Coins from Ancient History

An Overview of the Different Types of Currency from Ancient History

Economists define money as anything widely accepted in payment for goods, used as a medium of exchange, and expressed as the standard unit in which prices and debts are measured. It is, by definition, something valuable. However, currency from ancient history is the tangible form of money and has evolved dramatically over the previous 10,000 years, from cattle and cowrie shells to today’s computerized cash. Gold coins and hammered metal tokens were among the early types of cash. This ancient currency was tossed and exchanged for spices, products, and services for hundreds of years. From ancient coins embossed with emperors’ images to China’s functional Ban Liang coins, there are hundreds of distinct types of coinage. Money’s history may have begun with trading, but it has grown into a vast, colourful landscape of various and distinct antique cash.

Timeline for Currency from Ancient History

Currency from Ancient History Started with the Barter System

Barter is the trade of resources or services for mutual benefit, and it is considered to have existed for many thousands of years, probably even before modern people. Some would even argue that trading isn’t only a human activity; plants and animals have been bartering for millions of years in symbiotic interactions. However, human barter predates the development of money by a long way in any event. According to the group’s surroundings and activities, the goods used in barter are usually in their natural state, and they match the members’ basic requirements. However, because there is no common measure of worth among the objects bartered, this deal is fraught with complications. Nevertheless, individuals, businesses, and governments still utilize and prefer barter to exchange products and services today.

Cattle was Used for Barter from 9000 BCE to 6000 BCE

Cattle, which have included not just cows but also sheep, camels, and other livestock throughout history and across the world, are the first and oldest kind of money. Grain and other vegetable or plant goods were a common form of trade in many communities with the emergence of agriculture.

Cowrie Shells Used as Currency from Ancient History from 1200 BCE

Cowrie Shells
Credit: The Vintage News

Cowrie shells were initially used for money around 1200 BCE. Although it may appear that the shells were random, they had several advantages: they were comparable in size, tiny, and resilient. While the mollusks that create the shells are located in the Indian and Pacific seas’ coastal waters, the rise of commerce meant that cowrie shells were used as payment in certain European countries. Native Americans employed wampum (shell money) as a method of payment. Whale teeth were another form of natural money utilized by the Fijians. Yap Islanders sculpted massive limestone discs that were subsequently used as money.

Introduction of Metal Currency from Ancient History in 1000 BCE

Metal Currency from Ancient History
Credit: Encyclopedia Britannica

Around 1000 BCE, the first metal money was created in China, made from stamped bits of precious metals like bronze and copper. Ancient Greeks used coinage, starting about 650 BCE, that was later made of silver and gold. Coins were a turning point in money history, since they were the first types of currency to allow people to pay by count or quantity rather than weight. The first round shaped coins were made around 500 BC, and they were imprinted with gods and emperors. From 794 until 1200 A.D., Charlemagne minted the silver penny, the standard coin in Western Europe. By the mid-13th century, the pound and shilling were often employed to denote higher amounts of pennies. Since the value of cash has fluctuated throughout time, the introduction of larger forms of currency has been an important part of the history of money.

Coinage Used as Currency  in 500 BCE

Outside of China, the first coins were made of silver lumps. They quickly took on the familiar round shape of today, with many gods and emperors imprinted on them to verify their legitimacy. These early coins initially emerged in Lydia, which is now part of Turkey, but the Greek, Persian, Macedonian, and Roman empires swiftly imitated and developed the techniques. Unlike Chinese coins, which were composed of base metals, these new coins were made of precious metals like silver, bronze, and gold, which had a higher intrinsic worth.

Leather Money Used as Currency during 141 BCE

Leather Money
Credit: Coin World

Leather and animal skin began to be fashioned into coinage in the 6th century BCE. Wudi of China, who reigned from 141 to 87 BCE, made coinage from the skins of his collection of white stags. It was fringed and adorned with intricate patterns. This sort of money was supposedly utilized in early ancient Rome. Leather money was also discovered in Carthage and what is now France, and it is thought that Russia utilized it during Peter the Great’s reign (1682–1725 CE). Though no longer in use, leather money may have left a lasting legacy: some believe it was the origin of “buck” as a slang term for “dollar.”

Introduction of Paper Money as Currency in 800CE

Paper Money
Credit: Banknote World

Although the first paper money emerged in China between 700 and 800 AD, it took a long time to receive official acceptance. China was the first country to adopt paper money, but it wasn’t until 1455 that it was in use. The lighter weight of paper money permitted global trade, which brought both challenges like distrust and currency wars and benefits like the ability to trade in new places for new products. When China stopped using paper money in the mid-15th century, coins became the most common form of currency in the country and across the world.

