Page images
PDF
EPUB

been deceived; and the bulk of an article was not always the proper criterion of its worth, since some articles of great magnitude were of trifling value, while others of inferior bulk were in the highest estimation. It was also impossible, in many instances, to divide, without spoiling, the commodity in request, according to the proportion suited to the mutual wants and ability of the buyer and seller. It became absolutely necessary, therefore, to have recourse to some general medium in commerce, and that medium varied according to the produce of the country in which it was carried on. In some it consisted of, shells, in others of cocoa-nuts, in others of leather or paper; so that, if the reader will excuse the joke, we see a paper-currency was established in the earliest ages. Such was the first rude money, a word which explains itself, being derived to us from moneta, since it advised one of the price of an article.

The cowries, or white shells, ?.t this day used as currency in India, and the small Siamese coins, in form resembling nuts, are, in all probability, relics of this ancient usage before metals were so generally adopted as the representative signs of the value of articles of

commerce. commerce. It was the beauty, firmness, and durability, of metals, that occasioned them to be so adopted, but it was many ages before they were stamped with any impression descriptive of their weight or value. It was the custom of the merchant, as in fact is still practised in China, - to carry a certain portion of gold or silver into the market, and, having previously furnished himself with proper instruments and scales, he cut off and weighed out, before the vender of the commodity wanted, as many pieces as were proportioned to the purchase of it. The great inconvenience and delay occasioned by this mode of carrying on commerce, soon induced the merchant to bring with him pieces of money, already portioned out, of different weights and value, and stamped with the marks necestary to distinguish them. There is very great reason to believe that the earliest coins struck were used both as weights and money; and indeed this circumstance is in part proved by the very names of certain of the Greek and Roman coins: thus the Attic mina and the Roman libra equally signify a pound; and the cTctr^ of the Greeks, so called from weighing, is decisive as to this point. The Jewish shekel kel was also a weight as well as a coin, three thousand shekels, according to Arbuthnot, being equal in weight and value to one talent.* This is the oldest coin of which we any where read ; for, it occurs in Genesis, ch. xxiii. v. 16, and exhibits direct evidence against those who date the first coinage of money so low as the time of Crœsus or Darius; it being there expressly said, that Abraham weighed to Epbron four hundred shekels ofstivert current money with the merchant.

Having considered the origin and high antiquity of coined money, we proceed to consider the stamp or impression which the first money bore. The primitive race of men being shepherds, and their wealth consisting in their cattle, in which Abraham is said to have been rich, when, for greater convenience, metals were substituted for the commodity itself, it was natural for the representative sign to bear impressed the object which it represented; and thus accordingly the earliest coins were stamped with the figure of an ox or Sheep. Fe* proof that they actually did thus impress them, we can again appeal to the high autho

* Arbuthnot on Ancient Coins, p. 39.

Vol. VII. H ri$ rity of Scripture; for there we are informed that Jacob bought a parcel of a field for an hundred pieces of money. Genesis, ch. xxxiii. v. 19. The original Hebrew term, translated pieces of money, is Kesitoth, which signifies Lambs, with the figure of which the metal was doubtless stamped. We have a second instance of this practice in the ancient Greek coin, denominated Bag, the ox-, and we meet with a third in the old brass coins of Rome, (whence I before observed the public treasury was called œrarium,) stamped, before that'city began to use gold and silver money, with the figure of a Jheep, whence the Latin name pecunia. Sigmtum est not is pecudum; unde et petunia appellata.* In process of time, when empires were formed, and men crowded into cities, coins came to be impressed with different devices, allusive either to the history of its founder, some remarkable event in the history of the nation, their accidental situation, or the predominant devotion of the country. Thus the ihekel of the Jews had Aaron's rod budding, with a smoaking censer. The Tyrians had their Petiæ Ambrofiæ, and serpen

* Plinii Nat. Hist. lib. xxxiii. cap. 3.

tine emblems, of which some curious examples may be seen in the fifth engraving of this volume. The Athenian coins bore impressed an owl, and Pallas. The maritime race, who inhabited the Peloponnesus, had a testudo, or shell, as their symbol; the Persians, practised in the use of the bow, an archer, which is the constant device on the Darics; the Thessalians, a horse; the Byzantines, situated on the Thracian Bosphorus, a dolphin twisted about a trident.

Although I have combated the idea of the Lydian or Persian money being the first that was ever coined, I am induced, by the general and united attestation of ancient classical writers, perfectly to acquiesce in the judgment of medallists, that the coins of those nations were the first stamped with the effigies of the reigning prince; and the priority of coining money is, with great propriety and probability, assigned to Crœsus, the wealthiest monarch of Asia, when his capital was invaded and taken by Cyrus, who forbore to plunder that rich city, on the express condition, thai both the monarch and the inhabitants should, without reserve, bring forth their whole amassed wealth, which must have amounted to a props h 2 digious

« PreviousContinue »