(OPE-L) "Coin and Symbols of Value: The Lydian Invention"

From: Gerald A. Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Sat Jun 05 2004 - 07:41:31 EDT

By Walt Sheasby. Posted on 6/3/04. Photos in original post./JL


 Forepart of lion at left with tongue protruding
 (a Hittite emblem) and of bull at right facing
 each other. Reverse: Double incuse square,
 official seal guaranteeing value,
 standardized at 98% gold or silver. Time of
 Croesus, king of Lydia, 561-546 BCE.

    The Greek historian Herodotus (1998: 44) informs us that the
 Lydians, in Asia Minor, in what is present-day Turkey, first invented
 coinage around 687 BCE. The earliest coins consisted of electrum,
 a naturally occurring amalgam of gold and silver, but these were
 replaced by King Croesus with a coinage of pure gold and silver.
 By c. 640 - c. 630 BCE, as Herodotus (1.94) noted: *they were the
 first nation to introduce the use of gold and silver coin, and the
 first who sold goods by retail.* Herodotus, as pointed out by Roy Davies
 and Glyn Davies (1999) criticized the avarice of the Lydians, who
 were not only the first people to coin money, but also, as he said,
 the first to open permanent retail shops.

     The account given by Marx assumes familiarity with the classical
 literature. In the 3rd chapter of Capital on Money, or the Circulation
 of Commodities, Marx takes up Coin and Symbols of Value: *That
 money takes the shape of coin, springs from its function as the
 circulating medium. The weight of gold represented in imagination
 by the prices or money-names of commodities, must confront those
commodities, within the circulation, in the shape of coins or pieces
 of gold of a given denomination. Coining, like the establishment of a
 standard of prices, is the business of the State. The different
 national uniforms worn at home by gold and silver as coins, and
doffed again  in the market of the world, indicate the separation
between the internal or national spheres of the circulation of
commodities, and  their universal sphere* (221F; 125M).

     We previously followed his argument that *The money form
 attaches itself either to the most important articles of exchange
 from outside, and these in fact are primitive and natural forms in
 which the exchange value of home products finds expression; or
 else it attaches itself to the object of utility that forms, like
 cattle,  the chief portion of indigenous alienable wealth* (183F; 92M).

     As ancient historian Michael Swan and art historian Nicholas
 Gyenes (2002) explain it, *Cattle were the prized commodity on which
 the Greek monetary system was based. The Greek islands of Cyprus
 and Crete during the 16th to 10th centuries B. C. were international
 trading ports where Assyrians, Mesopotamians, and Egyptians met to
 trade their goods. With each territory having its own unique currency
 (Egypt traded in gold, Greece in silver and copper), it was necessary
 to  find a monetary common denominator on which to base trade. The value
 of an ox was universal in antiquity and became the basis on which all
 currency was evaluated. A 25.5 g copper ingot, 8.5 g grams of gold
 were of equal value to a whole ox. This association of monetary values
 with cattle is well illustrated by the appearance of copper and bronze
 tablets cut into the shape of ox hides. Coins eventually replaced bars and
 ingots as currency because they were easier to transport.*

 From at least 717 to 709 BC, Midas ruled the powerful Phrygian
 kingdom in what is now central Turkey. Within a few years of the death of
 Midas c. 680 and the fall of Phrygia, the Lydians, from their capital at
 Sardis, a  city on the Mediterranean coast, moved eastward to fill the
 They expanded eastward until stopped by the Medes at the Halys River.
 Their state included Ephesus and Miletus and was extended as far as
 the Aegean.

 *Under the Mermnads Lydia became a maritime as well as an inland
 power. The Greek cities were conquered, and the coast of lonia
 included  within the Lydian kingdom. The successes of Alyattes and of
 finally changed the Lydian kingdom into a Lydian empire, and all Asia
 Minor westward of the Halys, except Lycia, owned the supremacy of
 Sardis* (British Encyclopadedia, 1911)..

 The electrum coins of Lydia were of two kinds, one weighing
168-4 grains for the inland trade, and another of 224 grains for the
 trade with Ionia. The Greek cities were allowed to retain their own
 institutions and government on condition of paying taxes and dues to the
Lydian monarch, and the proceeds of their commerce thus flowed into the
 imperial exchequer. The result was that the king of Lydia became the
 richest prince of his age.

A BRONZE COIN OF SELEUKOS I NIKATOR (c. 313-281 BC)  Obverse: Head
 of Athena wearing Attic helmet.      Reverse: Humped bull charging to
 right  http://www.seleukids.org/SeleukosNikator.htm

 Lydia profited from being on a commercial land route between
 Mesopotamia and the Aegean and from possessing gold-bearing
 streams. While the Phrygians had acted as a barrier between the
 emerging Greek civilization and the civilizations in Mesopotamia
 and Egypt, the Lydians acted as a bridge.

 Vast deposits of gold in Lydia near the rivers Galis and Meandros,
 and the trade on naval and surface ways from Europe to Asia made
 Lydians a rich people, and this fact encouraged the development of
 the monarchy here. The Pactolus, which flowed from the fountain of
 Tame in the Tmolus mountains, through the centre of Sardis, into the
 Hermus, was believed to be full of golden sand; and gold mines were
 worked in Tmolus itself (British Encyclopaedia, 1911)..

 The wealth created by commerce, decreased their interest in defense,
 and they were defeated by the Persians led by King Cyrus in 546 BCE.
 Anatolia remained under Persian domination for 200 years until 300
 *Though the Lydians may have invented coinage, it was the Greeks who
 developed coinage into the main form of exchange and payment across
 the Mediterranean and beyond* (Shelale).

     Another aspect of Lydian monetary culture described by Herodotus
 was their incorporation of sex for money with temple worship, a move
 that had major ramifications throughout the Mediterranean world. Marx
 wryly noted: *Temples with the ancients served as the dwellings of
 the gods of commodities. They were sacred banks. With the Phoenicians,
 a trading people par excellence, money was the transmuted shape of
 everything. It was, therefore, quite in order that the virgins, who,
 at the feast of the Goddess of Love, gave themselves up to strangers,
 offer to the goddess the piece of money they received* (Marx, 229F;

     In the next installment we look further into the connection of
 Lydian prostitution with the emergence and evolution of coinage
and the growth of sexual slavery. While the footnote by Marx is ironic,
it points to a key facet of the evolution of the money-form, and that is the
 fragmentation, disintegration, and growing stratification of these
communities as they blaze the trail for the full-blown commercialized
slavery of the later patricians.


 Map of Ancient Greece/

 British Encyclopedia (1911), Lydus, the Lydian.

 Davies, Roy and Davies, Glyn (1999), A Comparative Chronology
 of Money from Ancient Times to the Present Day 9,000 - 1 BC.

 Marx, Karl, Capital, Vol. 1 (1976), London: Penguin Books;
 (1987), New York International Publishers.

 Shelale (ND), Shelales's Photos, Travels and other Favorites

 Swan, Michael and Gyenes, Nicholas (2002), Introduction to Greek

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Sun Jun 06 2004 - 00:00:01 EDT