Ancient Egyptian Gold Coins

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For all the splendor and grandeur of Ancient Egypt, they were in other ways a very simple people with a simple economical protocol. It was only their religion and their hierarchical status which bore any signs of complexity, but Egyptian economy depended (albeit locally) on a cashless method of exchange that facilitated the movement of goods and equivalent trade without the need for any form of currency whatsoever. While the Ancient Egyptians functioned with the use of barter – a practice that began sometime during the early 4th century BC, they did have dummy 'currency' called the deben (et. the probable origin of the modern word debenture, from the adopted Latin debentur[1] ), a copper ring weighing some .5 ounces which was used for the trade of very minor commodities. [2] For major transactions however, the Egyptians practiced equivalent trade, bartering goods that were considered equal in worth to the items that they wanted or needed.

During the earlier periods of Egyptian history, their use for gold, silver and other metals were limited to the creation of ornaments and weapons. In the religious sphere of things, gold was a divine metal that was associated with the sun god Ra, and its use was expressly forbidden to commoners. Gold accessories that now decorate the walls of museums, as well as highly ornate ornaments that any treasure hunter would long to touch, were relegated to the express use of the Egyptian royalty (both the living and the departed ones) and the priesthood who used items made of gold and silver in rituals and rites. [3] Those who wished to conduct trade both within and outside of the kingdom had to make do with trading oil and grain – the standard 'currency' of the time – for items that they wished to acquire. Those who received these bartered goods could then consume them, or trade them for other items. Likewise, items of import such as trinkets, razors, cloth, and personal possessions were also employed for trade. Egyptians even used grain, oil and other commodities to trade with other merchants from outside of Egypt – with the merchants then selling their traded goods to earn the currency they would need to purchase goods from other nations whose economies functioned with a monetary standard.

There are no archeological records of coins ever being issued during the earliest periods of the Egyptian Kingdoms, although the earliest mention of gold, silver, and other semi-precious metals for use in trade can be traced back to the time of Thutmose III (1490 – 1436 BCE). Their use for barter and trade was also conducted during the time of Amenhotep II (1436 – 1413 BCE). [4] This employment of precious metals such as gold was by no means 'currency', but, like the deben before it, simply a commodity that was used for barter, although by Amenhotep's time, gold, silver, copper, and bronze also signified a certain worth or price equivalent. While there are no extant archeological artifacts that point to the use of currency in the Old Kingdom, it would not be far-fetched to believe that the Ancient Egyptians accepted tributary coinage made of gold or silver from neighboring kingdoms and other countries that conducted trade with them.

The use of gold as a currency in Ancient Egypt began with Grecian influence and, much later, Roman governmental policies. As Egypt slowly engaged in international trade, their need for a currency that could be used for quick and reliable transactions began to be felt. Conducting trade with several moneyed nations, their Pharaonic rulers began to adopt minor forms of currency that could be used for international transactions. It was not until the Ptolemaic Dynasties of Egypt (305-30 BC) that Ancient Egyptian gold coins came at the forefront. By the time of the Ptolemies when Egypt became an annex to Alexander's kingdom, and Ptolemy I Soter declared himself Pharaoh of Egypt. [5]

With the influx of Hellenistic culture, art, and custom, Egypt soon adopted coinage as well, with very remarkable examples of gold, silver and bronze coinage that would not be rivaled by any coins of the time for sheer size and heft. With the introduction of coinage, Egyptian trade became more accessible to other countries that functioned with a monetary system. While many of the peoples on the lower rung of the hierarchy were still paid in consumable commodities (grain, oil), the circulation of currency such as gold coins and silver coins bearing the image of Egypt's rulers now slowly replaced the practice of bartering. Ptolemaic gold coinage is notable for the weight of gold that it was minted with – only becoming debased well into the height of Rome's conquest and Egypt's eventual fall. While there is a dearth of gold coinage from the early dynasties (despite the wealth of gold ornaments and items), the Ptolemaic Kingdom had a number of highly ornate and detailed gold coins that are of great value to collectors and historians. The Egyptian monetary standard of the time was the drachm, with Egyptian gold coins being minted as pentadrachms and octadrachms, with other minor values in silver, bronze, and copper. [6]

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Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for ©

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