In the second half of the seventh century BCE, Western Asia Minor saw a groundbreaking innovation: the creation of coinage, a monetary tool which was to have an extraordinary long history. This paper would like to reanalyze the history of the various steps in the history of coinage in the ancient Greek world. In the first phase was minted a precious metal coinage under the form of electrum coins; then was minted a precious metal coinage under the form of gold and silver coins; then finally was introduced a low value bronze coinage. Many questions immediately arise. What were the motivations of the Greeks and Lydians when they introduced the first electrum coinage in the seventh century BCE? What are the reasons that might explain the sequence of the development of coinage in ancient Greece? Could not it have been the other way round and couldn’t it have all begun with the low value bronze coins? Do the several phases correspond to the development of one and the same logic or, beyond an apparent similarity, do we face in fact disconnected phenomena the existence of which cannot be justified by one single factor? These are a few of the questions that this paper would like to address.
Alain Bresson is Robert O. Anderson Distinguished Service Professor and Associate Member in the Department of History at the University of Chicago.