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Classics & Ancient History   >   Money in Ancient Greece

What is Money?

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Money in Ancient Greece

In this course Professor Richard Seaford (University of Exeter) explores the social, cultural and philosophical influence of the invention of money and the widespread monetisation of Greek society in the mid- to late 6th century BC. In the first lecture, we think about what money actually is, including the three basic functions of money (medium of exchange, unit of account, store of value) and the distinction between a coin’s intrinsic and conventional values. In the second lecture, we explore the pre-monetary societies that are depicted in the Homeric epics, before turning in the third lecture to think about the representation of money in Greek tragedy – especially in relation to happiness provided (or not?) by money. In the fourth lecture, we think about the connection between money and individualism, focusing in particular on the figure of the tragic tyrant, before turning in the fifth lecture to consider the influence of money on politics more generally, especially a property that was considered unique to money by the ancient Greeks: its limitlessness. Finally, in the sixth lecture, we think about the influence of money and monetisation on the conception of the cosmos by the earliest Greek philosophers.

What is Money?

In this lecture, we consider the question ‘What is money?’, focusing in particular on: (i) the status of the Greek poleis (city-states) to be the first to be thoroughly monetised as a result of the invention of coinage; (ii) the question of whether money is a thing or a relation – or both; (iii) the three functions of money: medium of exchange, unit of account and store of value; (iv) the distinction between the intrinsic value of a coin (= the value of the metal) and its conventional value (= the value of the coin); (v) the importance of confidence in ensuring the wide use of coinage; (vi) the significance of where money comes from, especially in economies (like our own) where the conventional value of money is much higher than its intrinsic value; and (vii) the insights that can be gained by considering societies that do not use money – such as that found in the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Seaford, R. (2022, November 09). Money in Ancient Greece - What is Money? [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Seaford, R. "Money in Ancient Greece – What is Money?." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 09 Nov 2022,


Prof. Richard Seaford

Prof. Richard Seaford

Exeter University