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Mark Lehman's NJCL Lecture Print E-mail
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Mark Lehman's NJCL Lecture
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 Interestingly, but of no great concern to this discussion, the Chinese came up with essentially the same idea, government-issued discs of metal, at almost exactly the same time, certainly within fifty years, give-or-take.  Was this a totally coincidental occurrence?  Or did both societies merely achieve the needed "critical mass" at the same time? We have no historical evidence to say either way, but interestingly, the Chinese went straight to token coinage -

 - bullion coins wouldn't be widely used in China for quite a while yet, but remember, the Chinese invented paper money at just about the same time, too, and the fact that the government enforced its legal-tender status with draconian penalties was sufficient to ensure its acceptance, for all debts, public and private, as they say.  An enforced social contract. 

Meanwhile, back in the West,

5. Pre-Hellenistic

Pre Hellenistic coins
Pre Hellenistic coins

The shot-in-the-arm provided to commerce by the new, dependable, portable, widely accepted store-of-value in the form of coined precious metals had the effect of spreading this idea like wildfire throughout the Mediterranean basin- within a century, or so, all the city-states of Magna Graecia  had to have their own variety. 

The result was a multitude of types and weight standards, all competing for "product placement" and "brand-recognition" - usually a region's coinage designs reflected the products or favorite deities of that region.   Almost all city-states had their own "Name-brand logos"

6. Tiny Greek Fractions & Greek bronzes

AR Fractions, bronze
AR Fractions, bronze

One big problem with intrinsically-valued, strictly bullion coins was, that to make small change, one had to make, well, small coins - some were so tiny that people are reported to have carried them in their mouth in order not to lose them.  - you'd better hope nobody slapped you on the back on your way to market, right? - The solution - Token Coinage, made of bronze - now bronze was certainly valuable in its own right as well, but not nearly so highly valued as silver - by the way, even though a few gold coins were minted in pre-Roman times, they were only intended as a store of value, or for making major transfers of wealth - like "A king's ransom" ferinstance - Gold in general has always been so valuable that coins made of it were of about as much use in everyday commerce as a thousand dollar bill at a garage sale.  You see, nobody could afford to make change!  Many Greek cities came up with similar solutions to the small-change issue and token coinage was born as a new part of the social contract - Just like our quarter isn't worth a quarter unless we agree it is.  This is important to remember because the Romans would really embrace and develop the concept of token coinage as we'll see later.

7. Hellenistic/Republican
Hellenistic and Republican coins
Hellenistic and Republican coins

Along came folks like Darius and Alexander and with them the concept of empires spanning the "known-world", and although many localities continued to issue their own distinct types and denominations, some types were recognized, accepted and copied universally.

In this era we tend to see beautifully crafted coins - usually the highest artistic standards and workmanship, which might be issued using the same basic designs with only minor changes over long periods of time.