Monday, September 4, 2017

The Majority View in Modern Scholarship on the Origin of Electrum Coinage: An Update

In the last post here, I gave a large sample of 48 published works in modern scholarship on the question of the origins of electrum coinage.

I took a sample of late 20th and early 21st century general and specialist ancient historians, numismatists and other relevant scholars.

Professor Selgin points out here that I included some MMT economists in Group 1, but I could have included some free bankers or other libertarian scholars in Group 3.

This is easy to do.

Once again, I take “majority” to mean more than 50% of general and specialist ancient historians and relevant scholars – and a clear majority to be a percentage in the upper range of 55–60% or, ideally, even higher.

Let us start with an updated list of “Group 3” scholars.

Once again, “Group 3” scholars are those who argue explicitly for the private sector (or mostly the private sector) – whether the private wealthy elite, merchants, bankers, or goldsmiths – being the first inventor of coined electrum, or the driving force behind it, and new additions are in bold type:
Group 3:
Seltman (1955: 17–18)
Breglia (1964: 42)
Holloway (1978a: 10–13)
Holloway (1978b)
Price (1983: 6–7)
Furtwängler (1986: 164–165)
Redish (1987: 377)
Selgin (1988: 18)
Glasner (1989: 30)
White (1989: 221)

Schaps (2004: 100)
Furtwängler (2011)
Graeber (2011: 224–225)
van Alfen (2012: 26–27)
van Alfen 2014 (forthcoming in van Alfen 2017)
Melitz (2017: 84): Melitz states it is “possible” private initiate came first in minting coins, but it “cannot be proven.”
Total number of works: 16
If people wish to suggest more additions in the comments, I will update this again.

However, a few hours of research allows one to also update Groups 1 and 2.

So here is a list of “Group 1” modern scholars who support the view that the Lydian kings invented coinage, or at least were the driving force behind it, even if some scholars allow that the kings might have employed private goldsmiths or mint masters to make the coins, with new additions in bold type:
Group 1:
Cook (1958)
Bolin (1958)
Kraay (1964)
Thompson (1966: 2–4)
Jenkins (1972)
Grierson (1975: 10)
Kraay (1976: 28, 317–324)
Grierson (1977: 2–3)
Picard (1978)
Wallace (1987: 386)
Kraay (1988)
Jenkins (1990: 28)
Howgego (1995: 3): Howgego notes that no certain evidence in all of antiquity for coins being produced by private individuals.
Osborne (1996: 256)
Goodhart (1998: 415)
Kurke (1999: 6–10, especially p. 10. n. 19): Kurke accepts Cook (1958) modified by Price (1983), but rejecting the view that private individuals minted coins, and accepting ancient states as the inventor.
Wray (2000: 46)
Stingl (2000–2001: 48)
Whitley (2001: 193)
Le Rider (2001: 85–86, 94–100, 116)
Wallace (2001)
Kim (2001: 10)
von Reden (2002: 152–153)
Wray (2003: 44)
Freeman (2004: 185)
Sacks et al. (2005: 87)
Bresson (2006: 13–14, 5): “These first electrum coins were struck on the same standard by the Lydian kings, but certainly also by a series of Greek cities of the coast, among them Miletus and Teos, and also by Phokaia, but on a different, local standard.”
Wallace (2006)
Peacock (2006)
Rhodes (2007: 38)
Kroll (2008: 17–18)
Hoover (2010: 238)
Semenova (2011a)
Kroll (2012: 44)
Rutter (2012: 342)
Peacock (2013)
de Callataӱ (2013: 13–14)
Hornblower et al. (2014: 182)
Semenova and Wray (2015: 12–13)
Bresson (2016: 264): Bresson states that coined money was invented between 650–625 BC and the ratio of metals manipulated by the “monetary authorities of the city-states and the Lydian monarchy.”
Total number of works: 40
Finally, an addition to “Group 2” scholars, who accept a significant role for the state in inventing coinage, but argue that private individuals were allowed by the state to mint their own independent coins, or were allowed to mint on behalf of the state:
Group 2:
Seaford (2004: 132–134): “with coins perhaps issued by individuals.”
Roisman and Yardley (2011: 7)
Koray and Lorber (2012: 13, 15)
Konuk (2012: 44): “Electrum was a commodity available locally and was largely controlled by the Lydian kings, who turned some of it into coins by applying a design on lumps of electrum of consistent weights”; Konuk (2012: 47): later states: “We do not know whether there was a state monopoly on issuing coinage or whether some wealthy private individuals such as bankers or merchants were also allowed to strike coins of their own.”
Total number of works: 4
So now we can recalculate approximate percentages for the range of opinion in modern scholarship. I have now provided a total sample of 60 published works by late 20th and early 21st century general and specialist scholars.

