Origins

Monetary History of Egypt

Origins


The monetary history of Egypt appears to be one based upon agriculture. Egyptian sources indicate that a vibrant banking industry emerged whereby the state provided warehouses in which farmers deposited their grain. In turn, the farmer would receive a “deposit receipt” reflecting how much wealth was held by the bank in question. Such written receipts eventually became used as a general method of making payment of debts to third parties during the Ptolemy era including trade, taxes and donations to the gods. Even in the aftermath of the metallic monetary system, grain banks continued to serve as a medium of exchange in Egypt. Precious metals appear to have been used in international trade or in military conquests more so than in local transactions during the early centuries. Naturally, grain deposited in a bank in Egypt would provide little use to a third party in Asia Minor. Eventually, the metallic monetary system displaced the use of grain as a medium of exchange.To a large extent, the Egyptians appear to have used the old barter system for a much longer period of time than the Persians or Greeks. Of course barter included metal items, stoneware, pottery, and linen cloth.During the period of Egypt’s greatness, Old, Middle and New Kingdoms (Prior to the Twenty-ninth Dynasty), a type of currency seems to have existed in the form of gold rings. Tomb paintings show the gold rings being exchanged according to weight. Silver also passed by weight, using the deben of about 15 grams.Based upon ancient coin finds, it would appear that foreign coins did circulate within Egypt from about 500 BC. Silver coins from the archaic period in Greece have been discovered in Egypt as well as gold and electrum coins of Asia Minor , namely Sardes. There is no evidence, however, that these coins circulated in any manner other than by weight based upon metal content. Their standardization most likely did not necessitate their remelting, but as to the extent of their use, it appears to be minimal. If such monetary instruments were popular, no doubt the Pharaohs of Egypt would have competed for at least propaganda purposes.

Egypt was conquered by the Persians and as such must have been familiar with the gold staters of Darius I. It has been recorded that the Persian governor of Egypt, Aryandes, was deposed for issuing a silver coin in imitation of Darius I (no such coinage have ever been discovered).The first known coin to actually be minted in Egypt was an imitation silver tetradrachm of the Athenian “Owl” during the 4th century BC. We also do begin to find some gold coinage during this period. A gold stater of Nectanebo II (359-343 BC), Egyptian Pharaoh, appears to be the first such official issue.In 361 BC, Tachos, an Egyptian rebel who hired Athenian and Spartan assistance in his revolt from Persian hegemony, paid for it with AU staters bearing the head of Athena on the obverse and her owl on the reverse. The legend “TAOS” (tau alpha omega sigma) differentiates the coinage along with an image of a papyrus stem.Artaxerxes III, King of Persia (342-338 BC) issued a tetradrachm of the Athenian type (Athena head/Owl), but with his name in Egyptian Demotic in place of the typical alpha-theta-epsilon. Two Persian satraps followed up with similar types, Sabakes (=Savaka, died 333 BC) and Mazakes (=Mazdaka, 333-332 BC, who surrended Egypt to Alexander III) and their names were inscribed in Aramaic.When Alexander the Great (336-323 BC) conquered the Persian Empire, he was welcomed by Egypt and made Pharaoh. His standardization of the world monetary system marked the first major coinage for Egypt. His silver tetradrachms were minted in the city of Memphis. We also see the introduction of small bronze coinage in Egypt as well baring the portrait of Alexander the Great.


Monetary History of the World
© Martin A. Armstrong