Use of Metals as Money
Before the existence of money as we know it today, metals were used as a means of exchange, in more or less regular ingots or in the form of small jewels or small objects that were weighed in each transaction.
That mercantile system worked in Egypt, Assyria, or Babylon. A certain fixed quantity of a given metal represented a fixed value, and corresponded to a weight scale.
Thus, in the ancient Semitic world, the shekel was a measure of weight rather than a coin. Things had a material value or estimate that was graded or measured in a certain amount of raw gold or silver.
The importance of weight in the first coins is evidenced by the name of almost all of them in the ancient world. Formerly money was not counted, but weighed.
The ace, or pound, was also called pondo, which gave rise to sestertium, one of the heaviest copper or silver coins in the Roman world. Also to the denarius, whose value was equivalent to ten aces, and is the term that has given rise to the word “money”.
The denarius was silver and was worth almost as much as a Greek drachma. Also in the semantic field of weights and measures is the liter, antecedent of the pound, measure of weight or unit of account.
Other coins, such as the obolus, were of peasant origin: it was equivalent to sixteen grains of barley or fourteen and a half of wheat, the twentieth part of the shekel. The Roman ounce was worth two shekels.
In addition, the talentumes name of currency directly related to the world of weights and measures: the major Jewish talent was worth twelve thousand drachmas, and the minor talent was worth only four drachmas.
Many of today’s currencies, such as the ruble, the lira, the pound, the peso or the old peseta, still express units of weight.
Despite this, among primitive societies, barter continued until recent times. Currently, in Abyssinia, gunpowder and salt are still the normal form of payment among farmers and herders. In Haiti, canes filled with coconut oil circulate as currency, and even today the natives of Fiji accept coconut nuts as currency.