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The British Academy

The British Academy

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Excerpt from The British Academy: The Gold Coinage of Asia Before, Alexander the Great

The first issue of pure gold was due to Croesus, not to Darius. It seems likely that the principle that the issue of gold coin was the first privilege of authority was one which made its way slowly and perhaps almost unconsciously. From age to age it became more solidly fixed: and the Roman Empire maintained it even more rigidly than did that of Persia.

There is, however, another question as to which modern expert opinion is more divided. If we allow that the issue of gold was a right jealously guarded by the Great King, how far does this apply to the issues of white gold or electrum, of that mixture of gold and silver which was in ordinary use for coinage in the earliest period? Did Persia regard these as issues of gold? or did Persia place them on the level of issues of silver? or did it pursue a middle course in regard to their authorization? This is not an easy question; and it is one on which we may hope to throw some light in the course of the present investigation.

I propose to divide my subject into five sections, as follows: -
I. The early electrum coinage.
II. Croesus to Darius.
III. The Ionian Revolt.
IV. Electrum coins, B.C. 480-330.
V. Gold coins of the same period.

I. The early Electrum Coinage.

It is generally thought, alike by numismatists and historians, that the coinage of the western world took its origin on the coast of Asia Minor in the eighth or at latest in the seventh century B.C., in those primitive and rude coins of electrum, which are now abundant in our museums. Of this coinage I do not propose to treat in detail, as it has been the subject of able papers by Head, Babelon, and other writers, nor is it possible to discuss it without taking into account a multitude of small numismatic considerations, the introduction of which would thwart the purpose of the present paper, which is to give a broad historic sketch. I will, however, give a brief summary of views held in regard to it.

In the first place, it has been disputed to whom belongs the honour of the first invention of coins. We know from Julius Pollux that this question was much discussed by his learned authorities.

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