Friday, February 1, 2013

World's First Coin: The Lydian Lion

Do you know what is the worlds first coin? Lydian third stater, or trite, minted sometime around 600 BC in Lydia, Asia Minor (current-day Turkey), a country in close geographic and cultural proximity to the Greek colonies in Asia Minor Is the world 1st coin. It's made of electrum, an alloy of gold and silver called "white gold" in ancient times (50-60 percent gold with these coins). One of the many fascinating aspects of this coin is the mysterious sunburst above the lion's eye.

lydian lion

The first metal coins are regarded by some as having been invented in China. The earliest known Chinese metal tokens were made ca. 900 BC, discovered in a tomb near Anyang. These were replicas in bronze of earlier Chinese money, cowrie shells, so they were named Bronze Shell. Most numismatists, however, regard these as well as later Chinese bronzes that were replicas of knives, spades, and hoes as money but not as coins because they didn't at least initially carry a mark or marks certifying them to be of a definite exchange value.

Coins originated independently in Anatolia, with most numismatists regarding Lydia as the birthplace of coinage. The Greeks soon adopted the Lydian practice and extended it to commerce and trade, with coinage following Greek colonization and influence first around the eastern Mediterranean and soon after to North Africa (including Egypt), Syria, Persia, and the Balkans.

The first Lydian coins were made of electrum, an alloy of silver and gold. Many early Lydian coins were undoubtedly struck (manufactured) under the authority of private individuals and are thus more akin to tokens than true coins, though because of their numbers it's evident that some were official state issues, with King Alyattes of Lydia being the most frequently mentioned originator of coinage.

Most of the early Lydian coins have no writing on them just images of symbolic animals. Therefore the dating of these coins relies primarily on archeological evidence, with the most commonly cited evidence coming from excavations at the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, also called the Ephesian Artemision (which would later evolve into one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world). Some people say that Lydian Electrum 1/6 stater is the oldest coin in the world but they're some argument whether the Electrum 1/6 stater is a coin or just a ceremonial objects issued by priests.

A small percentage of early Lydian coins include writing, called a "legend" or "inscription." Another famous early electrum coin with a legend is from nearby Caria, Asia Minor, with the legend reading, "I am the badge of Phanes." Nothing is known about who Phanes was, but one logical assumption is that he was a wealthy merchant.

The Lydian’s invented a way to verify if gold was pure or not, they used a black stone that was like jasper and later became known as the touchstone. The goldsmiths would rub the gold object against a set of 24 needles containing varying amounts of the 3 metals: gold, silver, and copper. The 24th needle of course was pure gold, thus creating the system to show that 24 carats is pure gold, (carat is a word derived from the Greek word Keration).

Source: rg.ancient info,, wikipedia