Start of The Gold Standard in 1816

In 1816, England designated gold the official standard of value. Guidelines existed to enable the non-inflationary manufacturing of standard banknotes representing a specific quantity of gold. Before this period, banknotes were in use in England and Europe for some hundred years. However, there was no direct linkage of their value to gold. The United States officially approved the Gold Standard Act in 1900, paving the way for forming a central bank.

End of The Gold Standard in 1930

The Depression of the 1930s, which impacted the whole world, signalled the beginning of the demise of the gold standard. The gold standard was changed in the United States, and the price of gold was devalued. This standard was the first step toward the end of the relationship. The British and international gold standards both came to an end simultaneously, and the complexity of international monetary regulation began to emerge.

World of Types of Currency from Ancient History

Greek Currency from Ancient History

Greek Currency from Ancient History
Credit: World History Encyclopedia

Lydia is attributed to the Greeks for developing coins in the early sixth century BCE, imprinted by the state to ensure worth and authenticity. The earliest Greek coins, silver and featured a turtle as a symbol of the city’s wealth based on sea trade arrived at Aegina around 600 BCE. Athens and Corinth quickly followed Aegina’s lead. Coinage was not truly an innovation of convenience in greater Greece but rather a necessity, motivated by the need to pay mercenary warriors. The drachma currency earns its name from the Greek word drattomai, which means grip. Here’s a list of ancient Greek coins:

  • Dekadrachm – 10 drachmae
  • Tetradrachm – 4 drachmae
  • Didrachm – 2 drachmae
  • Drachma – 6 obols
  • Tetrobol – 4 obols
  • Triobol – 3 obols
  • Diobol – 2 obols
  • Obol – 4 tetartemorions
  • Tritartemorion – 3 tetartemorions
  • Hemiobol – 2 tetartemorions
  • Tetartemorion
  • Hemitartemorion – ½ tetartemorions

Roman Currency from Ancient History

The first Roman coins emerged in Italy in the late 4th century BCE. They were in circulation for another eight centuries across the empire. The first Roman coins were most likely tiny copper low-value coins with the legend PMAIN. They existed in Neapolis from 326 BCE onwards. The earliest silver coins, resembling modern Greek coins, emerged in the early third century BCE. The inscription ROMANO, later to become ROMA, appeared on these two-drachma coins, worth two Greek drachmas. A new monetary system was created in 211 BCE. The silver denarius made its initial appearance and would become Rome’s primary silver coin until the third century CE. Here’s a list of ancient Roman coins:

  • Denarius
  • Sesterius
  • Dupondius
  • As
  • Semis
  • Triens
  • Quadrans
  • Quincunx
  • Uncia

Egyptian Currency from Ancient History

Before coinage in the first millennium BC, ancient Egyptian culture employed many types of money. The Egyptians employed non-coin forms of silver and gold payment, such as silver rings and gold pieces fashioned like sheep, for millennia before minting coins out of the metals, partly due to a weights-and-measures barter system. Egypt’s first forms of money were based on a barter trade of daily commodities rather than metals. The notion was first introduced to civilization by the Greeks and Romans.

Chinese Currency from Ancient History

Chinese Currency from Ancient History
Credit: China Daily

The primary form of money in ancient China was coins in forms of copper, iron, lead, gold and silver. During the latter phase of primordial society, Chinese forefathers utilized shells as a medium of trade and commerce. The ‘peng,’ which originally meant two clusters of shells, is the unit of shell money. Copper cash refers to ancient Chinese copper coinage that appeared during the Qin Dynasty (221 BC–206 BC), a dynasty that left the Chinese people with numerous legacies, including the Great Wall and the Terracotta Army. Jiao Zi, the world’s first paper money, was first introduced in the early North Song Dynasty (960–1127). Knife money are the huge, cast bronze, commodity money in shape of the knife. They emerged roughly 2500 years ago in China. During the Zhou dynasty in China, knife money circulated between 600 and 200 BC.

Japanese Currency from Ancient History

Before the 7th and 8th centuries AD, Japan traded using commodity money. Chinese Ban Liang and Wu Zhu coins and coins created by Wang Mang during the early centuries of the first millennium AD were the first currencies to reach Japan. The Mumonginsen, or ‘silver coins without inscription,’ and the copper alloy Fuhonsen, or coins manufactured from a copper, lead, and tin alloy, were the first coins created in Japan and were introduced in the late seventh century.

