International commerce in the ancient world
The recent additions to the National Currency Collection described below are from very different parts of the world and are between 1500 and 2500 years old. It may not be obvious at first, but they reflect themes that are still important to us today. Globalization isn’t a recent development–international trade has been around since ancient times. And even then, people were worried about counterfeiting!
Punch-marked coins, Gandhara Janapada, circa 5th century BC
Many of us know about Afghanistan only from news reports. However, the country has a long and sometimes surprising history. In the first millennium BC, the region of northern Afghanistan and Pakistan was home to the Indian Janapada (kingdom) of Gandhara. At the crossroads of Asia and the Middle East, Gandhara was perfectly situated as a hub for trade and the export of cultures. We know that Gandhari merchants traded with Babylon and may have travelled as far west as Egypt and Ancient Greece.
These silver coins attest to the kingdom’s trade connections and wealth. The weight of the coins is based on an Indian standard, the satamana, that is also related to the Babylonian shekel. The smaller stamps on the bar-coin are banker or merchant marks. These marks were probably made by someone testing the quality of the silver.
Glass coin weights, Byzantine Empire, circa 6th-7th century AD
Although the Roman Empire in Western Europe was overrun by invaders, it survived in the East as the Byzantine Empire for over a thousand years. The eparchs, or governors, of cities such as Constantinople (now Istanbul in Turkey) were almost as important as the emperor himself. One of the eparchs’ responsibilities was to issue the official weights that merchants used to test coins–an early anti-counterfeiting measure.
Some of these weights were made of glass. A blob of melted glass was dropped on a flat surface and stamped before it cooled. The same glass was used to make jewellery and delicate perfume bottles, so the weights come in a variety of colours. They all bear the name or monogram in Greek of the individual who issued them.
People on the street were randomly stopped and searched, and some were even arrested and imprisoned in an internment camp. Even German marks replaced Canadian currency in circulation—in the form of If Day propaganda notes.
The imagery on the Bank of Canada’s 1935 note series depicts the country’s rich industrial history.
In 1812, British North America had no banks and little currency. With the prospect of war drying up supplies of coins, the government of Lower Canada decided to issue legal tender notes called “army bills” to pay for troops and supplies.
What was proposed was a complete about-face from the philosophy behind recent security printing. If photocopiers could easily deal with the colours and designs of the current series, then the next series should be bold and simple.
From windmills and solar panels to electric cars, signs of the green economy are all around us. Check out our resources for how to teach about the green economy.
Introduce important financial skills to your children, and help them plan for their futures with free resources from the Bank of Canada Museum and others.
COVID-19 has had an unprecedented effect on the economy: closing businesses, driving down demand and interrupting supplies. With news stories and popular culture addressing inflation and supply chain issues, now is the perfect time to explain this key economic concept to your high school students.
Few of us have ever met her, and it’s likely none of us are even remotely related to her. Yet, Canadians have carried her picture in their wallets for generations now. She’s Queen Elizabeth II and has been our monarch for over 70 years.
The Bank of Canada Museum is responsible for the National Currency Collection, and part of its mandate is to foster and develop that collection. Despite the challenges of collecting during a pandemic, curators at the Bank of Canada Museum have acquired some unique artifacts—including some that document the pandemic itself.