The history of money concerns the development of social systems that provide at least one of the functions of money. Such systems can be understood as means of trading wealth indirectly; not directly as with barter. Money is a mechanism that facilitates this process.
Money may take a physical form as in coins and notes, or may exist as a written or electronic account. It may have intrinsic value (commodity money), be legally exchangeable for something with intrinsic value (representative money), or only have nominal value (fiat money).
The invention of money took place before the beginning of written history. Consequently any story of how money first developed is largely based on conjecture and logical inference.
The significant evidence establishes many things were bartered in ancient markets that could be described as a medium of exchange. These included livestock and grain – things directly useful in themselves – but also merely attractive items such as cowrie shells or beads were exchanged for more useful commodities. However, such exchanges would be better described as barter, and the common bartering of a particular commodity (especially when the commodity items are not fungible) does not technically make that commodity “money” or a “commodity money” like the shekel – which was both a coin representing a specific weight of barley, and the weight of that sack of barley.
From about 1000 BC, money in the form of small knives and spades made of bronze was in use in China during the Zhou dynasty, with cast bronze replicas of cowrie shells in use before this. The first manufactured actual coins seem to have appeared separately in India, China, and the cities around the Aegean Sea between 700 and 500 BC. While these Aegean coins were stamped (heated and hammered with insignia), the Indian coins (from the Ganges river valley) were punched metal disks, and Chinese coins (first developed in the Great Plain) were cast bronze with holes in the center to be strung together. The different forms and metallurgical processes imply a separate development. All modern coins, in turn, are descended from the coins that appear to have been invented in the kingdom of Lydia in Asia Minor somewhere around the year 600 BC and that spread throughout Greece in the following centuries: disk-shaped, made of gold, silver, bronze or imitations thereof, with both sides bearing an image produced by stamping; one side is often a human head.
The first ruler in the Mediterranean known to have officially set standards of weight and money was Pheidon. Minting occurred in the late 7th century BC amongst the Greek cities of Asia Minor, spreading to the Greek islands of the Aegean and to the south of Italy by 500 BC. The first stamped money (having the mark of some authority in the form of a picture or words) can be seen in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. It is an electrum stater of a turtle coin, coined at Aegina island. This coin dates to about 700 BC.
Other coins made of electrum (a naturally occurring alloy of silver and gold) were manufactured on a larger scale about 650 BC in Lydia (on the coast of what is now Turkey). Similar coinage was adopted and manufactured to their own standards in nearby cities of Ionia, including Mytilene and Phokaia (using coins of electrum) and Aegina (using silver) during the 6th century BC, and soon became adopted in mainland Greece, and the Persian Empire (after it incorporated Lydia in 547 BC).
The use and export of silver coinage, along with soldiers paid in coins, contributed to the Athenian Empire’s dominance of the region in the 5th century BC. The silver used was mined in southern Attica at Laurium and Thorikos by a huge workforce of slave labour. A major silver vein discovery at Laurium in 483 BC led to the huge expansion of the Athenian military fleet.
The worship of Moneta is recorded by Livy with the temple built in the time of Rome 413 (123)[clarification needed]; a temple consecrated to the same goddess was built in the earlier part of the 4th century (perhaps the same temple). For four centuries the temple contained the mint of Rome. The name of the goddess thus became the source of numerous words in English and the Romance languages, including the words “money” and “mint”.
Assaying is analysis of the chemical composition of metals. The discovery of the touchstone[when?] for assaying helped the popularisation of metal-based commodity money and coinage. Any soft metal, such as gold, can be tested for purity on a touchstone. As a result, the use of gold for as commodity money spread from Asia Minor, where it first gained wide usage.[dubious – discuss]
A touchstone allows the amount of gold in a sample of an alloy to been estimated. In turn this allows the alloy’s purity to be estimated. This allows coins with a uniform amount of gold to be created. Coins were typically minted by governments and then stamped with an emblem that guaranteed the weight and value of the metal. However, as well as intrinsic value coins had a face value. Sometimes governments would reduce the amount of precious metal in a coin (reducing the intrinsic value) and assert the same face value, this practice is known as debasement.
[This is not pre 400 AD]
Gold and silver have been the most common forms of money throughout history. In many languages, such as Spanish, French, and Italian, the word for silver is still directly related to the word for money. Sometimes other metals were used. For instance, Ancient Sparta minted coins from iron to discourage its citizens from engaging in foreign trade. In the early 17th century Sweden lacked precious metals, and so produced “plate money”: large slabs of copper 50 cm or more in length and width, stamped with indications of their value.
Gold coins began to be minted again in Europe in the 13th century. Frederick II is credited with having reintroduced gold coins during the Crusades. During the 14th century Europe changed from use of silver in currency to minting of gold. Vienna made this change in 1328.
Metal-based coins had the advantage of carrying their value within the coins themselves – on the other hand, they induced manipulations, such as the clipping of coins to remove some of the precious metal. A greater problem was the simultaneous co-existence of gold, silver and copper coins in Europe. The exchange rates between the metals varied with supply and demand. For instance the gold guinea coin began to rise against the silver crown in England in the 1670s and 1680s. Consequently, silver was exported from England in exchange for gold imports. The effect was worsened with Asian traders not sharing the European appreciation of gold altogether — gold left Asia and silver left Europe in quantities European observers like Isaac Newton, Master of the Royal Mint observed with unease.
Stability came when national banks guaranteed to change silver money into gold at a fixed rate; it did, however, not come easily. The Bank of England risked a national financial catastrophe in the 1730s when customers demanded their money be changed into gold in a moment of crisis. Eventually London’s merchants saved the bank and the nation with financial guarantees.
Another step in the evolution of money was the change from a coin being a unit of weight to being a unit of value. A distinction could be made between its commodity value and its specie value. The difference in these values is seigniorage.