When could they part gold and silver from each other?

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Herberto, Jan 20, 2021.

  1. Herberto

    Herberto Well-Known Member

    During the middle of 1000's or so the byzantine emperors began a debasement of their gold coins where they putted silver in it and the result was that their gold coin became "Electrum", like this one for example under the reign of Alexius I Comnenus (1081-1118): (Not my coins)


    Later that same emperor began a monetary reform, and the gold content of their gold coin reached up to about 90%:


    However, electrum still circulated as the second highest denomination in the empire during the 1100's.

    I am wondering whether people back then had the technology/chemistry to part gold and silver? Or were the byzantines forced to import/mine new pure gold ore in order to create gold coins with 90% purity?

    I hope my text and question is understanable.
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  3. JayAg47

    JayAg47 Well-Known Member

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  4. Heavymetal

    Heavymetal Supporter! Supporter

    As mined in the ancient world. Gold & silver in various amounts and trace metals came from mines that way
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  5. The Eidolon

    The Eidolon Well-Known Member

    Shortly after the first electrum coins were made, rulers found ways to enrich the silver content compared to gold. This may be why electrum fell out of fashion so quickly. If you have to do an assay to estimate the value of a coin instead of just weighing it, it's not a very useful trade unit.

    My only electrum coin: Hekte, Lesbos, Mytilene, 521-478 BC
    Electrum Hekte Lesbos Mytilene 521-478 BC copy.jpeg
  6. Herberto

    Herberto Well-Known Member

    An "Electrum" had the content of BOTH gold AND silver at the same time. Could they part it if they melting it down again?
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  7. robinjojo

    robinjojo Supporter! Supporter

    Here's a link that you might find interesting, regarding the history of gold extraction and refining:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold_extraction#:~:text=In ancient Greece, Heraclitus wrote,period of the first millennia.

    Also, this link:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold_...f gold from silver,parting in the 6th century.
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  8. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    ..right...1st 'coins' were from Lydia ...electrum was a fav...:)
  9. RichardT

    RichardT Well-Known Member

    Is your question, when did the ancients have the technology to part gold and silver?

    It's generally agreed that the Lydians under King Croesus were among the first, around 550 BCE. This is because Croesus issued pure gold coins, not electrum.
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  10. JayAg47

    JayAg47 Well-Known Member

    But what about the ancient Egyptians before the Lydians who made golden artifacts, things like the Tutankhamen mask?
  11. RichardT

    RichardT Well-Known Member

    I don't know, sorry. Maybe the Egyptians achieved the technology earlier. But certainly the Lydians were among the first to part electrum on a large scale for the purpose of coinage. We know this because they issued gold and silver staters.
  12. The Eidolon

    The Eidolon Well-Known Member

    I'm no expert, but I believe when natural deposits of an intermixture of gold and silver are weathered away, the lighter silver tends to wash away, while the heavier gold tends to form deposits in rivers. I think that's why one pans for gold, not electrum. But mined gold in its natural form will tend to be in veins of electrum, with composition varying by source. If the Egyptians got their gold from alluvial sources (as is believed) from further south in Africa, that would explain why they could make gold artifacts without developing gold refining technology.

    It also explains the relatively low gold to silver price ratio in Ancient Egypt. I've heard a 3:1 gold to silver price ratio quoted, other sources claim 1:1. In much of the ancient world it was more like 9:1. The Ancient Egyptians also had iron artifacts from before the invention of iron smelting, from meteoric sources. They had advanced trade networks, and could get rare materials from all over.

    (Confession--I was a chemist/materials engineer once. Though my field was thin film processing and deposition. We did have to take some old school metallurgy coursework to graduate, though.)
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  13. Kentucky

    Kentucky Supporter! Supporter

    If I am not mistaken, some areas have deposits that are nearly 100% gold but I'm not sure just where they were.
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  14. Herberto

    Herberto Well-Known Member

    Do you know whether the Lydians could melt electrum in order to part it so they could make pure gold and silver coins from it?
  15. tartanhill

    tartanhill Well-Known Member

    Gold and silver do not have to be found bound together. There were gold deposits and silver deposits in separate veins.
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  16. Kentucky

    Kentucky Supporter! Supporter

    I don't think simply melting it would "part" them. Separation is a better term, but melting wouldn't separate them either.
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  17. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    IIRC, pure gold objects from before 550 BC were worked from gold found as such.

    It was under the Lydians that the technology was developed (using salt) to separate their abundant sources of electrum into gold and silver, which ultimately I believe was worth substantially more at market than the electrum they were made from.

    Electrum did die a slow death, as it was still being made into coins around the time of Alexander. I believe that all subsequent uses of electrum in coinage (under the Kidarites, Byzantines, and Japanese) was from pure gold intentionally alloyed with silver to debase it.
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  18. Herberto

    Herberto Well-Known Member

    So, since the time of Lydians they could seperate gold and silver by melting down electrum-coins and using salt and other chemestry? They did have the technology to do it.

    Thanks, that was all I wanted to know.
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