The Egyptian Museum, Cairo opened a new temporary exhibit entitled: Coins Through the Ages on August 10. Over the past eight years the Egyptian Museum has hosted a series of temporary exhibitions, the most recent of which focused on five artifacts which were repatriated to Egypt. The temporary exhibition space (Hall 44) has also hosted a series of exhibits on excavations under the direction of foreign teams. This includes teams from America, France, Poland and the Netherlands. This exhibition was curated by Sayed Hassan, who did an excellent job and will be working with the new Egyptian Museum in Rome. I’m including here the text from the brochure that will be handed out during the exhibit.
Before the invention of money, people bartered their surplus crops and cattle amongst themselves to obtain necessary commodities. The invention of coins provided the means to transition from a barter system to a monetary system. Metal coins are divisible, variable in form, convenient for trade with foreign markets and can be saved for use at a later time.
The first people to invent a coinage-system were the Lydians of Asia Minor in the second half of the 7th century B.C. The rich Greek merchants int he city-states on the western coast of Asia Minor adopted the Lydians’ weight-system and began to issue oval ingots, stamped with seals to guarantee weight and purity. After ca. 600 B.C. coinage rapidly spread to Greece, and there, owing to improved techniques, coins developed into a splendid quality. Croesus, king of Lydia (560-546 B.C.) was the first to strike coins in gold and silver.
During the pharaonic period, gold, silver and bronze rings and large bronze ingots were sometimes used in the barter system. When the Persians first came to Egypt (525 B.C.) they brought their coins with them. The Egyptians treated these coins as ingots, valuing them based on their weight in metal and sometimes melting the coins for other uses. In the 30th dynasty, the Egyptians revolted against the Persians, and Nectanebo and his son Tachos, struck Athenian coins to pay the Greek soldiers who helped fight the Persians. The coins were also used in transactions with Asian merchants. These famous coins were called the nwb-nfr coins based on the two hieroglyphic signs on the obverse (or front surface), meaning “fine gold.” These rare coins, which bore a picture of a horse on the revers (or back surface), are now representative of the transition from barter to coinage in Egypt. The nwb-nfr coins were still likely to have been used in the barter system as well as in a monetary fashion with foreigners since the ancient Egyptians had not yet adopted a monetary trade system.
When Alexander the Great came to Egypt in 332 B.C. he considered himself a successor to the pharaohs. During his reign, the typical coin bore depictions of deities or religious symbols. Alexander’s image appeared on coins after his death in 323 B.C. In this image he was portrayed as a deity or a hero on the obverse, while Zeus was represented on the reverse.
In approximately 306 B.C. the Governor became an independent ruler and shortly thereafter the first coinage of an independent Egypt was created. When Ptolemy I proclaimed himself to be the king of Egypt, he struck his own coins of gold, silver and bronze. On the obverse was the head of Ptolemy I and on the reverse was an eagle on a thunderbolt, both symbols of Zeus. Around the edge of this scene appeared the king’s name in Greek characters.
During the Roman era, beginning with the reign of Augustus, Egypt had special coins, known as Alexandrian coins. These coins were named after the city in which they were minted and they were restricted to use within Egypt only. These Roman coins also had Greek inscriptions. The obverse showed a depiction of the emperor’s head; the revers, beginning in the 3rd century A.D., bore representations of various Egyptian, Greek and Roman deities. After the Arab conquest of Egypt in 641 A.D., the name of the minting location was changed into Arabic script on the coins.