This page includes information that may not reflect the current views and values of the Penn Museum.


The use of coins of standardized size and weight for exchange grew out of practices originating in the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age. Goods were bartered first for cast bronze ingots and later for small pellets called "dumps." When the dumps were struck with an emblem guaranteeing their value and origin, they became in effect the first true coins. These appeared around 650 BC in western Anatolia. Click here for coin types.

By 600 BC Lydian regal coins were made of electrum, a natural alloy of silver and gold; electrum was adopted by the Asia Minor Greeks for their coins as well. Later, many Greek city-states adopted silver. In the later 5th century BC, small change in bronze made its first appearance, supplementing the silver issues. Except for Lydian and Persian coins, gold was used only sparingly until the middle of the 4th century BC During the Hellenistic period gold, silver, bronze and occasionally electrum were all used for public and private commercial exchange throughout the Mediterranean. Many variant weight standards for coins were used throughout the Greek world. Obol, litra, stater, drachm, didrachm, tetradrachm, octodrachm, and decadrachm are terms for some of the more common denominations. Click here for coin technique.

© Copyright 2002