Monday, December 31, 2012

NBB - Monetary practices In ancient Egypt

"...The shat was linked to the value of gold; one shat was equivalent to 7.5 grams of gold. However, the Egyptians expressed large sums of money in debens, with one deben worth 12 shat and corresponding to 90 grams. So, the shat was worth one-twelfth of a deben. This mechanism could have led the Egyptians directly towards setting up a genuine currency based on gold, but it is interesting to note that from the reign of Ramesses II (Pharaoh from the XIXth dynasty, 1279-1212 BC) onwards, the shat disappeared altogether from accounting texts, which no longer referred to anything other than the deben.

Furthermore, it can also be seen that, from then on, the gold standard was replaced by the silver standard. In order to understand this phenomenon, it is necessary to consider the huge symbolic importance that gold had for the ancient Egyptians. It was considered as the skin or flesh of the gods, and, moreover, the most zealous servants and warriors received gold chains from the king himself, regarded as a veritable god on Earth, at ceremonies called the “gold reward”. Since it was mainly during the 18th and 19th dynasties that this almost metaphysical interpretation developed, this explains why the gold-based currency could never materialize. The administration could not actually afford to associate gold, so rich in divine symbolism as it was, with an object as common as money, which could be handled by ordinary mortals.

As for silver, being the material from which the bones of the gods were made, it, too, was hugely symbolic, although to a much lesser extent than gold. So, the Egyptians could have used it for monetary purposes. However, silver was an extremely rare commodity and it could only be obtained through import, making its use as a currency impossible. Therefore, it was largely symbolic and metaphysical reasons that prevented the Egyptians from adopting the use of money..."


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