The Other Coin: Ancient Gold Coins

Ancient gold coins began in the early 7th c. BC in Lydia with the marking of natural
occurring mixtures of gold and silver called electrum. They were stamped with
simple hammer marks, then appeared with a lion. In the next century the famous
coins of Croesus were minted with refined gold and silver planchettes, most often
with the lion and a facing bull. The Persian Empire conquered Lydia shortly thereafter
and began minting gold and silver coins with the Great King as an archer. These coins
flooded Greece as bribes to local kings in preparation for Darius invasion. They were
called Darics after Darius, the king of Persia and these "archers" were considered
more effective than those in the army, effectively converting northern Greece to the
Persian cause and dividing most of the rest of Greece and the Greek colonies in Asia
Minor.
Gold coins were not a market coin, being far too valuable. They were used for
international transactions and courtly or imperial bribes and negotiations. Gold coins
were a mark of large wholesale trade or court favor. Athens established its trading
empire on silver coins and silver was the coin that paid soldiers and merchants. Gold
coins were often medals to commemorate victories or for large transactions. Egypt,
rich in gold, did not mint coins until Ptolemy minted the coins as examples of imperial
largess (coins of Arsinoe, Ptolemy III and Ptolemy IV below), except for a few gold
medals made to pay Spartan soldiers by Pharaoh Necho. Alexander the Great's gold
coins with helmeted Athena and a standing Nike on reverse were more widely
distributed to high ranking officers and petty kings, but were not fully developed as
market coins before his death.
The exceptions to the rare use of gold was the Carthaginian and later the Roman
Empire whose large trading ventures and bureaucracies demanded payment in gold
for routinely large transactions. The Carthaginians or Phoenicians continued the gold
stater with the head of beautiful Astarte and reverse of a horse often with palm tree
behind. The Romans developed the gold aureus (Augustus/Nike holding globe below)
that lasted as the solidus of Constantine (one of Valentinian below with reverse
holding Nike, foot on captive) and the Byzantine empire, an imperial standard
accepted by the medieval West. Gold return to the rare use to high ranking soldiers
and bureaucrats, international diplomacy, or imperial favor in the Byzantine empire.

Numismatically yours, David Elliott