Curiosities of the ancient money

Jun 19, 2023 - 01:47
Curiosities of the ancient money
Image by JamesDeMers / Pixabay

The first instances of money - the so called commodity money - can be traced back to ancient civilizations in various regions around the world. These early forms of commodity money emerged independently in different societies as a natural evolution of their economic systems.

Some notable examples of early commodity money include:

  1. Mesopotamia: Around 3000 BCE, the Sumerians in Mesopotamia (located in present-day Iraq) used barley as a form of commodity money. They would measure and store barley in standardized units and use it as a medium of exchange for various goods and services.

  2. China: Cowry shells were used as a form of commodity money in ancient China as early as 1200 BCE during the Shang Dynasty. The shells were considered rare and had ornamental value, making them suitable for trade and as a store of wealth.

  3. Africa: In parts of Africa, various commodities were used as money, such as salt, ivory, and even metal ingots. For instance, iron ingots were used as money in some West African regions during the early Iron Age.

  4. Pacific Islands: On some Pacific islands, Rai stones, large circular stones with a hole in the center, were used as a form of commodity money. Their value was based on their size, rarity, and history, rather than being practical for everyday use.

  5. Native American Tribes: Certain Native American tribes used items like wampum, which were small cylindrical beads made from shells, as a form of commodity money for trade and as a representation of social status.

Commodity money often had limitations, especially when it came to divisibility and portability. As societies developed and encountered the challenges of using physical commodities, they eventually transitioned to more sophisticated forms of money, such as metal coinage and paper money, which offered greater convenience and ease of use in trade and commerce.

Janet Bluesky Member of EA Coordination Team