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Coins bring great change
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 26 - 08 - 2010

Nevine El-Aref visits the newly-opened temporary exhibition at the Egyptian Museum
The Egyptian Museum is holding a temporary exhibition on "Coins Through the Ages". Over the past eight years the museum has hosted a series of temporary exhibitions, the most recent of which focussed on five artefacts that had been repatriated to Egypt. The temporary exhibition gallery in Room 44 has also hosted a series of exhibitions on excavations under the direction of foreign missions, including teams from America, France, Poland and the Netherlands.
"Coins Through the Ages" includes a vast collection of gold, silver and bronze coins dating back to historical eras from the late Pharaonic right through the Mameluke period. Also featured in the exhibition are a gold belt of Ptolemy III Euergetes and a number of gold bullion pieces from the fourth century AD. These objects were previously placed on display in the coin and papyri section of the museum.
To highlight the distinguished collection, says Sayed Hassan, co-director of the Egyptian Museum, the museum will use the exhibition to show how Egypt's political, economical and religious history can be traced through its coinage.
Wafaa El-Seddik, the director of the Egyptian Museum, says the exhibition is the first of its kind and will include early coins bearing hieroglyphic symbols.
Mohamed Abdel-Fattah, the head of the museum department at the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), says that before the invention of a monetary system people bartered their surplus crops and cattle amongst themselves to obtain the necessary commodities. The invention of coins provided the means of transition from a barter system to a monetary system. Metal coins are divisible, variable in form, convenient for trade with foreign markets and can be saved for use at a later time.
The first people to invent a coinage-system were the Lydians of Asia Minor in the second half of the seventh century BC. The rich Greek merchants trading in the city-states on the western coast of Asia Minor adopted the Lydians' weight-system and began to issue oval ingots stamped with seals to guarantee weight and purity. After about 600 BC the use of coinage spread rapidly to Greece, and there, owing to improved techniques, coins developed into a splendid quality. Croesus, King of Lydia (560-546 BC) was the first ruler to strike coins in gold and silver.
During the Pharaonic period, gold, silver and bronze rings and large bronze ingots were sometimes used in the barter system. When the Persians first came to Egypt in 525 BC they brought their coins with them. The Egyptians treated these coins as ingots, valuing them based on their weight in metal and sometimes melting the coins for other uses. In the 30th Dynasty the Egyptians revolted against the Persians, and Nectanebo and his son, Tachos, struck Athenian coins to pay the Greek soldiers who helped them fight the Persians. The coins were also used in transactions with Asian merchants. These famous coins were called nwb-nfr, based on the two hieroglyphic signs on the obverse (or front surface), meaning "fine gold". These rare coins, which have a picture of a horse on the reverse (or back surface), are now representative of the transition from barter to coinage in Egypt. The nwb-nfr coins were still likely to have been used in the barter system as well as in a monetary fashion with foreigners, since the ancient Egyptians had not yet adopted a monetary trade system.
When Alexander the Great came to Egypt in 332 BC he considered himself a successor to the Pharaohs. During his reign, the typical coin bore depictions of deities or religious symbols. Alexander's image appeared on coins after his death in 323 BC. In this image he was portrayed as a deity or a hero on the obverse, while Zeus was represented on the reverse.
In approximately 306 BC the Greek governor became an independent ruler, and shortly thereafter the first coinage of an independent Egypt was created. When Ptolemy I Soter proclaimed himself to be the king of Egypt, he struck his own coins in gold, silver and bronze. On the obverse was the head of Ptolemy I and on the reverse was an eagle on a thunderbolt, both symbols of Zeus. Around the edge of this scene appeared the king's name in Greek characters.
During the Roman era beginning with the reign of Augustus Egypt had special coins known as Alexandrian coins. These coins were named after the city in which they were minted and were restricted to use within Egypt. These Roman coins also had Greek inscriptions. The obverse showed a depiction of the emperor's head; the revers, beginning in the third century AD, bore representations of various Egyptian, Greek and Roman deities. After the Arab conquest of Egypt in 641 AD the name of the minting location on the coins was changed to the Arabic script.


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