The early origins of money

Well no-one knows for sure when money was first invented, but it’s thought it was probably around 3,000 years ago.  Before that there was bartering, which I still approve of today 🙂

The first known Roman coins were minted in 344BC and in those days coins had an intrinsic value because they were made of precious metals.

roman coin

This Roman coin is in amazing condition and is part of the Yorkshire Museum’s collection.

It’s probable that bartering has been around since prehistoric times. Humans are likely to have exchanged valued goods like animal skins, weapons, maybe even food. And this kind of subsistence swapping still exists in parts of the world.

But it can be a clumsy system so as humans became more sophisticated, so grew their need for a more flexible method of payment.

Around 3,000 years ago a new system evolved in China. Instead of using weapons and tools, they started to produce tiny replica bronze tools. A neat idea but it’s a bit impractical to carry around miniature forks and arrows, so gradually they evolved into a more user-friendly shape.

Chinese Knife MoneyChinese Spade MoneyEarly Chinese money

Illustrations show (from left) Chinese knife money; Chinese spade money; Chinese coins from around 100BC

It’s thought that these Chinese rounded metal objects became the world’s first coins But the first official minted coinage was made in what is now Turkey (then Lydia) around 600BC.  The coins were made of a mixture of gold and silver, called electrum.

Electrum coin

Electrum coin from Lydia c600BC



The Lydian government’s foresight in developing an official currency made Lydia a wealthy nation as trade thrived.