We can see the following percentages:
(1) Group 1: Kings or the State invented Coinage:
66.66% of total sample.

(2) Group 2: Kings or the State invented Coinage with Private Issues allowed:
6.6% of total sample.

(3) Group 3: The Private Sector invented Coinage:
26.66% of total sample.
So, even in the new percentages, roughly 67% of works of modern scholars support the Group (1) view that the Lydian kings or ancient governments invented electrum coinage. If we combine Group (1) and Group (2) works, then we get a percentage of 73%.

This is a clear majority. There are roughly 27% of scholarly works that form a minority, in which these minority scholars argue that the private sector was the inventor of electrum coinage.

So, just as I predicted, even by expanding our sample size, the percentages have hardly shifted.

At 60 items, this list is surely large enough to be a representative sample, but I can update the list if people suggest more works.

Bolin, Anders Sture Ragnar. 1958. State and Currency in the Roman Empire to 300 A.D.. Almqvist & Wiksell, Stockholm.

Bellinger, A. R. 1968. “Electrum Coins from Gordion,” in C. M. Kraay and G. K. Jenkins (eds.), Essays in Greek Coinage Presented to Stanley Robinson. Clarendon Press, Oxford. 10–15.

Breglia, Laura. 1964. Numismatica antica: Storia e metodologia. Feltrinelli, Milan.

Bresson, Alain. 2006. “The Origin of Lydian and Greek Coinage: Cost and Quantity,” based on a paper at 3rd International Conference of Ancient History, Fudan University, Shanghai, 17–21 August, 2005

Bresson, Alain. 2009. “Electrum Coins, Currency Exchange and Transaction Costs in Archaic and Classical Greece,” Revue Belge de Numismatique et de Sigillographie 155: 71–80.

Bresson, Alain. 2016. The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy: Institutions, Markets, and Growth in the City-States (trans. Steven Rendall). Princeton University Press, Princeton.

de Callataӱ, François. 2013. “White Gold: An Enigmatic Start to Greek Coinage,” American Numismatic Society Magazine 12.2: 6–17.

Freeman, Charles. 2004. Egypt, Greece and Rome: Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Furtwängler, Andreas. 1986. “Neue Beobachtungen zur frühesten Münzprägung,” Schweizer Numismatische Rundschau 65: 153–165.

Furtwängler, Andreas. 2011. “Die ‘Erfindung’ der Münze – wer, wann, wo und Warum,” in Reinhold Walburg (ed.), Geschichte im Geldmuseum 2010. Deutsche Bundesbank, Frankfurt am Main. 5–19.

Glasner, David. 1989. Free Banking and Monetary Reform. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Goodhart, C. A. E. 1998. “The Two Concepts of Money: Implications for the Analysis of Optimal Currency Areas,” European Journal of Political Economy 14.3: 407–432.

Graeber, David. 2011. Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Melville House, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Grierson, Philip. 1975. Numismatics.Oxford University Press, London.

Grierson, P. 1977. The Origins of Money. Athlone Press and University of London, London.

Hall, Jonathan M. 2013. A History of the Archaic Greek World, ca. 1200–479 BCE (2nd edn.). Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken.

Holloway, R. Ross. 1978a. Art and Coinage in Magna Graecia. Edizioni Arte e Moneta, Bellinzona.

Holloway, R. Ross. 1978b. “La ricerca attuale sull’origine della moneta,” Rivista italiana di numismatica e scienze affini 80: 7–14.

