Friend of the blog and all-round wonderful person Terence P Ward asked me to talk a little bit more about money. Seeing as there was flattery and flattery will get you everywhere, I guess I'm writing about money today. Head's up, a lot of this is from the Oxford Companion To Classical Civilization.

"I was wondering if I could entice you to do another post on money, seeing that your research skills are heroic. Specifically, I would like to learn what the Hellenic word for money is, and how that informs our understanding of the Hellenic relationship with the stuff. I guess that would be the etymology I'm asking about. Any interest?"

As far as I am aware, the ancient Hellenic word for 'money' is 'momisma' (νόμισμα). It's derived from νομίζω (nomizō), 'to hold or own as a custom or usage, to use customarily', in turn from νόμος (nomos), 'usage, custom', ultimately from νέμω (nemō), 'I dispense, divide, assign, keep, hold'. In modern Greek, the word 'nomisma' means 'currency', and it is also a term used by numismatists--people who study or collect currency, including coins, tokens, paper money, and related objects--when referring to the pieces of money or coin. The plural is 'nomismata'.

The use of coins most likely began in western Anatolia, at the point of contact between Hellenic cities on the Aegean coast and the Lydian kingdom. The first coins were made of a natural gold and silver alloy named 'electrum', and were most likely made around 600 BC. Purely gold and silver coinds followed quickly, and they carried depictions of lions and bulls.

Nowadays, we make use of money dor any purchase, but it's highly unlikely that these early coins served the same purpose. There were differences in weight, purity, and size between coins from various city-states--even when they were close together--and thus the value of a coin was... flexible. At best. It most likely took decades for coins to become a standardized method of payment, and in the beginning, the coins were most likely only used for large-scale payments that needed to cross great distances. Gold coins are easier to transport than goods with the same value, after all.

By the second half of the sixth century BC, golden coins had all but disappeared in favor of solid silver ones. A great variety of coins emmerged--some lighter and of less value for direct barter, but most heavier than the base currency, intended solely to be transported over great distances to make a payment. From the Aegean area, the medium of coinage spread rapidly to the western Hellenics settled around the coasts of southern Italy and Sicily, France, and Spain. Early Corinthian coinage in particular influenced some of the first coinages in the west.

Alexander the Great adopted the Attic weight standard for coins and even after his death, the system he had put into place remained fairly stable. Bronze became an oft-used medium to mint coins in, and started replacing silver. Even so, the value of the coin held, and slowly, the coin developed a worth beyond the price of the material it was made from.

Terence, I hope this is what you were looking for. If not, you know where to find me, right? The Pagan Blog Project Post will be up tomorrow.