Judaea Capta Coin of Vespasian
Rome (Italy), 71 C.E.
- 3/4 in. (1.9 cm)
- The Jewish Museum, New York
- Gift of the Samuel Friedenberg Collection, X1983-88
- Digital image © 2006 The Jewish Museum, New York Photo by Ardon Bar Hama
Metal coins were first used as money in Anatolia (now Turkey) in the 7th century BCE. Their use quickly spread throughout the ancient world. Although people had previously traded precious metals, the first coins (made of electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver) were different because they had an officially standardized weight and value. Their standardized weight and small size made trade more convenient and efficient.
From the beginning, coins typically displayed portraits of the rulers who produced them. In many cases, coinage offers the only known images we have of these ancient rulers. Because coins frequently depict reigning kings and specific historical events, they can often be dated with a high degree of accuracy. They can also help to date occupation levels or other artifacts found along with them. In addition, because coins may be found thousands of miles from their origins, they can shed light on ancient trade patterns.