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Electrum

From Academic Kids

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Electrum is a naturally occurring alloy of gold, silver, and lesser amounts of copper. It has a pale yellow color, and was used in some of the earliest coins in the world.

Composition

Most commonly, electrum consists of approximately 75% gold, the remainder mostly silver, with some copper and other trace metals mixed in.

Due to the variety of nature, the silver may be present in quantities of up to 40%. By contrast, electrum from the Ural mountains carries 20% copper.

Appearance

The color of electrum is pale yellow or yellowish-white and the name is a Latinized form of the Greek word ηλεκτρον (elektron) mentioned in the Odyssey meaning a metallic substance consisting of gold alloyed with silver. The same word was also used for the substance amber, probably because of the pale yellow color of certain varieties.

Electrum was often referred to as white gold in ancient times, but could be more accurately described as 'pale gold'. The modern use of the term white gold usually concerns nickel, copper, and zinc alloys.

History

Electrum is believed to have been first used in coins circa 700 BC in Lydia under the reign of Alyattes II.

Electrum was much better for coinage than gold, mostly because it was harder and more durable, but also because techniques for refining gold were not widespread at the time.

In Lydia, 14.1g of electrum was made into one 'stater' (meaning "Standard"). A 'stater' was worth 168 grains of wheat, or around one month's pay for a soldier. To complement the 'stater', fractions were made, the 'trite' (third), the hekte, (sixth), and so forth, including 1/24 of a 'stater', and even down to 1/48th and 1/96th of a 'stater'. The 1/96 stater was only about 0.14-0.15 of a gram, so its worth calculates to around one and three-quarter grains of wheat.

Due to the variety of electrum's composition, it was rather difficult to determine the exact worth of each coin. Widespread trading was somewhat hampered by this, as a foreign merchant would offer rather poor rates on local Electrum coin.

These difficulties were eliminated in 570 BC when pure silver coins were introduced. However, Electrum currency remained fairly popular until approximately 350 BC. The simplest reasoning for this would be that, due to the gold content, one 14.1g 'stater' would be worth as much as ten 14.1g silver pieces.

External links

de:Elektron (Legierung) pl:Elektron (stop)

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