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A selection of metal coins.

A coin is a small, flat, (usually depending on the country or value) round piece of metal or plastic used primarily as a medium of exchange or legal tender. They are standardized in weight, and produced in large quantities at a mint in order to facilitate trade. They are most often issued by a government. Coins often have images, numerals, or text on them. Obverse and its opposite, reverse, refer to the two flat faces of coins and medals. In this usage, obverse means the front face of the object and reverse means the back face. The obverse of a coin is commonly called heads, because it often depicts the head of a prominent person, and the reverse tails.

Coins are usually made of metal or an alloy, or sometimes of man-made materials. They are usually disc shaped. Coins, made of valuable metal, are stored in large quantities as bullion coins. Other coins are used as money in everyday transactions, circulating alongside banknotes. Usually the highest value coin in circulation (excluding bullion coins) is worth less than the lowest-value note. In the last hundred years, the face value of circulation coins has occasionally been lower than the value of the metal they contain, for example due to inflation. If the difference becomes significant, the issuing authority may decide to withdraw these coins from circulation, possibly issuing new equivalents with a different composition, or the public may decide to melt the coins down or hoard them (see Gresham's law).

Exceptions to the rule of face value being higher than content value also occur for some bullion coins made of copper, silver, or gold (and rarely other metals, such as platinum or palladium), intended for collectors or investors in precious metals. Examples of modern gold collector/investor coins include the British sovereign minted by the United Kingdom, the American Gold Eagle minted by the United States, the Canadian Gold Maple Leaf minted by Canada, and the Krugerrand, minted by South Africa. While the Eagle, and Sovereign coins have nominal (purely symbolic) face values, the Krugerrand does not.

Historically, a considerable variety of coinage metals (including alloys) and other materials (e.g. porcelain) have been used to produce coins for circulation, collection, and metal investment: bullion coins often serve as more convenient stores of assured metal quantity and purity than other bullion.[1]

Ancient History

Bullion and unmarked metals

Late Bronze Age
metal ingots were given standard shapes, such as the shape of an "ox-hide", suggesting that they represented standardized values.

Metal ingots, silver bullion or unmarked bars were probably in use for exchange among many of the civilizations that mastered metallurgy. The weight and purity of bullion would be the key determinant of value. In the

Late Bronze Age, where standard-sized ingots, and tokens such as knife money, were used to store and transfer value. Phoenician metal ingots had to be stamped with the current ruler to guarantee is worth and value, which is probably how stamping busts and designs began.[citation needed

Tongbei in Bronze Age China (c. 1100 BC)

In the late

Chinese Bronze Age, standardized cast tokens were made, such as those discovered in a tomb near Anyang.[4][5] These were replicas in bronze of earlier Chinese currency, cowrie shells, so they were named Bronze Shell.[6]

China Henan Coin Factory (c. 640 – 550 BC)

The worlds oldest coin factory is excavated in the ancient city Guanzhuang in Henan province in China. The factory produced shovel-shaped bronze coins between 640 B.C. and 550 B.C., which is the oldest securely dated minting site.[7][8]

Iron Age

Lydian and Ionian electrum coins (c. 600 BC)

Stag grazing right, ΦΑΝΕΩΣ (retrograde). Reverse: Two incuse punches, each with raised intersecting lines.[9]

The earliest coins are mostly associated with

Iron Age Anatolia of the late 7th century BC, and especially with the kingdom of Lydia.[10] Early electrum coins (an alluvial alloy of gold and silver, varying wildly in proportion, and usually about 40–55% gold) were not standardized in weight, and in their earliest stage may have been ritual objects, such as badges or medals, issued by priests.[11] The unpredictability of the composition of naturally occurring electrum implied that it had a variable value, which greatly hampered its development.[12]

Most of the early Lydian coins include no writing ("myth" or "inscription"), only an image of a symbolic animal. Therefore, the dating of these coins relies primarily on archaeological evidence, with the most commonly cited evidence coming from excavations at the

stag. It took some time before ancient coins were used for commerce and trade[citation needed]. Even the smallest-denomination electrum coins, perhaps worth about a day's subsistence, would have been too valuable for buying a loaf of bread.[13] Maybe the first coins to be used for retailing on a large-scale basis were likely small silver fractions, Hemiobol, Ancient Greek coinage minted by the Ionian Greeks in the late sixth century BC.[14]

In contrast Herodotus mentioned the innovation made by the Lydians:[12]

"So far as we have any knowledge, they [the Lydians] were the first people to introduce the use of gold and silver coins, and the first who sold goods by retail"

— Herodotus, I94[12]

And both Aristotle (fr. 611,37, ed. V. Rose) and Pollux (Onamastikon IX.83), mention that the first issuer of coinage was Hermodike/Demodike of Cyme.[15] Cyme was a city in Aeolia, nearby Lydia.

"Another example of local pride is the dispute about coinage, whether the first one to strike it was Pheidon of Argos, or Demodike of Kyme (who was wife of Midas the Phrygian and daughter of King Agammemnon of Kyme), or Erichthonios and Lycos of Athens, or the Lydians (as Xenophanes says) or the Naxians (as Anglosthenes thought)"

— Julius Pollux, Onamastikon IX.83[15]

Many early Lydian and Greek coins were minted under the authority of private individuals and are thus more akin to tokens or badges than to modern coins,

Phanes, dated to 625–600 BC from Ephesus in Ionia
, with the legend ΦΑΕΝΟΣ ΕΜΙ ΣHΜΑ (or similar) (“I am the badge/sign/mark of Phanes/light”) or just bearing the name ΦΑΝΕΟΣ (“of Phanes”).

