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NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE

1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

The ox as a monetary standard

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At some point in the hominids’ evolution must appear the goods exchange or barter. This so simple and straightforward system can be used even today for exceptional trade operations, but certainly it would be very cumbersome for the development of an economy with large trade or huge commercial exchanges. It was necessary then to find a valuation system based on a pattern or unit. That is, it was necessary to invent the money, the coins and the currency and this happened in the Bronze Age, in the second millennium BC.

At some point in the hominids’ evolution must appear the goods exchange or barter. This so simple and straightforward system can be used even today for exceptional trade operations, but certainly it would be very cumbersome for the development of an economy with large trade or huge commercial exchanges. It was necessary then to find a valuation system based on a pattern or unit. That is, it was necessary to invent the money, the coins and the currency and this happened in the Bronze Age, in the second millennium BC.

Among livestock people, such as Indo-European Greek or Latin people, the first pattern or barter unit was undoubtedly the cattle, the ox, which was also the valuable animal as an offering for sacrifice and thus perhaps it became a reference for exchange. This was the case with the Greeks of the heroic age, as Homer reflects in Iliad, VI, 234-236:

                 Then Zeus Cronida made  Glaucus lose his mind,
                 who exchanged his weapons with the Tidida  Diomedes,
        gold by bronze, ones that were worth a hundred oxen by others being worth nine.

               ἔνθ᾽ αὖτε Γλαύκωι Κρονίδης φρένας ἐξέλετο Ζεύς,
          ὃς πρὸς Τυδεΐδην Διομήδεα τεύχε᾽ ἄμειβε
             χρύσεα χαλκείων, ἑκατόμβοι᾽ ἐννεαβοίων.

Pliny says in Naturalis History 33 (3) 7:

Some, he tells us (Homer), would make their purchases by bartering ox-hides, and others by bartering iron or the spoil which they had taken from the enemy: and yet he himself, already an admirer of gold, was so far aware of the relative value of things, that Glaucus, he informs us, exchanged his arms of gold, valued at one hundred oxen, for those of Diomedes, which were worth but nine. Proceeding upon the same system of barter, many of the fines imposed by ancient laws, at Rome even, were levied in cattle, [and not in money]. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S., H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A., Ed.

alios coriis boum, alios ferro captivisque res emptitasse tradit. quare, quamquam ipse iam mirator auri, pecore aestimationes rerum ita fecit, ut C boum arma aurea permutasse Glaucum diceret cum Diomedis armis VIIII boum ex qua consuetudine multa legum antiquarum pecore constat etiam Romae.

Or in Iliad, XXIII, 705
                          
                            The Pelida deposited the third set of awards immediately
                            for the rough fight, after having exhibited them to the Danaans:
                            for the winner a large tripod to put the fire,
                            valued at the price of twelve oxen by the achaeans each other
                            and for the loser he stood up a woman at the center
                            skilled in many tasks, who was priced in four oxen.


                            Πηλεΐδης δ᾽ αἶψ᾽ ἄλλα κατὰ τρίτα θῆκεν ἄεθλα
                            δεικνύμενος Δαναοῖσι παλαισμοσύνης ἀλεγεινῆς,
                           τῶι μὲν νικήσαντι μέγαν τρίποδ᾽ ἐμπυριβήτην,
                           τὸν δὲ δυωδεκάβοιον ἐνὶ σφίσι τῖον Ἀχαιοί·
                          ἀνδρὶ δὲ νικηθέντι γυναῖκ᾽ ἐς μέσσον ἔθηκε,
                           πολλὰ δ᾽ ἐπίστατο ἔργα, τίον δέ ἑ τεσσαράβοιον.

(Even today among some Asian and African people the bride´s price is set according to heads of livestock, whether beef cattle, camels or any other ...)

The currency, as we use it today, appeared probably in Lydia or the Asiatic Greece in the seventh century BC.

Among the Latin people the reminiscences of their relationship with livestock are obvious. The word " pecus, - oris " means cattle, flock, herd; from pecus derives pecunia which in principle means wealth, fortune, because according to Festus in the Antiquity the fortune consisted on cattle; it also means coin, money without requiring further explanation .

Interestingly the first coins of copper or metal, remarkable progress at the time, were simple very heavy metal bullion (the one that appears in the illustration measuring 24 x 18 cm), sometimes in the form of an ox-hide, called " aes rude = raw as, no coined "and then, perhaps in the V century BC, coined with the printed figure of an ox or bull (aes signatum). The figure of a sheep or pig sometimes appears printed on them.

Later, coins that kept showing the figure of an ox or bull on the reverse were very common.

From pecunia derives pecuniary, from the Latin pecuniarius which means "belonging or relating to cash" according to the Royal Spanish Academy.

From pecunia also comes peculium, from the Latin peculium, which means, also according to the RAE, "Finance, volume or fortune the father or lord allowed the son or servant to take for their own use and trade and then, by extension, money each one has particularly, whether or not he is a family child”. Its source is naturally in the part of the herd that the master allowed the slave or caretaker to take for his livelihood.

Capital derives from capitalis and this one from caput, capitis (head), which in this economic context refers, of course, to the head of cattle; so to accumulate capital means to accumulate heads of cattle, that is, money.

As it´s obvious from capital (capitalis in Latin) come other words such as capitalism, capitalist…so often used nowadays in the trade world and in an economic and ideological context.

"Capitalis" in classical Latin refers also  to death penalties or crimes; with economic sense we find the classical Latin term “capitarium”, referring to the principal of a debt, rent or income.

From the word capitalis also derives “caudal”, a Spanish word (before cabdal) = finance/ fortune, in English, which means, among other things, "Finance, assets or goods of any kind, and most commonly money”, according to the dictionary of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language. And the word is used in this sense in the expression "safe, strongbox or safe-deposit box” (= box of “caudales” in Spanish).

The word money, coin (“moneda” in Spanish) has a curious origin. In the republican Rome the money was coined in a dependency near the temple of Juno Moneta. Moneta was one of multiple determiners or names with which they (the Roman people) referred to the goddess Juno, the goddess Hera for the Greek people. Moneta means "the informant, the protector, the one who takes care of us, who warns us, who advises us"

Look that this explains not only the origin of the Spanish word “moneda” (coin) but also the origin of the English word “money” (but as we will see next money is said “dinero” and not money in Spanish and its provenance has another different explanation).

The term money (dinero, in Spanish) derives from denarius, (at the same time derived from the also Latin " deni " which means ten), silver Roman coin, imitation of Greek coins, that was started to be coined in 269 BC approximately, and that was equivalent to ten bronze coins called as.

From "denarius” comes “dinar" which is the name of the monetary unit in many Arab countries.
The study and art of collecting coins is called numismatics, word derived from the Latin numisma or nomisma, Latin transcription of the Greek νόμισμα, which literally means "moneda= coin", related to νόμος meaning usage, custom, law.

Related to this world of the coin is the word ceca, mint, place, institution, workshop in which the coins are minted or coined, which comes from the Arabic " dar al- sikka " (mint, house of the coin).

On another occasion we will discuss the Greek and Roman monetary systems.

   
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