From Salt to Squirrel Pelts: Strange forms of money

In this materialistic world money is one of the most sought after things. There are very few things which money can’t buy and thus, we have seen people, through the ages, fighting bloody, gory wars or exploring unknown lands to possess more and more money. In our common parlance, money is represented by currency notes and coins- coins of precious metals which have their own material value or coins of not-so-precious metals whole value lies in their formal recognition from the governments. However, apart from these common forms, money and more generally wealth has been represented by various other forms through the ages. Some of these things are bizarre; others are so mundane that we can’t even think of them as representing wealth on the first instance. Here we have prepared a list of such things which are not well known as a form of representing wealth from various corners of the world.

Salt

Salt was one of the most sought after commodity in ancient world. In ancient times it was not as easily available as it is today. In ancient China, salt was used to pay taxes by the subjects. The Roman state occasionally pays its soldiers in salt. The Latin for salt- “salarium” is the root word of salary. Even in modern times, some nomadic groups from Ethiopia used salt as a medium of barter.

Cowry Shells

Cowry shells were extensively used in various parts of south east Asia, India, China, and eastern Africa as medium of exchange. They were collected from the sea. The Indian subcontinent experienced a demonetization process in the early medieval ages (c. 6th century CE- 11th century CE). Coins became scarce in this period and cowry shells became the main medium of exchange and business. Even in the modern age, Indian merchant community considered cowry shells as auspicious items and linked it to the Hindu goddess of wealth, Laxmi.

Arrowhead coins

These were actually small pieces of bronze cast in the shape of arrowheads. They originated as early as 7th century BCE in the northern shores of the Black Sea. With time, the artisans who produced these pieces acquired some artistic skills and this was reflected in the more sophisticated execution of the arrowhead coins. The later arrowhead coins were produced in shapes like fishes and dolphins.

Peppercorn

Peppercorn is one of the most extensively traded spices from the ancient times. At present, the trade in peppercorns accounted almost a quarter of all the spice trade around the world. Peppercorn was highly valued in ancient times. Its value was as high as gold and thus, when the Huns and the Visigoths siege Rome they demanded large quantities of peppercorn as ransom. The trade in peppercorn and other exotic spices from south east and south Asia in the early modern ages was one of the main impetuses behind the formation of large European colonial empires in these regions.

Squirrel Pelts

In medieval Russia and Finland, Squirrel pelts were considered as highly prized possession and extensively used as a medium of exchange. The mass killing of squirrels for their pelts in Russia ironically saved the Russians from the devastating effects of cannabis, the Plague epidemics which were frequent visitors in medieval and early-modern Europe.

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