is money? This initially simple question, posed to us today, will
probably garner answers like, cash, credit cards, cheques, travellers'
cheques, amongst others. As can be seen, money exists in various
mediums, and this was also the case in ancient times. Amber, beads,
cowries, drums, eggs, feathers, gongs, hoes, ivory, jade, kettles,
leather, mats, nails, oxen, pigs, quartz, rice, salt, thimbles,
umiacs, vodka, wampum, yarns, and zappozats (decorated axes) were
but some of the kinds of goods used as money.
Money was essentially needed in barter trade, as a payment for another's
goods. The commodities chosen to be used as money were those that
were either easy to store, or had some financial value attached
to it. Thus, this has led to the misconception that money was invented
for trade, but this is actually not the case. The word 'pay' actually
comes from the Latin word 'pacare', which means to pay. Its uses
in trade is but one of its functions; the primary usage of money
is for payment.
of goods is thus only a small part of the payments made with money.
Payment also comes in many other forms. Compensation is one such
usage; dowries were often paid to the bride's family, for causing
them to lose their daughter's services upon marriage. Taxes was
another important function, in which the ruler would demand a certain
amount of a farmer's produce in exchange for settling on his land.
Then, tribute to one's ruler, something akin to gifts; those goods
given away were also for monetary purposes. Not forgetting religious
purposes money in the form of goods were also often required for
sacrifices to the god, to show one's faith.
oldest form of money is probably livestock and plant products. Domestication
of animals had begun long before civilizations began; so too had
farming, and initially, cattle and grain were two very common mediums
of exchange. Later, another common type of money developed-cowrie
shells. These were used by the Chinese and were so successful that
the Chinese pictograph for money came to be depicted by a picture
of the cowrie shell. Another common form of money came in the form
of metals; metal tools and metal jewellery.
were eventually invented in Lydia, and these were, again, made of
metal, an amalgram of gold and silver. Its usage was quickly adopted
by many of the Greek states, and banking transactions in Greece
came to be carried out with coins. Nearby civilizations like the
Persians and other The Roman civilization further established the
use of coins, after years of using heavy, cumbersome bronze bars.
In the days before mechanical printing was invented, Roman Emperors,
apparently, also found the usage of coins to be a good means of
propaganda; they often recorded the messages they wanted to get
across to the common population on coins.
reason why the use of coins was adopted by so many in such a short
period of time was convenience. Before that, in order to ensure
a fair exchange of goods, people had to weigh their produce to encertain
its value so as to be able to use it to make payments. Unfortunately,
payment was a troublesome process and the usage of coins enabled
one to bypass it, by counting the number of coins used instead to
determine the value being exchanged.
reason for the spread of coins was military warfare and conquest.
For instance, it was the victories of Alexander the Great that enabled
him to control the Persian empire, and that provided the Greeks
with a large amount of gold and silver to mint more coins. In addition,
his insistence on a standardized exchange rate between gold and
silver coins (10 : 1) gave people the confidence to use coins, clearing
up confusion, by abolishing the awkward Persian system and implementing
one standard rate for his entire empire.
money comes in the form of not only coins, but also in the lighter
and more convenient form of bank notes. For this, we have to give
thanks to Gutenberg for inventing the printing press, that has enabled
us to produce paper currency. Ironically, the printing press was
actually invented initially to mint better coins.
spread of paper currency was even faster than the spread of coinage.
Its lightness was a big factor, but the biggest reason was that
there as no shortage of paper in the world. Whereas gold, silver
or other metals had to be mined, and were in limited quantities,
paper could be obtained easily.
we are still using paper currency, as well as coins. The invention
of money is probably one of the most important inventions in the
world. Imagine a world without money; how would we conduct our businesses?
How would we buy or sell goods? How would we have any concept of
how much an item costs?
at the same time, although money was initially only a tool of man,
nowadays, increasing numbers of people are becoming the slaves of
money. For money, they will do anything because with money, they
can do anything. The 21st century has seen the progress of most
societies towards democracy, and towards free markets. Yet will
such a move encourage even more such extreme attitudes? Will the
present forms of currency last? Or will they change eventually,
just as they did exist in so many different worlds in the ancient
times? Only time can tell the answer.
Early forms of money used before coins were introduced. They include
rice, dog's teeth, small tools, quartz pebbles, gambling counters,
cowrie shells, metal disks and limestone disks.
Paper currency used all over the world today.