in what is now Turkey the ancient Chinese too used gold coins it is estimated at around 2,500 years ago, called the “Ying Yuan” coins.
The ancient Indians did too.
Some of the other famous ancient civilizations that did not use gold include the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians: It is said the Egyptians used barter as well as grain and jewellery, including gold, later on in their history. As for the ancient Babylonians their currency was the “shekel” which was mainly silver coins.
So no one can be sure who first used gold coins for money. It may have been one of the Greek kingdoms close to Lydia or another ancient civilization whose coins we have not discovered yet. However the first ancient civilization to indisputably use gold coins are the ancient Chinese and to be more precise a state from south of the Yellow River, the state of Chu.
China’s famous Yellow River.
- Jahan Choudhry