IMF center
the center
EconEd Online

IMF Center Home
a public center for economics education
720 19th Street, N.W. - Washington, DC 20431

Permanent Exhibit

Ancient Trade Route Collection
"...and Allah created the two precious metals, gold and silver, to serve as a measure of the value of all commodities..."
Ibn Khaldun

This collection of ancient coins is a historical representation of trade between ancient civilizations. Coins serve historians as markers of time. They confirm the powers in place in any given region and define the "money trails" that connected the ancient world. Trade played a key role in transforming attitudes toward precious metal - from it being valued chiefly as weighed bullion to it becoming equally acceptable in the form of coins. In the Near East, the monetary use of precious metals dates back to the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Small pieces of electrum, a naturally occurring amalgam of silver and gold, were stamped with the king's seal to officially designate them as "money." As the first "world currency," staters circulated widely in a flourishing, sea-going trade linking Greek ports with those in Carthage, Egypt, Syria, Italy, and other remarkably distant realms. The sheer extent of this ancient intercontinental trade-based on a civilization shaped by mercantile, not military imperatives-seems all the more amazing given the absence of roads connecting the port cities with the inland kingdoms. By 100 AD, camel caravans were routinely plying the Persian and Kushan Empires exchanging war horses for silk, bronze tools, carved jade, and medicinal herbs. The "Silk Road" was one of the most important economic and cultural connections ever established.