World’s Oldest Coin Is Shrouded in Mystery
One of the world’s oldest coins was recently sold in Germany. The price? Over $380,000. Issued between 600 and 625 B.C., this coin is unique because of the stamp of Phanes. The exact identity of Phanes remains unknown. And perhaps it’s the not knowing that makes this ancient coin so valuable.
"I am the badge of Phanes" is one of the English translations of the stamp. The words can also be translated as the more cryptic “I am the tomb of light.” Since Phanes was the god of light, and also the word for light, the ancient words can be interpreted in many different ways. Some philosophers have surmised that the inscription served as a telling prophecy for currency, and was inspired by the divine. Others think it’s the name of a wealthy merchant who wanted to secure his legacy. Whether inspired by man or god, these coins and their origins are captivating.
There are four examples of these types of coins. Known as “Staters of Phanes,” the denomination of these coins is one stater. A stater is an early currency from ancient Greece. Denominations began at 1/96, and went up to one stater. There were seven total denominations. Only the two highest denominations had the Phanes stamp.
The image of a deer also appears on all the staters, and deer are important in Greek mythology. The goddess Artemis is often depicted in the form of a deer. Several Greek cultures worshipped deer, so while the deer stamp is telling, it doesn’t offer any concrete clues as to the coin’s origins. Some theorize that the deer is a family emblem, included to show the good standing of the issuer’s heritage.
Though who exactly minted these coins is a mystery, what they are made of, and where they’re from is well known. The coins are made from what’s known as electrum, which was a common metal used in ancient Greece. An alloy composed of silver, gold and small amounts of copper and other metals, electrum is naturally occurring. Ancient Greeks sometimes referred to electrum as gold or white gold.
The coin’s geographic origins are also well established. The coin was produced in western Asia Minor. Today, that region is known as Turkey. Between 600 and 625 B.C. — when this coin was issued — people of this region worshipped Greek gods. So the Greek mythological references make sense. Phanes is one of the more important gods in Greek mythology, which lends credence to the theory that the coin was created in his honor.