Coins are ubiquitous in modern society, check your pocket and you will undoubtedly find a few right now. Have you ever wondered when the first coins were made? An exhibition at the British Museum tries to answer that exact question. The 1/6 stater, pictured above, is more than 2,700 years old, making it one of the very earliest coins. It was made from electrum, a natural occurring alloy of gold and silver which I discussed in a previous post on Egyptian gold. It was discovered in Ephesos, an ancient Hellenic city in the area of Lydia, known from the bible and a prosperous trading center on the coast of modern day Turkey. The Lydians were the first to have fixed retail shops, probably contributing to the development of the coins. The coin above looks like a tiny nugget with a design on one side only. This ancient stater was hand struck. A die with a design, in this case a lion's head, for the front of the coin was placed on an anvil. A blank piece of metal was placed on top of the die, and a punch hammered onto the reverse. The result was a coin with an image on one side and a punch mark on the other. Even though it looks crude, the weight was strictly monitored.
This cuneiform map of the Babylonian world is an archeological treasure on a par with the Rosetta Stone and the code of Hammurabi. The Babylonian World Map, also known as Imago Mundi is usually dated to the 6th century BCE and is the one of the oldest known world maps and certainly the most famous. We saw this when we were at the British Museum for the Olympics and I thought I would do some posts on famous ancient maps. An inscription on the Babylonian World Map indicates that it was a copy of a previous map and the locations featured on the map indicate that the original could not have been created earlier than the 9th century BCE. The back of the tablet is covered with cuneiform mainly describing Seven Islands or regions which are depicted in the form of equal triangles rising beyond the circle of the Earthly Ocean.
In the photo above, Hammurabi is depicted standing, receiving his royal insignia from the god Shamash. (Babylonian sun god and god of law and justice) His hand is over his mouth as a sign of prayer. (note the similarity to Moses receiving the Ten Commandments) Hammurabi was the ruler who chiefly established the greatness of Babylon, the world's first metropolis. Many relics of Hammurabi's reign (1795-1750 BC) have been preserved, and today we can study this remarkable King as a wise (supreme) judge in his celebrated code. The small stele (8 feet tall pillar) is in the Louvre, one of the great treasures of the collection. In 1901, Egyptologist Gustave Jéquier, a member of an expedition headed by Jacques de Morgan, found the stele containing the Code of Hammurabi in what is now Kh?zest?n, Iran (ancient Susa, Elam), where it had been taken as plunder by the Elamite king Shutruk-Nahhunte in the 12th century BC. It was clearly meant to be a public monument and it shows some signs of wear although it is in remarkably good condition given its ancient age. The photo below is the first row of text below the carving in the intro picture, the words are separated by lines and read left to right.