Posted on 05-04-2010
Filed Under (History, Numismatics) by Rashtrakut

One of the oldest coins in history hit the auctioneers block last month.  The fourth known stater of Phanes dating to about the 7th century BC sold for 345,000 Euro.  See link.  While these coins bear the badge “Phanos emi Seima” (I am the badge of Phanes), not much is known about Phanes.  Whether this represented a ruler, a wealthy merchant, a deity or a city state is not clear.  But these Electrum coins may predate the Lydian staters, generally deemed to start the concept of coinage (up for debate is whether the Shatamana of Gandhara or Chinese coinage predated the Lydians) .  For more on the origins of this coin and speculation regarding its minter see here.

The emergence of coinage greatly facilitated the growth of international trade in the Mediterranean world and along the trade routes to China and India.  The city states seem to have understood the importance of weight standards early on (with the Lydians even managing to keep the gold and silver content of their electrum coins constant).  And the states that resisted the urge to debase their coinage and/or had the largest imperial reach saw their coinage spread across the world and become almost ubiquitous like the Athenian Owl Tetradrachms, the Mauryan Karshapana, the Roman Denarius etc and sometimes spawned local imitations.  See herehere, here and here.

A lot of history in a small blob of metal.

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