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History of Money

The word '' Coin '' derived from Latin word '' Cuneus '' which means wedge, Encyclopedia Britannica defines coin as " a piece of metal or, rarely, some other material (such as leather or porcelain) certified by a mark or marks upon it as being of a specific intrinsic or exchange value." & the Oxford English dictionary defines as '' Stamped disc of metal as official money 荘.

Coins are as important as the inscription in history . They confirm the information derived from literature. They are of various metals 鉾old, silver, copper, or alloy and contain legends or simple marks. Those with dates are probably very valuable for the framework of Indian chronology. Coins are almost our sole evidence with regarded to the Indo Scythian and Indo Bactrian King. The Bilingual coins had served as Rosetta Stones in deciphering the Ancient Indian writings. India authors having completely ignored the latter expect Menandar. The purity of the metal reflects the financial conditions of the time. The inscription on the coin indicates territory over which the rulers ruled. Some coin throw significant light on the personal events of certain rulers like Samudra Gupta. Vehicle of Vishnu inscribed on some coin indicate that Samudra Gupta was a devotee of that deity. Veena bears out his love for music. The discovery of the same kind of coins at different places helps up in fixing the coverage of various kingdoms in ancient India

Prehistoric Period

It is very Difficult to tell when and where coins first came into use . When humans settled in localities and communities grew in size and the exchange of different commodities became necessary . the exchange of different products took the shape of trade and system of barter was evolved . This system of exchange of commodities ( barter ) has some disadvantages like the price of commodity could not be fixed .

It is said that ''Necessity is mother of invention ''. To overcome this problem a new method was evolved, a common commodity was fixed to serve as a intermediate in all transactions . Certain commodities got preference over others and a higher value attached to them . They assumed as the character of medium of exchange and attain a standard by which the value of other things was estimated . Thus emerged the notion of value and first step toward the evolution of coinage .

Indus Valley Civilization

In India, the Harappan people- the people who lived in the Indus valley with their extension towards the south in Gujarat and towards the west in the Punjab and Delhi- perhaps used agricultural products as a medium of exchange as early as the third millennium B.C. Archaeologists believe that the huge granaries that have been found in the cities of Harappa and Mohan-jo- daro were replenished by a system of state tribute and they fulfilled in the state economy the function of a modern bank or treasury. There are about 2800 engraved seals were found during excavation at Harappa and Mohan-jo- daro some scholars had argued that those were used as currency but later it was proved these are nothing but seals used for the traders .

Late Dr D.D.Kosambi had made some findings about 12 pieces of silver found with some ornaments .The weights of these pieces were different . Some cuneiform letters were engraved on one of the piece and two pieces have weights 52 and 57 grains . He call them coins but these pieces does not have any official mark or inscription so it is difficult to believe that these are coin.

The Epic Ages

In the Rig Veda, the price of an image of Indra, which was being offered for sale, is said to be ten cows. In another passage, a sage is said to have refused to sell his image of Indra for a hundred, or a thousand, or even ten thousand cows. In a third passage, we are told that the Bharat army went out for war, impelled by the desire to acquire cows. Again, we find that Indra sent his messenger to recover his stolen treasure and treasure was nothing deals but cows. Similarly, in the Aitareya Brahmana, wealth is frequently estimated in terms of cows.

The widespread use of cows shows that they satisfactorily met the needs of the age. They were not quickly perishable and were more stable in value than agricultural products. They had the capacity to multiply, to work and supply milk. But at the same time, as a means of payment and a form in which purchasing power could be accumulated, cows were a troublesome medium of exchange. They required care and some degree of skill in rearing. Further they could not be used for the purchase of small commodities, for, short of killing them and thus rendering them valueless, they could not be divided. So, this medium was neither suitable for all kinds of transactions, nor for the purpose of long-term savings. Therefore, the need for a stable medium of exchange became imminent.

It was then; found that metal, which could not be destroyed easily and was handier, could be used as a stable medium of exchange. However, mere discovery of metal as a suitable medium could not serve the purpose. The problem was how to use metal. The medium was required to be uniform in weight and size to serve the purpose of exchange. Consequently, balance was invented, and with it raised the need for a standard weight. Seeds were considered a suitable medium, as they were fairly uniform in weight and size. Metal was weighed against seeds and various kinds of seeds were introduced as standard weights in different regions, according to their availability.

