A Comparative Chronology of Money

Monetary History from Ancient Times to the Present Day

9,000 - 1 BC

© Roy Davies & Glyn Davies, 1996 & 1999.

Based on the book: A History of Money from Ancient Times to the Present Day by Glyn Davies, rev. ed. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1996. 716p. ISBN 0 7083 1351 5. (Page numbers in the 3rd edition published in 2002 may be slightly different).

N.B. There is naturally some uncertainty about the earliest dates. Also there is some controversy over the dates of early monetary developments in China which is why the range given here for some of the Chinese moneys is quite wide.

c 9000 - 6000 BC Domestication of cattle and cultivation of crops
Subsequently both livestock, particularly cattle, and plant products such as grain, come to be used as money in many different societies at different periods. Cattle are probably the oldest of all forms of money, as domestication of animals tended to precede the cultivation of crops, and were still used for that purpose in parts of Africa in the middle of the 20th century.

p 41-44

? - c. 3100 BC Writing invented in Mesopotamia
The main use, and probable motivation for its development, is for keeping accounts.

p 49

c. 3000 - c. 2000 BC Development of Banking in Mesopotamia
Banking originates in Babylonia out of the activities of temples and palaces which provided safe places for the storage of valuables. Initially deposits of grain are accepted and later other goods including cattle, agricultural implements, and precious metals.

p 49

c. 2575 BC Construction of the Great Pyramid at Giza
Given the limited range of uses of money in certain ancient civilizations, the completion of large-scale and long-term projects was usually based on detailed state planning, often involving slavery. Similarly, the much later but rigidly hierarchical civilization of the Incas in Peru managed without money at all.

p 17,47

c. 2250- c. 2150 BC Cappadocian rulers guarantee quality of silver ingots
The state guarantee, probably of both the weight and the purity of her silver ingots, helps their wider acceptance as money.

p 60

c. 1792 - c. 1750 BC Reign of Hammurabi in Babylon
The Code of Hammurabi includes laws governing banking operations.

p 49-50

c. 1200 BC Cowries used as money in China
The Chinese character for "money" originally represented a cowrie shell. Cowries have been used as money in many different places at different periods. In parts of Africa they were used for this purpose as recently as the middle of the 20th century.

p 35-36,54-55

c. 1000-500 BC Tool currencies adopted in China
These were metal models of valuable implements that had previously been accepted in commercial exchanges, e.g. spades, hoes and knives.

p 55

c. 950 BC Queen of Sheba visits Solomon and they exchange gifts
The Biblical account of their encounter is probably the best known example of competitive gift exchange.

p 13

687 BC Crude "coins" invented in Lydia (according to Herodotus)
Herodotus criticises the gross commercialism of the Lydians who are not only the first people to coin money but also the first to open permanent retail shops.

p 63

c. 640 - c. 630 BC The first true coins produced in Lydia
The earliest coins made in Lydia, Asia Minor, consisted of electrum, a naturally occurring amalgam of gold and silver.

p 61-63

c. 600 BC Pythius operates as a merchant banker in Asia Minor
Pythius, who operates throughout western Asia Minor at the beginning of the 5th century BC, is the first banker in the area of Greece and Asia Minor of whom we have records. Many of the early bankers in Greek city states were Greek city states were "metics" or foreign residents.

p 71

c. 600-300 BC Round, base metal coins invented in China
The date is uncertain but these were probably at least roughly contemporary with the development of coinage in the West, and possibly much earlier. Being made of base metal the Chinese coins were of relatively low value and therefore inconvenient for expensive purchases.

p 55

c. 600 - c. 570 BC Use of coins spreads rapidly from Lydia to Greece
Aegina (c. 595 BC), Athens (c. 575 BC), and Corinth (c. 570 BC) start to mint their own coins. Prior to the introduction of coinage the Athenians had used iron spits or elongated nails as money.

p 45,64,74

c. 550 BC Lydians produce separate gold and silver coins
During the reign of Croesus the Lydians began to produce coins of pure metal instead of electrum. This is the world's first bimetallic coinage.

p 62

546 BC Croesus King of Lydia is captured by the Persians
As a result, use of coins spreads to Persia. Unlike the Greeks the Persians use mainly gold coins in preference to silver.

p 61,65,66

546 BC Athenian Owls produced
These coins are first produced by the tyrant Peisistratus, using silver from the Laurion mines 25 miles south of Athens.

p 69

c. 490 BC Discovery of a Rich Seam of Silver in the Laurion Mines
Themistocles subsequently persuades the Athenians to use some of the proceeds to build a fleet of warships.

