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Archive for the ‘Silver’ Category

This is part 3 of my series of articles on the history of silver.

 

To read part 1 click here.

To read part 2 click here.

 

So far I’ve spoken about the history of silver in the ancient world and then the silver mines of Spain during the Roman period and then the silver produced in Latin America after the Spanish conquest of parts of that region of the world.

The Spanish revolutionized silver production in Mexico by using their methods of silver production which the local Mexicans had not witnessed before. The production of silver shot up in Mexico and were used to fill the coffers of the mighty Spanish empire in Madrid. One of the main sources of silver mining was in the town of Guanajuato, which is now a UNESCO world heritage site. There were also other famous mines in towns such as Zacatecas and others.

guanjuto

 

Guanajuato, Mexico.

 

Image source.

 

In another part of Latin America further south, Peru alongside Mexico are said to be the two largest producers of silver in the world. Silver was produced by the Incas the ancient Andean civilization in that part of the world and continues to this day.

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Peruvian silver.

Image source.

 

Bolivia was also important and also has a silver mining industry to this day including the Potosi mines which were founded in 1545.

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Bolivian silver.

Image source.

Ibero-American silver mining is the biggest in the world till this day and is a multi-billion dollar industry with their silver being used all over the globe.

– Jahan

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In a previous blog I wrote my first part of the brief history of silver,  in this article I am continuing.

Click on the link to read part 1: The history of silver part 1

I got up to the ancient Greeks who defeated the Persians in the famous battle of Salamis and thus established a lot of security for Athens which produced the conditions for the rise of Athenian culture e.g. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle which of course impacts the foundations of modern western culture.

The Athenian silver mines in Laurium provided silver for many centuries and then later they were followed by silver mines in Spain which the Romans used and which played a key part in the ancient Asian spice trade.

 

A Roman bridge from Rio Tinto in modern Spain. Spain was the centre of ancient Rome’s silver industry.

Image source.

 

Some Roman silver.

Image source.

Other ancient civilizations elsewhere had their own silver industries with their own silver jewellery and objects.

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An ancient Chinese silver tiger.

Image source.

Aztec silver.

Image source.

Later on the Spanish themselves with the reconquest of Spain and Colombus went on to send armies to central and south America where they found silver mines in countries such as Bolivia, Peru and of course Mexico. It was this Latin American silver which accounted for the overwhelming majority of world silver for the next few centuries between the 1500s to the latter part of the 1800s, until the advent of major silver mining in North America.

– Jahan

 

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In previous blogs I spoke about the history of gold, I will now be focusing on the history of silver.

To read my previous articles on gold then click on the following links.

History of Gold, part 1.

History of Gold, part 2.

History of Gold, part 3.

Nobody is absolutely certain when silver was first used by man but it is believed that even as far as 10,000 years back it was being dug and utilized by people. It is said that as far back as 6,000 B.C. the ancient Egyptians were using silver, however they may have originally got silver from other nations in the middle east or Mediterranean region.

Silver and gold vase with a Handle in the form of a goat from Tell Basta and dating to the 19th Dynasty.

Silver in ancient Egypt.

Image source.

In what is now modern Turkey, or also called Anatolia, silver some historians claim was being mined as far back as 3,000 B.C.  The ancient Greek city of Laurium, became the centre of Hellenic silver production many centuries later. Some say that this took place roughly 500 B.C. when the Athenians discovered gold in that area. There were over 300 mines and tens of thousands of slaves mining for silver. The slaves lived in appalling conditions and laboured hard. Slaves were forced to dig deep beneath the ground carrying candles and inhale unhealthy air.  In contrast to the abysmal lives of the slaves, this industry enabled Athenians to become wealthy and to create a very affluent upper class. The wealth from the silver enriched Athens and made the Greek leader, Themistocles convince the Athenians to build a powerful navy. Just as oil wealth has rendered many modern states very rich, silver did the same with the Athenians. The Athenians under Themistocles built over 100 tiremes, naval craft powered by men rowing them.

Athenian tiremes.

Image source.

In 480 B.C the Athenians went to war with their deadly foes, the Persians in the legendary battle of Salamis.

Battle of Salamis.

The ancient Hellenic v Persian rivalry has become well known even in popular culture today manifested in such things as films such as “300” and also films about Alexander the Great. The battle of Salamis was one key date in this huge historial enemity for control of the ancient Mediterranean and near east. The Greeks defeated the Persians who had been trying to invade them and established future security for themselves. This victory was mainly due to the wily Themistocles and his fleet of tiremes financed by silver. With this event, the Athenians were able to focus on cultural and intellectual development and thus we have Plato, Socrates and Aristotle. It is argued that ultimately silver is a key cause for the flourishing of Athenian culture which some hold is the very foundation of modern western culture, and it is this western culture which dominates the world today.

What if the Athenians had not discovered those silver mines in Laurium, would they have had the money to build lots of ships to stop the Persian invasion? If they had been invaded would we have ever had Plato or Aristotle?

The Athenians and Greeks became a major naval power in the Mediterranean and traded in silver coins including this pictured below found on the island of Aegina dated from 404 B.C.

Ancient Greek drachmas made from silver.

Image source.

In my next article, I will continue and talk about the Romans and others.

– Jahan Choudhry

 

www.goldsher-jewellery.co.uk

 

www.goldsher-jewellery.co.uk

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