Indian Currency from Ancient History

Indian Currency from Ancient History

Along with the Chinese and Lydians, the ancient Indians were the world’s first coin issuers. The Mahajanapadas of ancient India minted the first Indian punch-marked coins, known as Puranas, Karshapanas, or Pana, in the 6th century BC. The Mauryas followed, punch-marking their coins with a regal standard. Following them came the Indo-Greek Kushan rulers, who imported the Greek practice of etching portrait heads on coinage. The Turkish Sultans of Delhi had supplanted Indian rulers’ regal designs with Islamic calligraphy by the 12th century AD. The coinage, comprised of gold, silver, and copper, was known as tanka, and the lower-value coins were known as jittals. However, Sher Shah Suri established a new civil and military government that began the rupee’s development. He introduced a silver currency, the rupiya, that was divisible into 40 copper pieces, called paisa. In the 18th century, British India was the first to issue paper money.

African Currency from Ancient History

The initial construction of African money was from simple objects, materials, animals, and even humans available in the region. It emerged as a means of transaction. Manillas were a type of commodity money in use in West Africa. These were mostly of bronze or copper. There was mass production of the same in various forms, sizes, and weights in vast quantities. Cowrie shells were also in use as a type of money for local transactions in West Africa and elsewhere since the 14th century. From the 17th century onwards, this began to alter when European colonial powers imposed their monetary system on the colonization nations.

Persian Currency from Ancient History

Persian Currency from Ancient History
Credit: American Numismatic Society

The Achaemenid Persians were one of the ancient world’s great civilizations. The monarchs of Persia began striking coins in significant quantities not long after the creation of their kingdom. Their main issues were gold darics and silver sigloi, among the most well-known coins of antiquity. After conquering King Croesus of Lydia in 547 BCE, Cyrus established the Persian Imperial currency. Croesus had already begun issuing high-purity gold and silver coins with the obverse depicting the opposed foreparts of a lion and a bull. The next prominent Persian emperor was Darius I, who ruled from 522 to 486 BCE and expanded on Cyrus’ triumphs. Sigloi appears to have only circulated in the westernmost Persian areas in modern-day Turkey’s central and coastal districts. On the other hand, there was a wide distribution of Darics.

Korean Currency from Ancient History

In early Korea, the primary mode of transaction was barter. Due to this, there was a high valuation of basic commodities like grain, rice, and clothes. The oshuchon, or Chinese coins, were initially in use in ancient Korea before the 13th century CE. From the late 10th century CE, Korean monarchs began minting their metal coins, initially in copper and iron, then in bronze. Knife money, known as ming-tao-chien, was the earliest metal currency in use in ancient Korea. It was so named because of its crescent, bladelike design. Sukjong, the Goryeo monarch, produced copper coins in 1097 and 1102 CE. These had tongbo (‘circulating treasure’) or chungbo (‘heavy treasure’) inscriptions on one side. The unbyong aka hwalgu silver vases, created starting in 1101 CE, were an alternative to coinage as a means of payment.

Hebrew Currency from Ancient History

After forming the independent Hasmonean dynasty in the 2nd century BCE, the history of ancient Jewish currency began. The majority of Hasmonean coins were of the perutah or dilepton denomination, a tiny bronze coin. Hebrew legends appear on all Hasmonean coins. Shekel or sheqel is a silver-based ancient Near Eastern currency. A shekel was initially a weight unit of around 11 grammes (0.39 oz) that became money in ancient Tyre and Carthage. Despite their regal and pagan images, the Tyrian shekel was the favoured payment method for the Temple tax in Jerusalem.

Celtic Currency from Ancient History

Celtic Currency from Ancient History
Credit: Alchetron

From the early third century BCE through the first century CE, the ancient Celts copied Greek and eventually Roman coins. Moreover, Celtic engravers quickly established their particular style, producing coins with stylized horses, abstract forms, and portraits of Celtic chiefs. Above all, early in the third century BCE, and by the second century BCE, parts of Celtic Europe were minting their coins. Meanwhile, the names, weights, and prices of England’s coinage were constantly changing. The following is a list of ancient coin names from this period:

  • Stater
  • Trite
  • Hekte
  • Aureus
  • Denarius
  • Solidus
  • Tremissis
  • Groat
  • Sovereign
  • Noble


Money or currency from ancient history has influenced some of the most critical events in the lives of a lot of nations. People could exchange products and services without needing to barter for a fair price with the development of cash. Because of its lightweight and small size, paper cash enabled worldwide trade. However, money has had a huge influence on how people trade throughout the world and how we live today since it was first introduced. Above all, battles have been fought over money and some of humanity’s greatest significant achievements have been achieved because of it.

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