However, transactions involving metal were equally tedious as scales were required for every transaction. To overcome this difficulty metallic pieces of definite weight and value began to be used. In course of time, settlement of bargains on the basis of a particular weight and form became customary. By and large, people were satisfied with this arrangement. But in a few countries, India being one of them, some inherent difficulties were encountered. In spite of the apparent uniformity in weight and size of ingots and metal sheets, or pieces made from them, there was no guarantee as to the quality of the metal. To obviate these difficulties, the practices of stamping the metallic pieces with a mark or device of a responsible authority as assign of guarantee were introduced in many countries. This led to the birth of the coin.

It is generally believed that gold was used in Early India as currency. But only silver was used in transactions, as is evident both from the extant silver coins and the hoard of metallic pieces found along with them.

It is stated in the Taitariya Brahmans suggests that ' Krishnala ' was the unit for weighing metal. Krishnala or abrus precatorius is referred to in later literature as raktika or gunja and known to us today as ratti. But this is the only reference of krishnala in Vedic literature.

KrishnalaKrishnala( Abrus Precatorius)

The stage of minting coins in India had not been reached during the vedic period. In the ashtadhyayi, a work on grammar by Panini, who is probably, dated the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. there is a sutra that illustrate that metallic pieces were stamped (ahata) with rupa (symbols). it appears that during his time stamped metallic pieces had become contemporary and that along with the unstamped metallic and were concomitantly current. In the Ashtadhyayi, coins are also called karshapna and sana

Another type of money mentioned in Vedic literature is Nishka; it is generally believed that nishka was ornament, some kind of a necklace. Nishka is mentioned in tens and hundreds as payment towards dakshina. It was absolutely a term of value, as is apparent from the ashtadhayi where objects purchased with one, two or three nishkas are called naishkikam, dvi-naishkikam, and tri-naishkikam.

Coins described in Later Vedic Literature:

1) Nishka ( Material : Gold ) : Weight 320 Ratti or 560 Grains

2) Shatamana ( Material : Gold ) : Weight 100 Ratti or 175 Grains

3) Suvarna ( Material : Gold ) : Weight 80 Ratti or 140 Grains

4) Paada ( Material : Gold ) : equal to Quarter Suvarna / Shatamana

Money in the Ancient World

Ancient Egyptians were first to use rings of fixed weight known as '' Tabune '' were used as medium of Exchange . These rings made of gold / Silver have weight approx. 91 to 92 grains . For small denominations copper rings were used . These were generally have shape of Alphbet '' S '' or '' G'' and similar hieroglyphic symbol was used to indicate word '' Tabune '' which denote money .

Babylonians use round shaped metal pieces of certain weight and were known as '' Shekel '' 1 Shekel = 1/2 Ounce , 60 Shekel = 1 Mina , 60 Mina = 1 Talent ( In Bible the references of Shekel and Talent are found) At the time of Hammurabi silver was used as medium of exchange . In Hammurabi's inscription , it is explained that if a person do any illegal act . He has to pay fine in terms of silver in royal treasury.

Akhaldians use coins similar to that of Babylonians but those were of oval shape .

Ancient Money Egypt
Ancient Money Egypt : Bronze ring

Ancient Money Assyria : Bronze ringAncient Money Assyria : Bronze ring


First coins of the world

Some of the scholars believed That ,during the period around the Seventh Century B.C. coins first came into use independently in three different parts of world ,

Lydian's were the first to stamp pieces of precious metals with a marker device of responsible authority as sign of guarantee . Pieces of electrum (a mixture of gold and silver ) were stamped with a single punch affirming its weight and purity .From this simple beginning came the coins we use today, a piece of metal of a standard weight and purity stamped with an official mark. This led to the birth of coins in CIRCA 700 B.C. . According to Greek historian Herodotus '' So far as we have any knowledge , the Lydian's were the first nation to introduce the use of gold and silver coins '' . The Lydian coins were unifaced coins with small size generally known as '' Stater '' and weighing from 10.80 grains to 14.20 grains

At approximately the same time coinage was developed in the Gandhara region ( Now Kandhar in modern Afghanistan ) , Consisting of bars of Silver of a Standard weight stamped with multiple punches . Similar form of currency continued to be used in much of India until the Western style of currency was introduced by Alexander The Great in the fourth century B.C.

In China coins evolved from barter implements sometime between the Eighth and Seventh Centuries B.C. The Chinese coins were known as " knife money " and were made of bronze .

It is fascinating that these three separate economics developed the need for coins at approximately the same time , yet took separate paths to meet the needs.

Reference & Bibliography

Coins : Dr P.L. Gupta , National Books trust .


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