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Soldiers, shields, spears & bombs: Precious metal warfare theory

The first coins of Lydia were used to pay soldiers, not replace barter. This monetized silver. Empires need soldiers because war is the chief engine for economic development. Financing the unending wars bankrupts the citizens via military spending, inflation / debasement. Then the local currency collapses.

by Jon Forrest Little on The Pickaxe:

Part One: Precious Metal Warfare Theory Gold and Silver coins were first developed in Lydia around 600 BCE The very first gold coin minted was called the Lydian Stater and dates back to the second half of the 7th century BCE, during the reign of King Alyattes (r.619-560 BCE)

Lydia was an Iron Age kingdom of Western Asia Minor located east of ancient Ionia in the modern Western Turkish provinces of Uşak, Manisa and inland Izmir.

During this same century a popular silver coin with the Greek Goddess Athena on the obverse with an olive sprig, owl and initials of “Athens” on the reverse.

Cost of Peloponnesian War (Sparta vs Athens) 431–404 BC

The minimum number of men needed to defend Athens was 3,500 on land plus many more required to defend the surrounding sea. Soldiers were paid one silver coin per day (a silver drachma) 7,000 drachmas equaled “one talent”

The yearly total for funding the land army was around 420 talents. 420 per year x 7,000 drachmas totaled 2,940,000 drachmas per year.

For sea power (guarding the trade routes) it cost 1,580 talents per year. 1,580 per year x 7,000 drachmas totaled 11,060,000 drachmas per year. Drachmas were 3.64 grams each.

The grand sum for Athen’s land and sea military totaled 14,000,000 drachmas per year. Considering the operating Gold / Silver ratio during this era was a military budget of $790,000,000 per year to to defend a population of 370,000.

Adjusted per capita, in today’s USA military budget terms, that would be equivalent to USA military spending of $711 Billion dollars per annual.

In the chart below it’s fascinating to see the historical comparison. Athens was spending on military per capita a little less than USA spends today. Note that USA spends more on defense than the next 11 countries combined. The other comparison is that in both in ancient Athens and modern USA neither place had the tax revenue to justify this type of expenditure. This is a major reason why USA is 30 Trillion in debt w/ 164 Trillion in unfunded liabilities (social security and medicare unfunded)

During the Peloponnesian War, the Athena Temple functioned in much the same way as a modern bank to fund the Athenian war. The bank vaulted physical silver from nearby silver mines. By 428-427 BC, the fourth year of the war, the temple reserve had fallen to low inventory. To compensate for the dwindling fund, the Athenian government introduced a direct tax on the people, which proved to be very unpopular. Athens had calculated that their opponents didn’t have enough resources to go three years but the war dragged on for 27 years.
Tax revenue did not bring in the revenue to fund the war so Athens started debasing their currency by adding copper to the coins. They were so desperate that they even started melting down their statues but that didn’t buy much time. Athens went broke. Athens ran out of money to fund soldiers outside the city walls and inside the city walls they were devastated by a plague.


From Mike Maloney’s 7 stages of Empire Video. Video is programmed to begin at the 5:14 marker. First time in history where there was evidence of money printing or currency debasement to pay for war.


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