When – and why – did people first start using money?- Kusimba


Ever since the exchange of good began, currency has been a vital component to fair trade.  Humans have used a form of currency for over 40,000 years.  Before currency’s conception people used a barter system.  Two parties would make direct deals of multiple types of goods.  The amount was agreed upon by both parties. However, there was no set exchange rate.  Many times, one party would receive the short end of the stick, so to speak. 

Once a need rose for a cash currency to enabling of gift giving, debt payment and a standard measure of trade.  At first, people started using natural objects such as shells, but later moved on to using coins.  This need rose due to enabling of gift giving, debt payment and a common measure of trade.  Objects that rarely occur naturally served well as an early currency.  The earliest known currency is the Mesopotamian shekel.  The elites of this civilization would exchange wealth in the form of stamped gold or silver pieces. 

The Mesopotamian shekel was the first of many coins used in many civilizations from all over Europe, Asia and North Africa.  Coinage gained worldwide popularity due to its portability, resilience, and intrinsic worth; political leaders were also able to control the inflation through control of currency production.  Political control also extended to taxes to support public works and military protection.  Furthermore, coins helped to connect distant civilizations.  Kusimba explained how merchants view the variety of their currency to be a source of pride.  The more currencies a merchant has the more successful he is in worldwide trade.

Today currency is becoming digital through credit cards and services like PayPal, yet our ancient ancestors will still understand its purpose and use.


Related Reading: https://www.ancient.eu/coinage/                                                            Jan van der Crabben, April 28, 2011

This article gives more detail on different types of coins from the ancient world.  The true origin of coins in uncertain and because of this every early civilization claimed theirs to be the first.  Many famous ancient scholars like Aristotle claim the first currencies were found in Greece and were minted by monarchs like the king Pheidon or Argos or Demodike of Kyrme.  This article also includes how coins were spread around the entire known world.  At the end of the article the author included a video of the history of Rome told through their coins.



Brandon Walter (wc: 390)

4 Replies to “When – and why – did people first start using money?- Kusimba”

  1. Brandon,

    A very nice post here. I have a question related to indigenous peoples and colonizers that interacted with payment methods. When people bartered for goods, say an indigenous person trading a shell, bead, precious item for a good, how did the other party interact with that item? You may not know the answer, and that’s okay, I just thought of this while reading your work.

    Keep up the great work!


  2. Brandon,
    I think you did a wonderful job summarizing the article by Kusimba on the history of early currency. I really enjoyed hearing about the perspective that before currency, someone always got the “short straw,” of a battering deal. I also thought that it was very neat to learn about what the earliest forms of currency actually were, such seen in the example with the seashells. I do think that perhaps there should have been some more information on how different currencies were exchanged or seen in other cultures. Aside from that, The information, particularly on how the government utilized currency was very interesting, and the separate article you included was very helpful, for when I initially had to put your information into a time perspective. Great article, I hope to read more by you.

  3. Brandon,
    I really enjoyed reading your post. Reading about the development of currency and the variety of items that were used was something that I had not thought about in depth before. The way that we think of currency in modern society is much more complicated than the trading that took place years ago that we don’t acknowledge the earliest forms of currency exchange. Viewing currency as a source of pride was the part I found most interesting. Traveling to different civilizations and collecting currency as ‘souvenirs’ is an aspect of currency that had never occurred to me before, but the same concept can be applied in today’s society; people save currency from foreign countries as tokens of their travels. It is very interesting to relate the earlier forms of currency to the term that we know today. Thanks for the article.
    Lauren Munson

  4. This post was a very informative summary of the article it was based on. It’s fascinating to think that currency existed in some form as long ago as it did. I also never thought about the other uses of money besides facilitating exchange or as social status, such as bringing different societies together. You made a good point that money is still basically used for the same reasons despite the drastic change in the form money has taken.

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