Change is the only constant, the sole certainty in a volatile world. Sometimes infinitesimal – a slight shift occurring beyond the hassled, fragmented consciousness that passes for human attention nowadays, but then cascading into a groundswell that’s hard to ignore. And at others it’s cataclysmic from the get go, metamorphosing an entire familiar ecosystem in an instant to unrecognisable. All change shakes up and reconfigures comfort zones. All change is grist for growth. Adapt, or else! – be consumed. Initiate it yourself, or else be overwhelmed.
The coronavirus pandemic has meant an avalanche of change, too much in too short a time. Climate change, large scale conflicts and civil wars, the refugee crisis remain the major challenges of our era. Unless some major changes are made, we are headed for trouble.
But change also means small sums of money - coinage. The first coins can be traced back to around 600 BCE to Lydia, a Greek state located on the Ionian coast in modern day Turkey. Coins stamped with a lion's head made of a gold-silver alloy called electrum were minted there. The concept of currency had been around for sometime. Cowrie shells were used for trade in Mesopotamia, Ancient China and India and various types of shell money was common around the world really. Now why the Lydians chose to mint coins is not quite crystal clear, but some historians feel coins were an exercise in streamlining and standardising societies that had become rather complex. An elegant experiment, in fact. Coinage allowed the Greek city-states to organise themselves in ways that made citizens feel they were transparent and fair.
The idea spread through conquest and trade. By the 6th century BCE, coins were being minted in Aegina, Athens. Corinth, and Persia had developed their own coins. Gold and silver became the metals of choice rather than electrum. The value of the metal actually reflected the value of the coin, rather than an arbitrary amount stamped on the face as is done nowadays. Ancient Roman coins followed the same principle as did the Celtic ones. Coins were easily carried around and they provided an index of social mobility.
Coins were brought to India by the Achaemenid Empire and the successor states of Alexander the Great. Samudragupta (335-376 CE) is credited with creating the most beautiful coins of the Indian classical age. By that time coins had become powerful statement pieces - they portrayed the power and authority of the ruler, commemorated victories in battles, communicated messages/propaganda and chronicled the milestone changes in the life and times of nations. Quite a big deal really, not exactly small change.