Coins in the USC Archaeological Research Collection
Today when we want to buy something, we pay with money, usually in the form of paper or coins, if we are paying cash. For much of the world, for much of history, however, money was not used as the basis for exchange, and what we think of as money, coins, were not used until the 7th century B.C.
Coins first were used by the Greeks, although metal in some form was used earlier in many other parts of the ancient world to purchase goods or services. The first coins were used in the Lydian kingdom, in the area of eastern Turkey, and soon spread to other parts of the Greek world, then beyond to other cultures and realms.
Coins were usually made by placing a piece of metal of the right type or weight between two dies which had been carved with the appropriate likenesses, symbols and inscriptions. The dies were struck with a sledge-hammer to create an impression on both sides of the metal. Images found on coins could include the heads of rulers, symbols of cities, and inscriptions, or, in earlier times, simple geometric shapes.
GREEK AND ROMAN COINS
Below are examples of Greek and Roman coins in the University of Southern California Archaeological Research Collection. The first are coins produced under Alexander the Great between 332-321 B.C. The third coin was made under the Emperor Vespasian, who ruled the Roman Empire from A.D. 69-79.
Alexander III Coin: Macedon Tetradrachma
Alexander III, the Great, Coin: Macedon c. 325 BCE
Caesar Vespasian Coin
FIRST JEWISH REVOLT YEAR 3 SILVER SHEKEL, 68/69 C.E.
When the Jews revolted against Rome in the year 65 C.E., they minted their own coins as a symbol of their break from the Roman Emperor. This coin was minted during the third year of the revolt. The obverse (left) shows a Temple vessel, and the inscription “Shekel of Israel” in paleo-Hebrew, the archaic Hebrew alphabet. The reverse depicts pomegranates, and the inscription “Jerusalem the Holy.”
Photographs by Bruce and Kenneth Zuckerman, Marilyn Lundberg and Amanda Wrobleski
Commentary by Marilyn J. Lundberg
Resource: A. D. H. Bivar, "Coins," in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, Volume 2. New York: Oxford University, 1997, pp. 41-52.