Hoover, Oliver D. 2010. “Coins and Coinage,” in Michael Gagarin and Elaine Fantham (eds.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome: Volume 1. Academy–Bible. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 238–248.

Hornblower, Simon, Spawforth, Antony and Esther Eidinow (eds.). 2014. Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization. Oxford University Press, New York.

Howgego, Christopher J. 1995. Ancient History from Coins. Routledge, London.

Jenkins, Gilbert Kenneth. 1972. Ancient Greek Coins. Putnam, New York.

Jenkins, Gilbert Kenneth. 1990. Ancient Greek Coins (2nd rev. edn.). Seaby, London.

Kim, H. S. 2001. “Archaic Coinage as Evidence for the Use of Money,” in Andrew Meadows and Kirsty Shipton (eds.). Money and its Uses in the Ancient Greek World. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 7–21.

Koray, Konuk and Catharine Lorber. 2012. “White Gold: An Introduction to Electrum Coinage,” in H. Gitler (ed.), White Gold: Revealing the World’s Earliest Coins. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. 13–32.

Konuk, Koray. 2012. “Asia Minor to the Ionian Revolt,” in William E. Metcalf (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage. Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York. 43–60.

Kraay, Colin M. 1964. “Hoards, Small Change and the Origin of Coinage,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 84: 76–91.

Kraay, Colin M. 1976. Archaic and Classical Greek Coins. University of California Press, Berkeley, Calif.

Kraay, C. M. 1977. “Early Electrum Coinage” (Review of Probleme der frühen Elektronprägung by Liselotte Weidauer,” The Classical Review n.s. 27.2: 255–256.

Kraay, Colin M. 1988. “Coinage,” in J. Boardman, N. G. L. Hammond, D. M. Lewis, and M. Ostwald (eds.), The Cambridge Ancient History. Volume IV. Persia, Greece and the Western Mediterranean c. 525 to 479 B.C. (2nd edn.). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 431–445.

Kroll, John H. “The Coins of Sardis,”

Kroll, John H. 2001a. “Observations on Monetary Instruments in Pre-Coinage Greece,” in M. S. Balmuth (ed.), Hacksilber to Coinage: New Insights into the Monetary History of the Near East and Greece. American Numismatic Society, New York. 77–91.

Kroll, John H. 2001b. Review of La Naissance de la monnaie, pratiques monétaires de l’Orient ancien by Georges le Rider. Schweizerische Numismatische Rundschau 80: 201–202.

Kroll, J. H. 2008. “The Monetary Use of Weighted Bullion in Archaic Greece,” in W. V. Harris (ed.) The Monetary Systems of the Greeks and Romans. Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York. 12–37.

Kroll, John H. 2012. “The Monetary Background of Early Coinage,” in William E. Metcalf (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage. Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York. 33–42.

Kurke, Leslie V. 1999. Coins, Bodies, Games, and Gold: The Politics of Meaning in Archaic Greece. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Le Rider, G. 2001. La naissance de la monnaie: pratiques monétaires de l’Orient ancient. Presses universitaires de France, Paris.

Meeks, N. D. 2000. “Scanning Electron Microscopy of the Refractory Remains and the Gold and the Gold from Sardis,” in Andrew Ramage and Paul Craddock (eds.), King Croesus’ Gold: Excavations at Sardis and the History of Gold Refining. British Museum Press, London and Cambridge, Mass. 99–156.

Melitz, Jacques. 2017. “A Model of the Beginnings of Coinage in Antiquity,” European Review of Economic History 21.1: 83–103.

Melville Jones, J. R. 1998. “The Value of Electrum and Gold in Greece and Asia,” in R. Ashton and S. Hurter (eds.). Studies in Greek Numismatics in Memory of Martin Jessop Price. Spink, London. 259–268.

Osborne, Robin. 1996. Greece in the Making, 1200–479 BC. Routledge, Abindon.

Peacock, M. S. 2006. “The Origins of Money in Ancient Greece: The Political Economy of Coinage and Exchange,” Cambridge Journal of Economics 30: 637–650.

Peacock, Mark. 2013. Introducing Money. Routledge, London.

Picard, Olivier. 1978. “Les Origines du monnayage en Grèce,” L’Histoire 6: 13–20.

