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Good as gold - coins are history

Gold is power - gold gives prestige. By minting gold coins, rulers have enabled people to meet and exchange values ​​in confidence for the past 2,600 years. And individual exploits live on by being honoured in gold.

Gold coins from the Collection. Photo and collage: Museum of Cultural History, UiO/ Lill-Ann Chepstow-Lusty

The invention of coins, and thus money in the modern sense, had major consequences for human activities such as trade, agriculture, the creation of cities and the organisation of society. Money ensured that people who did not trust each other could cooperate effectively. Money is the only trust-based system that can cross almost any cultural divide, and it does not discriminate on the grounds of religion, gender, race, age or sexual orientation.

All that glitters is gold

For 5,000 years, gold has meant status, wealth and a measure of value. Gold has been prominent throughout the history of money, from the first coins in Asia Minor from about 625 BC until the twentieth century when gold reserves formed the foundation of our monetary systems.

Gold coins and medals have always been associated with prestige and great value. They have had the greatest value throughout history, whether King Croesus’ largest coins, Roman emperors’ gold medallions, the most valuable coins minted in the Middle Ages and in more modern times, or the most prestigious awards for individuals.

The world’s first coin

Photo: museum of Cultural History, UiO/ Mårten Teigen.

The first coins in the world were made in Lydia and Ionia in present-day Turkey. King Alyattes, the father of Croesus, was the inventor. The coins he minted over 2,600 years ago are thought to be the very first coins. The Lydian kings are also the first people known to have refined gold.

The introduction of coins made it possible to trade goods at a profit and thus amass wealth. A person’s social status gradually came to be measured by the amount of money he had, rather than in cows or property as before. Much agricultural produce eventually became priced in a market, and households began to shift from producing for their own needs to producing as much as possible to sell it for money/coins in a market.

The invention of coins had important consequences for early moral philosophy. Key questions discussed were what the good life was, whether receiving money was slavery and whether it was right to strive for wealth and material goods.

Good as gold

The exhibition shows the world’s first coin, selected gold coins from the past 2,600 years and a cow. Fridtjof Nansen’s and Roald Amundsen’s extensive collections of decorations and gold medals are also displayed. In the gold portal we can also see 15,000 gold coins from the gold reserves of the Bank of Norway. This gold played the leading role in one of the greatest dramas of the German occupation of Norway. Many of these items have never been exhibited before.

The exhibition was opened to mark the 200-year anniversary of the Coin Cabinet in 2017.


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Published May 26, 2017 2:02 PM - Last modified July 12, 2018 10:36 AM