The History of Money
Money has preoccupied us and influenced our actions for centuries. For more than three thousand years, money has manifested in many forms from seashells, cacao beans, and slabs of stone to various gold and silver coins stamped with images of gods and political leaders. Yet, in spite of its long history and powerful effect on our lives, money remains a subject that is neither taught nor widely understood.
Exploring our historical relationship with money, both our societal past over generations and our own personal experience, is essential to understanding and changing our relationship with it. History has played a significant role in forming the unconscious patterns and beliefs that shape our lives.
If the purpose of history is to learn from our past and present mistakes so that we may apply those lessons to our future, it seems rather remarkable that the topic of money has been swept under the proverbial rug. Have we chosen to disregard the history of money because it is far too frightening to look at? Or have our attempts to understand it, let alone explain it, simply failed? Regardless of the reasons for this avoidance, it remains clear that we must develop a basic understanding of our historical experience if we are to shift our individual and collective consciousness about money.
Just as there have been times of great economic prosperity when civilizations grew to unparalleled heights, there have also been periods when money and its use have disappeared completely for hundreds of years. Money has repeatedly disappeared and resurfaced during humankind’s ongoing attempt to exert financial control over our destiny and that of the world.
From the beginning of recorded history, human beings exchanged goods and services as a means of survival. Commodities such as food, animals, fur, tobacco, and even people, in the form of slavery, have been exchanged for other goods and services. This barter of one thing for another, however, had a very different energy from the exchange of money for goods. Early commerce created community out of necessity. People had little choice but to become interdependent, relying on one another for basic needs and survival.
Money altered this reality and changed human experience in ways that were inconceivable before its invention. As people began to rely on one another less and less, the experience of community diminished – although there was still a longing for it. Once money was in widespread use, the needs and desires of human beings changed dramatically, and they have grown more complex and challenging ever since.
The Birth of Money
Although money in the form of gold and silver ingots (referred to by the ancient Hebrews as shekels) was used as far back as 3,000 B.C.E. in Mesopotamia, precious metals were too scarce for any widespread trade or economy to be possible. The real birth of money came between 560 and 546 B.C.E. when Croesus, the king of Lydia, began making the first standardized gold and silver coins for the purpose of commerce. This new medium of exchange virtually changed the course of human history and gave rise to the first retail marketplace, giving people far greater access to goods and services than they had ever had before.
As money, goods, and commerce increased, so did the human desire for more. It is interesting to note that the Lydians invented not only coins but also the game of dice, forging a relationship between money and gambling that lives on today.
Because of his efforts to conquer other kingdoms and widespread conspicuous consumption, the wealth created by Croesus was all but spent in a relatively short period of time. Although Croesus’s empire fell, the money legacy he left behind would shape the world in ways that no one could have imagined.
The neighboring Greeks were aware of the Lydians’ success with coins and commerce and, coincidentally, had just discovered silver deposits near Athens. Before long, the Greeks began minting silver coins, and Greece became the center of trade for the eastern Mediterranean world. As the trade business grew, it became a tremendous source of wealth.
Money not only changed the way business was conducted in Greece, it also changed Greek society and extended Greece’s ties to the outside world. As a result, social relationships that were once based on established connections and mutual survival no longer bound people together.
As money changed the relationships between the Greek people and the world around them, it also changed their values and beliefs. As wealth grew, people began to have more leisure time and to pursue new forms of artistic and intellectual endeavors. For the first time, because of the influence of money, creative human potential could be taken to new heights. In ancient Greece, money gave rise to intellectual, artistic, and spiritual transformation.
Money and Greed: Early Warning Signs
News of coin money eventually traveled to Rome. In no time at all, the Romans began minting their own coins and building the first money-centric civilization in the world.
Although the Greeks established the use of money, the Romans created the first global marketplace and the first consumer-oriented society. Quick to discover how money could buy them almost anything, the Romans went on a spending binge that would ultimately destroy them. (The phrase “shop till you drop” was probably first used during this era!)
Rather than becoming producers themselves, the Romans relied heavily on the outside world for goods of all kinds. When they ran short of money, they simply financed large armies to plunder riches from other lands. Between their ever-rising military costs and insatiable and extravagant lifestyle, the Romans finally hit bottom by the end of the fourth century C.E. when their empire fell.
This great money-centered society managed to survive for nearly a century, only to fall beneath the weight of its own greed. Instead of facing their own responsibility (as is true of all addicts), the Romans blamed money for their demise. The fall of the Roman Empire was followed by the period known as the Dark Ages, and money, the convenient scapegoat, all but disappeared from Western Europe for nearly one thousand years.
Planting the Seeds of Mistrust
By the beginning of the twelfth century C.E., Europeans had developed such a mistrust of money that even the wealthy did not want to associate directly with it. The Crusaders solved this dilemma by creating a sacred military order known as the Knights of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem (in 1118 C.E.). The Templars, as they were known, were chaste and spiritually devout; they were also fierce warriors with sworn vows to protect the Holy Land and the riches of the European nobility.
