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Coins of the Persian Empire


Ardashir I established Sassanian rule. The Sassanians revived the Persian and Zoroastrian civilization and made a remarkable effort to restore the traditions of the Achaemenids.

They established trade relations with their arch enemies, the Romans/Byzantines and the Chinese. Excavations discovered in China indicate Sasanian silver and gold coins that were in use for centuries.

Ardashir occupies a great place among Iranians as the unifier of the Iranian nation, the instigator of the Zoroastrian religion, and the founder of the Pahlavi Empire. Ardashir died in 240 AD and was succeeded by his son Shapur.

Minting the first coin

The ancient kingdom of Lydia, which flourished in pre-Christian times, had the unique privilege of creating the world's first coins. In the beginning, the coins were nothing more than pieces of metal engraved with shapes that quickly developed into beautiful artistic engravings in their own right, in terms of composition, that included characters from Greek mythology.

The ancient Lydians invented coins as a means of authenticating payment. Coins represented a radical change in human history, as their invention represented an important part of the history of trade between peoples since 600 BC.

The official Lydian coin became the official currency of the Lydian Empire, which flourished for many years before falling into the hands of the Persian Empire, and it is believed that the oldest coins on the planet date back to approximately the second half of the seventh century BC during the reign of King Elegates, who was at the head of power in Lydia from 619 to 560 BC.

Numismatic historians agree that the Lydian coin was the first officially issued coin and served as a model for almost all subsequent coins everywhere.

As for Lydian money, unlike the method used in barter, coins were first issued by a central authority or government and coins were made of metal from this period onward.

Persian coinage before the Achaemenids

Before the Achaemenids bronze and silver units of exchange were known in Babylonia. The weight system was based on the še (“measure” of barley): 160 še = 1 šiqlu (> Hebrew šeqel > Eng. “shekel”; cf. Gk. síglos), 60 šiqlu = 1 manū (> Hebrew māneh > Eng. mina; cf. Gk. mna), and 60 manū = 1 biltu (> Gk. tálanton > Eng. “talent”) = ca. 66 pounds. The manū thus weighed about a pound. In western Asia the earliest coinage is believed to have been issued at Sardis in Lydia in the 6th century B.C.E.; the first examples were of electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver. The first coins of pure gold and pure silver are believed to have been produced at the same mint. They carry the confronted foreparts of a lion (left) and a bull on the obverse and two square incuse punches on the reverse, a symbolism generally associated with Persia. For this and other reasons some scholars have argued that all these coins were issued after the conquest of Sardis by Cyrus II in 547 (Price, p. 214; Vickers, pp. 5-8). Others, however, accept the traditional view that the gold coins at least may have been introduced earlier, during the reign of the Lydian king Croesus because of several references in ancient Greek texts to the gold “Croesus stater” (Carradice, pp. 91-92), which it is believed could have been only these coins. At any rate, these coins were issued either from the middle of the 6th century B.C.E. or between 521 and 500.

standardized units of metal

The Achaemenids introduced a unified system of coinage, which facilitated trade and economic transactions, and then minted gold and silver coins with inscriptions that often reflected the king's image or religious images.

Coins differ from earlier media of exchange in that they are usually uniform in weight and purity of the metal and are recognized by the state as valid currency for discharge of tax and other financial obligations. Their introduction simplified exchanges, for people who did not know how to calculate in fractions or decimals and had no knowledge of metallurgy could rely on them without having to weigh and test them in every transaction.

Standardization also simplified public finance, particularly the collection of taxes and tribute from widely differing regions.

A Persian coin called Daric


The era of King Dara was characterized by economic prosperity, as the oldest form of currency in history, the "darik," was known, in addition to unifying weights and measures, regulating commercial laws, encouraging global trade, and raising the level of the economy of the Persian Empire to an unprecedented level of prosperity.

These first coins were made from electrum, a pale yellow alloy that results naturally from mixing gold and silver with additional silver and copper. Also, Persian coins were very popular during the reign of the Sassanians and Persians. In particular, in Susa (in Persia) and in Ctesiphon (the capital of the Sassanians).

Trade played an important role in Persian civilization, especially during the era of the Achaemenid Empire. The empire’s strategic location at the crossroads of major trade routes and its effective administrative systems contributed to creating a prosperous commercial environment.

It was said that the first Persian king to mint money was Kersh, and it was said that he was Darius.

It is true that Kersh was the first king to mint Persian coins in the middle of the sixth century after he defeated Croesus and seized his treasures and mines. Kersh did not imitate the Lydian system of using two weights, one heavy and the other light, in each coin. Rather, he adopted one weight, making the silver piece weigh 86 wheat. The golden one weighs 130 wheat.

Minting coins was the sole right of the king, but perhaps the king would be lenient and authorize the minting of silver coins for one of his workers or one of the Persian secretaries.

Persian gold and silver coins

The silver coin was not widespread outside their country except to a limited extent, unlike the gold coin, which was circulated by various peoples, even their enemies. Because it was of high carat, reaching 970 out of a thousand pure gold, and it used to pay soldiers’ salaries.

Therefore, the Persians were able to employ a large number of hired soldiers, and with them they imposed tribute on the peoples whom they subjected to their rule.

The Persian kings were very careful about the weight and carat of the gold piece, and considered it the symbol of their glory and the reason for their success in foreign trade.

Darius was even proud of his gold coin, and said that it would immortalize his name among the nations after his death.

In contrast, we see that the Persian kings did not care about silver coins; Rather, they would reduce their weight and carat  from time to time when crises occurred, or circumstances forced them to spend on the wars they fought to establish or defend the empire.

In some of these crises, the government collected taxes in kind from the crops, and did not force individuals to deal in cash.


There is no doubt that the Persians were geniuses in financial affairs, according to the consensus of the opinions of those who wrote on this subject. Herodotus attested to this when he described their kings as merchants because of their accuracy in calculations, and Xenophon praised their finance ministers in managing the budget, and Maspero said of their colonization that it was superior in its methods to Roman colonialism.










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