A model of the beginnings of coinage in antiquity

JACQUES MELITZ

EUROPEAN REVIEW OF ECONOMIC HISTORY, Volume 21, Issue 1

Abstract: There have been important advances by archeologists and numismatists in recent decades in the study of the beginnings of coinage in Ionia, Lydia, and Greece before the fifth century B.C. This paper provides a model of the birth of coinage that brings these advances into a broad analysis of the subject-matter. It pulls together many factors that are often treated separately. In addition, the model yields one important new result. Contrary to popular assumption, early coinage was not highly profitable. The Lydian government and the Greek city-states provided an extremely wide array of denominations of coins in a single precious metal at considerable cost. Their willingness to bear this cost must have reflected a political strategy of promoting coinage. Such a political strategy would also be easy to explain. As a large payer and recipient of money in the form of precious metals, the government had much to gain from the spread of coinage in order to economize on transaction costs in its own affairs.