According to experts and ancient authors, it was the Lydians who invented gold and silver coinage. Although much of its history is unknown or inconsistently written, Lydia was first to not only create coins but also establish retail stores. However, the very first Lydian Coin was composed of a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver, otherwise known as electrum. In ancient times, electrum was considered gold or white gold, in contrast with refined gold.
The Lydians were also the first people to strike symbolic animals on coins, such as the lion and bull. Lions are a common theme of Lydian coinage because they represent strength and royalty. Furthermore, Lydia was renowned for its wealth and possession of large gold supplies, and explains why the Lydians were the initial developers and introducers of metallic coinage.
Cities and empires managed without coins for thousands of years until Lydia introduced its own coinage over 2500 years ago. Lydia was a well-positioned trading center where the Lydians became important mediators between East and West. They were also the first merchants, however, it’s unlikely that Lydian Coins were used for trade and commerce.
It is generally thought King Alyattes hoarded his coins, as well as issued Lydian Coins to pay his workers and mercenaries. The King of Lydian also probably used his coins for gift-giving purposes. Some believe that his coins were used in long-distance trade since many Staters were found in Ionian temples.
While we do know that Lydian Electrum Staters (the first Lydian Coins) were minted during the early part of King Alyattes’ reign, the precise production date of the first coin is unknown. These coins depicted the king’s symbol of a roaring lion and were made from a mixture of electrum and copper.
The Lydians used electrum found in the Paktolos River in Lydia. According to ancient mythology, the electrum found in the Paktolos River came from King Midas, who used the river for bathing and washing away his ability to turn everything he touched into gold. In actual fact, the electrum was from electrum-laden quartz deposits near Mount Tmolos, now known as Mount Bozdag.
After the death of Alyattes, Croesus was crowned king of Lybia and replaced Lybian Electrum Coins with gold and silver coins. He purposely created coins that could be used internationally and used some of them to pay for the build of the temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Croesus reigned for 14 years from 560 BC until his defeat by Persian king, Cyrus the Great. Lydian Coins were briefly issued by King Cyrus I at the beginning of his reign before minting his own uniquely Persian Coins.
Lydian coinage began with King Alyattes, Lydia’s ruler between 610 and 550 BC. As mentioned above, the first coin minted was made of electrum, as well as a small amount of copper. The weight of the coin indicates that it’s a trite or one-third of a stater. It is thought that this coin is the largest denomination from this period and the Lydian’s would have just called it a stater, rather than a trite.
These Electrum Staters are stamped with an incuse punch on the reverse and a small shining sun above a large lion’s head on the obverse. The lion is facing right and shown looking fierce, roaring with teeth bared. As a symbol of King Alyattes, the lion was an obvious choice for the obverse side of the coin. Electrum Staters, including the largest denomination and fractional weights were struck in the Lydian capital at the Sardis Mint.
When King Alyattes died in 560 BC, his son Croesus ascended the throne. Croesus put an end to the Electrum Staters and, instead, began minting the world’s first bi-metallic coinage. Also rare, Croesus’ Stater depicts a lion and bull facing one another on the obverse, with the lion on the left and the bull on the right. These Lydian Coins were highly pure Gold and Silver Staters and produced in the same fractional denominations as the Electrum Staters. Although irregular in shape and size, all Lydian Coins were minted to a strict weight-standard.
When you consider that Lydian Coins were struck 2500 years ago, it’s quite unbelievable to think that specimens can still be found on the market today. As you can imagine, there is significant demand for these coins because of their amazing history and fascinating designs.
Though scarce, some Lydian Coins are not especially rare, like the Electrum Lydian Lion Coin for example. We mentioned earlier that the Persians continued to strike coins from the same dies used to make Lydian Coins, which may have helped to boost mintage figures. These coins do, however, command a significant premium, particularly those in fine condition.
If you’re looking to purchase Lydian Coins, you’ll be pleased to know that Capital Gold Group can help you acquire these hard-to-find pieces. As is always the case, we specialize in sourcing only authentic coins from the ancient world. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions you have or to discuss how to go about ordering genuine Lydian Coins.