The Templars created a powerful international banking institution by providing financial transactions and protection on behalf of the rich for a fee. They were highly revered, and by all accounts the trust they received was truly earned by their commitment and loyalty to their vows.
At this same time, the king of France, Philip IV, was running short on funds. Known as Philip the Fair, the king was ruthless and vain and had an insatiable appetite. He was a tyrant of the worst kind. Knowing that the Templars had possession of the greatest source of wealth, he set his sights on attaining it.
Because he knew how beloved the Templars were, he realized he could not wage war against them, so he set out on a path of merciless persecution. By accusing them of sexual perversion, human sacrifice, sodomy, and cannibalism, King Philip convinced his people that the Templars had obtained their wealth by making a pact with the devil.
As a consequence, in 1310 C.E., the Templars were publicly tortured into “confessions” and burned at the stake. In the aftermath, the Christians lost the Holy Land to the Muslims. This story, as well as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible, has been interpreted as a sign of God’s wrath over the sins of the people.
After the demise of the Templars, the battle between the church and the state of France over who would control the Templars’ fortune began in earnest. Within a year, because of the severe financial abuses of Philip IV, the French empire collapsed, and both the Pope and King Philip were dead – leaving yet another lasting impression on the collective psyches of humankind.
The First Gold Rush
Shortly after Columbus “discovered” the Americas, the Spanish and Portuguese kings began to mine the riches of native Indians throughout North and South America. Their hungry pursuit of gold and silver brought a great influx of money from all corners of the world. This pursuit unleashed a force that could not be contained.
Between 1500 and 1800 C.E., the Spanish and Portuguese brought literally tons of silver and gold into circulation. Unfortunately, the Spanish and Portuguese royalty did not heed the lessons of their European neighbors. They consumed heavily, and they also could not get enough. So much wealth flooded their economies that a wave of inflation began that could not be stopped.
There was so much gold and silver that the rich lined everything in it, from their buildings to their clothing, wearing their wealth as a symbol of power and status. Although gold and silver continued to pour in, the kings spent it faster than it could be shipped.
Eventually, they were forced to borrow from other governments, who did not hesitate to charge them a high premium for their expensive lifestyles. Jack Weatherford best describes the force of money created during this time in his book The History of Money:
“In conquering America, Spain opened a pipeline that pumped a torrent of silver into the world’s economy, but Spain was helpless to control that flow. Neither Chinese emperor nor Ottoman sultan, neither the Persian shah nor Russian czar proved any more adept at channeling or controlling it than the Spanish kings. Spain had unleashed a power that raced around the globe and operated with a force of its own, independent of church and state. The wealth of America had run amok, and the world would never again be the same. 2 “
The Last Frontier: Money in America
Although paper money was invented by the Chinese as far back as the first century C.E., its widespread use was pioneered in the United States by Benjamin Franklin, who clearly envisioned the role that paper money would play in modern economic life.
Franklin was a deeply spiritual man who valued ideas above money and a staunch advocate of hard work and moderate consumption. (If only Ben could see us now!) By the end of the American Revolution, which was largely financed by paper money, the United States was heavily in debt.
American currency had become so devalued that it was practically worthless. In 1780, Congress stopped issuing paper currency and people relied on the old standby, coins. The public distrust of paper money became so great that paper currency remained absent for nearly a century.
Eventually, paper money was resurrected by the first Legal Tender Act in 1862, which supported the value of currency with a gold reserve, and continued to be backed by the gold standard until 1971.
In 1971, confronted with severe economic problems cased in part by the still raging Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon recognized that he needed more money than could be backed by the government or its gold reserves.
President Nixon convinced Congress to take the U.S. Dollar off the Gold Standard altogether. Following in the footsteps of previous rulers throughout history, President Nixon was given free rein to borrow billions of dollars to finance the government in an attempt to keep it afloat.
Today the U.S. dollar is a fiat currency, which means that it is created and made legal by our government and is not based on or convertible to anything. The Gold Standard that had provided a solid and credible foundation for U.S. currency is literally, history.
Although the U.S. government owns over $100 billion in gold reserves, none of these reserves provides any security against the U.S. dollar. The money we use is backed by nothing more than our belief in it and our government’s ability to control it.
In 1971, since our money was no longer redeemable in gold, new money was printed and the inscription “Payable to the Bearer on Demand” was replaced with the words “In God We Trust.”
So it was that the leaders of our country created the first money system based purely on belief rather than on tangible reality. The words “In God We Trust” stand as a lasting testimony to the fact that our leaders had no idea what the consequences of this choice would be. The fate of our world and of money was placed in the hands of God. Whether our leaders knew it or not, this move placed us closer to the truth about money than ever before.
Money and Its Meaning Today
After thousands of years and generations of human experiences, the subject of money and its meaning still remain unconscious mysteries to most of us. It is time for that to change.
