Lydian Gold Coins

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While gold has been used since time immemorial as a type of commodity and as a form of currency its evolution into the 'universal currency' that it is known today springs from civilizations dating back to the times of antiquity. While early metal coinage was made from a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver known to the ancients as electrum, it was in Lydia that the earliest forms of true gold currency was said to have originated. According to the classical historian Herodotus, Lydia was a nation of shopkeepers – people who lived by and valued trade and commerce above all things. [1]

Although modern historians credit the invention of pure gold Lydian coinage to Croesus, its king, at around 545 BCE, the earliest record of the Lydian mint of a primitive form of gold currency dates back to the Mermnadae Dynasty as commissioned by its ruler Gyges (cir. B. C. 687 – 652). [2] The earliest form of Lydian gold coinage was made using the natural silver-gold alloy electrum, with standardized weights being the stater, a corruption of the Semetic shekel, a very common denomination of weight at the time. Standards of weight for trade and commerce using these primitive gold coins were based on Babylonian and Phoenician staters (168 grs. – 220 grs. respectively), with very little attention paid to the relative purity (or lack thereof) of the gold used in minting Lydian gold currency. [3] The creation of Lydian gold currency became the standard method of creating coins all throughout the west, employing stamping methods using hard dies that were struck unto soft metal to leave impressions.

The earliest examples of electrum coinage featured the images of gods and mythological beings, as well as animals and sacred symbols. It was said that by the time of Croesus the method of gold refining was already discovered, allowing him to commission currency made of both pure gold and pure silver. Rudimentary examples of the earliest pure gold coins issued in Lydia actually took on the form of stamped ingots of gold often bearing nothing more than blank ovoid shapes, to rustic looking semi-circular ones with the raised images of animals (commonly lions). [4] The issue of gold coinage in Lydia made it richer than it previously was, with example of its coinage circulating throughout much of the Mediterranean, slowly being emulated by other cultures in the bid to keep up with the demands of progress in the name of commerce and profit. The Lydians' use of gold coinage served a purpose very much like the use of gold bullion today – with silver coins being the more commonplace currency used for day-to-day transactions, and gold coinages reserved for investment purposes or as hedge commodities in the event of warfare. [5] As the need for reliability increased with the ever growing span of diverse trade, standard weights were established to maintain a sense of 'fairness' in all transactions done with the use of gold currency. Scales and weights were used extensively to measure the weight of the gold as equal to whatever object or commodity one wished to purchase. Soon, gold coins began to be produced fractionally, with large and small denominations of varying weights and thus values. [6]

It was during the capture of Croesus and the fall of the Lydian kingdom that the use of gold coinage spread even further, as Croesus' conqueror, the Persian monarch Darius I, also commissioned coinage issued in his name and bearing his mark. [7] From thence, the use of gold as a type of currency spread onwards, from Lydia, soon encompassing many of the Greek city states, until it even spread across much of the Orient thanks to Darius's influence. Today, the use of gold coins as a form of currency has remained strong, although its use has become limited solely for investment. Extant examples of Lydian gold coinage are now highly valued collectible and investment materials, fetching very high prices in the market owing to their rarity, beauty, and historical worth.

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Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for ©

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