money


Middlemen, 2001, aernout mik, Born Netherlands 1962, Single-channel video installation, Courtesy of the artist and the Carlier Gallery | Gebauer

From the time human societies were formed and people began to exchange commodities, the problem arose of how to determine the worth of specific goods (how many tomatoes equal one goat?). Furthermore, demand is also subjective and variable (what the goat's owner needs right now is shoes, not tomatoes...). Initially, the solution was to use as medium of exchange a variety of items — dried tea leaves, salt, beads, fur — that were valuable to all. With the expansion of trade beyond the borders of a specific society, however, this too became problematic as not every culture held these items in the same regard. The solution came with the emergence of coins, and later banknotes, which set fixed standards for all and thus enabled different countries to carry out economic transactions.

Coins as we know them first appeared in Asia Minor around the 7th century BCE. Made of electrum — an alloy of gold and silver — they were issued by a recognized authority that strictly controlled their weights to guarantee that they would correspond to agreed standards. The idea of minting coins spread to the Greek islands and after some 180 years also reached the Land of Israel. In parallel and quite independently, China and India also developed coinage as a system of exchange in the 6th century BCE.

Today, even though it consists mostly of electronic currency rather than physical entity, money as a convention still rules supreme and everybody yearns for it.