A World Without Money?

First Coin: Lydian electrum trite (4.71g, 13x10x4 mm)

We all need it, most of us want more of it, and some of us place it next to God. Money: where did it all start? This is the history of money.

Considering archaeologists have found examples of ancient coins dating all the way back to 2700BC, it is no wonder that many of us think of money as something that always was and always will be. After all, empires have been built and crushed, fashions have changed, the world has evolved and money is still here, dominating every aspect of our lives. But what did they do before money existed?

The story starts when humans – who had been nomads for millennia – decided to settle down and found agriculture. It was a revolutionary new way of living, one that has not only changed our way of life completely, but that has reshaped the landscape of the entire world and given us the tools to become who we are.

Of course, the monetary system we take for granted today took millennia to be established. For the longest time, our ancestors used a system of bartering, with which they traded goods and services for other goods and services – a cow for a pig, an axe for some meat, etc. This, however, had one major flaw: different people placed different values on the same object.

This led to a prehistoric form of currency that involved everyday objects which everyone needed, such as weapons, salt and animal skins. This was still a fragile system back then, and prices were still up for negotiation. It’s hard to understand it now, but getting everyone to agree on how much something is worth AND accepting a new system in which you get a coin that represents a value rather than it being worth that value, was not easy.

The first place in the whole world to develop a proper currency – proper by our standards, of course – was Lydia, an Iron Age kingdom in Asia Minor. But it was the Chinese who first created paper money all the way back in 600BC! In fact, when Marco Polo visited in 1200AD, he discovered a whole system controlled by the Emperor, with the bills reading ‘All counterfeiters will be decapitated’ – classy!

It was the advent of the Roman Empire – the largest empire history had ever seen spanning from England all the way to the Caspian Sea – that finally pushed things to develop further and exchange rates to be put in place. This is not to say that trade hadn’t existed before, but never on this scale.

All this makes it rather clear why we see money as such an important commodity – one that is worth breaking the law for. Money’s rise has been closely linked to development of our species, and that’s what makes it such an important part of our lives. After all, can you imagine a world without money?

What’s your opinion on the matter? We’d love to know!