Historically, when the power of money begins to expand and reshape itself, the existing financial and social infrastructure has always changed. Today technology has created the fastest, most illusive form of money ever known or imagined – a new worldwide digital currency. The “gold” harvested in the Silicon Valley unleashed yet another powerful influx of money that flooded the world.
Electronic money flows through invisible currents across the globe with the click of a mouse. Never before has so much wealth had the capacity to move so quickly and to change the fate of so many people in a matter of seconds.
We have created such a powerful force, and yet we still fail to understand its greater meaning and relationship to our lives. This lack of consciousness has hurt us historically, creating an environment of economic exploitation. Some believe we are on the verge of being destroyed as a result. But we can change that legacy if we raise our consciousness about money.
The ability to change and manifest our reality moves in direct relationship to our level of consciousness. If we desire our relationship with money to change, we need to be willing to look at our present beliefs and how we acquired them. As our awareness grows, we will realize our own power to manifest whatever we desire. But first we must travel within to uncover the deeper meaning of money and its purpose in our lives – individually and collectively.
Money represents the duality of our nature as human beings. It is no accident that there are two sides to every coin and dollar bill. One side represents our individual and collective ability to master the material world. The other side represents our ability to master the spiritual dimension or inner world. It is this inner resource that we have yet to tap.
Until we turn the coin over and explore the spiritual dimension of money and the opportunity it presents for enlightenment, money will always be elusive. Seeking to possess it without understanding its true purpose and meaning will only leave us feeling more conflicted and unfulfilled.
Until we understand the true meaning of money, we will remain enslaved by it and the material world. The real journey is not about money: it is about you. It is an archeological dig to the center of the truth of who you really are and what your path and purpose are. The closer you get to your personal truth, the closer you are to the source of life, which is limitless and available to us all.
The New Age of Money
Carl Jung, the founder of analytic psychology, helped us to understand that the entire human experience is stored in the collective unconscious and is manifested in our lives through archetypes. Jung believed that archetypes were collectively inherited unconscious patterns of thought, ideas, and images that exist in our individual psyches. These archetypes, and the collective unconscious, affect our actions, motives, and behavior.
Our relationship with money consists of more than just our personal experience; it also includes another layer of reality that predates our individual lives. Although this unconscious reality remains a mystery to most of us, we are nonetheless affected by it. To the extent that you can lift the veil between the collective unconscious and your own conscious reality, you will be able to understand and change your relationship with money and the role it plays in your life.
To simplify this concept, imagine that you are a computer with two separate databases. One of these databases was already stored on your hard drive when you were born and represents the collective unconscious. The other database consists of the personal life experiences you have had from birth until this minute; it holds both your conscious and unconscious history.
One of the things that separates us from other living beings and makes us human is our ability to expand our conscious awareness and, through that new awareness, to alter our reality. The next section of the article will show you how to retrieve the information that has been stored in your unconscious and explore its significance in your life today. In order to change where we are going, we must first understand where we have been. Although we are powerless to rewrite history, we are infinitely powerful, through knowledge and creativity, to reinvent the future.
Although we have become increasingly clever at manipulating and even creating new forms of money, we still have much to learn. Our collective history may help us understand the unconscious origins of fear and distrust that surround our relationship with money, but it only presents part of the picture.
We must also carefully examine and understand our individual histories and personal experiences with money. You will learn about how the various “money types” relate to money and you will be able to identify and explore your own primary money type. These money types, like archetypes, are based on subconscious patterns that evolved out of your own personal history.
Included in your personal history are inherited patterns of thought, ideas, and images that have been passed down through the collective unconscious. By exploring your money type, you can identify the role these unconscious patterns have played in the drama of your life.
Your History with Money
We all have a story. Some of us have bigger or “more compelling” stories than others. Some of us are more attached to our stories and are committed to maintaining our part in the script as our legacy. Others feel ashamed or embarrassed by their stories and feel uncomfortable sharing them. Whatever your personal history with money is, your story must be told so that you can witness it objectively and consciously.
The following exercise will help you explore and observe your relationship to money in the context of your personal history. In the process, you will discover how your money type has manifested certain beliefs and behavior in your relationship with money.
Your Money Biography
Use your money journal to record your answers to the following questions:
Now, using the answers to these questions as the starting point, write your money biography. Include as many details as you can remember about your experience with money throughout your life. Describe each significant money-related memory: what happened, how old you were, how you felt. Who are the key people in your biography, and what messages, patterns, or behaviors related to money did you learn from them?
Once you’ve finished with your money biography, ask yourself the following questions:
Deborah Price’s book, Money Magic: Unleashing Your True Potential for Prosperity and Fulfillment, is available for purchase in our Inner Compass Lifestyle Store.
Deborah Price is the Founder and CEO of The Money Coaching Institute. She works with individuals, couples, businesses, corporations, and non-profits. In order to work with her and act upon the results of Your Money Biography, you may contact her at:
1129 Industrial Ave., Ste. 208
Petaluma, CA 94952-6529