Price, Martin Jessop. 1983. “Thoughts on the Beginnings of Coinage,” in C. N. L. Brooke et al., Studies in Numismatic Method Presented to Philip Grierson. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 1–10.

Redish, Angela. 1987. “Coinage, development of,” in J. Eatwell, M. Murray and P. Newman (eds.), The New Palgrave Dictionary of Money and Finance. Macmillan, London. 376–377.

Rhodes, P. J. 2007. The Greek City States: A Source Book (2nd edn.). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Robinson, E. S. G. 1956. “The Date of the Earliest Coins,” The Numismatic Chronicle and Journal of the Royal Numismatic Society 16: 1–8.

Roisman, Joseph and J. C. Yardley. 2011. Ancient Greece from Homer to Alexander: The Evidence. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester.

Rutter, N. Keith. 2012. “Coinage, Greek,” in Simon Hornblower, Antony Spawforth and Esther Eidinow (eds.), The Oxford Classical Dictionary (4th edn.). Oxford University Press, Oxford. 342–344.

Sacks, David, Murray, Oswyn and Lisa R. Brody. 2005. Encyclopedia of the Ancient Greek World (rev. edn.). Facts On File, New York. s.v. “coinage,” pp. 87–88.

Schaps, D. M. 2004. The Invention of Coinage and the Monetization of Ancient Greece. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.

Schaps, David M. 2006. “The Invention of Coinage in Lydia, in India, and in China,” paper, XIV International Economic History Congress, Helsinki

Seltman, C. T. 1955. Greek Coins: A History of Metallic Currency and Coinage down to the Fall of the Hellenistic Kingdoms. Methuen, London.

Semenova, Alla. 2011a. The Origins of Money: Evaluating Chartalist and Metallist Theories in the Context of Ancient Greece and Mesopotamia. Phd dissert., University of Missouri-Kansas City, Kansas City, Missouri.

Semenova, A. 2011b. “Would You Barter With God? Why Holy Debts and not Profane Markets Created Money,” American Journal of Economics and Sociology 70.2: 376–400.

Semenova, Alla and L. Randall Wray. 2015. “The Rise of Money and Class Society: The Contributions of John F. Henry,” Working Paper No. 832, Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, February 2015

Selgin, George A. 1988. The Theory of Free Banking: Money Supply under Competitive Note Issue. Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD.

Shipley, G. 2000. The Greek World after Alexander, 323–30 B.C. Routledge, London and New York.

Spier, Jeffrey. 1998. “Notes on Early Electrum Coinage and a Die-Linked Issue from Lydia,” in Richard Ashton and Silvia Hurter (eds.), Studies in Greek Numismatics in Memory of Martin Jessop Price. Spink, London. 327–334.

Stingl, Timo. 2000–2001. “Barren oder Münzen? Überlegungen zum Beginn der Elektronprägung in Westkleinasien,” Boreas 23–24: 35–52.

Thompson, Margaret. 1966. “Some Noteworthy Greek Accessions,” Museum Notes 12: 1–18.

van Alfen, Peter. 2012. “Problems in the Political Economy of Archaic Greek Coinage,” Notae Numismaticae 7: 13–32.

van Alfen, Peter. 2014. “The Role of ‘the State’ and Early Electrum Coinage,” Working Paper v.31.1.2014

van Alfen, Peter. 2017. “Public Benefactor or Profiteer? The Role of “the State” and Early Electrum Coinage,” in P. van Alfen, U. Wartenberg, K. Konuk, H. Gitler and W. Fischer-Bossert (eds.). White Gold: Studies in Early Electrum Coinage. American Numismatic Society and Israel Numismatic Society, New York and Jerusalem, forthcoming 31 December 2017.

van Alfen, P., Wartenberg, U., Konuk, K., Gitler, H. and W. Fischer-Bossert (eds.). 2017 White Gold: Studies in Early Electrum Coinage. American Numismatic Society and Israel Numismatic Society, New York and Jerusalem, forthcoming 31 December 2017.

Velde, François R. 2012. “On the Origin of Specie,” Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, February 15, 2012

von Reden, Sitta. 2002. “Money in the Ancient Economy: A Survey of Recent Research,” Klio 84.1: 141–174.