The first electrum coins issued by a monarch are those minted by king

Alyattes of Lydia (died c. 560 BC), for which reason this king is sometimes mentioned as the originator of coinage.[17]

Croesus: Pure gold and silver coins

Silver Croeseid, minted by King Croesus, c. 560–546 BC (10.7 grams, Sardis mint)
The gold and silver Croeseids formed the world's first bimetallic monetary system, c. 550 BC.[12]

The successor of Alyattes, king Croesus (r. c. 560–546 BC), became associated with great wealth in Greek historiography. He is credited with issuing the Croeseid, the first true gold coins with a standardized purity for general circulation.[12] and the world's first bimetallic monetary system c. 550 BC.[12]

Coins spread rapidly in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, leading to the development of Ancient Greek coinage and Achaemenid coinage, and further to Illyrian coinage.[18]

Achaemenid coinage (546–330 BC)

Daric gold coin, c. 490 BC; one of the most successful of Antiquity.

When Cyrus the Great (550–530 BC) came to power, coinage was unfamiliar in his realm. Barter and to some extent silver bullion was used instead for trade.[2] The practice of using silver bars for currency also seems to have been current in Central Asia from the 6th century.[3]

Cyrus the Great introduced coins to the Persian Empire after 546 BC, following his conquest of Lydia and the defeat of its king Croesus, who had put in place the first coinage in history. With his conquest of Lydia, Cyrus acquired a region in which coinage was invented, developed through advanced metallurgy, and had already been in circulation for about 50 years, making the Lydian Kingdom one of the leading trade powers of the time.[2] It seems Cyrus initially adopted the Lydian coinage as such, and continued to strike Lydia's lion-and-bull coinage.[2]

Original coins of the

monetary standard of the Achaemenid Persian Empire.[19]

Coinage of Southern Asia under the Achaemenid Empire
A siglos found in the Kabul valley, 5th century BC. Coins of this type were also found in the Bhir Mound hoard.[20][21]

The Achaemenid Empire already reached the doors of

Achaemenid coins as well as many Greek coins from the 5th and 4th centuries BC.[21] The deposit of the hoard is dated to the Achaemenid period, in approximately 380 BC.[23] The hoard also contained many locally produced silver coins, minted by local authorities under Achaemenid rule.[24] Several of these issues follow the "western designs" of the facing bull heads, a stag, or Persian column capitals on the obverse, and incuse punch on the reverse.[24][25]

According to numismatist Joe Cribb, these finds suggest that the idea of coinage and the use of punch-marked techniques was introduced to India from the Achaemenid Empire during the 4th century BC.[26] More Achaemenid coins were also found in Pushkalavati and in Bhir Mound.[27]

Greek Archaic coinage (until about 480 BC)

Ancient India. This coin is the earliest known example of its type to be found so far east.[29]

According to Aristotle (fr. 611,37, ed. V. Rose) and Pollux (Onamastikon IX.83), the first issuer of Greek coinage was Hermodike of Kyme.[15]

A small percentage of early Lydian/Greek coins have a legend.

Phanes or "Phanes" might have been an epithet of the local goddess identified with Artemis. Barclay V. Head found these suggestions unlikely and thought it more probably "the name of some prominent citizen of Ephesus".[33]

Another candidate for the site of the earliest coins is

Chelone ("turtle") coins were first minted c. 700 BC.[34] Coins from Athens and Corinth appeared shortly thereafter, known to exist at least since the late 6th century BC.[35]


Classical Greek antiquity (480 BC~)

A Syracusan tetradrachm
(c. 415–405 BC)
Obverse: head of the nymph Arethusa, surrounded by four swimming dolphins and a rudder
Reverse: a racing quadriga, its charioteer
crowned by the goddess Victory
in flight.

The Classical period saw Greek coinage reach a high level of technical and aesthetic quality. Larger cities now produced a range of fine silver and gold coins, most bearing a portrait of their patron god or goddess or a legendary hero on one side, and a symbol of the city on the other. Some coins employed a visual pun: some coins from Rhodes featured a rose, since the Greek word for rose is rhodon. The use of inscriptions on coins also began, usually the name of the issuing city.

The wealthy cities of Sicily produced some especially fine coins. The large silver decadrachm (10-drachm) coin from

tyrants of Syracuse were fabulously rich, and part of their public relations policy was to fund quadrigas for the Olympic chariot race
, a very expensive undertaking. As they were often able to finance more than one quadriga at a time, they were frequent victors in this highly prestigious event. Syracuse was one of the epicenters of numismatic art during the classical period. Led by the engravers Kimon and Euainetos, Syracuse produced some of the finest coin designs of antiquity.

Amongst the first centers to produce coins during the Greek colonization of mainland Southern Italy (Magna Graecia) were Paestum, Crotone, Sybaris, Caulonia, Metapontum, and Taranto. These ancient cities started producing coins from 550BC to 510BC.[37][38]

Amisano, in a general publication, including the Etruscan coinage, attributing it the beginning to about 560 BC in Populonia, a chronology that would leave out the contribution of the Greeks of Magna Graecia and attribute to the Etruscans the burden of introducing the coin in Italy. In this work, constant reference is made to classical sources, and credit is given to the origin of the Etruscan Lydia, a source supported by Herodotus, and also to the invention of coin in Lydia.[39]

Appearance of dynastic portraiture (5th century BC)

Asia Minor developed the usage of portraiture from c. 420 BC. Portrait of the Satrap of Lydia, Tissaphernes
(c. 445–395 BC).