p 69

480 BC Battle of Salamis
Greek civilization is saved by the victory of the Athenian fleet over the Persians.

p 69

407 BC Sparta captures the Laurion Mines
Sparta releases 20,000 slaves from the mines and cuts off supplies of silver to Athens.

p 76

406 - 405 BC Athens issues bronze coins with a silver coating
The Athenian public hoards silver coins which, as a result, quickly disappear from circulation, leaving only the inferior bronze ones.

p 76

405 BC Aristophanes' comedy The Frogs is produced
In the play Aristophanes refers to how the new, inferior coins have displaced the old superior ones from circulation - probably the world's first statement of Gresham's law, that bad money drives out good.

p 77

394 - 371 BC Career of Pasion the Athenian banker
Pasion, a slave, becomes the wealthiest and most famous Greek banker and gains his freedom and Athenian citizenship in the process. Greek banking transactions are carried out primarily in cash.

p 71

390 BC The Gauls attack Rome
The cackling of geese in the capitol, where the city's reserves of money are kept, alerts the defenders. The grateful Romans build a shrine to Moneta, the goddess of warning, and from Moneta the words money and mint are derived.

p 89

360 - 336 BC Reign of Philip II of Macedonia
Philip unites Greece and Macedonia. During his reign he deliberately mints far more coins than required for the immediate needs of his kingdom, probably to support the campaign against Persia that he was planning before his assassination. Among these coins is the golden stater celebrating his triumph in the chariot race in the Olympics in 356 BC - an early example of the use of coins as propaganda. These staters are widely circulated among the Celts of central and northern Europe whose earliest coins are copies of Philip's.

p 79-80

c. 350 BC Normal rate of interest in Greece is 10% except for risky business
According to Demosthenes 10% is the normal rate of interest for run-of-the-mill business. For risky business such as lending for shipping rates of between 20% and 30% are normal.

p 73

336 - 323 BC Reign of Alexander the Great
During the conquest of Asia Minor the cost of maintaining Alexander's army reaches about 20 talents or half a ton of silver a day but later enormous quantities of Persian bullion are captured. The coining of the previously stagnant Persian gold stocks and payments to Alexander's soldiers, many of whom settle in new towns founded by him, give an enormous stimulus to trade throughout his empire. Alexander also simplifies the exchange rate between silver and gold by fixing it at 10 units of silver equals one of gold.

p 79-86,640

323 - 30 BC Empire of the Ptolemies in Egypt
For long before Egypt came under Greek control grain had been used as a form of money in addition to precious metals, and state granaries functioned as banks. The Ptolemies transform the local warehouse deposit system into a fully integrated giro system with a central bank in Alexandria. Payments are made by transfer from one account to another without money passing.

p 51-54

275 BC The aes signatum or bronze bars are still commonly used as currency in Rome
These cumbersome bronze bars are later superseded by coins which are much more convenient.

p 88

269 BC Regular issues of silver coins are minted by the Romans and widely circulated
Despite the example of the Greek colonies on the southern Italian mainland and Sicily, and of Carthage, the Romans are relatively late in adopting coinage.

p 88

218 - 201 BC 2nd Punic War between Rome and Carthage
Because of the enormous demand for coins to pay troops the Roman rulers debase their coinage in purity and weight, causing inflation.

p 88-89

c. 200 BC Delos becomes a prominent banking centre
Delos, a barren Greek island, capitalises on its magnificent harbour and famous temple of Apollo to become a financial centre. Its rise is aided by the defeat of Carthage, one of its main rivals, by the Romans. Transactions are carried out by giro or credit transfer.

p 77-78

118 BC Leather money issued in China
This consists of pieces of white deerskin, about one foot square, with a value of 40,000 cash. (The cash was the name of a base metal coin).

p 180

55 & 54 BC Julius Caesar raids Britain
In his account of his two raids Caesar notes scornfully that the Britons still used sword blades as currency. However a number of the Celtic tribes had begun to mint their own coins of gold, silver, bronze and potin (alloys of copper and tin).

p 45,89,113-116

30 BC - 14 AD Reign of Augustus Caesar
Augustus reforms the Roman monetary and taxation systems issuing new, almost pure gold and silver coins, and new brass and copper ones, and also introduces three new taxes: a general sales tax, a land tax, and a flat-rate poll tax.

p 95

Go to the Top Go the the Chronology of Money Go to the next part of the chronology
 Top  Home Page  1 - 499 AD

[ Top ]
[ Chronology of Money ]
[ History of Money, essays & chronology ]
[ Biography of Glyn Davies ]
[ Book Orders ]
[ Money - past, present & future ]
[ Financial Novels by Linda Davies ]
[ Roy Davies' Home Page ]

Roy Davies - Last updated 25 May 2005.