Wallace, R. 1987. “The Origin of Electrum Coinage,” American Journal of Archaeology 91: 385–397.

Wallace, Robert W. 1988. “Walwe. and. Kali,” The Journal of Hellenic Studies 108: 203–207.

Wallace, Robert W. 2001. “Remarks on the Value and Standards of Early Electrum Coins,” in Miriam S. Balmuth (ed.), Hacksilber to Coinage: New Insights into the Monetary History of the Near East and Greece. American Numismatic Society, New York. 127–134.

Wallace, Robert W. 2006. “KUKALIM, WALWET, and the Artemision Deposit: Problems in Early Anatolian Electrum Coinage,” in P. van Alfen (ed.), Agoranomia. Studies in Money and Exchange. Festschrift for John H. Kroll, The American Numismatic Society, 37–48.

Wallace, Robert W. 2013. “Electrum, electrum coinage,” in Roger S. Bagnall, Kai Brodersen, Craige B. Champion, Andrew Erskine and Sabine R. Huebner (eds.), The Encyclopedia of Ancient History. Volume V. Wiley-Blackwell, Malden, MA. 2359–2360.

Wallace, Robert W. 2016. “Redating Croesus: Herodotean Chronologies, and the Dates of the Earliest Coinages,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 136: 168–181.

Wartenberg, Ute. 2016. “Die Geburt der Münze: Die frühe Elektronprägung. Neue Wege der Forschung,” Mitteilungen der Österreichischen Numismatischen Gesellschaft 56.1: 30–49.

Wartenberg, Ute. 2017. “The Birth of Coinage Old questions – New Answers,” Presentation delivered at Ossolineum, Wrocaw, 3 July 2017

White, Lawrence H. 1989. Competition and Currency: Essays on Free Banking and Money. New York University Press, New York and London.

Whitley, James. 2001. The Archaeology of Ancient Greece. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Wray, L. Randall. 2000. “Modern Money,” in John Smithin (ed.), What is Money?. Routledge, London and New York. 42–66.

Wray, L. Randall. 2003. Understanding Modern Money: The Key to Full Employment and Price Stability. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham.


  1. A thoroughly researched and clearly presented article.

    There can be no doubt that, in more recent history, the responsibility for creating new money (and the seigniorage benefit which goes with it) has moved from the state to the private sector.

    Huber and Robertson have explored the benefits associated with bringing this function back to the state, in their book called 'Creating New Money'.

    I wonder about the arguments that were presented to enable the move to private bank created money during the earlier 20th century. What possessed our forebears to allow it? Paraphrasing Hasil Adkins, what the hell were they thinking?

    Any ideas??


  2. "Natural electrum was peculiarly unsuited to be the most saleable commodity that emerged as the general money commodity in line with Menger’s theory of the origin of money." This seems to me disingenuous, LK. Menger's theory does indeed refer to selection among non-monetary commodities; but it hardly excludes the refinement of such commodities, e.g. of precious metals, for the specific purpose of exchange.Here you simply take advantage of the labeling of the "private origins" story as "Mengerian" to effect a criticism that isn't relevant at all. Banknotes didn't grow on trees; yet does that fact contradict the "Mengerian" theory that they were first employed by private goldsmiths? Evidently Menger's theory of how money evolves from commodities is not the whole story of money's evolution: coinage is a distinct chapter of that story, and one that Menger's own theory strictly understood is only indirectly relevant.

  3. "There can be no doubt that, in more recent history, the responsibility for creating new money (and the seigniorage benefit which goes with it) has moved from the state to the private sector." "Seigniorage" is strictly speaking a monopoly rent. Consequently to the extent that private substitutes for government money (e.g. transferable bank deposits) are competitively supplied, there employment mainly involves, not a "move" of seigniorage from the public to the private sector, but a transformation of producers surplus into consumers' surplus. To pine for more government control is to neglect this crucial point. What's at stake is not a simple choice between alternative exploitative monopolies (and all monopolies tend to exploit) but one between a monopoly provider and competitive ones. Private monopoly is of course also an alternative; but it isn't one many if any economists favor.